So Long, and Thanks for All the Pad Thai

As the Grateful Dead once said and various travel memes since echoed, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Actually, it was only two and a half weeks, but with our crammed itinerary it felt like much longer—and filming a web series certainly made it strange.

Like I discussed in my first blog post, my previous experiences in Thailand were stereotypically hedonistic and self-centered. I was the backpackeriest backpacker that ever backpacked, more concerned with seeing sights and sewing oats than the idea of my role in the tourist system. Admittedly, I’m not crippled with regret because, as Alanis Morissette once said, you live, you learn (ah, the wisdom of rock music). But I was eager to return to my old stomping—or perhaps drunken staggering—grounds as a more versed and reflective traveler.

In short, the trip was incredible. My favourite moment was the Yi Peng festival. Full disclosure: I’ve never actually coordinated my travel schedule with that of local festivities, even though doing so is recommended by innumerable backpacking articles (some of which I might’ve even written). But taking part in something so large and majestic, witnessing my wish-infused lantern join thousands of others in a phenomenal spectacle, was overwhelmingly poignant; I now feel a deeper connection to my host nation.

My “runner up” moment was the Chiang Mai cabaret. Sexy and celebratory, it embodies the thrilling nature of tourism in Thailand without supporting an exploitive industry, like a ping-pong show, or destroying your brain and liver cells, like Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party.

My most inspiring experience was at Elephant’s World. When I’d first received the “Thaitinerary” (did you really expect my last blog to be without a dorky play on words?) and saw it listed as one of the activities, I was apprehensive. I’d recently written an article on animal mistreatment in tourism—between various elephant trekking companies and the Tiger Kingdom, Thailand doesn’t have the cleanest record. So I was especially pleased to discover an ethical opportunity to hang out with the nation’s revered beasts.

During lapses between debaucheries, I actually did hit up a number of temples on my previous Thailand trips, particularly in the holy city of Chiang Mai. Having an idea of what a traditional Thai Buddhist wat is like, it was fascinating to visit the White Temple and Black House, and glimpse contemporary interpretations of the ancient religion that so tightly binds the country.

My personal goal of this trip was to cast aside the cocktail bucket and become a more mindful traveler—by fortunate coincide, being part of Tan Your Mind helped me achieve that. By hosting a web series (plus blogging and posting on social media regularly), Lena and I, and by extension the camera crew, found ourselves suddenly held accountable for all of our actions. This assignment forced us to consider our decisions as tourists to an extent we probably wouldn’t have had we just been backpacking for fun.

To be honest, I was secretly afraid that I wouldn’t experience the same highs that I did before—that Thailand wasn’t as much fun without the parties. I’m elated to report that my fears were unwarranted, and to have proven to myself that you don’t have to go bananas to have a fulfilling backpacker experience.

Oh yeah, and I’m super stoked to have finally gotten that “stupid tourist” bamboo tattoo. Hey, old habits die hard, okay?