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Posts Tagged ‘Bangkok’

The Bangkok Flâneur

Last week I arrived in Bangkok after 24 hours of travel and despite an initial urge to hustle to the islands in the south, I remained for 3 days, enjoying my solitude and exploring the city. I had horrible jetlag for some reason this time and always found myself awake at 4am, which I realized was actually a wonderful opportunity to see the real Bangkok. The Shanti Lodge, where I always stay in Bangkok, is a little gem of a guesthouse located away from the crazy backpacker/partier haven of Khao San Road, in a nondescript Thai neighborhood. For 3 nights in a row I made my way to 7-11 at 4:30 to buy a caffeinated beverage, then I would wander over to giant outdoor market a few blocks away. By 5 the action was really happening: fish being chopped, spices mixed, things moving this way and that. The mixing smells of raw fish, sewer and red chile to name a few were poignant. Men on motorbikes delivering ungodly amounts of things on their little machines zipped through the narrow passageways . It was clear to me that most of the vendors slept in the back of their little shops, starting each day by immediately going to work. There was such a feeling of aliveness and energy as they prepared for the day’s business. 

Eventually I would return to the TongJan coffee shop across the street from the Shanti Lodge and watch the world wake-up. The proprietors at TongJan were very kind to me, often bringing me free tea and snacks to try. I observed the orange-robed monks move from shop to shop with their begging bowls, seeking the sustenance that they would eat for the day. Students making their way to the nearby University and parents taking their children to school would stop by for a quick coffee or treat. I’ve been returning to the Shanti Lodge since 2009 when I first stayed there; and in most aspects, one could not differentiate this little street corner 4 years later. The same street vendors stood in the same places, the tuk-tuk drivers and massage parlor owners looked incredibly familiar. I thoroughly enjoy this element of timelessness. There is a sense that the folks in this little neighborhood cared little about progress, but treated their lives much more as a daily ritual of work and family life. I appreciated their willingness to allow me to sit and observe in silence.

I continued my days wandering the city, never finding myself too busy for a Thai massage or mango/banana fruit shake 🙂 I noticed how much I enjoy this sort of aimless wandering, and recalled the concept of the flâneur that my Zen teacher has mentioned a few times. I thought it was quite a fitting description of what I was doing:

Charles Baudelaire presented a memorable portrait of the flâneur as the artist-poet of the modern metropolis:

The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world – impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family, just like the lover of the fair sex who builds up his family from all the beautiful women that he has ever found, or that are or are not – to be found; or the lover of pictures who lives in a magical society of dreams painted on canvas. Thus the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy. Or we might liken him to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.

I eventually journeyed to the island of Koh Phangan, where I’m preparing to begin a 12-week, 600 hour Yoga training course at Agama Yoga. I found a nice house to live in and am enjoying a few easy days on the island before the course begins and the intensity of the schedule and practice takes over.   Bye for now!

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Sometimes when you are feeling very emotionally drained you just have to put your thoughts aside and do something to relax. Watch a movie, go for a walk, call a friend or eat some yummy food. After my two nights alone in Munduk and some intense reflection I decided I could really use some social interaction to get out of my head. I drove my motorbike down the mountain to Lovina, a long stretch of beach in scarcely populated Northern Bali. I quickly discovered that almost overnight the high-season had come to an end, there was a lot of good, comfortable accommodation available and a great backpacker vibe with restaurants, bars and cafes. I quickly manifested my desire to meet people, befriending an Australian at lunch who had been traveling for 15 months already to many of the places I am intending to go. We had a great conversation, agreeing to meet up later with a few other people for drinks. Turns out its quite a small town and after 24 hours I had formed a clique of people at my hotel- myself, an Irishman, a French woman and a German woman, with occasional appearances from a Canadian and another Australian. Planning on staying 2 nights, I remained for 4. I enjoyed the regularity of having people to dine with, lounge on the beach with and to go on random adventures together like snorkeling, fishing and bar hopping.

IMG_2036My days were very routine – sleep in, breakfast, Internet, swim, lunch, siesta, beach, yoga, sunset, shower, dinner, gambling on the beach with the locals, drinks 🙂 I kept myself out off of the computer other than to Skype family and friends and away from the guidebook. I sought some intellectual stimulation through Sudoku and conversation. My final evening I overheard someone say “I need a holiday from my holiday“ and instantly had my blog title! And Lovina truly was that – a place to rest, mingle with locals, make friends and enjoy great cuisine. I allowed myself to be OK with idle time (something I generally struggle with), go with the flow of the other travelers and spend time conversing with locals even when 9 times out of 10 you know they just want to sell you something. Nothing very exciting to blog about – probably the most interesting thing I saw was a modified game of roulette translated as ‘fair ball’, where you gamble on colors and numbers. We were entertained by the game and the locals were entertained by us. We would get all excited and they generally remained very cool, despite some of them losing half a months salary in an evening…

