What happened when I stopped pressing snooze.

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Snoozing is delaying life. And I’m guilty. We’re all guilty. The challenge is to not press snooze. But to wake and live as much as you can before sun down. This day, we would wake and find ourselves uncomfortably comfortably next to tigers. It was John Gardner who once said, “God made the cat to give man the pleasure of stroking a tiger.” Well, I’ve never taken to cats much. I always figured if they were a bit bigger they would have no second thoughts about eating us. Call me a dog person. But a tiger, well, they are what they are. And to get to stroke the back of one of them would be more rewarding than one thousand cats. So that’s what we did.

By the time our small crew assembled it was approaching noon and we were pumped to go see the big cats. Our good friend Say pulled the truck up and we set off for Tiger Kingdom. Everyone piled into the back and Say asked me to join him up front. We have met many incredible people on this journey but none grew on us more than Say. He’s just one of those good hearted people that constantly goes out of his way to help others. All of his talk is about what in life is “good for the body” which he really means is good for the soul. He lives his credo.

After about an hour and a half excursion, it was tiger time. Now the elephants were one thing, but to get inside a cage with a 500 pound killing machine can put your nerves on slight edge. Once again, I found myself torn. Not often in life do you have a chance to be so close to this gorgeous creature, but they should be free. All beings should be free. This habitat claims to only use “stick method” training and well fed tigers, but to me they seemed at least a little sedated. Stick method simply means since they are born they get whooped on the behind with a stick every time they get out of line. Similar to catholic schools back in the day. Which isn’t too reassuring because I’m sure those students still acted out. I didn’t want to find out what would happen if a tiger acted out.

Our first test of courage would be getting in with the medium sized tigers. Okay, ready. Don’t touch their head. Don’t turn your back to them. Approach from behind. Keep your wits. Pray. Go. Our first meeting went smooth and a false sense of comfort set in. At that point, any comfort was welcome though. You mustn’t be afraid. I felt they might sense fear. Move slow. Be brave. By the end of the first encounter, the tiger had stretched out and even had his hind legs lying across my lap. I thought my goofy bulldog back home had huge paws. Christ. You should see these things up close. Next, we went in with the slightly smaller tigers. These guys seemed to be the most rambunctious. They had a small pool they repeatedly flopped into and a few coconuts that doubled as toy balls. As we would sit with one tiger, in a split second two tigers would go rolling by chasing their ball. A few times even smacking the ball in our direction, tempting us to join their game. Once even completely jumping over and clearing a seated woman’s head while she wasn’t following the “keep your wits” rule. Following that dance, it was on to my favorite part, the baby tigers. Once in their pen, all rules were forgotten. We wrestled with them, cuddled them, held them, and became part of their pack. It was an experience unlike anything in my life. At one point, a small one climbed up on my lap and took a solid play bite into my arm. As I felt the pressure from his jaws, I flung him off. I took off a sandal and drew his attention to that. Next thing I hear is some British woman who had the gaul to start yapping not to do that because they will think it’s okay to go after people’s feet for the sandals. Okay, I get it. I replied with, “The. TIGER. Is. BITING. MY. ARM. Lady.” A little more horsing around and it was on to the big tigers. And were they massive. We joked with one of the trainers, “What do you do if one of these guys attacks us?” He understood the question but just kind of laughed and shrugged it off, which was a bit concerning. As we climbed on to the deck with the tiger, he appeared a tad aggravated. He was pacing and it seemed like he wanted to get down, but the trainer wanted him to stay with us. After a few heavy growls, he took a rest and sprawled out on the deck. I’m not sure if I had gained courage or stupidity, but I got down right next to him and put my head on his side and even picked up his tail and pretended to bite it. An observation not over sighted was just how beautiful these animals really are. I’ve never been one for hunting. I mean I can see if it’s for survival and within reason, but to hunt such a beautiful animal such as an elephant or tiger for sport disgusts me. They say there used to be hundreds of thousands of tigers in the mountains of Asia and now that number has dwindled down to around just one thousand. We owe it to these animals to protect and nourish their existence here. I will treasure my time curled up next to them.

