The Incredible Pleasure of Going Back
Or, Why I Moved to Thailand
So, I’ve gone back to Thailand. I’m going to be a beach bum. I’m 10 years late on that score (and admittedly, I will be supported by a steady freelance income). But for the next two fiscal quarters, my social life will consist of hanging out at a beach bar with mostly twenty-something English teachers, ex-pats, and their Thai friends. And I’ll probably get a decent tan.
When I first started planning my life of travel, Thailand wasn’t even on my radar. In fact, South East Asia was not on my list of destinations—it seemed like an everyones-been-there-done-that cliché. Africa was always my dream, but rather than go straight there, I decided to circumnavigate and tick off other marquee destinations like China and India. Then go to Africa.
Well, I haven’t made it to Africa yet. Because, as it turns out, I seek out people, not places. I first went to Thailand because a friend was living and working there, and it made sense. And truth be told, no destination truly beckons me—people beckon me.
I’ll pretty much go anywhere if you ask me to join you. While I appreciate its pros, I’ve never really wanted to travel alone; I travel alone because the alternative is not travelling, and that’s unacceptable. But it’s usually more fun to travel with people you know (or at least visit them).
- I went to London because BFG lived there (and I just had to support Team Canada)
- I went to Thailand the first time because C&C suggested I should come and stay.
- I went to Macau because one half of C&C needed to do a visa run and wanted to play poker for two days straight.
- I went to Singapore because Ty lives there and invited me to stay.
- I went to Cambodia because Cousin Matt asked me meet him for coffee.
- I went to Spain for six weeks because the ‘Rents were going to be there, with a free place to stay, and I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish.
- I went to Disney World because it was the lifelong dream of my six-year-old niece.
In many ways, I like (or even prefer) to travel alone. No negotiation. Go at your own pace. Open yourself to new people and new ways of being, without the baggage of your home identity. And honestly, nothing beats spending the entire day at a tourist attraction—a museum you’ve looked forward too or a tick-off-the-list place like Alcatraz Island—and doing it your way. The only thing that makes it better is having someone to chat about it over dinner. And that’s what’s hard to come by when you travel solo.
If you’re outgoing—which I’m not, but I am getting better—you have no trouble meeting people. But with every new person, it’s the same conversation. It’s like reading the first chapter of a book or watching the pilot episode of your favourite TV show. Over, and over, and over again. Pleasant, but tedious, to say the least. And it makes you crave your existing connections. The people who know you without having to “get to know you.”
So, going back seems to be a great compromise between new adventure and the comfort of knowing and being known. And going back lets you correct your mistakes.
I travelled non-stop for 9 months. I went to Iceland, the London Olympics, Thailand, Macau, Singapore, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Cambodia, India, U.A.E, Andalusia, Paris, Italy. And I made mistakes along the way—often the “expensive” mistakes of a newbie.
It’s always fun to explore new places, and even more fun to spend considerable time in a new place getting to know it. But I always find myself saying, “Next time, I’ll do X, Y, and Z differently.” Unfortunately, as I discovered, X, Y, and Z are a little different everywhere you go.
Learning from your mistakes is all well and good when travelling close to home. From the comfort of my hometown, going back to Montreal, New York City, or Chicago, or even Vegas and San Fran, is a real possibility. But saying, “next time I’m in Macau, I’ll do this differently,” seems like an empty threat. Not because I’ll never find myself travelling to that place again (I do mean to travel for the rest of my life), but with so many places I still need to see, can I really justify going back to Macau?
It’s the ultimate, “learn from your mistakes dilemma.” Do I really want to spend the money to make sure I stay in the right hotel in Goa? Or choose to spend more time at the Vatican Museum and go through the Roman Forum in the other direction? Or visit Darjeeling in the summer so I can tour the tea plantations?
But, what I really want to do is visit Kerala and Amritsar. And before I visit Rome again, Berlin, Bratislava, Budapest, Copenhagen, Krakow, Istanbul, Lisbon, Munich, Madrid, Marseille, Stockholm, Valencia, and Zurich beckon, just to name a few. (Don’t worry, I’ve already been to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dublin, Edinburgh, Florence, London, Paris, Prague, Venice, and Vienna)
Of course, there are places I’ve done to death, as they say. I’ve been to Paris so many times, I’ve almost lost count. The last two times I went, I spent the days eating, shopping, and hanging out. But still, if you said, “Wanna join me in Paris?” I’d say “Sure thing!” without a doubt.
So, now it would seem that Thailand is joining the ranks of Paris.
I’ve gone back.
Not to the myriad places I didn’t visit the last time I was there (like Bangkok, for example), but to a sleepy beach town/fishing village an hour’s drive from a city few Westerners have ever heard of. And I knew how to get the shuttle from the airport (and helped explain things to the tourists on my flight), and a friend came to collect me at the bus stop, and I feel like I know a little about what’s what—a far cry from the first week I spent in Surat Thani back in 2012, when I basically did whatever C&C told me to.
And I’m really looking forward to jumping right in, not wasting time overcoming culture shock (although jet lag and New Year’s Eve have taken their toll), and getting out to explore, live, and experience this still-quiet nook of Thailand on my own terms and at my own pace.
But I promise to visit Bangkok this time. And maybe Malaysia. And definitely Vietnam.