I stared at the large canvas and soldiers of WWI stared back at me; a medley of nationalities frozen in an apocalyptic waltz of animalistic expressions and gnashing teeth, as white knuckles gripped weapons and limbs tangled amidst the destruction of humanity by humanity.
Then, I held my smartphone up to the canvas.
Suddenly, the still piece came to life in an explosion of red hot insanity, all smoke billows and whistling bombs. Bulging eyeballs evaporated within sockets and the final scream emitted from parted lips gave way to leering grins and sunken cheeks. The distinctive physical features, skin colors and uniforms that identified each man’s beloved nation turned into skeletal figurines only to reveal that alas, we are all the same: a pile of white bones beneath peeled flesh. It served as a somber reminder of a hellish nightmare that happened once upon a time, where thousands of soldiers were killed, and they should never be forgotten.
This piece, titled WWI by UK artist Chris McBride, is part of the Prosthetic Reality art book, which features the work of 45 international artists. A collaboration of images from the book are on display this month at My Casa Restaurant in Danang, giving insight into the budding world of Augmented Reality art (AR). It’s the first exhibition of its kind in Vietnam and one of the first in Asia.
What is AR? Think Harry Potter and the living paintings that adorn the walls of Hogwarts. This new art form combines print media, animation and smartphone technology to bring still images to life. With a quick download of the EyeJack application, art enthusiasts can embark on an animated escapade that allows one to first decipher the piece for themselves before being enlightened to what the artist has in store.
Thought-provoking, visually stirring and delightfully dreamy: feast your senses on the work of Prosthetic Reality and delve into the minds of its AR crusaders. Your imagination will be ignited, fed by sound effects and hidden secrets that can only be revealed with the EyeJack app. The Prosthetic Reality exhibition will be open at My Casa Danang until September 30th.
The nightlife in Danang City, Vietnam seems harmless enough, and it can be, but alas, is that not how all legendary nights begin?
The mid afternoon heat wave descends, while lethargy and swamp ass ensues. Perhaps one chilled Larue beer- only one- imbibed at one of the many local seafood restaurants alongside My Khe Beach will serve nicely to hydrate and replenish after a harrowing day of tourist activities.
Your evening begins as soon as your rump touches down on that child-sized plastic stool beside the road. The first frothy sip tingles the lips and you’re pulled into a trance amplified by traffic beeps and hums, as palm fronds dance and the smell of garlic and BBQ envelops the nostrils bringing you to a safe space as comforting as the feel of your mother’s plump breast against your cheek.
Next thing you know, some 25-year-old Vietnamese banker from the table to the right shakes your hand, practices his English greetings with great fervor and refills your glass of beer, plunking an ice cube in with a splash to commemorate this newfound friendship. Danang is amazing, you think to yourself, then drinking cheers erupt in a burst of lemongrass breath and beer infused spittle: Mot, Hai, Ba,Yo! Giddyup cowboy, this is when your evening takes off galloping towards the horizon without you even realizing it.
Mot, Hai, Ba, Yo!
This old Vietnamese lady with a basket of jackfruit won’t leave your side. In fact, the more you say “no” the more her stare drills into your black soul and your eyes widen in sheer terror because she knows your deepest, darkest secrets; her toothless smile confirming all suspicions.
Mot, Hai, Ba, Yo!
Hold the phone hombre, is this beer? The clear liquid in your glass tastes like the shit you use to bleach sneakers white again…rice wine, is that what this humble refreshment is called?
Mot, Hai, Ba, Yo!
Everything goes black, save for a few blurry flashes of the mouth of the golden Dragon Bridge (Cầu Rồng) spewing flames, the glimmering Han River at night, a guy dressed in a stinking Pikachu get up giving you a shoulder massage and a solemn vision of pale pink N2O filled balloons waving innocently from the hands of the slick haired, inebriated youth. Their gassed up smiles convince you that life exists cradled within the palm of your hand and best lived free, this night is but one and you’ll survive yet again, just take the balloon and give it a little kiss, you’re in Danang, baby… and the deafening Vinahouse jam ebbs and flows through yourears like a heartbeat after fast, sweaty sex with the one you adore most.
Danang nights aren’t as crazy as they seem (or are they?). Perhaps I’m delving a bit too far into the hazy memories of my own alcohol laden nights, but to underestimate the glory of this city’s nightlife would be a crying shame. It’s simply knowing how to approach the evening with emotionless finesse and no expectations, not jinxing yourself like a borderline anorexic sorority chick with a cigarette pinched between two hot pink claws, stating: “I’ll only drink one vodka water and go to bed early, I have to work out with Gunther in the morning.” And finally, knowing exactly where to find the much coveted, most elusive, mighty strong mojito.