As we made our way back to the city, I began to feel a cold coming on. That damn guy from the bus got us sick. When we returned, a whole group had formed in the sitting area of the hostel and were preparing to go out to celebrate one of the Australian gent’s birthday. There was no time to be sick, so we went back to Zoe’s and drank and danced the night away in a big circle full of ridiculously bad but funny moves. Good times with good people. No need to set an alarm for tomorrow.

As Ever, J. Hart

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Make it your home.

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The day between the elephants and tigers would be a day off to relax, enjoy the city, and spend time with the locals that make up the hostel staff who have become our friends. We were still catching up on energy after the past few days so we rolled out of bed late. First order is always to find food. We walked a few blocks over to where we heard there were some western restaurants. We can only eat so much rice and noodles. It’s become routine to mix it up with something a little more familiar occasionally. We found an American style saloon that had all the fixings for the kind of meal we were looking for. It was fajitas. And damn we’re they good. The joint was fitted with all sorts of old typical American junk: license plates, Coca Cola signs, Jack Daniels signs, sports memorabilia. It was also proper to grab a marker and make your mark on wherever you choose. I tagged “Derek and Jimmy Thai ’14” on the table. Underneath it I also left the name of our website for the curious. I jotted down the usual, “Let’s Go Phillies!” And I named my chair, “James’ Chair”. Lastly, on the chair next to mine I listed the names of our close friends back home so they could be there in spirit, “Jimmy, Derek, Big Kun, Foster, Bill, Jeff, Tom, Brandon”. As we were finishing our wonderful meal, we were tired of hearing a Frenchman complain about his food and giving the nice waitress a hard time again and again so we left something for her. A note in marker on a napkin and a 100 baht bill, “The guy at that table next to us sucks. Have a drink on us after work.”

Next, I found another gem. I love book stores. Especially old, disheveled used book stores. Anytime I find a new one it gets my heart racing thinking of the treasures hiding there. And the smell. There are few better in the world. A nice campfire takes the cake. But second I would put old books. I read a quote once that went something along the line that old books are the actual smell of time. I like that idea. And as we walked out, fate would have it that just across the street was a book store perfectly titled, “On The Road Books”. Not only was it a cool little shop but it is appropriately named after my favorite book. Perfection. I don’t really believe in that everything-happens-for-a-reason crap, but lately luck and coincidences have been pretty convenient. I’d like to believe that someone has a bigger plan for everything that happens down here but I’ve just seen too many things happen for reasons not understandable. Still, I look for the light. Either way, I popped in and checked the place out, fought the urge to buy a handful of books, told the owner I loved the name, and was on my way.

Before going back to the hostel, we took a walk down to the old city gate. In the open space outside the gate were children dancing to music and a few street musicians filling the air with their tunes. I love how as we walk around these places there are children running rampant through the streets. They play outside with the same vigor that I remember my younger self doing. Kids in America these days could learn a thing or two from these kids. Get out of the house. Run, run, run. Climb, climb, climb. Get dirty.

We circled back and met our friends Nick, TJ, Song, and a few others from the staff, Norwegian Bamboo Benny, a few Canadians, and a really sweet Scottish couple at the small hostel bar for a drink. The plan for the night was what had become the staple of most nights in Chiang Mai: Zoe’s Garden. But prior to going there, we followed Song back to his brother’s house which also doubles as a bar downstairs. Most everyone’s home doubles as a business in the front. Song made a phone call and told us he had a surprise for us later in the night. As we made it to Zoe’s and grabbed our first drink, the surprise showed up. Song is friends with a street performer who specializes in various stick and chain twirling fire shows. Normally he only performs Thursday through Saturday, but he came out just for us. It was a real treat and amazing to follow his every move as he went about his passion. We had so much fun that night, that Song ended up too many drinks in to find his way home so he crashed in our room. Which would have been fine except for the fact that he insisted the lights stay on all night. There wasn’t a day that went by where we weren’t graciously welcomed by Song’s huge smile and contagious laugh. We barely knew the guy, and he barely knew us, but all that didn’t matter. We enjoyed each other’s company.

