The world is under my skin, itching to be discovered. The songs of foreign lands flow through my veins and a thirst to explore never seems quenched. One trip hasn’t finished when I’m already fantasizing about the next. Yet during my time in Thailand, the grass started to seem greener back home, even in the dead of winter. I had fantasized about being somewhere warm and now dream of pine forests and retreating to a cabin on a lake up north. I’ve had at least a handful of dreams where I’m searching for a new house and always end up on the water. I’m gazing out a window to see the ever changing blue patterns floating by and know that I have found my home.
Yet I wasn’t home. I sold my house to take this journey. I would wake each morning during my two months in Thailand and often question why I was there. I was never really drawn to southeast Asia, but it seemed a warm, exotic and affordable place to spend my winter on this trip around the world. I would hobble out of bed, hunched over like an old woman and start the morning routine of cracking my neck and back. I felt pummeled and uneven, sort of like the lumpy pillow I slept on. Never have I missed my own bed more than after 2 months on the hard mattresses of Thailand.
Thailand has been an illusion to me. Something I couldn’t quite grasp before I set out, but photos of golden buddhas and Thai dancers in my guide books made it seem alluring and spiritual. Maybe I would discover something about myself and get closer to my inner spirit. I planned a month long yoga retreat and detox on the island of Koh Phangan and ended up quitting after a week and a half. The yoga seemed robotic and left me vacant feeling. And who was I kidding? Trying an eleven day detox in a foreign land, staying in a room with more creepy crawly things in it than I wanted to discover. I lazed about when I visited the city of Chiang Mai, mostly filling my days with outings to cafes with some shrines in between. I didn’t understand why my host called it paradise. What was I missing? I sped through my short stint in Pai and had my best times in that tiny town in the north with new friends. Bangkok sealed the deal though. The deal that I needed to leave ASAP. That itch for my next destination was long overdue for a scratch. More than a scratch, a full body exfoliation. I had started to feel trapped weeks before and the chaotic enormity of Bangkok made me want to fly away. I don’t do well in big cities and my hometown of Detroit seemed like a remote village in comparison to the sprawling, behemoth of a concrete jungle that Bangkok is.
I tried to give Bangkok a chance, learning to embrace it in the evening. Features were highlighted and the city seemed more manageable. Hidden was the smog of the day and the skyline sparkled high above. The congested avenues became endless rivers of light as cars waited in traffic. I tried to ease the weight of the heat by navigating through the air conditioned sky trains and endless shopping malls. I still wanted to dump a bucket of ice on my head after every outing, even after the hottest part of the day had passed. I sweat in places I never knew I could and stopped fantasizing about living somewhere tropical. Why in the world would I want to leave a climate of four seasons for one of just heat and more heat with some torrential rain every now and then?
Somehow in this far off foreign land I thought I’d escape tourists. I visited the Grand Palace in Bangkok with images of peaceful grounds and golden shrines. We arrived in the morning when it first opened only to find ourselves surrounded by Chinese tour groups. They swarm like bees, attacking each site with their selfie sticks. They buzz around bumping you, sometimes even pushing you out of their way. I would find a place off the main path and try to capture small details with my camera in solitude, only to find a hand pushing my arm and a Chinese tourist telling me to move so they could take a photo of themselves in that same location. Travel. It isn’t always what you think it will be. The Grand Palace was probably the worst attraction I’d been to during my six month trip when it came to crowds. We tried to go in a building to see the famed Emerald Buddha. Hundreds of Chinese took their shoes off at once. Men completely soaked in sweat pushed up against me. The smell of stinky feet filled the air and I let the crowd carry me in and then back out, barely having a minute to see the statue up above. The room was beautiful, ornate, gold and over in a flash. I had to leave. The whole experience left me knowing I’d had enough of battling with Bangkok. I needed to retreat to smaller places again.
There is an illusion to travel. The perfect photos you see in magazines and online don’t reveal the reality of what’s just on the other side of the lens. The hoards of people are hidden, the stench of the city is gone and the sweltering heat that drains your energy is hard to imagine when dreaming up your next big adventure. Sometimes the places are worth the struggle and the beauty still shines through. Other times escape is the only option.
Traveling long term makes my heart grow more fond of my Michigan home with its big green spaces and endless fresh water lakes. The lighthouses on the shore shine a beacon back to my heart, so far away. Do I miss it because it is that wonderful or because it’s part of human nature to want what I don’t have? Will I return home in six months, get the itch again and start planning my next trip? Or will I buy that house on a lake, my grass green enough to keep me happy and home.