The thought of things coming to an end is scary. But the fact that our time together is limited is also what defines it, it's what makes that time so special.
A sweaty glistening, oily, almost creamy forehead.
The symphony of smells that come from the clothes you've worn, four days too many.
The constant presence of sand on your legs, your ears, your towel, your pockets, your beds, everything.
Blistered toes and continuously opening cuts where your flip flops meet your big toe.
The salty sting of sweat hitting your eyes, because your eyebrows just can't keep up.
Feeling the weakness of a body that hasn't trained in weeks.
The dampness of a towel that just hasn't had a fair chance to properly dry.
The coarseness of hair touched by saltwater and sand (This one feels pretty great).
These have been common feelings of the last couple weeks. Sometimes they're constant, ever present.
But. So often, they just fade to the background. They go from being a constant thought, to an itch, to an ignorable speck in the corner of your mind. They get replaced by the feeling of the wind touchIng your skin as you ride a Tuk Tuk. The feeling of sand caressing your fingers. The sound of the waves outside of the boat. The smooth feeling of the wooden boat beneath your feet. The smiles and laughs of those you're surrounded by.
Back home, the weather is a constant thought. The cold almost burning sensation of the winter wind on your face. The remnant numbness of cold on your skin, even though you've been indoors for fifteen minutes.
For some reason, here, it's faded away. Maybe it's because we're feeling and experiencing so much? We're constantly surrounded by newness, so maybe our minds don't fixate on the negative.
Or maybe it's because we're choosing to pay attention to the important things, and that those things are present, every day, at home even in the heart of winter.
Stop and look
Have you ever driven up to a viewpoint, gotten out of the car iPhone in hand. Mindlessly snapped away at what was in front of you from any and every angle you could think of. Gotten back in the car and realized that you had no idea what you had seen? Or worse, didn't realize it at all/until it was filtered and saturated on Instagram?
I have. It's gross and embarrassing to think about.
I've instated a rule that I've been following out here. Fifteen seconds. I must look, see, let myself encounter a place before taking any pictures. Fifteen seconds before I can flick the camera on.
And there are some places, that are better left unphotographed because everything that was important about the place had nothing to do with what I saw.
We constantly seek permanence. To record things. To take pictures to write them down. It's because we're afraid of the impermanent. But sometimes, when we're so enveloped in nailing things and experiences down, we forget to truly experience them.
There's a world out there for you to see, and there's a universe for you to encounter.
I've learnt the importance of closing my eyes.
Of getting to know the island of Ko Phi Phi by the way the sand feels under my bare feet.
Listening to the cacophony of sound that lights up a night outside of Khao Yai national park.
Tasting the richness of Oh Chien (fried oyster omelette) from a man who's been cooking only that dish at the same food stall in Penang for 30 years.
There's a whole universe to encounter, if all you do is see with your eyes you miss out on so much.
This post is a week overdue, but I'll be honest I don't have anything super interesting to say about Angkor and I don't believe in forcing writing. The temples give off a powerful aura of history, there is a quiet calm and appreciation for how old they are as you walk through them.
For now, I'll let the pictures do the talking.
Hitchhiking through Khao Yai
"It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting." - The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho and Maroun Najjar
Its funny how every experience prepares you for the next one, how taking a step off the paved road onto the dirt makes the next one just a little bit easier. Before you know it you find yourself deep in the woods and you've completely lost sight of the paved road. Some steps are bigger than others, sometimes you know what you'll be stepping into, other times what looks like dirt can turn out to be quicksand, or the softest of sands.
After two days of roaming Bangkok, soaking in backpacker culture on Khao San road and savoring the plethora of late night drunk food we were itching to get out of the city and off the trail to see something a little different. Three hours north lay Khao Yai, Thailand's largest national park boasting wild elephants, monkeys, Tigers, deers, and a totally unknown Thai wilderness.
A tour company offered to book us transportation, food, lodging, and a guide for $90. HA, LOL, yeah right, we've been scammed a couple times already and being the experienced veteran travelers that we had become after 3 whole days, we laughed off the tour offer and decided to do things on our own. Spoiler: What should've been a $30 trip ended up being $63 for the day after being scammed by the bus company on the way there...... IN OUR DEFENSE who'd expect a bus company to scam you right? Oh well, sometimes you've got to step through the mud to find the grass.
