Jeremy and I first planned our two-week long trip through Northern Thailand & Bali just a few months into dating. Two avid travelers, we spent an entire day this past July writing down our bucket lists, each holding a notebook that we wouldn’t allow the other to see until the moment of truth – does everything you’re looking for match everything I’m looking for?
For the most part, like everything else in our relationship, it did. We lined up our top three spots for 2018 and began mapping out our plans to visit the destinations that fulfilled both personal and professional needs (I didn’t know it at the time, but the third spot would turn out to be our honeymoon).
We even created our own holiday on that July day – Julycation, as we now affectionately refer to it – so we can do it again next year, although this one will be in the shadow of a much, much larger bucket list item that neither of us thought to add to our lists on Julycation 2017, our very own destination wedding at the end of July.
When we set out to plan these trips, we didn’t do so in light of just how much we’d need to fling ourselves across the globe to reconnect and turn off and talk about anything other than wedding planning FOR THE LOVE. Lucky for us, our trip to Southeast Asia couldn’t have come at a better time.
On the heels of the busiest busy season Epperly Travel has ever had (thank you to those who trust us with planning your trips!), I’d started feeling the slight twinge of burnout that had weighed on me a couple of years prior. You know, the burnout that I had so miraculously overcome to the point where I was getting to speak to others about the freedom I’d found?
Somewhere along the way, I’d stopped practicing what I preached and found myself cheating on my own priorities: a few more minutes in my inbox here, a couple more requests beyond my capacity there. Just when I thought I was one step ahead of running myself into the ground, I looked up to find that I’d already done so.
I took off for Asia with a heaviness, personally and professionally, and, as always, I’m amazed by the transformational power of travel, as long as you approach it with an open heart and intentional mindset.
We started our trip in Chiang Mai, a destination that we’d both heard from multiple sources we’d fall so in love with it that we’d want to return and live there one day. While we liked Chiang Mai (and I especially liked that we were visiting during mango season, so that I could drink my weight in mango smoothies and indulge in mango and sticky rice multiple times a day for dessert), we don’t foresee ourselves becoming a part of the bustling digital nomad culture (somewhere, across the world, our families are breathing a sigh of relief).
Chiang Mai Food Tour
Mae KampongChiang Rai – The White Temple
Our touring around Chiang Mai began with the nearby village of Mae Kampong, where we enjoyed hiking and a local meal and ended with a night market visit, where we tasted the street food and dishes of Northern Thailand (our favorite was the Khao Soi – an amazing curry noodle soup that I could eat every day). Our two nights here were spent at Tamarind Village, a pretty little property with excellent hospitality and an even better spa to boast (it’s not about the spa itself, but the therapists – hands down the best massages either of us have ever had!). The location, right in the heart of the old city of Chiang Mai, is unparalleled for easy access to exploring without sacrificing the feeling of a retreat.
It was just enough for us to hit the ground running full speed ahead toward the next leg of the trip: the Four Seasons Tented Camp. Located in the Golden Triangle, where Thailand meets Laos meets Myanmar, this little gem has been at the top of my hotel crushes since I got into the business – and it exceeded all expectations that either of us previously held.
Is it worth the price point? This was a question we had to tousle around with one another as we first decided to include it in the itinerary. Jeremy regularly put it in perspective leading up to the getaway: “That breath you just took? That’s gonna cost us $6 at Tented Camp,” he’d say. Luckily, I’d enlisted the help of the fabulous Dianna at Travel Beyond, a personal friend and professional partner, to guide us as though we were clients. She encouraged us that the experience was well worth every penny, and she was absolutely right.
After two nights in Chiang Mai, we traveled the four hours by car to Chiang Rai, stopping along the way at the famed White Temple, a modern interpretation of religion and art that I found stunning.
At the edge of the temple is a tiny shack. In that shack sits an individual who cannot be seen, but yells at everyone through the microphone. It’s a little Wizard-of-Oz-ish and most likely not what anyone else remembers about visiting the White Temple, but it struck me.
When anyone got out of line – two tourists deciding to pose on one another’s shoulders, a kid running into the grass, the entire crowd taking too long to cross the bridge – the man’s scolding voice rang out through the microphone, getting onto them for their transgressions.
I’ve never seen a more accurate representation of the inner critic that we all carry. At the same time, I wondered how in the world one could get that job: sitting in a locked room, where no one could see you, criticizing anyone who misbehaved against your standards. Ooooh how many of us already carry that job, something I find myself doing that I’d prefer to let go of.
The White Temple itself is a blend of the sacred and the profane. What the artist has done in depicting a traditional Buddhist temple has reverted traditions on their head: the mural on the inside paints a chilling scene, as if the legion of hands coming up from underneath the bridge at the entrance isn’t creepy enough. I won’t go into details on how the birds have made nests in the sculptures of skulls that hang from the trees.
I’d imagine that if the little man inside the critic’s box was hired to look over the artists’ shoulder, he’d have a thing or two to say about what this man was trying to achieve. It’s not accepted, going against tradition; it’s not accepted to take something sacred and create your own interpretation of it.
Thank goodness the artist didn’t listen to that inner critic. The final product turned out to be so, so pretty. As we exit the temple, we see thousands upon thousands of keys hanging from both the ceiling and the statues. Guests can buy one for a few baht and make a wish. Couples are encouraged to do one together, so we did. Our wish, of course I can’t tell you what it was, had to do with marriage. Our marriage. Life feels so absorbed in our wedding that we have to promise ourselves not to lose sight of our marriage.
Now, somewhere in the midst of thousands of little dangling keys at the controversial White Temple is one of our own, which makes my inner critic incredibly happy.
So happy, in fact, that I could write – and I’ve done just that. A four-part blog post coming up over the next couple of weeks to share more about the destinations, hotels, and experiences we encountered – stay tuned!