The traveller's road is well paved with those pursuing paradise. Some young backpackers look for good times and cheap drinks, but then there are many others looking for an idealized form of paradise. Some believe it can be found somewhere on the road, as though they’ll find that right place to solve their troubles. Maybe paradise is out there by some secluded beach or on some remote mountainside, but it seems that there’s a much more arduous process over just booking the right plane ticket. If paradise is to be found, then as always, there is work to be done.
Travelling opens me up to so many new environments and it’s easy to forget them once I’ve left. Though every now and then I stumble into a truly beautiful place that creates a lasting impression on me. It’s 7am and I’ve found myself in one of those specific places here in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
A friend and I took a night train from Bangkok up to the north (a 16-hour journey on a very industrial train). Arriving at 5 am, we were looking for a place to rest and get settled in. We ended up checking into a hostel that was far less than desirable. We weren’t greeted when we waited at the front desk, we weren’t shown to our room, and we didn’t get an explanation about the place at all. The staff were rude and the room was dirty. We found ourselves feeling uncomfortable in the accommodations and decided we needed to find something more welcoming. So eventually, we spent a full afternoon dropping into different hostels and hotels seeing what their room availability was like.
After trying 15 charmless motel-like places, we took a break at a delicious restaurant and enjoyed bowls of Pad Thai and Khao Soi. We struck up conversation with a woman from the US who’s relocated to Chiang Mai and who had a great recommendation for a place for us to stay. She showed us there and we instantly felt we’d found the type of place we were looking for. We received a warm welcome from the Japanese hosts, a tour through the beautiful wooden tree-house-like accommodations, and soon enough we found ourselves staying there with this small group of kind, fascinating people. I've been here for only two nights and plan on staying for quite some time.
The journey allows us to find these places if we’re receptive to seeing them. For some, it could be seen as a simple, cheap accommodation. We use squat toilets and I sleep on a thin mattress on the floor. I sleep with a mosquito net draped around me, and at times I have to take cold showers with the cold morning wind cutting through the open walls. When I’m done with dishes I wash them on my own, and I do my own laundry by hand. This is no five star hotel. So how can it make me feel so good?
For me, it’s a type of haven. It’s a place that’s capable of providing something that’s deeply nourishing for the soul.
This notion of havens is one that first made sense to me when I encountered it in the Netherlands. Back in 2010, my semester abroad led me to a party-place type of dorm, off campus, full of international students and lots of booze. But what made the experience special was the shelter that this place provided. It was a chance to explore and discover more about myself. I met incredible new people, felt a sense of belonging, and it was always so easy to reach out to them (or withdraw) as needed. Would I describe such a place as paradise? No, but more and more I can’t imagine that a paradise exists anywhere in the physical world. Paradise is a state of mind we work towards, and physical havens like that one helps us get there.
I have plenty of other 'haven' type places that make me feel comfortable, but something about the secretive nature of them keeps them exactly as they are in my memory. And so I find myself writing from a new one right now. A restful place full of kind people. A place for me to reflect. The people are the most important part of these places. They create the experience.
I’m witnessing kind acts of giving, I’m immersed in a beautiful outdoor open-to-the-elements place. The energy here is welcoming, the people are social. There are trees and plants scattered throughout. There is a feeling of inclusion. And these are just the reasons I’ve picked up on in a few days. I have no idea how long I'll stay, but for now I have no plans of moving on to a new city. There is much more to learn by being here.
Kindness and thoughtfulness can radiate to others when you’ve created a place that fosters it. There’s always room to be kind, but when you change your space to become a haven for someone then they know that they can rely on it. It’s a place to retreat to when the streets are too chaotic, the office too stressful, and the news too pervasive. It’s a place to invite new friends and family and to really appreciate their company. These places shouldn’t be so difficult to find in the world. They are easy to create, and it has nothing to do with the amount of money you invest in them.
Some people are so poor, all they have is money.
The pursuit of paradise around the globe is exciting and absolutely worth exploring. Travel is fun in so many ways, and opens you up to the immense vastness and diversity that exists in all it’s forms. New scents, foods, people, traditions, sights, and the endless rest of the list. Maybe you’ll stumble upon the most beautiful forest in the world, or the most idyllic cityscape. But these places are impermanent and will change from the way you discovered them. Physical paradise can perish, but your memories and experiences cannot. Shift your attachment away from those glorified places in your dreams, and back towards the memories and the present surroundings -- these are the things that create a real sense of paradise.
It doesn't matter where you are in the world. Look for those places that make you feel that you're on the path to paradise.
What places let you feel most relaxed and inspired?