One of my passions is travelling. My wanderlust genes were probably passed down from my parents and their fore-generations. But gone are the days when merchants and migrants had to endure long and arduous voyages. These days we simply satisfy our nomadic nature and curiosity in search of new places, faces, and experiences. If life is nothing but a journey, our paths crisscross not only to marvel at something wondrous but also to explore internally and look deep within our soul à la Eat Pray Love.
However, when I travel, I don’t sit in blissful idleness like Julia Roberts enjoying her “Dolce far niente” moments in Rome. I can indulge in the sweetness of doing nothing by relaxing at home. There is so much to explore in Thailand, and here are some of the places where I relish in nourishment, discover the power of prayer, and learn to appreciate beauty.
Historically speaking, all year round, and within all regions, Thais rarely ran out of food. Enjoying good, hearty fare runs in our veins and food is aplenty. From sizzling street food to several would-be Michelin-starred restaurants, one doesn’t have to eat at the same place twice throughout the year in a city like Bangkok. Exotic delights are regularly conjured up in the humble kitchens of store-front shops at buzzling markets like in Chinatown, whereas in other parts of town celebrity chefs’ laboratories wow diners with lengthy dégustation menus showcasing their molecular, hybrid, and deconstructionist creations. And although the areas of street food stalls are systematically lessened, this doesn’t stop the quest of global foodies to find, for instance, the best spots for the most mouth-watering bowl of noodles. Without mentioning any names from various lists and guides, suffice it to say that the flavours, textures, and aromas from all these dining experiences will tantalize your tastebuds and, in turn, make these meals some of the most memorable ones you’ll have.
After pleasuring your appetite, your body and mind may need detoxification. Spiritual cultivation can be within reach but where would be the best place to start the journey to one’s own soul. Founded by Buddhadhasa Indapanno Bhikku, a highly revered monk, Wat Suan Mokkh, in Chaiya, Surat Thani, and the Dipabhavan Meditation Centre, Koh Samui, provide meditation centres and silent retreats at their International Dharma Hermitage. The Buddhadhasa Indapanno Archives—there’s a branch in Bangkok—also offers information on Dharma and meditation courses, in both Thai and English. Ironically, the Bangkok branch is located next to the Chatuchak Park, at the opposite end of a boisterous market where material acquisitions are lustily encouraged.
Still in Bangkok, Wat Pho (or Wat Phra Chetuphon), behind the Grand Palace—described as “the First University of Thailand”—is a learning centre where old languages and traditional Thai medical sciences were taught, in addition to traditional Thai massage courses (many travellers come to learn the tricks of the trade here). While the serene atmosphere of the temple appeases your soul, a strong foot massage soothes your soles. Paths to Nirvana can also be obtained at Wat Pah Nanachat (or the International Forest Monastery) in Ubon Ratchathani, where Buddhist meditation practice is instructed via insight or concentration.
But if your mantras lean towards nature and adventure, Cheow Lan Lake or the Rajjaprabha Dam Reservoir in Khao Sok National Park, Surat Thani—one of the most peaceful places in the Kingdom—will surely cool you down. No longer the best-kept secret, it remains one of the best places to chill out and forget about all the worries in the world. Kayaking past towering karst rock cliffs and million-year-old jungles, with their therapeutic tranquillity, will rebalance your inner peace. But for the adrenalin junkies, zipline experiences, bungee jumping, rock-climbing, mountain-biking, white-water rafting, and other adventurous activities, guaranteed to raise your blood pressure and make you pray harder for dear life, are to be found all over the country.
Once your mind is cleansed, and has regained some wisdom, other passions should be indulged. While some tourists look for love in the wrong places and only quench their carnal thirst, my lust for life goes beyond the physical planes. To my heart’s desires, I love sunny and sandy beaches along the Andaman Coast and the islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Railay Beach, Ao Nang, Koh Nang Yuan, Koh Lanta, Koh Kood, Ao Maya, and the Similan Islands, with their stunning scenery, makes me think that paradise is truly attainable on earth. However, these havens are now so well-travelled and well-loved, one can hardly have a Robinson Crusoe feeling without so many Man Fridays around.
Finally, as a romantic, culture and the arts gives me much joy. I love roaming around the ruins of the old capitals and towns in Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Kampaeng Phet, and the Angkorian ruins in the southern Isaan region. I enjoy exploring the foggy hills in the North—from Mae Hong Son to Chiang Rai—and visiting the hilltribe villages there. When one travels, one not only discovers new experiences but also learns and understands more about oneself—one’s own strengths and weaknesses. So… where would you go to get out of your comfort zone and stimulate your body, elevate your mind, and inspire your spirit?