It’s incredible how welcoming strangers can be. I don’t know for sure that it doesn’t exist in America, but I think it may be more rare. Perhaps when you are a friend of a friend, but here I am no one. I have been to many places and continue to cross these beautiful people in every country that just take me in as if I had known them for ages. The kindness of strangers prevails. This quote speaks to that feeling, “Personally I like going places where I don’t speak the language, don’t know anybody, don’t know my way around and don’t have any delusions that I’m in control. Disoriented, even frightened, I feel alive, awake in ways I never am at home.” So there it is, backs turned to the boring, on to another day in a new home.

As Ever, J. Hart

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See what happens.

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We were on our way to play with elephants. They have always amazed me, not only because of the sheer size and power they hold, but the gentleness behind their soft dark eyes. Wilderness writer Peter Matthiessen’s description of elephants fits best, “There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, and ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.”

I am slightly torn when it comes to visiting with the elephants, and tigers. In one sense I am grateful to have the chance to be so close with them and I hope they enjoy their time with the visitors. And on the other hand, I wish they were completely free.

The ride to Eddy Elephant was about two hours. After a quick stop to scoop up loads of bananas for the big beasts, it was two exhausting hours filled with a Frenchman sitting behind us sneezing a countless amount of times. Many of them literally blowing through Derek’s hair. He carried on doing the same act the whole way back. But did not once while with the elephants. Maybe he was allergic to Americans. Of course this would lead to us being ill just a few days after. One last turn down a windy dirt road and one last sneeze and we were there.

The first part was to be instructed by Eddy himself on all the things to know and to look out for while being close to the elephants. He then followed with the few commands we would need to get our elephant to walk, turn, stop, and of course to bend down to let us up. Then we met a few elephants and fed them bananas. Next, we took turns getting on their backs and walking them through a small course to make sure we were all comfortable in control. We stopped to have a quick lunch before making our way down the road to the stable. Once there, we fed more bananas to our new friends. There was even a baby elephant who thought he could use us as scratching posts and kept trying to rub up against our sides. Derek and I jumped up on our elephant, Susie, and we set off into the jungle. It was a nice stroll through the woods, up and down a few hills. Susie would reach her trunk up from time to time and we would hand her a banana. She also took her time through the trail and stopped to eat branches and bushes whenever she saw fit to. Which was more often than any other elephant. She was a hungry girl. After finding our way down to the river, it was all fun and games. Susie let us down on the river bank and went right to play. It was unbelievably satisfying to take a step back and watch these huge animals rolling on their sides and backs, playing like a couple of golden retrievers in the water. We picked up a couple of brushes and scrubbed their sides. They seemed to enjoy it and would spray us with water as we stretched across them. I truly fell in love with these animals, as I knew I would. We took a couple final pictures with them and that wrapped up our day with the elephants.

After we got back, it was time for dinner and a few drinks in town. We made new friends with a few Polish and relaxed at Zoe’s Garden again. This day was really all about the elephants. I see why they mean so much to the local people and I surely won’t ever forget my time spent with them here. One of my favorite actors, and let’s face it, a true legend, Bill Murray, puts it perfectly at the end of the film Larger Than Life, “You know they say an elephant never forgets. What they don’t tell you is, you never forget an elephant.” We’ll miss you Susie. You are as beautiful as the mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.

As Ever, J. Hart

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What is a day at the end of a day?

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I hate the roosters around here. Okay, so I don’t like using the word hate, but I strongly, strongly dislike these particular roosters. Now I haven’t spent a heck of a lot of time around roosters, but to my knowledge, they start all their racket at sunrise. Not at 3 in the morning. It was as if the damn thing was circling our hut and taunting us. That, combined with the cold mountain air, and the constant wonder if a snake might try to crawl on in and warm up next to me, made for a restless sleep.