This tapas restaurant located close to My Khe Beach in Son Tra offers chill vibes and a laidback community-esque feel that will have you tucking a frangipani blossom behind one ear and making new friends in no time. Kick it in a tropical oasis outside in the garden and relax for hours while sampling a smorgasbord of Italian pastas, Malaysian cuisine & Spanish tapas. An impressive cocktaileria with a buy one get one happy hour refuses to skimp on the amount of alcohol poured. You’ll be feeling summertime fine after one of these magical concoctions- aka the mojitos. Arriba.
Get the reggae vibes you seek at this thatched shack located in My An and people watch as you sip…you guessed it….a XL sized passion fruit mojito. The ambiance of this bar is truly one-of-a-kind, with a pack of rescued dogs and their fluffy puppy spawn running underneath your legs, live music, and an eclectic junkyard collaboration of furniture and decor that will make you feel like one of the Goonies on a serious quest to find One-Eyed Willy’s stolen treasure but of course, you’re only getting wasted instead.
I frequent this street-side hideaway just to catch a glimpse of the owner and legend himself, Mr. Tuat. He literally found a tiny vacant lot on the side of the road, threw up a canopy, and nailed together boards to produce what resembles a 5-year-old’s lemonade stand, then slathered some paint here and there and built tables and chairs from antique sewing machines, car and motorbike parts, giving birth to an extraordinary local hang that is minimal, yet it will satisfy that I-need-a-cheap-drink-and-a-place-to-contemplate-life type of feel.
If you enjoy getting drunk with an added touch of elegance, then head to Fine Wine Paris for a platter of the finest French cheeses and cold cuts, then wash it down with a bottle or two of wine imported from all corners of the globe. The atmosphere is chic and the service is on point. You’ll wonder why you’re not making progress on your first glass of cabernet sauvignonbecause it’s deftly being refilled by a pack of little gnomes armed with leather wine flasks. Located on a quiet street in Son Tra, you’re a hop, skip and jump away from the madness that your refined self secretly craves and the warmth of wine will help you to discover.
It’s pretty easy to identify a Southeast Asia backpacker. Just look at their pants and ask yourself: 1) Are they flowy? 2) Are they embellished with elephants?
Elephant pants. A solid 99.9% of backpackers sport ‘em. You know you’re in Southeast Asia when a gaggle of gap year gals stride past, elephant pants of the rainbow illuminating their eager steps. That purple pair she’s got on is positively stellar, oh how it makes her brown skin glow! And, that chic wisely chose the blue; can’t go wrong with a classic navy.
Indeed, these harem-style trousers are a favorite among maidens and gentlemen alike. Men, I bet that soft, linen fabric offers the comfort and coverage your precious bits deserve. Ladies, pair your pants with a solid crop top, hit the town at night, listen to that Thai band covering Wonderwall and BOOM. How easy is it to drop it low in a pair of elephant pants? You’ll be the envy of every girl on the dance floor.
I lost my elephant pants v card on good ol’ Khao San Road, the beating heart of the elephant pants empire. Fly into Bangkok for the first time, all glossy eyed and rosy cheeked as you stare at the city sights and breathe in all those pungent city smells; the gentle smack of lips evaporating in the humid air as Thai men hang languidly from tuk tuks and murmur “ping pong show *Pop pop*.”
The drab streets are splashed with the vibrant hues of elephant pants stacked like rainbow sprinkle hot cakes; thick mounds just begging to be rubbed against a face, to hug waists, tickle thighs and wedge between butt cracks. They are one of your first and most memorable purchases in SE Asia and with them, you’ll tread upon the banana pancake path invincible.
So what’s the deal with these pants? Why is everyone wearing them? Well amigos, it’s not just about the comfort or cheap price. The spiritual essence behind these mystical pants is profound.
If you take the leap and pull on a pair, you’ll instantly find yourself hurtling down an electric brain tunnel deep within your subconscious. You will transform into a Southeast Asia backpacker. You might even get a bamboo tattoo, don a man bun, or pierce your right nostril. Even after you return home, pulling on THE pants brings you back to exotic lands and fantastic adventures. With them, you can escape reality anytime, anywhere.
