Taylor Baez – Vietnam, Cambodia, & Thailand (2013) ‡

Dépaysement

I have always found a sense of comfort in large, unknown cities: identity amidst the chaos, purpose amongst a bustling beehive, strength while being only one among billions on earth. I like being reminded of my cosmic insignificance, this being one of the several reasons I moved from a small town in the outskirts of San Diego to Los Angeles city. For years this city fascinated me as I listened to the city hum, imagining the orchestra of lives that were contributing to the city’s music at that exact moment. Then, slowly, I became used to Los Angeles, and it was not quite as magical as it used to be. And then the opportunity came for me to travel to Vietnam, Cambodia, & Thailand.

Now, I had not been on airplane for longer than two hours total during my life, so the idea of a fourteen hour flight was terrifying, however it began the most rewarding experience of my life. I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on May 13th. I immediately fell in love with Vietnam. While extremely humid & hot, I appreciated this new, heavy air because it assured me there was not a single feature here I could take for granted. I was aware of how the air felt, how the ground felt under my shoes, how the sea of people & vehicles moved towards & away from each other at the same time.

Getting into the tunnels…

My favorite experience in Vietnam was exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels in the jungles outside of the city. During the Vietnam War, an elaborate set of tunnels were created underground, & I looked forward to venturing into the tunnels. At first, there was difficulty finding an opening to the tunnels, but the real struggle was in crawling in the cramped, rough tunnels. While breathing in dirt & feeling the tunnel walls to aid you in dark, I gained a new perspective on those who fought in the war & the determination they must have possessed to bear through such conditions.

…and out of the tunnels were two completely different experiences.

While Ho Chi Minh is my favorite city I stayed in, my most memorable experience took place in Cambodia at the Angkor Wat temples.  These magnificent ruins were considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World. There is an overwhelming sublime feeling to the temples, and walking through them is an incredibly humbling & centering experience.  While exploring one of the smaller temples, I stumbled upon an actual Buddhist temple towards the top of Angkor Thom. At first, I was afraid to explore the inside of this temple out of respect for those who were paying their respects inside, but one of the temple leaders caught my eye and invited me inside.  The two temple leaders openly & warmly welcomed me into their most sacred world, completely disregarding the language barrier, the cultural differences, & the religious differences between us, & they walked me through the steps of how to pay my respects inside the temple. Afterward, they offered me a blessing & a small braided bracelet before I left to explore the rest of the temples.

My new happy place…

…and the dearest experience to my heart.

The excitement that led up to Thailand left me unprepared for the city of Bangkok. Approaching the city, it strongly resembled Los Angeles: large overlapping freeways, concrete jungle with scattered groups of towering buildings. The only reminder in glancing that this was not home was the open spirituality present throughout the city. Office buildings, restaurants, homes would openly display their “spirit shrine” and “grandfather shrine,” altars for the spirits and ancestors respected by those nearby.

Exploring the Khao Luang Caves in Phetchaburi.

Large shrines and monasteries were placed as focal points throughout the city, you never traveled too far without knowing you were near one. While navigating the sensory overload of the night markets was as equally empowering as it was disorientating, my favorite site in Thailand was the underground shrines in Phetchaburi. The entrance to the cave was surrounded by dozens of monkeys, and as you descended into the cave you are swallowed by stalagmites and stalactites. Holes in the rock above filtered in streams of sunlight that illuminated the scattered golden Buddhas. After this eerily beautiful site, I met my new best friend near Hua Hin beach: a wonderfully spirited elephant I call Sabai.

Riding Sabai near Hua Hin.

Sabai roughly translates to “tranquility,” a Thai word to used to describe a feeling akin to sitting by the seaside with the wind blowing in your hair.  Wading through lakes, walking through the woods of the hills of the outskirts of Hua Hin, Sabai took us to a vantage point that overlooked most of the beach city and out into the Gulf of Siam.

The French have a word for something that I have longed for all my life: the feeling of not being in one’s home country. Dépaysement is something that I have always looked forward to, something that I have somehow known I would love. Without the generosity of the Globetrotter Grant Board, finally experiencing this joy in being somewhere unfamiliar would have taken much longer to realize. Trying to pay for this trip on my own, I had to sacrifice many things over the course of year. When I first set step in Vietnam, and when I took my last step in Thailand, I was empowered yet humbled to have made it this far. Not a single detail was taken for granted, and not a single detail was noticed without extreme gratitude for the opportunity and experiences the Globetrotter Grant allowed me.

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