I crawled out of bed in the chilly dawn and met with Derek halfway up a path. He had just come back from helping a few local children fix the chains on their bicycles. We found Say and a small group of us went off into the fields below with black powder rifles looking for birds for the village. Once again, our hunting skills proved futile. Thank god we don’t have to hunt for our food on the regular or we might be vegetarians. A little practice and I’m sure we would be alright.

After we made it back, Say made everyone an egg and toast breakfast accompanied by fresh fruit. And while we ate he prepared a noodle lunch, which he wrapped in banana leaves so we could store them in our bags during the trek out. After breakfast was devoured, a few of us went and sat with Mama and a few other women from the village one last time. They gave us handmade bracelets which would become the first of many I would collect on my wrists. Then we went up to the school to give the children the puzzle we brought for them. They showed us that they could count up to ten in English and recite the alphabet. When we pulled out the puzzle they went mad and as soon as I opened the box it was all hands in for as many as their little paws could grab and off they went. I’m not quite sure they were at the age where sitting and putting together a puzzle is their idea of excitement but they did seem to just enjoy looking at all the individual pieces and trading the bits amongst themselves and just tossing them around. All of the children we see don’t have much, but that doesn’t stop them from romping around their playgrounds with giant smiles on their faces. It wouldn’t have been right unless we had one last taste of fresh happy water on the way out of town. So we did.

Then it was on to another 10km hike mostly downhill through deep woods and rice fields. Say made chopsticks from bamboo for our lunch and picked berries for us to eat along the way. We perched up in a small hut for lunch about halfway through that overlooked the wide valley below. These amazing views are becoming more frequent and I’m not opposed to it. As we came up the last hill we spotted our truck around the bend. The two English girls were waiting with the driver. They had to be lifted out of the village because of the injury to the one’s shin.

Next it was on to bamboo river rafting. We had two rafts so we split into groups of four. Shortly into it our guide bailed and Derek took over, manning the front, steering with a bamboo rod. I must have fell off the raft a dozen times on the way down. The water was shallow in some spots so a few times we had to abandon the raft and maneuver it to a more navigable path. Tons of falling and flipping and tips and turns and we reached the end with a few bruises. We picked up a couple victory beers and packed back into the truck and barreled back to Chiang Mai.

Upon our return the staff of our guest house met us with a cheer and some hugs. That night we went out to an area called Zoe’s for a few drinks, made some friends with a few Scottish and English, and called it a night. The past two days had been exhausting, but what an adventure it turned out to be. The next day we would get to do what I have looked forward to the most: roll around in a river with elephants. I had no idea what it would actually be like, but I like not knowing and finding out. Having things to look forward to and being excited for them, big or small, is what makes life go on. As Paulo Coelho put it, “When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”

As Ever, J. Hart

“The world is built on smiling darlings. Every man could look grim. But as long as the women are smiling, so the globe spins.”

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Good for the body.

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Fruit in a bowl and a big bottle of water to start the day. Our group of eight for the jungle trek would consist of me, Derek, two English girls, two French Canadian guys, and a couple from Italy but now living in Germany. And of course our fearless leader Say What, or at least that was the name he preferred. We packed into an old truck and went on our way. First business was to stop at a local market for some fruit and water for the jungle. We also picked up dinosaur action figures and a Toy Story puzzle to bring to the children of the village we would be sleeping in that night. A little more driving and we were dropped off on the side of the road. Say pointed out a path and we hiked to a stream with a small waterfall and had lunch on the rocks. Afterward, a few of us went for a swim and made a series of poor attempts to catch fish with our hands. A little more time relaxing on the rocks in the sun and we traversed back up to the road. It was back in the truck for one more trip through the winding mountain roads and we were unloaded at a path that would be our starting point into the jungle to the Karen tribe village. The trek was about 10km up through a tough mountainside passing through vines and streams. As we made it along, Say picked snacks from plants for us to eat and carved cups from bamboo. He also engineered a few hats from Banana leaves for us. As we forged our way through, we would take periodic rests for water and Say would tell stories of his experiences in the jungle. The most memorable being a story of how he came across a cobra nest accidentally and was chased by the mother cobra over 500 meters until it finally turned back. He went back the next day to the nest with his gun and shot the cobra for chasing him. He said cobras are “no good for the body” and I agree. Aside from one of our British friends banging her leg on a rouge tree stub that led to a nice small gash on her shin, and a slip up I encountered on a rock that led to a sore elbow, we made our way through to the village unscathed.

