Danielle is an international peace advocate and Co-founder of the nonprofit Kids for Peace who recently graduated from Harvard with degrees in Religion and Sociology. From summer 2011-2012, Danielle will spend nearly a year traveling in Asia and Africa. Her blog documents her experiences as she seeks out new adventures, learns about other ways of life, and studies issues related to vulnerable children and conflict resolution. Read her last guest blog here.
On one of the last days of my Southeast Asia tour, I picked up a copy of Eat, Pray, Love from a used bookstore and realized that Elizabeth and I were on the same trip. Sure there are some notable differences: the autobiography’s author had suffered a horrible divorce prompting her to visit three I’s—Italy, India, and Indonesia—with the goals of pursuing pleasure, devotion and balance. I had no such explicit goal at the outset of my trip, but here I was, lying on a sun-kissed beach in Koh Samui, Thailand, reading my book, sipping a Mai Tai, and…pursuing pleasure.
Compared to my recent travels, Thailand was as a beacon of fun, frivolity, and pampering.
Italy called to Elizabeth with its rich pastas and full-bodied wines, and Thailand’s famous peppers and spices beckoned my epicurean sensibilities. Proper Thailand tours include a good amount of eating, as every local tropical fruit, each variety of curry, and the many takes on the fried noodle must be sampled. I wanted to perfect the art of eating these delights and also to take a skill home as a souvenir, so a friend and I enrolled in a day-long Thai cooking course.
At Baan Thai, we learned how to make homemade coconut milk, to mash our own spices for curry with a mortar and pestle, and to time the dropping of spring rolls into hot oil perfectly so as to ensure a crisp exterior and delicate finish. Even better, we developed the skill of eating for seven hours straight as each of our five courses needed tasting. And by tasting, I mean to say that we ate them in full—sometimes with a Chang beer—and always with a chili-filled smile of self satisfaction and flavor-induced delight.
A thorough visit to Thailand also includes a sampling of Thai spa culture. The famous Thai massage (which at times feels more like a Thai boxing match in which the organizers forgot to give the massage recipient a pair of gloves) is certainly a beating worth taking at $5-$10 per hour. Thai are experts in making the body feel and look fresh, with beauty salons and massage parlors as plentiful in Bangkok as temples in Laos.
Without a doubt, a highlight of my visit was an amazing stay in Koh Samui at Zazen Boutique Resort. The resorts of Koh Samui had come highly recommended, but my traveling buddy and I had no idea what service would greet us as we entered our honeymoon suite beach bungalow. The rose pedals on the bed and in the tub meant we began our stay with a big belly laugh, and the weekend of beach lounging, five star dining, speed boat rides, Thai dancing, and snorkeling kept the smiles permanently painted on our faces.
Thailand may be a land dedicated to what looks and feels good, but that didn’t keep me from visiting temples and experiencing some hearty, pleasure-avoiding meditation.
The glistening gold of Thai temples pierces the eye like a blinding, alkali-filled jewelry box. While the exterior shouts so loudly that the Buddhist message is at times unheard, the silence within and the gentle smells of incense could transport the practitioner to the interior of a temple anywhere else in Southeast Asia.
After visiting many of the impressive temples of Bangkok, my temple tour of Southeast Asia was officially complete. I left the memories of physical struggle behind with my Lao woven hat, said goodbye for now to Thai Basil and sent my last postcards off to friends and family back home. In one month, I had pursued pleasure in Thailand, learning throughout Southeast Asia, and meaningful connection with everyone I met.