Monday, November 24, 2008

A Thailand Time Out

For someone so compelled by Europe’s history, culture, food, people and grandeur, and for someone who proudly declares how much he prefers cool weather to hot weather, and for someone who still had not explored so many areas of Europe that simply cannot be missed (Ireland, Spain, ITALY!), an excursion to Thailand might have seemed like a curious choice.

Sure, plenty of Swedes take that flight from Stockholm to Bangkok, and then they head straight to Thailand’s famous beaches and islands, but Sean never went anywhere in Europe for beaches or warm weather (Russia in November?).

“Okay, I’ll come down, hang out in Thailand for a couple weeks, then I gotta get back to Europe and continue my escapade until I go home for Christmas.” This was my plan.

There was an empty seat on my plane from Bangkok to Rome that left last Thursday morning.

Amazing how travel and life priorities can be altered when someone captures your heart….

I’ll be staying in Thailand for a little while, but despite my ever-changing plans, you can always rely on a weekly blog entry to cover the story of some travel adventures, some cultural discoveries and, apparently, some unexpected (though welcomed) turns on the journey of life.

However, a blog entitled Linköpinglivin’ simply won’t suffice in Thailand.

Next week will mark the last official blog entry to Linköpinglivin’ in the form of a link to a new blog about my “time out” in Thailand. Blog title suggestions are currently being accepted.

See you next week, one last time before we “all” make the jump to Linköpinglivin’, the sequel.

Pictures above:

1. Just another day guiding a bamboo raft in the mountains of Thailand.

2. Paige and Sean river rafting, Thailand-style.

3. A Thai barbecue helps celebrate a birthday of some of Paige's students.

4. In the back of a "Tuk-tuk" motorbike taxi, the best form of road transportation in Thailand.

5. Baby elephants are large, but cute.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thailand Part 2: Chiang Mai

As my post-Sweden/Thailand experience continues, and Bangkok just becomes bigger and bigger with endless opportunities for new sights, exploration and ways to enjoy the warmth of climate and people, I remember that any trek to Thailand must include getting away from Bangkok and its metropolitan city-life in order to be exposed to a truer Thailand, a more revealing perspective of what distinguishes Thailand and this regional culture from other countries in the world.

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second city and a 12-hour overnight train ride will get you to this northern, mountain enclave for a completely different experience of Thailand. Chiang Mai is almost like an overgrown village. Not too many large buildings, just a few scattered highways and very little of it screams “commercialism.” All you need to know is, despite Chiang Mai’s population of nearly 1 million people, you have to search far and wide to find a McDonalds, which I just had to look up on the internet in order to know if there even was one.

Though a popular tourist destination for backpackers and other “farang” (foreigners) for the many markets, festivals, elephant riding, cooking and massage classes, Chiang Mai has a much more personal and comfortable atmosphere than Bangkok, still maintaining pieces of culture which include Thai, Lao, Burmese and Chinese influences due to its location on a historically significant trade route.

And if you travel enough, every-once-in-awhile, your scheduling benefits from your complete lack of planning and awareness – unbeknown to me, Thailand’s famous Loi Kratong festival was taking place three of the four nights I was there, so the night sky was lit up with flame-powered air lanterns and the river was speckled with candles resting on banana leafs celebrating the 12th month’s full moon.

Yes, I’m a long way from Sweden.

And the United States.

Perhaps one of the best parts for the visiting “farang” from the north is that Chiang Mai’s mountain climate decreases the temperature dramatically, which was welcomed by this converted Swede still getting used to temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius.

