One of the biggest reasons that I started this adventure, beyond seeing parts of the world I haven’t seen and avoiding another Canadian winter, is to get a different point of view on life by meeting people who had taken a very different path than my own. To be clear, living in Toronto, like living in any major North American city, means that you are surrounded by people all doing the same thing. I know more people than I can count who work long hours, take a couple of 1 week vacations a year, don’t see their families much, are tired all the time and spend lots and lots of money buying stuff because, well that’s what we are told we should be doing.
What I really wanted, was to meet people who had a different perspective and a different path, one that is not as concerned with money and things and more about following your passions and living simply. My partner and I talked about this a lot and reasoned that if we wanted to hear different stories and meet people who are doing things differently than everyone around us, we would need to go to places that are very different than home. So we have; at this point we have been traveling nearly 2 months and to my surprise, have met some very interesting people already with some inspiring stories.
Our first week in we met Emma. We were on Koh Tao to learn how to Scuba dive. We were both nervous about learning this highly unusual sport (you are not supposed to breath underwater after all) and minutes after signing up were greeted by her at the pool. Not only was she a genuine and caring person who put us instantly at ease, but an incredible instructor with an unlikely story. 3 years ago, Emma was in her early 20’s working as a video producer in Australia, taking on constantly bigger projects and working long hours. She and her boyfriend had decided to move to London where she would start working in TV. Before the move to London they decided to travel Thailand for vacation and came to Koh Tao so that her boyfriend could learn to Scuba dive. She had not plans to learn and actually is a (self described) pretty terrible swimmer, but after a little encouragement, she decided to try and learn. After her first dive she fell in love with it, so much so that she and her boyfriend both ditched the jobs they were heading to in London and stayed in Koh Tao to learn more about scuba diving. They now both teach full time in at the same resort they learned to Scuba in and have only returned to Australia once, this past December to visit family. She loves what she does, is really good at it and has not intentions of stopping any time soon. I was really happy to meet her, especially so early on.
The day we left Koh Tao to head back to the Thai mainland and go to Khanom we met Brad. We had just been snookered by some travel agents into paying 4 times the going rate for a mini-bus ride when he filled the last seat in a van that was full of Thai high school students going home for the weekend. As we were the only other westerners and the only people who were not looking at their phones, so he struck up a conversation with us. He mentioned that he had lived in Khanom previously and was returning for the weekend to visit some friends and do some business. I have to admit, I was leery of this too friendly foreigner at first. He asked us a few questions and within a few moments asked if we wanted him to help us find a scooter to rent. Being the overly polite Canadians we couldn’t turn him down. When we arrived in Khanom, he took us to the rental shop and then led us to our hotel 10 km away and happily for us didn’t rob or murder us. He recommended a few places to see in town and then left to meet his friends. Later we met him at a beach bar he recommended and found out a little of his story. He used to work in advertising in Romania as the Creative Director for a large ad agency, but after 15 years moved to Thailand and started a blog about traveling in Thailand that is well known in Romania. So now, a few times each year, he leads Romanian tourist on 2-3 week tours through Thailand and some of the neighbouring countries. Turns out, I shouldn’t have been so skeptical of his motives after all, he was a genuinely kind, generous, smart and wickedly funny. A few days later, when he found out we would all be in Ko Lipe at the same time he invited us to go on a boat tour to the nearby national park with him and his group of Romanian tourists. It was one of the best days of our trip, spent with some extremely funny people touring gorgeous Thai islands. Surprisingly, he didn’t charge us a dime, he just wanted us to experience this gorgeous part of Thailand with him and his friends.
Brad had recommended a beach bar called Jambay to have drinks at. It is easily the most relaxed bar we have every encountered. It’s owned by Joe a Thai man in his early 40’s who used to DJ at the full moon parties on Koh Pha Ngan. What was amazing about meeting Joe, was that he was instantly friendly, warm and incredibly trusting. It wasn’t until much later that evening that I realized I was actually sitting behind the bar. In fact, you just helped yourself to a beer in the fridge and then wrote down your name in a notebook and kept a tally that you paid at the end of the night. That’s Joes way, no matter how many people are in the bar, he always uses the honour system. The weekend after we were visiting he was expecting a few hundred people to come to the bars 5th anniversary and assured us that by the end of the weekend his friends and customers would ensure that he got all the money that would be owed to him.
By far the most inspiring couple we met were on a mini bus we were taking down the coast of Thailand towards Krabi. Water and Kitty are an Austrian couple now in their mid 60’s who have been traveling the world since the 1970’s. Unable to have children when they were young, they spent the majority of their lives living in both Europe and South East Asia. Walter sat between me and Evan at the very back of the mini bus and opened up about his life. He told us he never planned more than a year out and worked as a window washer, part time model, extra in movies and a farmer at different points in his life, making enough money over a few months to then travel again. At one point, he pulled out a cheap little dog eared plastic photo album and started to show us pictures of what it was like to live in Thailand in the 1990’s. They rented small shacks in fishing villages (for about $40 a month) and eventually bought a series of boats with which they traveled the islands. The first was a traditional “long tail” with a gasoline engine and basically a tent to sleep under that they used for journeys of a couple of days. Later, they bought a used sailing boat with a cabin that they used on journeys of weeks at a time, spearfishing to catch their food. What was incredible about meeting them, beyond hearing the stories, was that they lived very simply, owned nearly nothing and were incredibly happy. When we told them we sold our house and our possessions Walter nodded approvingly, as they had recently sold the small farm they owned in Czech so that they could live “the Buddhist way”. As they are now aging and can’t do as much as they had when they were younger; their current trip involves once again traveling to see places they had visited in the 1980’s and 90’s to see if they could find a quiet place to spend a few months each year in retirement without having to move around too much. Then, just a few hours after we met, they were gone again; off the bus strapping on their backpacks (just like all the travellers 40+ years younger) off to catch their ferry to Malaysia to find their retirement paradise.