I write this while traveling in Thailand.
I am perched on this funky li’l bed, laptop resting on it’s destined resting place; my lap. The place is Koh Phangan. It is a smaller island off the island of Koh Samui. I can see the ocean from where I sit in my room.
And when you tell someone that you are traveling, they tend to expect you to answer the unasked question, “what are you doing there?”
The easy answer is, “I am here on vacations.”
But nobody said answers would be easy.
Vacations are overrated. I tend to think that they are a product of a very “busy” lifestyle, the kind of lifestyle where you are expected to work 80 hours a week for years, just to have a few days or weeks off for a ‘vacation’.
If you are already living a lifestyle that demands so much from you, where you get to have only a week or two “for yourself”, then I must tell you that there is another style of living, where “time for yourself” and “time for work” does not necessarily mean different timezones!
Seeing and Relaxing Only?
For me, the idea behind travel is not to ‘relax’ and ‘see’ places. The idea is to get out of my cocoon, to experience a place that is different than what I have ever experienced.
I would really, truly want to ‘relax’ and ‘see’ some awesome places but essentially, I just want to experience something different.
I did not spend all this money to come to Thailand to look at a few beaches. Seriously, think about it, I can ‘see’ that on YouTube or soak it up over at Lonely Planet or something. No, traveling should not be about ‘seeing places’.
Traveling ought to be about experiencing something different.
Yes, yes, I know, you’d say, “but seeing different places is the same as experiencing something new”.
The ‘focus’, the ‘idea’ behind travel should not be to ‘see different places’ and to ‘finally have time to relax’. The idea should be to ‘experience’ something different, and that will definitely include ‘seeing places’ and ‘relaxing at the beach’ etc, but suddenly you’ll find that there is so much more to traveling than seeing and relaxing.
It is Not About the Destination. The first thing you realize, when you do travel, is that it is hardly about the destination. The journey itself is part of the experience and should be relished with the same fervor – if not more – as that of the destination.
My Experience So Far
Here’s a little experiment (I love experiments): Ask someone about their trip.
They will start by explaining how the place was. Good, bad, awesome, noisy, peaceful whatever. But very soon, they’ll start talking about the people, the experiences they had, the rude custom official, the friendly taxi driver, the food comparisons, their successful negotiation in a different language etc.
Paris sounds better.
While traveling from Bangkok to Phuket on an earlier leg of my journey, I had a Frenchman sitting next to me on the flight.
I asked him where he was from. He said Paris.
I never knew that the actual pronunciation of the word ‘Paris’ is ten time more awesome than how you’d say it in English.
The French Connection
Then in Phuket, I met another couple, again from France. I hit them with all the French I knew, which basically means that I asked them “how are you?” and then told them, “I do not speak French” and then asked them, “do you speak English?”, in French. Thank God they did speak English.
It was my first time ‘conversing’ with a French. And now I have two ‘french connections’, readily ported to my Facebook friends list and waiting for ‘showing me Paris’. Great, friendly people.
“I don’t speak Thai”
The first thing you should learn to say while learning a new language is to say that you do not know how to speak it.
I wanted to make sure that I had the correct accent for saying that in Thai. This was because in Thai, different tones of the words can depict different meanings. So I went up to the Front Desk at my hotel in Phuket, and asked the attendant if I am saying it right.
I said, “Pood Thai mai dai” which means “I can not speak Thai”, and asked him if that came out right.
He smiled, “your accent good. If you say like this, Thai people think you already know Thai.”
“If I get lost”
Then another time, a waiter asked me about my Google Map Maker t-shirt. He was a Map Maker himself, and really liked the t-shirt (it is a good t-shirt, seriously). He actually ended up asking me for it!
I told him that if I get lost while riding around in Phuket (I had rented a bike!), then I’d give him the t-shirt; I wouldn’t ‘deserve’ a t-shirt about making maps if I get lost while wearing it! But the waiter didn’t get his t-shirt.
And yeah, Phuket itself was nice, too.
P.S. I will be in Thailand for the next six days or so, God willing. I am getting some stick for not replying to my emails and comments on the blog as quickly as I normally do. So now I will be replying to all comments and emails on the 29th of June, 2011, God willing (I should be in Bangkok by then). If there is anything you’d like to suggest or ask, do let me know (if you are reading this in your email inbox, just hit the reply button, or if you are reading this on the blog then leave a comment below).
P.P.S. I have put up a “Travel Tips from Experience” page where I have shared some practical tips on traveling in Thailand. I am hoping to make that page as helpful as I can, and I will be updating it as I move through this country, God willing. If you have been to Thailand, do share some tips, and if you are planning to experience this (so far) great place, I hope that the page would be helpful to some extent at least. Khop Kun Khraap!