A view of Kew Street on Slave Island, Colombo, Sri Lanka, where the intricately carved Arullmigu Sivasubramania Swami Kovil, a Hindu temple, was built more than 125 years ago to honor Lord Muguran, god of religion and yoga. The distinctively decorated 80-foot tower is flanked by smaller clock towers. The temple remains an active place of worship.
Leaving Colombo, Sri Lanka, by train on Thursday, photo taken though the open train window. In the distance is Colombo Lotus Tower, its long-awaited opening often delayed. This week officials said the landmark structure is "nearing completion," the Sri Lanka Mirror reported. I stayed two nights at a hostel here, the capital of Sri Lanka, before taking the train for about five hours across Sri Lanka to the east side beach town of Trincomalee, where I am now. The island nation, formerly known as Ceylon, is located off the southern coast of India. The Indian Ocean is warm and beautiful. People are friendly. Life is good.
.Reflecting on my good fortune in the comfortable co-working space of the Holiday Chiang Mai Guest House, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I am normally pretty careful traveling with my stuff, especially my valuables. In nearly three years on the road, I’ve never lost anything important.
But the other night was one to give me pause and reflect on my good fortune even when careless.
I was in my room switching bags to a bigger one before adding some things and heading to the Muay Thai fights at Anusarn Market in Chiang Mai.
My American friend, Kalil, a veteran Muay Thai fighter, was on the card.
I turned the smaller bag on end to empty it on my bed but not everything fell out. My wallet got stuck.
I didn’t notice and just put everything that fell out of the smaller bag, which I assumed was everything I needed, into the bigger bag.
Wrong to assume such things, of course. Better always to be constantly checking whether you have everything, even if it does smack of OCD.
Halfway to the fights, I started looking for my wallet to pay the Grab driver and couldn’t believe it was missing.
Then I was sure it was in my room. The driver took me back to the house, where sure enough, it was there, still stuck in the small bag.
But that little diversion cost me an extra 100 baht on the Grab tab.
It also cost me time, important because I didn’t know exactly when Kalil would be fighting.
The Grab driver didn’t know where the stadium was, either. He more or less dropped me off randomly somewhere in the vicinity.
I asked around among some market vendors and they were largely clueless about the fights.
So I summoned the help of a trusty tuk-tuk driver who started explaining to me where the boxing was. Since I was running late, I just said take me there, and hopped in.
I knew that would cost me: Another 100 baht.
When we stopped, I pulled five 20 baht bills out my wallet. That’s when everything started getting murky.
I paid the driver and thought I put the wallet back in my bag, but all my inner alarms started sounding as soon as I stepped out of the tuk-tuk.
“No, you moron,” they were screaming, “it never went into the bag!!!”
As my ride went tuk-tukking away, I was sensing real trouble.
I searched my bag -- again, and again -- while maniacally checking my pockets; the wallet wasn’t there.
I went back to where I was dropped off. A young lady who I’d seen handing out brochures didn’t know anything about the wallet. She said I might try the market office and showed me where it was. It was good advice.
I took my sob story to the sympathetic young lady at the market office, who summoned a young man who spoke better English. He took my Thai phone number and said someone would call me if anything turned up.
While they were kind and helpful, I was not hopeful. I walked out into the night feeling naked and vulnerable -- no ID, no cash, no ATM, credit or debit cards.
Worse were thoughts of the headaches coming my way trying to fix all this with the banks, spending lots of time on telephone calls to the U.S., mostly on hold, listening to insanely bad “hold” music.
And with helpless irrationality, swimming circles in a sea of deniability, I still desperately wanted to find a way into the fights.
I found myself out on the road talking to the brochure lady again where the tuk-tuk had dropped me off. I was about to begin the long, depressing slog through the night back to my guesthouse, when there appeared a small commotion nearby.
There of all people was the market office guy, darting and dodging excitedly through the crowd trying to get my attention!
What the … !!!
And there was the tuk-tuk driver in his wake, grinning widely, running with my wallet in his hand like a trophy raised high!
I was stunned.
He handed me the wallet, wanting me to examine it. Everything -- all the cards, thousands of baht -- were still there!
Instinctively, I hugged the tuk-tuk driver, not even sure if it was proper in Thailand. Better yet, I tipped him: There went another 100 baht.
I thanked everyone around me profusely, rushed off to buy a ticket to the fights and walked in like I’d only had a bad dream.
But what a sobering, real and unforgettable display of the friendly, helpful, honest and caring spirit of Thailand’s people.