Can you hear the jovial chattering of the hostel common room? Do you smell the woody roast of the free instant coffee; feel the crumble of a crispy Laos baguette or hear the sizzle of those golden eyed eggs? It’s that final shot of Lao Lao and that frothy chug of Saigon; that one bus that broke down in the middle of nowhere or when you slept in the airport. It’s the steamy night with that person you met on the beach…you almost lost your elephant pants in the dark, but you crawled through the sand in desperation until you were reunited.
Ask any elephant pants extraordinaire and they will justify the magic. Did they save your legs during a sketchy motorbike spill? Did you meet the love of your life because you both connected over the fact that you were wearing the same pants? Maybe they warmed your extremities during a freak cold night in North Vietnam or you found your missing passport in the pants pocket. It’s not a coincidence that shit worked out. Those pants possess the blessings of ancient mammoths and the incorruptible spells of Asian warlocks threaded in every stitch.
They allow you to somewhat comfortably twist into any demanded position on an overnight sleeper, they check off the culturally conservative box when visiting temples, and those things hide dirt, sweat and swamp ass like a champ.
It becomes your inseparable security blankie, comforting you when wanderings get tough. The elephants are never grumpy, they always want to drink with you and they like the prickly feel of your unshaven legs. When you gotta spring up at 5am to catch that train in Myanmar, them elephants will be there, grinning at you, ready to conquer and destroy. They aren’t just pants. They are the ultimate wing-man and the best (and cheapest) travel buddy you will ever pick up on your journey through Southeast Asia.
Travel has this extraordinary power to make you realize that you can break the mold and live for the now, for the self-exploration and life experience that comes from more than just following the well-trodden yellow brick road at home. Sometimes, taking on travel might make you realize…that you don’t want to go back home. At least not any time soon.
You might meet the love of your life out there in the big bad world or discover this tiny corner of the globe and see the word “home” spelled out in dazzling yellow lights. Perhaps you’ve been offered a job and for the first time, you feel what passion is. Manifestations happen on the road that change your life forever. You stretch out that budget to the last penny and extend your plane ticket without a second thought, until time is grasping firmly onto your ankles, pulling and pulling, until you either finally hop on that plane or you do the unthinkable…cancel that ticket and stay put with nothing but a backpack or a suitcase.
You’ve learned to listen to your gut and live in the present while abroad, and the challenge of conquering obstacles the unexpected brings is what you hunger for. Hello, it’s your gut speaking. Take that middle finger and shove it up high in the air. Then, get to work, because you’re broke, don’t have a place to live, you have loose ends to knot up at home, and yea- you’re a foreigner in a foreign country. Here are some tips to get you started on organizing your life back home now that you’re living abroad.
Sell your car
Let’s kick things off with one of the more difficult decisions you’ll have to make (or maybe not so difficult): selling your beloved car. When I decided to cancel my plane ticket home, it was a no brainer for me to do the deed and collect that fat check. Back home, where cars rule as the ultimate mode of transportation and it’s pretty near impossible to get around without one, it would seem as if my decision was completely ludicrous, especially since my car was already paid off. After backpacking for six months where motorbikes, reliable public transit and walking were my main sources of getting from point A to point B, a golden light descended upon the misconception that a car is a necessity. It’s a luxury, eats up money, promotes physical inactivity and kills the planet. Plus, I wanted to give it to someone in need of a cheap car instead of letting it rot in my parents driveway. I worried about the intricacies of not being present for the sale, but this post helped me get an idea of what steps to take, and with the help of my family, it was a piece of cake.
In fact, sell everything
I got hooked on the euphoric feeling that resulted from ridding myself of material crap. I went on a selling spree before I left to travel, but if you still have your furniture, clothes and electronics while abroad- get ‘em up on Craigslist! That’s some solid cash to aid in your new, international life. Have a family member or a close friend you trust assist with the physical exchange back home. Also consider just giving some of your junk away for free; it leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach and also makes you realize, it’s all just material “stuff” that you’ll most likely forget about anyways (or you already have).
Get the low-down on your personal bank
Depending on where you live and the bank that serves your financial needs, get in contact with them to discuss your overseas plans and how this will change your current banking status. If an emergency occurs with your account, such as them blocking your purchase of plane tickets in the Philippines because they don’t know you’re there and think its fraudulent activity, then, my friend, you’re in quite a sticky situation. Next, become informed on any fees associated with withdrawing money or using a debit/ credit card, because depending on the bank, those hefty international transaction fees can feel like a loogie to the face when you realize how much they add up and wreak havoc. If your bank doesn’t suit your new international lifestyle, there are plenty of other banks that cater to the expat crowd with little to zero international fees and extensive online banking services. Be sure to set up online banking immediately and look into a proper travel credit card.
