It was mid December when I received an urgent and rather unexpected phone call from my older brother back in Maine. Although we do make an effort to catch up from time to time, it was one of those out of the blue situations where I first received a text a from him: “I have to talk to you!!!!” and then “I HAVE BIG NEWS” followed by the blaring sound of my ringtone echoing on the train as he called.
If you are at all familiar with my brother Jake then you know how out of the ordinary this is coming from him. I love my brother dearly and he does have many great (calm and nurturing) qualities, but he is kind of a square. I answered the phone immediately, wondering what this “big news” could possibly entail. My mind began wandering to some quite comical images of him in a pastel RA polo restraining a drunk college kid, or being rudely awoken by a stream of water leaking from the ceiling and having to make an evacuation announcement in the dorms at 2am. To my surprise, my cautious and comfortable brother called to announce that he would be taking the semester off to work at a resort in Thailand.
I have to admit that my very first thought was IM COMING WITH YOU followed by some skepticism about the reality of Jake leaving his comfortable bed and mini fridge behind to sit on an airplane for an entire day only to be greeted by a hot, sticky and unfamiliar place with lots of bugs and few English-speaking people. I congratulated him endlessly on the decision and asked a million questions out of jealousy and curiosity, wanting to live vicariously through him, wondering how this time it was Jake telling me about his travels and not the other way around. This was some Freaky Friday shit right here.
Nonetheless, I could not be more proud of him for deciding to do something so wildly outside of his comfort zone, excited for all of the learning and growth that would take place in the next few months of his life. I was confident it would be a great experience- One that I just had to be a part of.
The weeks leading up to my trip were filled with frequent phone calls with my brother who had lots to share about the beautiful Thailand scenes, the people who were always smiling, the tasty Thai food and a few complaints about his uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. I became more eager to join him each time we chatted and he was excited to have the opportunity to show me around the resort and bring me to some of his favorite spots. It was almost surreal when the moment finally arrived: I was boarding a plane to Thailand. 24 hours of back pain and nasty airplane food later Jake and I were embracing in the dull and humid airport in Bangkok.
I like to think that Jake and I make pretty decent travel partners because we balance each other out. If I were entirely in charge of this trip we likely would have been staying in a dingy hostel without air conditioning, eating out of a dumpster to save money and engaging in some dangerous recreational behaviors. Jake, on the other hand, would have us getting authentic Thai massage twice a day and eating at some fancy fucking restaurant made out of glass that hangs from the sky. It’s probably not a bad thing that we were able to find some middle ground.
Anyways, here are a few highlights of our brother/sister adventure:
The Death Rail
I have to be honest, after running around in airports and sitting on stuffy planes for 28 hours, I was not looking forward to the four and a half hour train ride from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, but this happened to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. Jake had warned me that the train would be completely wide open, and that one could literally be decapitated if they were to stick their head out the window courtesy of the houses, street signs and jagged rocks planted only inches from the tracks. Not to mention the infamous section known as “The Death Rail” in which the train zooms around the side of a cliff, supported only by a few wooden beams. I was giddy just thinking about it.
The train ride was perhaps most unique because of it’s colorful and varied landscapes. As we pulled away from the station I began taking it all in, admiring the communities in which small homes existed only centimeters apart, miniature spirit houses decorated the entrances of buildings, and extravagant temples towered over us. Naturally, I also spent much of the ride sticking my limbs out the window and pulling them back in seconds before they were sliced by metal roofs while Jake sat in the fetal position telling me to cut it out because I could seriously get tetanus.
A few hours into the trip and even in my sleepiness, I was in awe of Thailand and all of it’s beauty. As we moved out of the city, the rickety train began exploring a green countryside filled with animals (I neglect to think of the true purpose of their existence on these farms), canopies of tropical plants, purple mountains jutting up into the sky, and long boats imprisoned by rivers which traveled for miles.
When the train reached our destination, I was wind-blown and ready for adventure, but at the same time, I couldn’t wait to take the train back into the city at the end of our trip. Since my return from Thailand I have referred back to this experience with fond memories. Tell me, what could be better than a relaxing ride in the Thai countryside enjoying fresh pineapple on a stick while simultaneously staring into the face of death? Literally nothing.