As we entered, hogs and dogs and chickens flooded the pathways. The people live in small beige bamboo huts without electricity. On our way to our temporary hut, we met a few women and their children. We did learn how to say “Hello” and “Thank You” in their language but without being able to communicate much else, I just smiled and reached in my bag and pulled out the toy dinosaurs. I became instantly surrounded by the kids. I was happy they were as excited for the toys as I was to be giving them. After dropping off our bags in our hut, Derek and I stumbled upon a villager who motioned for us to follow him. He appeared to be a bit drunk or out of sorts but he wanted to show us his village and we weren’t going to turn his offer down. We went from hut to hut and visited with the families, we saw a new construction project a few of the men were working on, we saw women weaving new clothes, he even took us to his home, and we ended at a hilltop hut that overlooked the entire valley. He pointed to which direction Chiang Mai was located. The view over the cluttered mountain ranges was remarkable. A few other men from the village were having a meal and offered us some of their food. I have no idea what the combination of noodles, meat, greens, and spice actually was, but it was good to the taste. We found our way back to the hut next to ours, where Say was preparing a big curry dinner. As he chopped up the meat and veggies, a few of us sat nearby and enjoyed the view of the rice fields below as the glowing tangerine sun fell behind the hills. While dinner simmered over the fire, Say presented a bottle of what he calls “happy water”, which seems to be the local moonshine spirit made from rice. Also in the hut was a bong made from bamboo that the locals use to smoke their tobacco and other herbs. A few sips of happy water out of bamboo cups had us feeling good.

Figuring we had about a half hour before the meal would be ready, Derek and I wandered a bit more around the village. We bumped into a young man that had been off in the jungle all day and motioned that his knees were in pain. He had with him an elixir drink which he communicated would make him strong and help his body heal. Unfortunately for us, he offered up a drink as well. Saying that it was the most foul taste I have ever experienced might be an understatement. We thanked him and displayed our false pleasure for the drink and said goodbye. As we turned out of sight, I began choking and Derek threw it all right back up. How I didn’t throw up, I’m not really sure. It had the taste of the bottom of an ashtray, tiger balm, cough syrup, and carried some kind of instant anesthetic effect. That is one of the deals with traveling and trying new foods and drinks. Many times you are accepting an offering from someone being generous. So you want to make them feel like you are pleased with their offering of kindness. Even if you are grinding your teeth while doing so. We returned to find everyone gathered around a large table, fully lit by candles jammed into empty coke cans, and plates set for a big meal. After a long day being worn down by the mountain, every bite was warming. The usual pineapple for dessert and we all reassembled around a fire nearby.

Most of the villagers called it a night early, but we still had a few hanging around with us. The oldest man and woman in the village stayed with us and we would call them “Papi” and “Mama” all night. Their constant smiles are unforgettable. We drank happy water and rum we brought and watched as Papi cooked rice inside bamboo sticks for us. The crazy old man would just reach into the fire and turn the sticks and not even flinch. Once catching his sleeve on fire and even part of his finger. As we looked on in shock, he just laughed with us. And then Mama proved she could do the same. Another villager appeared out of the dark, completely adorned in a strange hat and big scarf and baggy clothing. Say told us his name was Jack Sparrow, so they do know a little bit about pop culture. Well, Jack fired up some pork and more pork and more pork. Actually he cooked pork all night, right up until the minute we put the fire out. I have a feeling there were less hogs in the village the next morning. Another local woman began showing us card tricks, stick tricks and string tricks. After she would perform the trick, she would try to get all of us to attempt it, too. Derek even pulled off an impressive card trick which left a few scratching their heads in wonder. After many stories were exchanged and friendships made, we let the fire simmer down and a village dog laid his head nearby to stay warm for the night.

