What is it about this place that makes me return again and again and again? One could easily explain my decision by stating the usual reasons such as beaches, mountains, jungles, a fascinating culture and history, a delicious cuisine and so forth. Those are the things that appear on every “must-see” and “to-do” list. However to me, that merely covers the reasons why one should come here, but it doesn’t answer the question of why one should stay here. Thailand is not the only country that ticks off all the items on this list; there are plenty of others with perhaps even more pristine beaches or higher mountains. So, what is it then?
It’s the people; my dear friends.
I knew and felt it instantly as soon as the shuttle bus from the airport dropped me off in Ao Nang. Wherever I went I was greeted warmly by so many familiar faces. They are all here – locals and expats alike – and they all make Ao Nang a place where I can hang my hat for a while. An old adage says that “home is where your heart is”, but this feeling of home is not exclusive to a physical place; your friends and family are the ones who turn a village, a town or a city into a home. Who else can give you this warmth? Who else can make you feel like you belong somewhere? Who else can you rely on when you can’t solely rely on yourself anymore?
I know this now more than ever after my first month here. I was allowed to stay in a temporarily closed hostel owned by a friend of mine while looking for my own place to stay. This I found thanks to the help of another friend. And yet another friend supplied me with utensils for my kitchen. They also all help me to find new clients to work for and with. In other words, I can stand on my own two feet because of them and they continue to support me whenever the need arises. I do feel a little guilty for taking so much from them, but their kindness will not go unrewarded. In a spiritual country such as Thailand, it is easy to believe in karma – that good things happen to good people – but I believe more in human decency. It is only decent to do something in return, whether it’s for the persons who helped me or for someone who in the future will be in the same position that I am in now. It is only the right thing to do and it’s good – even necessary – to know such admirable individuals who act as shining examples.
Now, of course, I would be lying if there weren’t any other aspects that made me want to come back to Ao Nang. I already wrote about my plans for adventure and exploration, therefore I won’t go into that. So, as silly as it may sound, but for one, I missed the smoky smell coming from the make-shift grills as the sun rises. All the fried chicken and grilled fish, and the dozens of plastic bags filled with either rice or curry piled on a nearby table. You can see office clerks and workmen getting their breakfast and/or lunch there before heading to work. It is not uncommon for them to buy larger quantities of food to share with their colleagues, which, I think, is a nice tradition.
I also missed the Muslim presence in this predominantly Buddhist country. I like the oriental influence with its mosques, its people, and the voice of the muezzin making his calls to prayer. I’m not a deeply religious person, but the sounds of prayers and chants always had an extremely calming effect on me. During my travels, I would often find myself in houses of worship like Christian churches in Colombia, Buddhist temples in Thailand, or Hindu temples in India. I just like to believe in something that is bigger than the individual human being; it puts me in my place filled with humility; a place from where I am able to admire the spirituality and philosophy of religion without ever committing myself to one.
The more I begin to settle here, the more I feel at peace. It is a good feeling and I needed that. Will it last? Will my restless soul finally find everlasting peace or at least for a period of time? No one knows. Maybe it won’t last for long; perhaps one day I will wake up and for one reason or another I have to leave, even want to leave. Admittedly, my thoughts and imagination do still wander across the globe like a bird riding the wind; crossing vast oceans and majestic mountain ranges; observing the people and the wildlife from afar. However, that is something for my future self to deal with. Just as we have to take one step at a time to get ahead, we also have to live one day at a time to be happy. One moment after the next.
And in this very moment, I have the sun in the east, a breeze from the west, mountains in the north, the ocean in the south – and friends and family everywhere.