I moved to Thailand last August without knowing a soul in Chiang Mai and with only a hint of a plan as to what exactly I'd do for the ~6 months I'd be there. My goal was to learn as much as I could - both technical skills and lifestyle tidbits - about creating an online-centered career, while taking the opportunity to travel around Thailand and Southeast Asia while based there. I wanted to live out my dreams, even if temporarily, of living in a completely different country.
8 months and a 29 hour flight later, I'm back in the US after the whirlwind of a journey, hoping I can adequately process all that I've experienced, learn, and seen. To say it's been a life-changing experience would be an understatement. In the midst of all the freedom, fun, and flights, I really went through a transforming process of growth -- getting to know myself, recognizing my strengths, working on my weaknesses, and developing a broader outlook on life based on other people's stories. I've learned from many different perspectives that have broadened my scope of the world and the things that make people tick.
All of the new passport stamps make me happy, but it's the stories in between those pages that have the biggest role in shaping the person I'm becoming.
What a chapter!
Towards the end of it all, I questioned whether I accomplished enough... Did I challenge myself hard enough? Did I work enough? Did I write enough? Though I would truthfully answer no to all of those questions, I had to remind myself to relax. Enjoy the sensation! That tiny notion I got in my head to move to a new land, spend time bouncing around and exploring a handful of countries? I did it.
And it was the best 8 months of my life.
Chiang Mai, Thailand (homebase)
Pai, Thailand (a 7 day trip and a 3 day trip)
Singapore (5 days)
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (5 days)
Tokyo/Osaka/Kyoto, Japan (6 days)
Krabi, Thailand (4 days)
Bali, Indonesia (8 days)
Phuket, Thailand (4 days)
(Number of people I got to visit Thailand: 8!)
I wouldn't miss my Grandma's 90th birthday party for anything in the world, but it wasn't easy to leave my beloved Chiang Mai. I adored living here. Even though Thailand is indescribably different than the US, Chiang Mai felt pretty homey. I celebrated two of Thailand's biggest holidays here, Yi Peng (the Lantern Festival) and Songkran (Thai New Year - aka the biggest annual water fight of all time); went on adventures like ATV rides through the mountains, waterfall treks, elephant rides, and played with tigers; enjoyed my cheap thrills ($10 oil massages, $7 gel manicures, fresh fruit for pennies, eating 'fancy' for $6), and made some of the most unexpected but extra special bonds.
My 8 month long summer here was amazing. This experience felt soul-fulfilling. It helped me realize that life is too short to not give my best possible attempt at creating a life worth living. I can never ever give up my pursuit of a passion-filled life, no matter how 'impossible' it seems when roadblocks get in the way.
It doesn't get much more chill than it does in Pai, where you come to breathe, relax, and vibe out.
I spent a week in Pai, an extremely small hippie town nestled in the mountains of Northern Thailand, known for its laid back atmosphere, scenic views, eclectic shopping street, and erm, it's 'shroom shakes.
I met up with my cousin's girlfriend's sister Lynnea, who was traveling through Southeast Asia for 3 months. She was a true pleasure to get to know, and I'm so happy that our paths crossed not only in Thailand, but a couple of months later in Tokyo as well.
Note: Never drive to Pai on a motorbike from Chiang Mai. Just … don’t.
I breezed through Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on a solo trip for a total of 10 days. I was worried about traveling by myself through this uncharted territory, but I met so many sweet hearts!
In Singapore, I made a friend at yoga who took me exploring and off on the very important task of getting our eyebrows threaded (my ladies know you can’t just trust anyone with your eyebrows, so this was clutch). I found love in a hopeless place -- on Tinder -- well, maybe not love, but I was sorta kinda crushing for a couple days as he took me around to all his favorite places in his beautiful city. Finally, the social benefits of staying a hostel won me over again. One of my hostelmates happened to live in Kuala Lumpur, where I was off to next!
Kuala Lumpur (KL)
KL surprised me in many ways. For some reason, I wasn't expecting it to be as posh and New York City-like as it was. I really didn't know what to expect, but I had SO much fun here! My hostelmate in Singapore and her boyfriend (a KL native) took me sightseeing and out to eat -- completely spoiling me that day.
I also got hooked up with a group of KL's coolest kids through a friend of a friend. Again, I was spoiled left and right by this group of wonderful people who didn't know me from Adam*, but they welcomed me with open arms. They took me out for dinner, drinks, and dancing -- I won’t spill too much but I might have had too much fun. I'd go back to Malaysia in a heartbeat just to visit them.
*funny story behind that - they actually did know me from Adam. A buddy from high school put me in touch with one of his college friends, Adam, who lives in KL. Well, Adam went back to the US the day I landed in KL, but was kind enough to Facebook introduce me to his friends. They were THE best.
Celebrating the New Year in Tokyo-yo-yo (insider) was epic!
I tried Japanese specialty Yakitori -- grilled beef heart and tongue -- and channeled my inner college years, spending 4 nights in a row going hard on the dance floor. Somehow I found myself doubling as a gogo dancer on stage on New Year's Eve, battling a fly Japanese hip hop duo, and partying harder than I had partied in years til 5am at Club Harlem in Shibuya. Reunited with my "twin"/good friend since 6th grade, that night made for one of my top international club experiences of all time.
I spent my 25th birthday down South in one of Thailand's most popular beach towns, island hopping with my cousins Bippy and Keiona, along with one of my best Chiang Mai girlfriends Inricka. Spending my first birthday abroad was magical. Back home, a blizzard had hit, and instead of bringing in a milestone birthday being snowed in, I got to do so on a crystal-blue beach.
From the time I landed on Bali, I knew there was so much I needed to learn. The island's strong energy and cultural influence draws you in, making you more in tune with your own energy and with its layered, kaleidoscopic history. Bali was all things relaxing and intriguing -- it's definitely on my radar as a place I want to return to dive into over a longer period of time.
I had 4 friends visit Thailand all at the same time. I hosted 3 of them simultaneously, but the kicker was that neither of them previously knew each other. We all met up in Phuket -- I was happy for the chance to finally visit Thailand's biggest island. One of my friends from high school flew in to celebrate her birthday, and it was so aweomse that I was able to spend time way out here in Southeast Asia with a bunch of friends I made at all different stages in my life. One I've known since 8th grade, one from high school, one from college, and one from my post-grad time in LA. We went island hopping, partied on the infamous bar/ladyboy/shenanigan-lined Bangla Road, and swam for hours in our rooftop pool admiring the entire town of Patong, Phuket.
So what's next?
I was free as a bird, flying over mountains (literally), but now it's time for this little birdie to be grounded. After almost a year on the road, I could use some chill! But if you know me, you know I'm already plotting on where to go next... so, we shall see. (More details to come).
Many moons ago, I once attempted to start a travel blog after studying abroad in Italy. It was called "Kriss Krossing the Globe" You didn't last long, but here's to you, old blog.