I must admit I’m leaving Bali with some great memories. Never intending to come here in the first place, I ended up stretching out my visa to its final day. I’m already wishing I had purchased some of the amazing art work or crafts and definitely wish I had taken more pictures! The problem was I generally was cruising on my scooter cruising by at 60k. I saw women with what looked like 75 lbs balanced on their heads, ceremonies everywhere, families of 5 plus their gear on the same scooter, cocks fights on the side of the road, men carrying unimaginable loads of wood or bamboo, people IMG_2050constantly at work with their sickles, and much more. Off the tourist track it was very easy to glimpse the real Bali, watching village and family life unfold before your eyes. Even in the smallest villages someone could speak a little English and point me in the correct direction. One of my favorite scooter memories was leaving Munduk and driving through the villages where clove, nutmeg and vanilla were drying on the sides of the road – delicious! Also my final day on the motorbike I followed a guidebook recommendation and drove this absolutely amazing windy road  through the hills, passing volcanoes, rice paddies, waterfalls, and small villages while breathing in the crisp air. The children on their way home from school would all wave or chase after me in their colorful uniforms and every time I stopped to gain my bearings someone would almost immediately help me before I could ask.

The people truly are happier and friendlier than almost anywhere I’ve traveled. They are also close to the poorest. We all know that money doesn’t by one happiness, but there is a general standard of living that is generally necessary to provide a so-called ‘happy’ life. Yet despite the majority falling significantly below IMG_1466this standard, they were living a life of peace and love. There are many factors, more to go into with my limited view. One that struck me the most was the constant offering process, always paying respect to the gods and the spirits. Meaning that despite how poor you were, there was still a concept of a connection to something larger that you recognized and respected through these offerings – material offerings and offerings of their time through ceremony. Another powerful thing was that extended families lived in ‘family compounds’, each having their own temple and it was not uncommon to see 4 or even 5 generations together in the same place. Who knows the secret formula – but its worth investigating! Put Bali and Indonesia on your travel list, you will not be disappointed.

I realize this isn’t the most inspiring entry I have written in some time so I apologize for the drab, update and detail variety. I’m now back in Bangkok, spending a couple of nights taking advantage of her wonderful offerings and then shipping out north on a course for China and Mongolia. A friend from high school, Wei, who I haven’t seen in 10 years was waiting for me at the airport and we’re going to team up for a while. She just started an open-ended, round the world journey of her own. Through the magic of Facebook we uncovered that riding horses in Mongolia was a life-list thing for both of us – so off we go.

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I’m writing from a rooftop bungalow in Ubud, Bali (Indonesia). Arrived yesterday from Bangkok. How did we get here you ask? Trains, planes, boats and automobiles. And walking :)  Autumn and I spent a total of about 10 days in Laos – not quite enough to see and do everything I had planned on. About a week ago we had to make some difficult choices. Originally we had aspirations of visiting Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia AND Bali. Not sure what we were smoking as Autumn only has a month out here and unless you have the funds to fly everywhere, there is no way you’re going to see 5 countries in 5 weeks. Autumn’s one ‘must’ was Bali, so we decided to cut Laos short, skip Vietnam and Cambodia and booked a flight to Bali out of Bangkok where we’ll spend her final week before she heads back to the states. I know I’ll get back to Laos and Vietnam at some point – I still want to spend time in the far reaches of both countries. It actually makes good sense – the height of the monsoon season begins in SE Asia this month which makes travel and trekking very difficult. It would make much more sense for me to come back in a few months when the trails dry up. Plus Bali is absolutely perfect in July – high of 85, low of 70 and no rain. Every single day 🙂 And its Bali.

A rundown of the highlights in Laos:

  • Riding a slow boat for two days along the Mekong river

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  • Spending 4 days in Luang Prabang, the slow-paced, French-inspired city in Northern Laos

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  • Three nights way off the beaten path in Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi

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  • Looking for the full solar eclipse the day after it happened (more on this later)
  • Exploring ancient caves that villagers hid in during the recent wars

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  • Waking at 5am to give alms to the monks in Luang Prabang

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  • Waking on my 30th birthday in a small riverside bungalow in a town without electricity or roads, then traveling back to Luang Prabang for an amazing dinner and to watch a performance of Lao traditional ballet.

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Our epic journey to Bali consisted of the following: A 2 hour boat ride , followed by a 4.5 hour journey on a 12-seat van with 18 people in it (No AC, a girl having seizures in the front seat and an engine that had to take any hill greater than 5 degrees in first gear). Then the next day a 12 hour bus ride to Vientiane in a broken seat that reclined into the persons lap behind me (meaning I had to sit upright the entire time), followed by a night-train (actually really cool when you splurge for first class!) to Bangkok and ultimately a 4am wake-up call to catch a flight to Bali…. I thought I’d share some of the more painful aspects of world travel – its not all cultural immersion and blissful bungalows. :)  But the truth is over time your comfort level and expectations change, you learn to be still, to not let little inconveniences upset you as they would easily do at home. I consider myself a patient person already, wait until you see me after this trip!

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