A light tingling sensation begins near the junction of your head and neck. As it slowly trickles south down your spine, your senses are heightened and time seems to slow down. The annoying hum of the motorbike engine and your soar butt immediately become problems of the past as your mind enters an intoxicated delirium of bliss. As the seconds pass like hours and you return to a normal state of being you realize that moments like this are what make this life worth living. This is why you ventured half way around the world subjecting yourself to a plethora of discomforts and placing strain on your bank accounts and relationships. You never know when a moment like this will occur and it is not something than can be forcefully obtained. Only during a journey where you really put yourself out there and let yourself loose can a moment of this magnitude enter and change your life forever.
“And me, I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not some place you can look for, cause it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something, and if you find that moment… it lasts forever…” (A quote from Richard in “The Beach.” My favorite book of all time, by Alex Garland. It’s phenomenal and if you have any interest in backpacking or Thailand I urge you to read it!)
So when was my moment? In all my travels I’ve only had a handful, but this one in particular sticks out above the rest. With a stolen map, our motorbike nearly running out of gas, and being lost for hours in a completely unknown world, the day had been quite long and stressful. With evening rapidly approaching we decided to stay the night in this small mountain village as we really had no other option. High in elevation this was the coldest I’d felt in Thailand so I was thankful when my numb hands finally brought the motorbike to a halt in front of a guesthouse. Situated on the tallest peak in the area Doi Maesalong was nothing short of spectacular. A huge temple looming high above the city seemed to be watching over it, and we realized that no matter how tired and hungry we were we must make it to this temple before the sun sets. Opting against the 700 stairs leading from the town to the temple we abused our motorbike once again ascending the narrow, winding mountain path. A slight mist resting atop the green, rolling mountains extending in every direction, time began to stand still. As I felt the slow moving chill down my spine my senses were overwhelmed,and we could barely speak to each other as pulled up to the temple. It’s extremely difficult to put a situation like this into words, but with the landscape and journey leading up to it the moment was nothing short of surreal. Clearly westerners were not frequent visitors to the area as Thai people taking in the view insisted on including us in all their pictures. The two temples at the top both were very different from any I’d seen in Thailand before, and we learned the village and temples were created by Chinese people fleeing their homeland. However, aside from a beautiful emerald Buddha inside, the temples were rather empty and plain considering the difficulty to build these structures in such a unique location. As the sun began to set we took a detour down a dirt road to try and catch the view from another angle. The forest cleared into a huge Chinese graveyard on a steep mountain slope. Very unique and colorful tombs dotted the landscape so we hopped off and decided to walk around a bit. Now I’m not a believer in ghosts by any means, but during my graveyard walkabout I genuinely had a very heavy and haunting feeling as if I was unwelcome in this place. I told Jessy about it and she confirmed the same feeling so we left the area as quickly as possible and returned to the guesthouse. After some warm curry and tea on an awesome bamboo balcony I purchased a bottle of Sangsom (Thai Rum) partially because I lacked adequate clothing for the cold mountain weather and turns out it was the eve of my 23rd birthday. Sipping on some rum to stay warm and wandering about there wasn’t any sort of nightlife in this tiny place. We heard of a morning market at 5am the next day, so very out of character for me I went to bed around 8:30pm on my birthday. With the plan of hiking up to the temple to watch the sunrise in the morning I drifted off to the only TV channel in English, showing a terrible movie about cars that had minds of their own and killed people. Tired and content I eventually crashed with the strange and comforting feeling that this would probably the first time I woke up on my birthday without a hangover, since my discovery of alcohol.