More from Thailand next week, including some clarity to my ever-changing personal plans for post-Sweden.
Pictures above:
1. "Sawat-dee k'ap" from Thailand!
2. The elephant is the animal symbol of Thailand. Asian elephants are smaller and have smaller ears than their more famous African counterparts.
3. Night festivals for Loi Kratong include endless colors, décor and lights. Thailand is very good at color, décor and light.
4. A Loi Kratong hot-air lantern takes to the sky (picture courtesy of the internet).
5. This is Paige – the reason I am in Thailand. More about Paige on Linköpinglivin’ next week.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Thailand Part 1: Bangkok

This week, my post-Sweden life began by stepping off a plane in a part of the world I had never before experienced, South East Asia. While I had been to Shanghai as a teenager (back when going to China wasn’t cool), I had never been this far south on our globe - quite the shock after having never been that far north in Sweden.

My vision of Bangkok before arriving was a huge, chaotic, congestion-filled, dirty, hot and unruly city that would be, well, quite a change from Scandinavia.

This perception is accurate, but I’ve already learned to get past the initial traumatic welcome to one of the world’s biggest cities (10 million live in Bangkok) and discover what lies behind the big city organized chaos.

Two things strike the unsuspecting visitor to Thailand: Warmth of climate and warmth of people. For those of you in Sweden, brace yourselves. Thailand has been hovring at about 30 degrees this week (88 Farenheit). Yeah, it's tropical. Yeah, it's nice. Yeah, even for someone who generally prefers the cooler weather, it's not so bad.
More importantly though, even in the big city, due to the friend I am visiting here, I have been able to connect with Thai people in a way that surpasses what travelers usually experience. This has made all the difference in my first week in Thailand. The Thai people on the street and in the home are quick to smile, quick to laugh and display a warmth and friendliness that touches the traveler from the beginning.

My advice when travelling to any part of the world: Get past the initial impressions of the place, be they positive or negative, and get to know the people. After just five full days in Bangkok, the warmth of hospitality and welcome that Thai people have developed a reputation for is clear.

Check back next week for more from Thailand and what my post-Sweden life is bringing…

Pictures above:

1. Thailand’s flag.
2. Temples abound throughout Thailand, but the most illustrious and ornate are found in the heart of touristy Bangkok.
3. More mesmerizing temples.
4. Three examples of transportation in Bangkok: Taxi, bus and “tuk-tuk,” the tourist’s favorite way to get from point A to point B in Bangkok.
5. Welcome to Thailand, Sean.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A New Adventure: Thailand

It was a somewhat remarkable and wholly unexpected set of circumstances that brought me to Sweden and now it is a remarkable and wholly unexpected set of circumstances that will take me to Thailand, my first stop in my post-Sweden life. I fly to Bangkok tomorrow.

I can just hear all you Swedes saying “one last vintage Swedish experience for Sean, because flying to Thailand has indeed become a very Swedish experience.” It’s estimated that 4% of all Swedes went to Thailand last year (360,000!), but I assure you that my plans don’t include sitting on a beach all day every day, okay maybe just a few days…

As this is the final blog entry about this country that I have come to appreciate and enjoy so much, I want to extend a word of “tack så mycket” to the many Swedish, American and other readers for their contributions and faithful reading of Linköpinglivin’ over the past two-plus years. This blog, and the enjoyment I have found through it, has been one of the most unexpected highlights of my Swedish experience. You helped make this a rich and rewarding Sunday/Monday evening exercise.

And to emphasize the point once again, though the Swedish influence on this blog will be concluding with this entry, the blog itself will continue, so if you’d like to stick around and see what the next adventure has in store, you would be most welcome.

Svenskar, jag har kommit att älska dina land och människor. Jag kommer sakna er, Linköping, Stockholm, fika, sommar ljus, vinter snö, köttbullar, prinsesstårta, Santa Lucia, Domkyrkan, Kanevad, Åbacka, Mjellerums Gård, Norins Ost, Äntligen bröd, Bilar, Stora Torget, Bosses Glassbar, LHC, röda sommar stugor, Ryttargårdskyrka, kanelbullar, Svenskaspråket och så mycket om Sverige. Tack så jätte mycket för allt. Ska komma tillbaka snart!

Hej då Linköping, hej då Sverige. Vi ses.

To Thailand. Please come along.