And then, there are taxes….
*Sigh, shake head and stare solemnly out nearest window*…oh taxes. They always show up at the party unannounced and proceed to poop on all of the fun. I can’t offer much advice on figuring out taxes while overseas, because a) I hate them b) When someone mentions math, my eyes instantly glaze over, I see rainbow-colored numbers in Times New Roman font floating through a galaxy and drool dribbles from the corner of my lips c) Everyone has a vastly different tax situation. The best advice to learn the process and avoid complications is to a) Have your tax documents easily accessible b) Talk with an accountant that specializes in international/ expat taxes c) If you work abroad, make sure taxes are one of the priority questions you bring up to your employers.
When traveling, I enjoy the unique delights of every city I visit, but it’s the cities located away from the concrete, in the farthest reaches of a country, which stirs curiosity the most.
These far reaches sometimes end with border towns. In my opinion, a border that separates two countries is like some sort of purgatory…the no man’s land between two countries that no one fully understands. This is where immigration officials gobble passports. They have the power to trap you between two countries, can be stressful, cause tears to fall, wallets to drain and curses to be uttered. You go to a border, cross your fingers and hopefully get a stamp in your passport hassle-free, then you get the hell out and into fresh territory. Besides the obvious immigration matters, what is there to see in border towns? What untouched beauty and discovery could there be?
These questions are exactly what make border towns so interesting. You have to go, explore and answer those questions yourself. You might find that some of the most stunning and thrilling parts of a country are in that no man’s land, where few tourists venture, except to get a visa stamp.
Recently, my friend Chris and I visited Tham Lod cave in Mae Hong Son province of north Thailand, which shares a border with Myanmar. We rented motorbikes and set off on a day trip from the mountain village, Pai. It’s amazing how once you leave a tourist laden town the roads become mostly empty and pleasantly quiet. It’s just one paved road and endless mountain wilderness.
On our way to Tham Lod cave, we lost internet, missed turns and at one point, drove a good bit in the wrong direction (thanks to my flawless navigation skills); but we didn’t care. To fill our lungs with the crisp mountain air, to be engulfed in a bed of clouds and to feel rain droplets splatter on our faces as we wove around limestone karsts and hillside farms was glorious. The only problem was that we had planned a day trip. After backtracking, we found the sharp turn off that led to Tham Lod cave. It was evening time, and after delving deeper into the misty jungle, we found the secluded Cave Lodge; bamboo bungalows perched above a mountain stream where water buffalo graze and toucay geckos call across the canopy.
We were not prepared to stay overnight, and had only brought the clothes on our backs. A day trip turned into an overnight adventure to explore Tham Lod. Luckily, the one item that was conveniently tucked into my purse was the The WakaWaka Power+ solar charger. Since it’s powered by the sun, it was readily available to charge my phone anytime, anywhere. Score.
Despite our lack of supplies and a long day of biking, drinking loads of beer quickly numbed the discomfort of sweaty skin, greasy hair and dirty underwear. Laying back in a hammock, I was engulfed by the jungle. The sporadic rain showers strummed tree leaves and branches, soothing and sound. There’s nothing like being out there. The magic of wilderness is that you become part of a living system; the beating heart; a thinking brain. You become part of something so natural and your instincts tell you without hesitation that you are where you belong in the world. Stupid gripes and life bullshit fades, and you are treated to the joy that you once felt as a child discovering earth and savoring it, no strings attached.
Tham Lod cave is an impressive sight to behold; an archaeological site that was once occupied by the Hoabinhian hunting tribe from 9000BC to 5500BC.
The mouth and ceiling of the cave is wide and tall, filled with large stalactites and stalagmites that have formed over thousands of years. Three caves are connected into one, with prehistoric wall paintings and skinny, wooden coffins serving as reminders of an ancient past. A quiet stream runs through the cave, and visitors can snag a ride on a bamboo raft to explore every nook and cranny. Don’t forget a flashlight or headlamp! Once again, the The WakaWaka Power+ saved the day for us.
Around 6pm each evening, the cave mouth spews hundreds of swallows and bats, as the nocturnal critters welcome the night and the insect meals it brings. You can view their evening departure from outside the cave, or inhale their ripe odors (and get doo doo’ed on) as they flit around their cavern mansion during daytime.