We took a nauseating minivan three hours north to get to the park unknowingly having been charged 500% more than the other (non-foreign) passengers. I downloaded a bunch courses on photography, drawing and calligraphy before I left Boston so I spent most of my time watching a photography course on the way up. I sat next to a monk who I showed my Dhammapada to, he beamed back at me and tried to flip through it but was unable to understand the English we had a couple more head nods and smiles and then both returned to what we were doing.
8pm hit, Carlos, the monk and I were the only ones left on the bus that was speeding down long dark windy roads. The bus suddenly pulled over on what looked like bumblefuck nowhere, there were two small buildings, one with a sign for a coffee shop, there was no one in sight and no streetlights. I looked at the monk and asked "Khao Yai?", he smiled and nodded and said "Khao Yai."
The first thing i noticed when I walked outside was just how loud the forest was. We walked into the coffeeshop where two parents were playing with their daughter on the floor. "Hostel? Sleep? Guesthouse?" I put my hands together by my head. "Yes yes!" The man got up and walked us outside where four bungalows awaited. I was absolutely starving so I left Carlos and went out to find food. Ten minutes down the street was another family eating dinner outside in what looked like a restaurant that they owned, the only thing I could communicate was chicken pad Thai which they cooked me for 40 baht ($1). While waiting for the food I saw what is probably the biggest Beatle I've ever seen, about the size palm. I paid for the food and heard a crunch above me, I looked up to see a gecko with the aforementioned Beatle hanging out of its mouth.
Jet lag woke me up at four that day, I began to look into how/where we should visit in the park and came to the unfortunate realization that the park center/where most hikes leave from was, well, in the center of the park, 12miles from where we were. Motorbikes and hitchhiking were our two options. So at four AM I began watching you tunes videos on how to drive a motorbike... Convinced that I'd be able to figure it out, even though there were two of us with backpacks and they drive on the opposite side of the street that we drive on in the states. Carlos woke up at seven and thankfully talked me out of my absurd idea.
And so, we hitchhiked.
We had breakfast alongside some deer.
The first hike was poorly marked and overgrown so they made us hire a guide, and we were off.
The first hour of the hike was through the thick jungle among the massive trees. If there ever was a place to inspire the jungles of Tarzan this would be it. The jungle was so loud. It felt like chainsaws were constantly going off, it was a constant cacophony of sound.
There are times in life where you walk into a place so vast and so beautiful that nothing could've prepared you for it. No image, no video, no description can adequately come close to describing what that place feels like. The colors feel brighter, you feel more aware of the smells and movement of everything and it feels like the wind is going through you.
Backpacking in Yosemite felt that way, the cedar forests of Lebanon felt that way and most recently, seeing the Taj. It's what happened after we broke the out of the thick jungle brush in Khao Yai.
I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
After waiting for around forty minutes to hitchhike back out of the park these awesome people picked us up and gave us a ride back out to the bus station.
"One could live on just about nothing and therefore one had to stop using making a living as an excuse for doing things one did not believe in." - Charles Eames
So I could sit here and write about everything I did, where we went, the things we saw, smelt and felt. But I don't think that'd be much fun to read or write for either of us. So I'm going to go a little bit into what we did, but more importantly I'm going to write about the things we experience and the things I've learnt/thought about.
We've spent the last two days exploring the city of Bangkok, in short, it's a full overwhelming of all the senses, reminding me of India. From the Tuk Tuk drivers, to the abundance of food stands, to the bright and vibrant colors of clothing. The city itself is massive, it's incredibly wide and a mix of gorgeous new upscale skyscrapers and older more run down apartment buildings.
Bliss is walking down a bustling street in Bangkok, with nowhere as your destination and no time you need to get there by. Pure and utter freedom. You stop in whatever food stall calls to you, whatever coffee shop looks interesting, and when you want to move on you just hop in a tuktuk, it feels weightless. It's just been two days, but I've adored this feeling, especially when you're with like minded people who completely embrace it.