Taking a step back from the fire, a couple of us took notice of the star filled sky. There aren’t many things in life quite as fascinating as looking up into a clear night sky off away in the middle of nowhere. In that nowhere, you will find an endless amount of little lights in the sky that chase the darkness away. I can only imagine hundreds or thousands of years ago or longer, before the internet and television and all of these distractions, the night sky was their only form of entertainment. And how clear the sky must have been so long ago before the pollution and city lights drowning it all out. People should take more time to find the stars in their sky. It will make your dreams grow. And as Say murmured all day long about the trekking and the dinner and the happy water and the laughter and the company and the stars, it’s “good for the body”. We shambled back to our bamboo hut and slept the night away along with the rest of the Karen tribe. We would need the rest for the morning activities to come and the adventure back out of the jungle.

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Slow life.

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The engine beat on through the night and we arrived at the Chiang Mai station bright and early Saturday morning. As we jumped off and made our way to the exit, a man approached us to ask if we needed a map of the city. Thinking it would be a good idea, we accepted and he followed up with asking us where we were staying. It turned out he was an employee of the hostel we intended to stay at anyway, so he caught us a free ride to the place. Easy as that. A few minutes and we were at the SK House II. A little later on I will give their employees the credit they deserve, but for now let’s get to the action.

We only reserved one room for one night. It turned out they gave our room away so instead they gave us the honeymoon suite. Another night sharing a bed, but it was huge and had a view of the temple just across the street, so they had no quarrels with us. Once unpacked, we thought it would be smart to do our first load of laundry. Things were getting stinky.

We then walked around the old, walled city and saw a few of the larger temples. Just before entering the last temple, we spotted an elderly woman grasping the rail, trying to inch her way up the stairs to the temple doors. Derek gave her his arm and we walked in together. We kneeled before a monk and he asked us our names and where we were from, blessed a small string bracelet and tied it around each of our wrists. We walked out feeling blessed and found ourselves in a garden full of trees adorned with inspirational messages. On our way out we ran into two fellas that thought it would benefit us to check out a suit shop in the south of the city and pick up some custom suits. As fun as that might be, we opted against the idea. A short stroll and we were back at our hostel.

After dinner, we sat at the hostel bar and gave voices to the goofy fish swimming in the tank and made friends with the desk staff. They had a once-a-month jungle trek to a remote village lined up the next day and we jumped on the opportunity to check it out. That night, one of the employees, Song, has a brother who owns a house bar around the corner so we went on over there. Pitcher after pitcher of beer came and went and whiskey next. Just a few guys from the hostel and a few travelers hanging around. One of our new friends from Norway, now nicknamed Bamboo Benny, thought he could drink “the Americans” under the table. Come the next morning he would regret that attempt. When we decided we ought to get back to get some rest before the hike the next morning, we asked how much we owed and Song replied, “300 baht.” A night of great company and endless drinks for under $10 total. Not too shabby.

On our walk back, we stumbled upon what would become our “Wawa”. It was a tiny market that we went to at the end of every night on the way to our beds. Nothing beats huge bottles of fresh water for under 20 cents when you are traveling. This place was becoming our home. The best part of our trip to this point waited for us with the sun rise.

As Ever, J. Hart

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

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Give 100% to live 100%.