If you’re an avid caver, besides Tham Lod, there are numerous caves to explore around Mae Hong Son. During certain parts of the year (depending on dry and rainy season) you can rent a kayak to paddle Tham Lod and visit nearby waterfalls. Unfortunately, we were unable to kayak, but the bamboo raft was a different experience that was also enjoyable.
Driving a motorbike from Pai to Mae Hong Son is the definition of scenic and was my favorite part of the trip. You can also book a white water rafting trip the same way, but of course, conditions depend on the season. There is so much more to explore, more than can be done in a day. Caves, hill tribe villages, incredible wildlife and archeological digs- I’ll have to go back, but this time with a fresh pair of undies and a toothbrush.
With the out pour of inquiries I’ve received recently from readers interested in online English teaching, I thought it high time I gather the most frequently asked questions together in one convenient place.
Note: The information presented in this post comes solely from my own personal experience with my online English teaching journey. Without further ado:
Q: How can I find legitimate online schools to apply to?
A: It will take some digging, but the legitimate companies are out there and growing by the day as the demand for online English classes continues to soar. Facebook, of course, is a nifty tool. With some passionate searching you can find groups dedicated to online English teachers such as this one. It’s a wonderful spot to ask questions, find job posts and meet other online teachers.
I see job postings for online English teachers constantly on upwork.com. I personally have not applied for online teaching jobs through them, but might be worth a browse.
Here is a list of websites that post online English teaching jobs. They were provided to me from a fellow traveler who knew someone teaching English online. That’s how I first heard about it, and this is where my job hunt began. This is also how I found the company I currently work for:
A: It differs from company to company. Many require a bachelor’s degree, but I know a couple of people who applied for online teaching positions without a completed degree and were hired.
I highly recommend completing a TEFL certification. If you are familiar with Groupon.com, they often feature online TEFL course deals. I’m not sure how Groupon works country to country, but I completed my ACCREDITAT online course in a couple of months for $39 from the Florida-US based website.
I had no prior teaching experience of any kind before I decided to embark on this ESL escapade. I am a native English speaker, which is definitely preferred. One company I worked for only hired native English speakers with North American (US & Canada) accents and wouldn’t consider anything other.
I have a journalism degree, some English tutoring experience in college and I have studied abroad. Traveling long term and securing a TEFL cert “just in case” was a no brainer.
Tip: Get the TEFL cert and revamp your resume. Have you done any tutoring or volunteer work teaching English in the past? Have you taken any college classes geared towards education? Have you studied or volunteered abroad before? Are you bilingual? Use these experiences, no matter how small, to your advantage.
Q: How do taxes work with online teaching?
A: Good question ya’ll, still trying to figure that one out myself. Most online companies hire by contract. With my personal experience, the companies I work for do not provide any tax forms; indeed, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to find out what they need and to make the appropriate arrangements.
Tip: When interviewing for online teaching jobs, ask the company about how they handle teacher taxes.
Q: Laptop or desktop?
A: Whatever tickles your fancy, sugar. Just make sure that internet connection is secure.
When I came across Social Print Studio’s beautiful photo books and metal prints, it reminded me of a trip I took to Khao Sok National Park in Thailand last year. The pictures in this post represent some of my most cherished memories from my travels through Southeast Asia, especially when I escaped the city for the pristine jungles of Thailand.
“It’s a magic mushroom,” said Mr. Toi. There were two on the hard ground at the mouth of the cave. The brown skinned Thai guide split one into three sections and gave one piece to the other guide- a quiet, old Thai man, one to Cam- the Brit backpacker and the last piece to me. The other mushroom, he plopped into his mouth. We swallowed our pieces, he rolled a cigarette, and then we headed back into the wildlife sanctuary just North of Khao Sok National Park.
This was my last day in the park and our small group was on our final trek, following trails that Mr. Toi had developed himself since roaming the jungles of Khao Sok as a child.
We ducked beneath thick branches, passed towering trees and splashed through clear, cool streams. We could not stop moving, or else the leeches would get to us. Cam chose to trek in white chucks. The fabric sides were soon stained scarlet with blood from the sucking parasites that had managed to sneak into his socks and in between his toes where the skin was soft and warm.
I slid into a low squat, arching my back, and in one deft movement slunk under a thick twisting vine. My breath was quick, but steady. I felt the shifting terrain below my feet and the moist humidity that lay trapped below the canopy of trees. Mr. Toi was ahead of me, dewy skin and a rag tied upon his head. He stopped and we all stopped. He looked and he listened. We all looked and we listened. It had become a regular part of our trip, an essential activity for understanding the jungle.