Kalil was already in the fourth of five rounds with a tough opponent. They were firing missiles at each other from all eight points of Muay Thai contact, trading blows furiously with fists, elbows, knees and feet, giving and getting each other’s best, warriors performing honorably in traditional Muay Thai combat.
But Kalil’s worthy opponent won the fight by a decision on points. Disappointing, of course, but Kalil, undaunted, will climb back into the ring soon again.
And I’ll be back on the road with a spirit refreshed by the pure kindness of others.
Without a doubt, Thailand had won this night.
In 2017, while hiking the mountains surrounding the Sacred Valley near Pisac, Peru, I met this young woman, her adorable daughter and a baby llama (maybe an alpaca, not sure).
The woman was selling her hand-woven strips as belts.
When I explained that I didn't wear a belt, but that I needed a hatband, she quickly obliged and set to work right there, making an alteration under the watchful eye of the little girl and attentive pet.
It made a lovely scene and the women's handiwork enhanced my Andean wardrobe collection. But only for a short time.
Later I left the hat in an overhead bin in a mad dash to make a connection on a multi-flight air excursion.
I tend to do things like that with hats that are anything other than cheap ball caps that I can stuff in a bag.
So while the hat and band I loved were lost, not so this photo. A lasting image over fleeting material.
I'd take that any time.
Songkran this weekend is a celebration of the New Year in Thailand when tens of thousands of people, locals and visitors alike of all ages, take to the streets to engage in a unique world-class festival billed as the "world's largest water fight."
The three-day event usually comes as welcome relief to stifling seasonal heat across the country, and this year is little different as temperatures climbed well over 100 degrees F. each day of this past week.
The main event took place this afternoon but the celebration will continue through Monday. Take a look here at some more of the action.
I received the following email from Katy Greene almost two months ago. I promised to reply but now, weeks after I said I would, I’m actually doing it.
Are you traveling solo? I have traveled solo most of my years b/c my friends either didn't have the time or the money. I LOVE meeting new people and chatting with them about their lives, I learn so MUCH, but those are not deep connections, those are momentary. As I grow older, I find that I'd rather share the experience, it's just not so fun to see something so beautiful and have no one to see it with. Sunsets reminiscing about what we saw/did that day... are so much more satisfying with a friend, a traveling companion.
If you are traveling solo, how do you deal with those moments of wanting a more than a transitory relationship?
At the time, I responded from Malaysia
Hello Katy, Thank you for your question. It is an important one that deserves a good answer. I have given it some thought since receiving your email. I just want to let you know that I am working on my response. Meanwhile, I am in Malaysia leaving on a jungle excursion tomorrow, so I may not be getting back to you again for maybe two weeks. But I will get back to you. Promise.
Now, many weeks later ...
Yes, Katy, I travel solo almost exclusively. Except for a month with my adult son in Peru, and a month in Southeast Asia with a friend, I’ve been traveling solo for the past 33 months.
Actually, I prefer to travel solo rather than with a partner/companion or group. My answer might be different if I had the right partner. But I don’t. I guess you don’t, either. Finding that special person can be difficult. And often it takes time.
As Mark Twain wrote in Tom Sawyer Abroad, “... there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
So what do we do?
Make New Friends
Many people -- I count myself among them -- have overcome loneliness by making new friends and lasting relationships among many of the people we meet.
To make new friends, you need to make yourself “available.” That is one of the great benefits of traveling by yourself. Too often with a partner or group your focus is restricted to the people you are with. And potential new friends often don’t initiate a conversation with you if you already appear comfortable with your group or companion.
Traveling solo naturally frees you up for new friendships. You just have to take advantage of your opportunities to turn your “transitory” relationships into more meaningful and lasting relationships.
However trite or cliched, it is a truism that real travel is not about places you go, or the things you’ve seen, it’s about the people you’ve met and the friends you’ve made, and the stories that come of your shared experiences.
Consider every opportunity as a chance to make a friend. If you enjoy meeting people, talking with them, and learning about new things, you are well on your way to relieving your loneliness.
But you need to fan the embers of those chance encounters and keep them smoldering when you and your new friend inevitably go off in different directions.
What I mean is, lay the groundwork for more lasting friendships by taking the initiative, speaking up and talking to people. Don’t be shy. Just as important, listen to the people you meet. Ask them about their families, what they do, why they travel, what they like, where they’ve been, where they’re going. Take a sincere interest in them, and be open about yourself in return.
Most important, ask for their contact information and give them yours. I have found that printed business cards with my name and contact info make that more convenient. People tend to remember me better that way. And, of course, always carry a notebook and pen to make notes and write down the contact info of others.