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In the morning, we had a small breakfast and were scooped up by a mini bus and on our way to the old Siamese capital city, Ayutthaya. After about 3 hours of endless staring out the window, we arrived and the driver turned to ask where we were staying. We didn’t know. The two French folks in front of us were taken by surprise at our answer. So when it came to drop them off, we hopped out too. Chance had brought us to a hostel called Grandmother’s House. Who wouldn’t want to stay at a place so perfectly named? It was a nice and clean, basic hostel with an attached restaurant. The only hitch was they were out of twin bed rooms so we would have to share one big bed. No problem. Many trips to Atlantic City with friends have resulted in much more crammed situations. The first and only night we spent there we wandered around the dark empty streets without finding much to do. We decided to pick up a few beers at the market and go back to our room at the hostel. Before going to bed, I made one last trip to the bathroom and found a Smirnoff Ice waiting for me on top of the toilet. Derek had “iced” me. For those that don’t know, it is a game where you hide a Smirnoff Ice somewhere and when another person comes across it, they must get down on one knee and chug it. This means war. Next morning, we were up early to get over to the train station to acquire tickets on the night sleeper train to Chiang Mai. We rented a couple bicycles and peddled over to pick up the tickets. The train did not depart until later that night so we checked out the town in the daylight and spent a few hours at the temples which date over 700 years old. We also made our first elephant sighting in Thailand! We then cruised around the perimeter of the old town. Seeing a city by bicycle is something in it’s own. Following all the riding, we still had a couple hours to kill before the train. Figuring it would be a long, uncomfortable ride that evening, we went for a massage. It was only us and the two Thai girls, who both spoke a little English. After being twisted and pulled and attempting our best broken English conversation the hour was up. Afterward, the one introduced us to her parents and we’re pretty sure they were trying to marry their daughter off to Derek. We returned the bicycles, had one last meal, and caught a tuk tuk to the train station. After sitting around for a bit, it arrived and we ran down the train to our car and found our seats. We met a really nice American couple, Marty and Tara, had a couple beers, and called it a night. The beds were about six feet long and we preferred to sleep with our bags which made for tight quarters but we managed. When we woke up, we were in Chiang Mai.

As Ever, J. Hart

“Everyone believes the world’s greatest lie…that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate.” – Paulo Coelho

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Life is short.

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We awoke at the crack of dawn with a fire in our hearts and a craving for adventure. It was our first time on the trip we were to set off into the wilderness of this foreign country. The place is called Erawan Falls. It is a seven tiered waterfall located about an hour outside Kanchanaburi. After packing a small bag for the day trip, we met with our host, who already had a motorbike waiting for us. We sat outside her small shop and she made us chicken and vegetable soup along with tea and bottled water. It was exactly what we needed in our bellies to kick off the day. After breakfast, we took a look at the motorbike. Yes, motorbike, singular. We figured it would be better to save the cost of another motorbike and while Derek drove, I could take pictures and video. To us, and to many Americans, this is a scene straight out of Dumb and Dumber. Two big guys with goofy helmets on cruising around a strange place. But in Thailand this is completely normal. Sometimes you will even see entire families of three or four on a single motorbike. We hopped on and we were off.

After a quick pit stop for gas, we cruised out of town. It is basically one road all the way to the Erawan National Park. And what a road it is. The scenery is beautiful and laced with rolling hillsides of green and gold that flow along the Kwai River. As we approached an area just beyond the halfway point, fate would have it that the back tire got a little weeble wobbly and we were struck with a flat. Immediately our minds raced to the thought that we are in a foreign country and the troubles we may face not only getting the tire fixed but finding a place to fix it. And of all the unfamiliar places we could have broken down, it turned out to be right in front of an auto shop. A little funny communicating, a new tube in the tire, and a botched attempt at saying, “Thank you, very much” in Thai that brought an eruption of laughter, and we were back on track. A few more kilometers and we were there.

The Erawan Falls are a thing of beauty. All in all, we spent the better part of five hours running around like little kids at our own personal playground. Following a short walk, you find yourself at the first of seven falls. The only thing to do is jump in. So we did. Nothing is more exciting to me than a trek into nature only to find yourself at a waterfall. We swam right across the pool and up to the crashing water and tested our underwater housing for our GoPro camera. This means, because it worked properly, we will be able to send some fun videos out to the world. Just as fast as we were in, we were out and on to the second fall. We found ourselves bouncing around between all of the limestone bedded pools and running water. If you stand still in the water, these peculiar fish will come up to your feet and begin to suck the dead skin from them. It is very, very odd, but feels sort of cool. And as we rush between waterfalls the trees are filled with spring-legged monkeys having just as much fun. Words simply cannot do a place like this the due description it deserves. When you travel and you see a place like this, whether it is a waterfall or a perfect view atop a mountain or even something as simple as a sunset, you know what I’m talking about. You just smile and think of the people you wish could be seeing it, too. A full day of hiking and splashing around and we scooted back to town.