On my first day in the wildlife sanctuary of Khao Sok, Mr. Toi had taken me for an evening ride in his long tail boat. The water was glass as the sun set and turned the blue land indigo. The boat engine sputtered to silence. To me, we were just floating in the middle of a giant lake surrounded by massive limestone formations. I turned to say something, but he stopped me and taught me my first lesson.
“Ssh. If you listen, you can hear the jungle.”
So, I listened.
The cushion of tree tops flowed unevenly over the landscape, a vibrant green spill that hid this obsidian water world. The deafening silence was just a blanket that shielded the active life within. I heard a soft flap and rustle of branches, and I turned quietly to witness a great horn bill take flight into the orange of a heat drunk sun. Twigs snapped and broke somewhere deep in the foliage; perhaps it was an endangered tapir snuffling about for snacks. The shrill whoops that sliced the silence was that of the gibbons, calling to each other from one part of the sweeping jungle to another.
We did this often during our big trek, stopping to listen to the jungle, to hear what it had to tell us. There was an animal over there or the staunch stench of guano signaled a cave over here. The babbling stream followed us, a crystalline snake that we met every now and then to cool our feet, pull sticky leeches from our calves and to suck coca leaves for energy.
It was tough work. We weren’t in the actual national park, so we did not see any other people. It was remote and wild and flush with danger and unexpected twists, but we were ready for it; we were hungry for it. The two days of our stay before the trek, Mr. Toi had been preparing Cam and I by letting us explore on our own and living how the people of Khao Sok live.
He taught us not to be afraid of the jungle.
We lived in floating bamboo huts that rested upon the calm water with no connection to the land or city. Here, transportation is accomplished via boat, there is no internet, electricity is only available for a short time period by use of a generator, and bathing is done in the lake itself.
The mornings began with a breakfast of fresh caught fish, rice and vegetables, then, swimming and exploring in kayaks. Cam went off with one of the old fishermen in his skinny boat, poles in hand. Later we tagged along to help set up fishing nets. As the moon and stars took over the black sky, the Thai fishermen, Mr. Toi, Cam and I sat on the bamboo rafts, legs folded. With tobacco stained teeth, the Thai men rolled one cigarette after another and passed around a bottle of rice whiskey. An old Thai woman sat quietly against the hut wall behind us. They could not understand our language nor we theirs, but we coexisted together and shared tipsy laughs late into the night.
And so, as our trek continued, we witnessed the entirety of the jungle with all of our senses. Every bug bite, scratch and droplet of sweat was a part of it. The sounds and the smells gave life to it. The abandonment of everything human and the acceptance of everything animalistic is what we morphed into.
We stumbled upon the skull of a bear in a cave. Mr. Toi said that it had come here to die, that it had been very large and old. The hard yellow bone was picked clean, the smooth angles and eye sockets intact. The jungle had allowed the bear to live a long, prosperous life and so, the bear had given its final breath to the jungle in return; had given its meat and organs to the others. The bear had fulfilled its duty to continue the circle of life and the jungle was pleased.
Its skull would not decompose into the soil. Instead, it would be brought back to the raft houses to be put on display. The great bear would not be forgotten; he would become a symbol of the sacred life in Khao Sok.
Mold, dust, tetanus and creepiness aren’t the only things birthed from the death of failed and forgotten human construction.
You can find beauty and adventure in the most unexpected places. You can even find it in a half finished abandoned building perched upon a cornmeal sand lot on the side of a remote highway in North Thailand.
So, come with me….
Many see a waste of space, a stroke of bad luck or, they simply do not see anything at all. A few though, they see something else. They see a canvas and an opportunity to become the creator.
These manmade outcasts make the perfect playground for a fox and a rabbit to tread curiously, to think quietly and to imagine a story of what was and what could have been.
There is a protectiveness felt in the shade of the geometric shapes and a coolness of bare skin against the gritted stone mash of concrete.
Depressed gray becomes a chromatic insanity, scattered beams of light reveal pink lips pulled back over ivory teeth and unintended holes become empty eyes that bleed gold.
Here, I am either a grown woman making stupid decisions with dangerous consequences or…
I am a fluff-tailed fox in a forest dome, surrounded by moss covered conifers and I rush past damp open spaces of musky earth and snarled pine cones and there are flowers in my ears and soil between my toes and I leap over the glacier bred brook because I cannot and do not desire to stop.
There is something soothing about perfect rectangles and a gentle reflection. I’d also like to know who the monkey-footed artist is?
Stairways that turn into corridors, corridors that turn into bedrooms, bedrooms that lead into closets, closets where they are hiding.
