I went to Thailand because…
I wanted to find myself.
I was running away.
I was running toward something.
My biggest regret about my trip to Thailand was that I only gave myself three weeks to explore and learn — initially about the country, culture, and people; but in the end, really about myself.
Here’s the background, in brief: I was four years into my film and television production career. Based in Austin, TX, I was working on a TV show when I got a job offer in Los Angeles. I had always said I’d never move to LA, but then again I didn’t think I’d ever live in Texas, and there I was. I took the job, moved to the west coast, and thought it was the beginning of an exciting adventure that would launch me to success. As it turns out, though; moving to Los Angeles without knowing a soul is lonely, particularly while working a miserable, dead-end job.
A year later, I was frustrated and didn’t know how to change my situation. My close friends from high school moved to LA and I also made new ones, but I felt passionless and uninspired. I found myself one afternoon sitting in my living room, crying to my roommate, yet again. I hated my job. I hated Los Angeles. I really hated my boss. I felt lost. Angry. Frustrated.
A college friend of mine had just passed away after a long battle with cancer. He was somebody that was so full of life – his passion glowed from within and was contagious. He was from a small town and the local paper profiled his battle with cancer from diagnosis to his decision to end chemotherapy four years later. In the news piece my friend talked about despite its ending too soon, he felt that he had a full life.
And there I was boo-hooing mine.
So, I took inspiration from my friend’s wisdom. I would take my life into my own hands and change my situation. Within a matter of days I gave notice to my job and planned a trip to the other side of the world.
I decided on Thailand mostly because it was basically as far away as I could get. I had never traveled alone before, but I knew that I did not want to do a cruise or student-led activity program with too much structure and not enough random exploration. I’ve never been good at organized group activities. Plus, there is freedom and growth from just having to figure it out. Through much research I decided on two things:
- I wanted my trip to include an element of giving back. I felt like in the last year I had been too preoccupied with myself. It was time to stop whining and to put my focus on something else.
- I wanted to see elephants, but only if they were going to be unharmed. Thai culture has a very complicated, very fucked up history with elephants.
I planned to spend one week in Northern Thailand, in a city called Chiang Mai, also considered to be the country’s culture capital. I picked out some activities I knew I wanted to do and left room for just exploring the city. I would get a Thai massage from the Women’s Correctional Facility that runs vocational programs for the prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentence (none of the crimes are violent). It allows the women to leave jail with both a skill and money in their pocket. I would take a cooking class. But most importantly I would go to Elephant Nature Park.
Elephant Nature Park is situated about an hour north of Chiang Mai. You can spend months, weeks, or just the day there. Started by a women named Lek, the park is broken into two sections: a wildlife conservation area that is working on introducing the highly endangered Asian elephant back into the wild (tourists are not allowed in this part); and a park that is home to 22 elephants that were saved from abusive situations and rehabilitated to trust humans again. We were able to feed and bathe the elephants. We hung out with them in an open field. It was incredible. And it was particularly important for me that I was contributing to an organization dedicated to helping these animals that I love.
After Chiang Mai I spent the remaining two weeks of my journey in a small town in the south called Trang, with a company called Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS). CCS is a volunteer-travel program for people of all ages. Our group’s youngest was 18 and oldest 67. You pay to be a part of it, and in return get to live in a lovely house with the other volunteers, food, and cultural lessons (Thai language lessons, learning about local Thai culture, getting a Muay Thai lesson, etc.). During the week I taught English to 7-12th graders in a rural school and weekends I’d explore the city of Trang or visit the MOST BEAUTIFUL islands I’ve ever seen. Trang is a city so small that locals would take pictures of me with their cell phones because it was so strange to have a white person walking around.
I found that during my three weeks in Thailand I was content in a way I had yet to experience in my 24 years. Each day was not about me. Each day was filled with new smells, sights, and sounds. There was so much to take in. My time teaching was focused on getting to know the students and bonding with the teachers. It was hard to sweat the small stuff when I was a glutton for the food, the language, the culture.
I came home feeling like I could conquer anything. I felt powerful and brave. Being out of my comfort zone forced me to stop thinking about myself, yet gave me a world of clarity about who I was and who I was becoming. Traveling is my passion. It’s what makes me feel most alive.
But, ultimately I think the lesson learned is that when you’re feeling helpless or hopeless put your energy externally. Rather than wallowing or trying to logic your way out of the illogical, take time to focus on another person, a new activity, or an unfamiliar place. It’s amazing what your brain can solve when you’re not forcing it to work overtime.
By: Nora Resnick