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Travelling well in Southeast Asia

Editorial: It was late in the afternoon when I noticed them. A van stopped at the entrance of the hotel where I was staying in Chiang Mai and two tourists, a man and a woman, probably European, got out. It wasn’t a fancy van. It was more like one of those communal taxis that are everywhere here, where passengers share two hard benches in the back. But a Song-Thaew taxi is always red and this van was a dusty gray colour. The Europeans didn’t just get out like regular passengers either; they swung out like they were swinging off a pole. They were sweaty and definitely pumped.

They were not young, probably in their late 50s, wore sturdy shoes and each carried a small day pack.  They disappeared into their room and he reappeared minutes later and took off on the rickety bike that the hotel lends out to guests. When he returned there were two large bottles of local brew in the bike’s basket. That was the last I saw of them but the scene made me smile for I knew they were travelling well.

It’s easy to travel well in Southeast Asia and you don’t have to spend much money to do so. There’s also lots of choice as far as what you can do. You can go trekking north of Chiang Mai and stop along the way to visit a hill tribe, or rent a scooter and travel even further. You can spend your days learning things: how to be a mahout (one who works with elephants); how to shop and cook like a Thai chef; how to give a traditional massage; how to do meditation.

I have enjoyed spending time in Buddhist temples especially when a special occasion is being celebrated. The temples are not quiet places although signs are posted asking for silence. Instead there is much laughter. Bells ring, bongs go off, monks chant. Folks crowd into sacred spaces to give merit, light incense, take photos of one another. Signs in Thai and English tell you when to take your shoes off, to keep your head lower than the Buddhist images and the monks, and how to lead your life: “Do try to do good but not to be great, otherwise you will be in danger,” says one.

These are not “aha” moments but certainly enough for me to know that I too am travelling well.

Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2012

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