To travel to unfamiliar places is one experience that everyone should do at some point in life. Getting a chance to explore the wonders of the world and drink in sights you’ve never seen before can help you open doors to new adventures and relationships.
While I say this, truth be told, my travel history has been nonexistent for most of my adolescent life.
As none of my family members has had the privilege of owning a car nor did we know anyone who we could borrow one from, we were mostly forced to travel to nearby places that within commuting capacity. And in an area as Taytay, Rizal, that doesn’t really give us a lot of fun tourist destinations to choose from.
In fact, I may be the only few among my peer group who has yet to go to Baguio City, arguably the most basic travel spot in the Philippines.
The last time that I truly traveled was when I was six years old. My mother and I boarded a plane to visit her hometown in Capiz, and I can distinctly remember spending most of our days frolicking at the nearby beach–building sandcastles, catching sea creatures, letting the waves crash against my body–so much that I even got sunburnt.
As that week-long vacation ended, so did my days of traveling. That was until a surprising opportunity was presented to me to travel to the fascinating land that is Thailand to sightsee some of its popular tourist destinations. While most would’ve taken the offer without a second to waste, I was initially filled with hesitation, and to an extent, fear. How could I be excited to go on an international trip when I never even explored the well-known tourist spots in my own country?
The offer seemed a bit too sudden for a novice traveler like me, if you could even call me as such. At the same time, I felt that if I didn’t take it, I would regret it for the rest of my life. And so a few weeks later, I found myself on a plane flying towards the Land of Smiles.
At first, it didn’t quite fully sink in that I was actually in another country. Aside from the signs written in their local language, the urban sceneries in Thailand seemed marginally similar to the Philippines. However, as we started to thoroughly explore the land, my attention was caught by the various spirit houses sprinkled out in the open in the streets of the country.
These tiny houses, called "San Phra Phum," are part of a Thai tradition of spirit worship. As spirits are believed to take residence in the small structure, people place daily offerings in the houses, such as coconuts, fried rice, fruits, flowers and drinks.
Seeing these colorful and distinctive spirit houses seemed to have helped me snap back to reality that I really was in Thailand, a place that I had only ever seen in travel documentaries and articles. This was further cemented when we arrived at our very first tourist destination: Wat Suthat Thepwararam, a royal Buddhist temple that is one of the highest grades in Thailand.
Once I had satisfied my eyes with the majestic sight of the temple and divine statues of Buddha, I began to converse with our tour guide, wanting to breathe in the rich history of the place. Through her, I learned that the mural paintings filling the walls inside the temple showcase the "three worlds cosmology" of the Theravada Buddhist belief. The worlds all have different symbolisms, with the first one being a world of desires inhabited by men and animals, the second one by Brahma deities, and the third one by gods and is entirely formless.
I could have easily gained this knowledge through the internet, but I realized that nothing truly compares to drinking in the experience with your very own eyes and enjoying the wonders of it all in person.
Another instance where we enjoyed the educational fruits of traveling was when we visited Floral Café at Napasorn, a sumptuously decorated cafe located in Pak Khlong Talat flower market where we were taught how to make flower garlands, which are offered in temples as a sign of respect.
The experience of having to design and craft my own garland using a vast selection of sweet smelling buds and blooms not only made me see a glimpse of the religious practices of the Thais, but it also gave me a moment to forget about the troubles of the world.
In the short but meaningful days I spent in the country, I was able to understand why it was called the Land of Smiles. The excitement from moving from destination to destination put a big, toothy smile on my face, and all of the stress of adulting that had been building up on my shoulders eased as I delved into all the cultural and nature-filled sights.
The rejuvenating feeling I got from this made me understand more about the fascination and almost addiction that people have for traveling.
Our trip reached a climactic conclusion, at least in my case, when we went to Sai Kaew beach, a white sandy beach that is about 800 meters long and is one of the most popular beaches on Ko Samet, an eastern seaboard island of Thailand.
Being able to return to the beach after so long made me feel like I was that six-year-old kid again who fell in love with the sensation of having his feet sink into the soft, warm sand and having to hear the soothing sound of waves crashing against the shore.
I can never forget from back then how I would spend my time at the beach combing the sand in search of hermit crabs and all sorts of fascinating sea creatures, instigated by my love for animals. And so I felt my heart slightly sag in my chest when I saw that there was not even a single shell at Sai Kaew beach that may possibly host a cute, little crustacean inside. Nevertheless, I had hope that there was at least one crab hiding in the sand waiting for me to find it.
After much searching and squinting, my eyes finally spotted several ghost crabs scuttling around the area that weren’t even larger than my thumb. They’re quite the agile runners in spite of their size, and they really had me running all over the place trying to catch them. After I finally seized one in my hand, I almost felt the little kid inside me jump for joy as I clutched the tiny creature as if it was an Olympic medal.
As I closed the short chapter of my trip in Thailand, I came back to the Philippines with a trove of souvenirs and memories, along with a new-found appreciation for traveling.
Those five fleeting days I had were thrilling, nostalgic, and incredibly gratifying. Some people can only dream of experiencing a big outing as this, which is why it's important to make the most out of it should your lucky stars bless you with such an opportunity.