As we pulled back into Kanchanaburi, we thought it would benefit us to take the motorbike on one last spin over to the touristy side of town and grab dinner. I know we are here and we should be trying every little delicacy, but sometimes you just want pizza and beer. And that’s what we found at a Swiss owned pizzeria called Bell’s. Hawaiian pizza in Thailand. Some dreams do come true. We threw in an order of spring rolls to balance it out. Again, it was exactly what we needed.

We returned to our guesthouse to relax and freshen up. The day had beat us down, but it was a beating taken with big stupid grins on our faces. And it only seemed to get better. We went back to the area where we had dinner and found a chill spot for a beer and the bonus of live music. Another one of the things I’ve come to really love is finding local cover bands. Hearing the Beatles belted out by a group from Thailand is something to behold. After a few sets, the band allowed a few Australian travelers in the crowd to play a couple tunes which was a pleasure as well. Next, we stopped by a reggae bar called Sugar Member with an adjoining tattoo parlor in the front. It turned out the bartender was from Oregon. He came and fell in love with the place and never left. I can see why. This little town has quite the personality. After a couple beers, a conversation sparked up between ourselves, the bartender, the local tattoo artist, and the local just tattooed. And then it happened.

Local: “(Muffled yelling and pointing)”

Me: “What?”

Local: “Shooter! Shooter! You the guy from Shooter!”

And immediate bursts of laughter from me and Derek. This was not the first time I have been called Mark Wahlberg in Thailand. And it’s beginning to happen more frequently. I don’t even think that I look like him. Derek convinced me that I may resemble the now older actor Mark Wahlberg, but not the younger Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch Mark Wahlberg. Either way, it scored us a night of free drinks and some good laughs. Once we fought off the free beers, we jumped into a 7-11 for bottled water. Right as we were about to check out, Derek spotted the holy grail. Standing in the DVD collection near the register was the Mark Wahlberg film, 2 Guns. So of course the only thing to do was buy it and run it back over to the bar. We burst in and the place cheered and we threw the DVD on the bar countertop. Everyone laughed near tears as the bartender yelled, “Autograph! Autograph!” So I did my best Marky Mark impression and signed in bold black letters, “Sugar Member, Mark Wahlberg!

As soon as we hit our beds, all the talk was about the timing of the day. From the time we began the day, to the moment we broke down, to the time needed to enjoy the waterfalls, to the night on the town. It was sure one of those days to remember. I really do believe that when you put yourself out there and give it your best shot, the universe collaborates to help you. All it takes is a positive outlook. We must enjoy the little things that fall into place because one thing is for sure and that is: the longer you hang around the more you realize how short this life is. Your life is yours for making. So put on your best smile and get out there.

– As Ever, J. Hart

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho

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Travel list.

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Here is our list of potential places to see during this trip. Tell us what you think. Start getting ideas about what you would do in each place and send them to us. Here we go!

Thailand:
Bangkok
Kanchanaburi
Ayutthaya
Phitsanulok
Chiang Mai/Rai/Pai
Chiang Khong?
Khao Yai National Park?

Laos:
Houay Xai
Luang Prabang
Vang Vieng
Vientiane
Tha Khaek
Savannakhet

Vietnam:
Hanoi
Ha long bay
Phu Quoc
Mui Ne
Nha Trang
Dong Ha
Hue
Hoi An
Dalat
Ho Chi Minh City

Cambodia:
Phnom Penh
Sihanoukville
Battambang
Siem Reap

Thailand:
Ko Samui
Ko Phangan
Ko Tao
Krabi
Ko Phi Phi
Ko Tarutao National Park?
Phuket

Singapore?

Bali?

Australia?

New Zealand?