Sai Yok National Park is perhaps one of the most famous destinations in Thailand for locals and foreigners alike. This park extends for miles across Thailand and Myanmar, consisting of nineteen protected sights known for their waterfalls and caves. Although I only had the opportunity to check out a single area of the park, it was impressive and calming to spend time at Sai Yok Noi, a waterfall and series of caves acommidating hundreds of people who had come to enjoy family picnics or a refreshing swim on a one hundred degree day.
Jake and I spent the afternoon wading in warm waters, eating tamarinds which we purchased from a nearby tent, and exploring a cave, home to ancient buddha statues and the offerings of those who had come to pray. I learned about the religious rituals in Buddhist culture, including the lighting of incense which is said to purify the space, set a tranquil mood and pay respect to the Buddha.
We spent the rest of the day investigating a variety of foods and goods in the tents which surrounded the park and then rode our bicycles back to the resort. It was so freaking beautiful, I didn’t even care that I was slightly nauseous and sweating profusely with a belly full of mysterious treats.
This quiet and eclectic resort was an inviting place to stay while in Thailand. We were housed in a quaint little cabin reserved for the resort staff which was perched at the edge of the property. As we awoke on a Saturday morning and Jake made his way to the office to get some work done (or perhaps play on his laptop? Who can be sure?), I spent some time exploring my surroundings which included elegant guest houses on the water, an outdoor restaurant and performance area, and an abundance of fruit trees. The grounds were decorated with cute signs and little garden gnomes. When Jake was finished with his “work”, we made our way down to the water and peacefully enjoyed a cup of coffee.
The resort staff was incredibly friendly and had a good sense of humor about my inability to pronounce any Thai words. One of the ladies in the kitchen declared Jake her honorary son in Thailand, and offered to cook a dinner of vegetables and rice for us as she knew I do not eat meat. Our final morning was so special, as I had the opportunity to work alongside the resort staff in serving breakfast to guests. It was pretty neat to experience a breakfast of rice, noodles, soups and salads rather than my typical fruit smoothie or bowl of cereal. We were able to enjoy this food together on the gorgeous outdoor patio before cleaning up and then packing our bags for the next adventure. As we pulled away from the quiet paradise, I felt so fortunate to have experienced this new culture alongside my brother and so many welcoming new people.
I may, perhaps write more about this in another post because there is too much to be said for the authentic vegan Thai food that graced my taste buds. But I will say that as someone who used to visit my local Thai restaurant twice a week, I was incredibly eager to experience this part of the trip. I am a foodie, no doubt, and having read a lot of books about the dietary habits in Asian cultures, I figured being vegan in Thailand would be both easy and incredibly delicious. Although it wasn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be (especially due to the inability to communicate my dietary restrictions), it was certainly a treat to taste all sorts of new foods.
Jake and I didn’t actually eat out very much while in Thailand, as the resort provided us most meals, but we did purchase tons of fresh fruit, which happened to be a major highlight of my trip. Visiting the fruit stands in Bangkok was exciting and overwhelming. If you have read any of my other blogs, you know that I would be shunned by society for the ridiculous amount of fruit I eat on a daily basis. Being surrounded by produce of all shapes, colors and sizes which I had never seen or heard of before literally made me feel like it was Christmas morning. I wanted to try everything. (A formal thanks to my non-vegan brother for putting up with my demands to seek out only non-animal foods and spending 20 minutes photographing before digging in. Yes, I am that guy).
There were so many things that made my trip to Thailand wonderful: The food, the nature and the people, spending more time with my brother than I possibly ever have, and discovering him in an entirely new element. It was truly surreal to be riding bicycles, exploring caves and walking around the city with him, realizing holy shit, we are in Thailand right now. It seems like just yesterday we were stuffing socks in our shoes, desperately wishing we could fool the Fun Town staff into thinking we were tall enough to get on the big kid rides. At the time, our little minds must have been thinking that this amusement park was the coolest place in the entire world. And although Jake and I have grown a lot since then, harboring entirely different perspectives about this trip and about life in general, I’m certain we can agree on one thing: Thailand is dope. Fun Town is still a close second.