Here, where attempted dreams perish, they sit half life half dead and with friends they watch the sun rise and sink over and over, forever and ever.
Look to the sun and look to the moon and always be entranced with eyes un-lidded.
Nacpan beach on Palawan in the Philippines is the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in my entire life. I don’t make this statement based on visual aspect alone. Of course, the visual aspect left me speechless, jaw to the floor and eyes glazed. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful because shitty land developers and foreign investors haven’t managed to snatch it with their greedy paws.
Crescent shaped and sprawling, Nacpan beach stretches; long tendrils of thick blonde sand. I can’t believe it, but there are no resorts, skyscrapers, shoddy bars, or flashy mansions. The only man made structures are the simple square huts constructed from palm fronds where the locals and their farm animals don’t have much in terms of money or material items, but they live on oceanfront paradise and are creatures of the sea. They understand it, they respect it, and together they live in harmony.
We camped in the village on a property overrun by chickens. The local caretaker, Chris, greeted my boyfriend Joram and I in his cute little briefs, fingernails painted with cracked purple polish. This man loves his chickens. The funny little biddies were everywhere. Rebellious juvenile roosters chased panicked hens, hoping for a chance to get a little sexual healing, but the alpha cock, a huge fucker, was always on guard when it came to his women. I watched a juvie chase a plump wheat brown banty, clasp her tail feathers in his beak and hop onto her back, only to be bull rushed by the alpha and viciously bowled over.
I even chased some of the chickens…but only because I really, really wanted a little chickie cuddle. They hated me and rushed to their father, Chris, who cradled them lovingly and frowned at me. “They don’t like you.”
Travelers rent bikes in El Nido town and drive the quick hour to Nacpan for the day. The water is clear and deep enough for wading. The waves are powerful enough to pick you up for some body surfing, but gentle enough to bob without worry. The beach is wide and the sand soft. Manny Pacquiao’s private island is just offshore. The beach is nice during the day, and to climb the nearby hill to observe the creamy tangerine sunset over the sea is a must, but to leave Nacpan before nightfall is a sin.
The moon hangs low over Nacpan Beach and I hold my hand in front of my face, but cannot see it. I can only hear the lazy lapping of the waves. The islands and hills are gone, replaced by black nothingness.
I think about the sea. I think about the night.
Humans misunderstand the night because they fear it. At night, the monsters abound, and if you are curious of what lurks in the dark, then you will be gobbled up by a ferocious beast. You must stay indoors, close your eyes, and sleep, sleep and sleep until the darkness has passed. We build lamps, and raging fires to battle the blackness, but the night remains peaceful and passive. By fearing it, you only deprive yourself of the moon’s open arms, and the beaming of a million glowing smiles. When you banish the light bulbs and darkness is left, stars cascade in torrents from every nook and cranny of the universe. The milky way is unraveled silk that glows and spreads in soft curls across the sky. You cannot see the sand beneath your feet, because now you are floating.
A shooting star only unveils itself to whom it belongs to. Even if it is but a flash of whispered white in your peripheral, catch it and never let it go, because you were there to accept a soft kiss from the seemingly dangerous night.
The ocean adores the night. It is one with the dark, washing up millions of sparkling stars that have fallen to the sea. Shrouded in darkness, they dance in love. Electric blue bio-luminescence shimmer with accomplished brilliance all along Nacpan beach, where the sea has finally reached its destination, announcing its arrival with a burst of cosmic color.
Oh, the almighty sea. Humans can build walls thick and tall, but they will never be able to control it. She can lure and hypnotize, she is mysterious and graceful, but she is also temperamental and unpredictable. She can crash and scream, level cities and steal lives and we cannot stop her. But, the earth can. Angry waves fed by relentless gales travel lifetimes to clash with the earth, striking with harsh blows upon the slick sand. But the earth is a patient and steadfast mother, and the ocean slips with tired, foamy gasps back into the depths of itself.
It was unlike any abandoned place I’d ever explored. Despite being completely deserted and open, everything was clean and in its place. Nothing was trashed or overgrown and graffiti wasn’t sprayed across the crisp wood walls.
But, something didn’t feel right. A heavy foreboding hung in the warm air.
It was like gazing at a historic battlefield. The wildflowers and green rolling hills are lovely, but at one time, it cradled the blood and bones of hundreds. The rain is sporadic and the humid air cooled by soft breeze on Koh Chang. My best friend Desiree and I had been staying on Lonely beach for a couple of days and quickly became rooted to life on this quiet island in the Gulf of Thailand. It’s one of those places that feeds your sins in a way that renders not an ounce of guilt or regret.
