Choices, Chances, Changes

A few months ago, someone important to me sent me a quote without comment: “There are three C’s in life: CHOICES, CHANCES, & CHANGES. You must make a choice to take a chance or your life will never change.

I promptly printed this out and hung in on my refrigerator near a postcard from a friend of mine (Greg Giesen) who runs a leadership program (leading from within; next session Sept 12-14) that asks simply “Are you showing up in life as the person you most want to be?

The last two months have been a blur.

Thailand was awesome. I participated in both the Northern (Chiang Mai – 8 people, 2/3 guides) and Southern (Phuket – 4 people, 1 guide) portions of the trip. We hiked, biked, kayaked, rode elephants, zip-lined (added on at our request), had a cooking class, watched a live Muay Thai boxing event (again added at our request), toured numerous caves, Buddhist temples and other historically important locations.
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The Northern journey included some singular experiences like having a village dog companion that routinely accompanies tour groups on a 2 day 20 km journey through the jungle and finds his way home again solo.

I ate my body weight in delicious Thai food and exotic fruits. I’m personally addicted to Longan. I think I ate hundreds of these. I love the feel in my mouth. The flavor/texture is similar to Lychee.  We also enjoyed Rambutanpassion fruitdragon fruitpomelo (hurrah to the people who peeled it for us), papaya, Thai pineapple, wild bananas, etc.

One hour of Thai Massage or Thai foot massage is available everywhere and cheaper than a beer. Seriously.

I have been asked whether I would recommend an REI trip like this. Absolutely. If you are visiting a place where you do not know the language or customs, the guides contracted by REI can be invaluable. I am certain that our group saw places that are rarely accessed by foreigners. REI also does a good job of accurately describing the fitness level needed (activity level) as well as the nature of the accommodations (rustic, hotel, camping, “primitive”, etc.) so that your expectations can be managed accordingly. In general, the accommodations were perhaps less rustic than described. For example, a hot shower, a western toilet or electricity might show up in a place where it was not advertised to be. And, especially on the Northern portion, our guides were incredibly sensitive and reactive to our fitness levels. Apparently they added to the biking for us (versus the last 3 years of travelers) because we were fit enough and added on an afternoon of zip-lining (Zipline Chiang Mai – this place was amazing – 27 platforms  with world class staff) and an evening at a Thai boxing match at our request. And, our head guide, “Mr. Pan”, made sure to personally escort us to the airport and our connecting flights on our final day, even though it was his day off.

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Photo of our guide Mr. Pan about to teach a cooking class to the group at the Eco Lodge. 

The Northern portion of the trip was 5-star; awesome; worth every dime; met or exceeded any expectation I had, even though it rained every day and this part of the trip could be called “10 ways to get muddy and scraped up in Thailand.” I expected to hate (or perhaps endure) it but loved every minute except for about 20 minutes of crazy technical mountain bike riding through a muddy corn field on the narrowest single track I’ve ever ridden.

Thailand is a beautiful country (hundreds of photos here) with wonderful people. I could not take enough pictures.

The Southern portion which I expected to love (sunny days, boating, snorkeling, beaches, kayaking) was OK. And 90% of this was the guide or should I say my lack of appreciation for our Southern guide. He was late to collect us from the airport and unapologetic about this. Indeed, several odd roadside detours and stops were made taking us from the airport to our hotel. This experience set the tone for all else that followed. Sunsets were missed; restaurant reservations were not made; itineraries changed hourly and the “staff” members were treated more like slaves than partners or employees in our adventure. I realize this is my American value system and bias coloring my experience but I felt very uncomfortable that the hired help would literally wait to obey. For example, they would be instructed to prepare/deliver coffee or breakfast but would not also deliver cups or plates or silverware until or unless the head guide would OK such behavior. So we as “guests” could watch our food get cold as we waited for our guide who was often on a smoke break to remember to complete his instructions. After our experience in Chiang Mai, which was amazing, in some ways this part just sucked, at least for me. The sights near Phuket were incredible.

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In terms of geographic and tidal knowledge, our guide did take us to some hidden gems – lagoons, caves, vistas – where our tiny group was completely alone compared to some areas with hundreds of tourists vying for a single location/cave/beach but this did not make up for (at least to me) his abysmal treatment of his employees. I’ve seen dogs treated better. These men literally would not eat until he gave a command that it was allowed.

And perhaps some of my lack of appreciation for the Southern portion of the trip was my getting sick. I spent my last day in Thailand in a Phuket hospital getting an appendicitis ruled out. The Phuket hospital was a 5-star resort experience. The hospital was clean, modern, efficient and smelled great. Escorts were provided between each doctor. They were extremely courteous even though I was dirty from two days of camping/ocean activity, still in my bathing suit, and somewhat disoriented from dehydration. The doctor there sent me home with 4 drugs, a CD containing the ultrasound images of my abdomen in case my symptoms got worse traveling home, and a hospital card to speed re-admission inside Thailand if needed. The whole process took less than 2 hours and cost a whopping $165 US without any special travel insurance. As much as I was underwhelmed by my Southern tour guide, his boss escorted me to the hospital and back to my hotel. Thank you. Perhaps not surprisingly, I was grilled on my experience with this guide and learned that hospital visits such as mine were not uncommon for his tours with many tourists admitted for multiple days. I’ll blame my sickness, but I did not express my true feelings to the guide’s boss during this inquisition. But I will say, that my REI assigned roommate and I said daily to each other on the Southern portion “I miss Pan.” (our Northern guide)

Some obvious differences between Northern and Southern Thailand include: dogs (north) vs. cats (south); Buddhist (north) vs. Muslim (south); Jungle (north) vs. Beach (south). Your mileage may vary but I loved the North.

I had two 6 to 8 hour layovers in Bangkok. I wish I had more time. I spent both layovers grabbing a nap and a shower at the Mariya Boutique Residence at Suvarnabhumi Airport -for about $30 to $40 US this hotel is maybe 10 minutes from the airport; free shuttle; free internet; the hotel is clean; has hot showers, western facilities; free coffee. What more do you need?

I am hooked on travel bloggers such as Nomadic Matt. I want to see more.

A few years ago my amazing virtual friend Mel (from the UK) and her partner Mark visited me in CO (photo from the Rock Bottom Brewery).

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Mel died suddenly and unexpectedly on July 14, 2012. She was not yet 40. I will miss her and her words. I am so glad that she and Mark got to tour the globe for a year, rather than making it something that they would do eventually, before her passing. I am so glad that I got to meet her in person. I am sorry that I did not get to see her again.

Choices, chances, changes…what are yours?

Posted in Personal Development, Travel