If there’s time while you are both where you are in your travels, invite your new acquaintance(s) to meet you over a meal, or coffee, or to attend an event, where you can build on your foundation of friendship. Do not be shy.
Express hope to a new friends that you’ll meet again somewhere down the road in your travels, or that one day you may visit one another where you each live.
Then make sure you stay in contact with them from time to time. Nothing more than a brief note to say hello and perhaps rekindle a fond memory or two is all that’s necessary.
I now have dozens of friends in many parts of the world that I’ve cultivated in this manner, and my interactions with them, even at a distance, help keep me going.
The Reality of Loneliness
We as travelers also should realize there is value in being lonely. It is a basic human feeling that at times we cannot avoid. We have to just accept it, embrace it, accommodate it and learn from it.
From a positive, practical perspective, loneliness gives you the time for introspection, for writing, reading, listening to music, and just plain thinking, all outside the familiar environs of relationships that often funnel your thoughts down the same old comfortable paths.
I have found it helps also to accommodate loneliness by carrying music and books as “friends” to soothe my soul and boost my spirit. I have found it also helps to develop a philosophy of travel that defines what you do, as well as why and how you travel. Keep those tenets of travel in mind and refer to them often.
Finally, Your Answer
How do I deal with “wanting more than a transitory relationship?”
Certainly, part of it is learning how to turn those transitory relationships into long-term friendships.
And perhaps just as important is understanding loneliness, discovering ways to cope with it, and being comfortable enough with yourself to endure it.
For even if I am alone I can enjoy a beautiful moment for myself without the despair of feeling lonely because I know that life is good, people are friendly, the world keeps turning and I will find my way through.
I understand that everyone is not like me. But that is the way I have found joy and peace in my travels. We all must find our own way.
May your travels always lead you to a better place in your heart.
Hikers on a trail in the Andes overlooking Peru's Sacred Valley with the Urubamba River, seen in the distance, meandering toward Machu Picchu.
The scenic city of Pisac sits in the Peru’s Sacred Valley at nearly 10,000 feet.
The Urubamba River, the valley’s lifeblood, percolates down from Andes mountain peaks that soar several thousand feet over the valley.
These heights provide hikers with spectacular views and Inca ruins that rival those of Machu Picchu itself, located some 80 kilometers downriver.
Pisac seemed to me the perfect introduction to Peru, offering the allure of a mystical ancient culture while acclimating myself to the coca leaf-chewing altitude.
So I started booking.
“To a wise man, the whole earth is open, because the true country of a virtuous soul is the entire universe.” -- Democritus
These words of the Greek philosopher Democritus, born around 450 B.C., who is known for developing the atomic theory of the universe, I learned recently reading, "Reality Is Not What It Seems," by Carlo Rovelli.
"There is no fear of gods, no ends or purposes in the world," Rovelli writes, "no cosmic hierarchy, no distinction between the earth and heavens. There is a deep love of nature, a serene immersion within it; a recognition that we are profoundly a part of it; that men, women, animals, plants and clouds are organic threads of a marvelous whole, without hierarchies. There is a feeling of deep universalism in the splendid words of Democritus."
The book is a little thick for me in some of its description of modern quantum theory, but discovering this astounding insight from a brilliant man who lived so long ago has simply astounded me.
Democritus now has preeminent status in my collection of favorite travel quotations.
(Photo: Banteay Srei, Cambodia)
The old city of Chiang Mai, once the capital of the Lan Na in Northern Thailand, was fortified with a nearly square wall and moat to fend against the threat of neighboring dynasties in the 13th century. Since then Chiang Mai has grown far beyond its walls to become the second-most important city in Thailand after Bangkok in the south. Numerous restorations of the old city walls have taken place and are continuing today on the corners and around the five original gates. This portion on the Southeast corner of the wall, where today Moonmurang and Bumrungburi roads meet, is one of the four corner bastions, known as Jaeng Katam.
David Hunter Bishop is a retired journalist from Hawaii who quickly tired of retirement life and hit the road as a solo traveler in August 2016. Since then he's traveled through 16 countries on four continents and is currently enjoying life in Chiang Mai, Thailand. For more about David's journey, see published interviews with Nomadic Matt and Expat Focus, and in A Confluence of Adventure Writers, with Sarawak (Kuching, Malaysia) Tribune writer James Ritchie.
David's Articles On Other Travel Blogs
GARIFUNA SETTLEMENT DAYS: Colorful festivals celebrate Caribbean History and Culture
SELVAMONOS: An Alternative Arts and Music Festival in the Amazon highlands
ANIQUEM: Reinforcing Human Connections Through Travel
PROMISES, PROMISES: Tourists High and Dry in Siem Reap Rip