An island of secrets and hushed whispers, this is a tropical paradise where the moon is worshiped with howls; where the poi dancers aren’t local entertainers, but sorcerers of orange heat and blue magic, scorched skin and ember eyes. They watch like a predator watches its prey; arrogant grins as they paint the night sky with swirling flames. On Koh Chang, you dance with the devil late into the night and never leave.Des and I had stumbled upon a bizarre discovery while exploring the island on scooters one day. A dirt road had brought us to a deserted beach and bay. It was a picture out of a luxury travel magazine, complete with a wide stretch of crunchy pink sand and mop-topped palms. A small inlet had been cut out of the bay to make an aquatic parking space. It’s inhabitant was a monstrous floating cruise ship. We pulled over and stared at the curious thing for awhile. We had stumbled upon a flying saucer of the sea, crash landed upon the island of Koh Chang.
It looked as if the abandoned ship had been turned into a floating hotel of horrors. The afternoon storm clouds rolled in, bringing out the black slime that blanketed its drab white walls like leprosy. The towering body was pock-marked with dozens of dark cabin room windows. I rested my eyes upon each pane, half expecting a ghostly face to stare at us from one of them.
But no one else was here on this beach. This pristine beach scarred by this spooky vessel. Only the lonely palms swayed like dancing slaves around its dominating figure as the wind began to pick up.The quiet stillness was not expected and the air smelled of old wood. An unfamiliar electricity clung to the hairs of our bodies. The decor was dated yet modest, dusty yet protected from the harsh tropical weather due to the ship’s dense exterior. A reception desk greeted us and long narrow hallways ran down either side. The corridors were dark save for a milky bright light at the end of each outstretched hall; cabin doors casting shadows in the eerie interbreeding of light and dark.
We ascended the staircase to a higher deck with cat-like steps, pretending to be invisible to whoever was watching from the shadows. We stepped into one of the hallways that tunneled the length of the room like a stretched spine, and the unearthly feeling intensified. I shook the brass knob of one locked door after another, daring one to open, and said suddenly, “Let’s go back downstairs.”
Below the initial reception area we had entered through, there was a room. It was dirty and the bowels of the ship had been breached by the air here. Windows were salt slicked and a depressed moan seemed to echo as the wind shook its bones and black waves stung its hull. We decided it was time to leave.As we headed towards our escape, what stood out in magnificent splendor was the most divine Spirit House I had ever seen.
Spirit Houses are found throughout Southeast Asia. In Thailand, you will see them perched outside any and every establishment, from the most prominent skyscraper in Bangkok to the small village or the forests and mountains. These ornate structures resembling houses or temples represent the ancient spirit worship and rituals that have survived for centuries. The purpose of a Spirit House it to provide shelter and appease spirits that have remained on the earth, in a particular place.
A Brahm priest skilled in astrology, chanting and Hindu rituals is the master of this age old tradition. They also communicate with the spirits. The Brahm priest uses his wisdom to choose the proper location, cardinal position, height, and color of a spirit house. The overall construction and the offerings of various foods, drinks, statues and the burning of incense reflect the whims of the spirit that has been invited to stay.
This particular Spirit House stood boldly on a sturdy dias, placed in its own quiet nook of the ship. Shimmering with brilliant mosaic glass pieces and slick gold paint, the grand palace glowed; picking up any trace of sunlight and reflecting the intricate details of the palace roof and windows.It was a valiant shield lifted against the discomfort of this bizarre ship. There were neat glasses of water with straws and plates of sweet smelling blossoms and snacks. Not a speck of dust was found on the spirit house, in fact, it looked as if it was the one object in this place that radiated life and color.
When we arrived back at Lonely Beach, Desiree and I couldn’t stop thinking about that creepy ship. The few locals we asked seemed reluctant to speak about it. As Des Googled furiously on her phone, I asked the Thai woman whom we had rented the scooters some questions. Why was such a beautiful beach so desolate, why the ship?
She didn’t smile and there was a slight trace of fear in her voice.
“People have died there. Someone jumped from the roof and the hotel closed,” she murmured, as her eyes darted and she busied her hands. “It only opens during high season if every other hotel on the island is full.”
Note: We were told that there had been deaths, but I couldn’t find any sources to back up the claim. Regardless, this place is scary and weird. If you enjoy exploring abandoned places- the ghost ship and its beautiful hidden beach will captivate you.