I just stepped off 55 hours of flights and airports leaving behind Chiang Mai, Thailand for Mexico City, Mexico. MC will be my home for the next 2 1/2 months, but as I coasted over the freezing waters of the north Pacific I found myself reminiscing.
Did I accomplish what I wanted to in Thailand?
How was it?
Here is a list of the goals I had when I went to Thailand, and how I did with each one.
Learn Thai massage. My teacher suggested I do this, as a way of taking home something unique from the culture. I only wanted to learn a basic set of movements—enough to give a 30 or 60 minute basic treatment.
I went to a lot of massage schools in Chiang Mai and paid for a massage, and frequently found them lacking. Many places just do a perfunctory job to make money from tourists. Eventually in the village of Pai I found one old woman who was a true master. She treated her art as a spiritual path—she was the only one who began with a silent prayer to Buddha—and she dug into my pressure points with energy and precision. When I asked if she taught, she took me to her teacher’s school, but sadly he was not available till after I left.
Eventually I went with NAMO Massage School in Chiang Mai. They taught me a professional half-day class. The instructor spoke fluent English, was very attentive and indeed included the wai to the shrine (“Pray to your teacher, or the Buddha, or God” she said). I left knowing about 10 movements and feeling competent in them.
Explore the Thai countryside. I wasn’t too sure about this because I didn’t know much about the lay of the land, but it was highly doable. I rented a motorbike and, after some hair-raising driving lessons from a Dutch friend, made the four hour road trip to the village of Pai, the highlight of my trip.
(Note: learning to ride a motorbike in Asian traffic is the most valuable skill I learned in Thailand!)
Late in my stay, I also met some American friends—a white boy professor from Wisconsin and his Hmong-American wife—who annually travel rural Thailand, Laos and Burma to do social advocacy. They painted such a beautiful (and safe!) picture of northeastern Thailand that I really wanted to add a trip to the city of Chiang Rai and the highway along the Burmese border. Sadly I was out of time. Probably my biggest regret of the trip.
Mission: Good Enough
Relax. One of my reasons for a month in Thailand was leisure time, plain and simple. I didn’t really find that in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a large, loud, busy, dirty city. I had a ton of fun there and I’m very happy I went, but it was more like an insanely cheap New York City than a month of R&R. I don’t feel “recharged” after this trip, more like “I earned a badge.”
Learn Eastern geomancy. This is going well, and until I’m ready to unveil some stuff, that’s all I’ll say about that.
Mission: Pretty Vague!
Learn to live alone in a foreign country. I’ve been abroad before but always with people I knew and never for more than a few weeks. A month alone? Don’t even speak the language? How did it go?
This was a stunning success. By stunning I mean I surprised myself with my ability to cope. Not that there’s a whole lot that needs coping in Thailand, but I weathered a serious fever, a case of food poisoning, and a lot of loneliness. I’m proud that I went up to strangers and made friends, networked with other traveling bloggers, and made myself acculturate to Thai daily life (showers, toilets, not walking on trap doors… you get the idea).
All in all I’ll call the Thailand trip a success. It showed me some highs and lows of the traveling lifestyle I’m embarking on, and hopefully it’s prepared me to better deal with everything that comes.