I cant wait to spend three months chasing it.
I spent most of today driving around picking up last minute things I need and filtering through all my clothes. Here is every single thing I'll be carrying on my back for the next three months:
- Lonely Planet Travel guide
- Mediatations by Marcus Aurelius
- Being and Time by Heidegger
- Leather Journal + Muji Pen for sketching
- 2 Letters
- 2 Tobacco pipes + supporting cast, I'm bringing two, because what's the point of a pipe if you can't share it?
- Sony a5000 camera
- SD card adapter for iPad
- Day pack
- Indestructible watch
- Sleeping bag liner
- Travel towel
- 3 Shorts and 1 bathing suit
- 3 Sleveless shirts, 2 tshirts, 1 long sleeve
- 4 Boxers
- 4 Pairs of socks
- 2 button downs
- Double edged razor, blades, aftershave
- Jack Purcell converse
- Hiking boots
- Big backpack
iPad + Camera vs iPhone
I could do everything that my iPad and Camera do with my iPhone. However, I want a break from my phone, from the constant buzzing of notifications, from the mindless unlocking/locking of the screen. Bringing an iPad and camera will force me to be deliberate about the things I do and the pictures I take.
16 hours till departure. I can't wait.
What are you doing after graduation?
In life there are questions like these that define a lot of the big transitions that we go through. It starts with: What AP’s are you taking? What’re your top three schools? What are you going to major in? And finally, what are you doing after graduation, which could also be rewritten as what are you going to do with your life? At this pace I’m sure “where’s the bride” isn’t too far off in the future either.
Questions like this are so common, everybody asks them, and yet they’re so difficult to answer. How do you cram all your hopes and aspirations for the future into one answer? How do you do justice to everything that you’ve been working for and dreaming of? How do you explain the person that you are and the person that you dream of becoming?
This is my attempt at answering that question.
So, what am I doing after graduation?
I’m buying a one way ticket to the other side of the world and staying there until I run out of money.
This May, three days after graduation, I will be flying to South East Asia for three months. I’m buying a one way ticket to Bangkok and figuring things out as I go. For the first month I’ll be joined by one of my closest friends and for the following two months I’ll be completely on my own. I’ve got about $6,000 put aside and assuming I’m spending around $50 a day I’ll be there for close to 3 months.
UNDERSTANDING THE COST
With every decision comes a cost and I think it’s important to recognize what that is. By choosing to travel for three months right after I graduate I’m effectively putting a hold on finding a job after graduation. I want to work for a startup and the best jobs usually don’t come up three months ahead of time. So while most people are already landing jobs and securing salaries, I most likely won’t begin looking until August. That’s scary.
I’m leaving a summer with friends behind, a city that I love and entering a world of pure unknowns. Where will I go when I come back? Move to California? Move back in with my parents?
Worst of all, I’ll be traveling knowing that my parents are back home worried about where I’ll be and whether I’ll be safe.
So why, why am I going?
“I believe that the longer you can hang with that ambiguity or unknown, the greater the results will be at the end.” — Elle Luna
EXPERIENCES, GROWTH AND PEOPLE
Let me begin by explaining some of the things I hold truest in life.
I believe life is about the adventures you embark on and the stories you create.
I believe that learning doesn’t happen in the classroom, it happens out in the world. It happens late at night during whiskey-fueled conversations. It happens when you surround yourself with people much more talented than yourself.
I believe that the people you meet and the relationships you make are the most valuable things in life.
Which brings me to why I’m going, I want an adventure.
I want to learn more about myself and more about the world. I want to be surrounded by people who have lived their lives completely different from mine. I want to rely entirely on myself to create the experience that I want to have. I want to eat great food and have beers with complete strangers.
So that’s what I’m going to do.
On May 12th I’ll land in Bangkok and embark on an adventure.
Want to follow along? I’ll be keeping a travel blog at maroun.co/asia (still under construction). The best way to follow along will be by adding your email to the list below. Note: I absolutely value your emails and promise to keep the emails I send interesting and useful. By adding your email to this list you’ll only receive blog posts about my trip, which should be about 1–5 from now until May and then at most 1–2 times a week while I’m in Asia.