Life's a Journey : 30 of my favourite things at 30.

Ko Phayam Travel Blog

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Well there it goes! Another major landmark on this Journey of Life zooms past me in the rear-view mirror of my days. My fourth decade on Planet Earth starts today. Still so much of the wide world to see. Nothing fancy, original (or even particularly interesting I hazard here)  to mark the Big Three Oh.  Just 30 things, major or minor and in no particular order of priority that so far stand out for me and I have enjoyed so much in my big adventure so far :

1. Travbuddy - Yes, yes, yes, I know! A shameless and predictable grab for your affections straight outta the blocks but I cannot emphasise enough how the platform TB provides for helping my friends (new & old), loved ones and most notably, myself have such a wonderful means of capturing and reflecting upon experiences, memories and images has fast become a keystone of my adventure.

The Monestary and the moon, high up in the cliffs of Petra, Jordan. [photo kind courtesy of Cameron]
I am deeply grateful for this and for the endless kindness of the TB gang who so often send me words of encouragement. You know who you are. Thank you!

2. Buff (or rather Buffalo) MoMos - MoMos are Nepal’s take on steamed dumplings. Stuffed with buffalo meat and served with spicy sauces, these are one of my fave snacks from the country, and of my journey so far. I could eat ‘em until the cows come home... which of course they never will, for by then I’ll’ve eaten ‘em all already!

3. Freedom to think - Whilst it’s true that sometimes, caught up in the tidal flow of fellow travellers it can be surprisingly tricky to find the headspace to genuinely, quietly stop and think, the option to stop and go and search for that space is always there.

Malaysian 'Kopi' yummmmm...
And I am beginning to deeply appreciate this freedom. It is a privilege. To be enabled to start to let your soul breathe (again) when you choose. Even in our quietest moments alone, when at Home, the kettle, the TV, the radio, the Hi-Fi, the cooker, the mobile phone, the endless list of domestic and administrative obligations, the pub, the newspaper, the infinite other diurnal distractions of a life ‘plugged in’ to a society, all quietly whisper to us day in and day out that they are more urgently deserving of our attention than thought.

4. Sunset at Petra [Jordan] - A dawn ‘til dusk day in the ancient rose-red city ruins of Petra has proven so far to be one of the finest of my journey to date. Utter magnificence and beauty from start until finish when the burning red sun bled down into the Wadi Arabia desert with Bedouin pipe music echoing from the cliffs before my friends and I walked back through the city by the light of the moon and stars…and a mobile phone! J


The mighty Matterhorn seen from the Riffelsee vantage point.
Malay Coffee or ‘Kopi’ - I am neither a coffee snob or connoisseur. Far from it. And I’m sure that this slightly unusual, sweeter-than-some take on coffee would offend the principles of those that prefer their coffee beans first consumed and shat back out the arse of a small furry, tree-dwelling creature and then roasted for that exclusivelly fuller faecal flavour (it’s true!), but I dig this stuff.

6. Mountains - Before we start to really travel I think we have an idea of who we are and what environments we prefer to be in and take most contentment from experiencing. That we don’t more often relocate to such well-springs of our best happinesses is most often I guess a consequence of the necessities and obligations of ‘Modern Life’; and more depressingly a lack of will to act for our better aspirations.

Stevie (aka.Mountain Boy) in the Swiss Alps.
I think I’ve always known essentially that I’m more a country ‘n’ hills than a town guy, but I have spent the last 10 years of my life landlocked in Birmingham, England. My trip - exactly one year ago to the day - to the English Lake District and my experiences in the Austrian & Swiss Alps and Annapurna Region of Nepal are beginning to consolidate a love of being in fresh, mountainous air with beautiful vistas and tinkling water all about. Life a little higher up. Maybe that latter point’s just an inevitable consequence of bein’ a natural born shortarse. Who knows J

7. Freedom to read - Don’t get me wrong, I have been quite a voracious reader for some many years now. But again, the guilt-free act of just picking up one book after another and consuming all that inspiration without the knowledge that you’re basically procrastinating from other life obligations makes is soooo much more enjoyable! Time to really read your chosen book.

Annapurna range at Dawn.
Appreciate every word, clause and image and idea. I also like the random necessity, whilst on The Trail, of grabbing whatever book on exchange chances to come to hand from hotel, hostel, friend's hand or street stand. You end up reading things you would never have expected. Some good.  Some not so much.  I am lucky and have been ‘well fed’ literarily speaking so far. I am yet to be forced to read ‘The DeVinci Code’ and have not had to turn the cover of a John Grisham so far! “Phew!”

8. Gelato - What can I say. Italian ice-cream (in my experience) is unsurpassably delicious and I’d eat ‘em until my bum was twice as big as m’backpack! “HEY! What ya doin’ sayin’ it already is?! Ya cheeky sh*te!”


Chillin' in a tree in KoLipe with m'man Dickens :)
SpicyThai Backpackers Hostel, [Chiang Mai, Thailand] - On every level (except maybe some of the views enjoyed by the hostels in Switzerland) this is the most wonderful hostel/ accommodation I have ever stayed in. I’ve waxed lyrical enough about Noom and Saow’s cosy operation previously in this blog so “check it!”, especially if you ever find yourself in Chiang Mai.

10. New friends - This follows well from SpicyThai ‘cos so many were made there. An obvious choice, but actually it really does not cease to amaze me how many wonderful, wonderful people you meet all of the time on your travels. Constant new stimulation, inspiration and company to reinvigorate your heart for the journey ahead.

We love to reeeeead ... 2nd time reading this one. I cannot express how in every way this book (to my mind) is perfection!!!
Sometimes the most incredible people get caught up in the stream of your journey by the slenderest of chance encounters and you are enriched by these tenuous moments and grateful. Such is life always I guess. And then, all the incredible new friends I am ‘meeting’ and getting to know in the TB Wonderverse too J

11. Phosphorescent plankton, [Railay, Thailand] - Everything is illuminated. Literally. Swimming in the night-blackened, watery embrace of the Andaman Sea by the light of the full moon whilst these fantastical little underwater fireworks burst from the wake of your every movement is one of the strangest and most beautiful experiences of my life to date.

12. Public buses - Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I dreeeeeam of ice creeeeeam! :)
I know! Put all those raised eyebrows right back down. Admittedly the legendary Local Bus is rarely, if ever… no make that never the most convenient or comfortable means of getting around but I’ve developed a certain affection for them now. I think they embody something of the truer spirit of budget travelling. If you determinedly push yourself past all the avaricious taxi drivers, A/C tourist bus touts, tour company mini-van pests and unscrupulous other public transporters, to get to that shonky, half-broken down public bus you are clearly taking one small step away from the more expensive and less rewarding path that the infinitely spread tourist trap would haul you down. “Head for the path of most resistance people!”. It’s cheaper. You get to meet The People. It will (nearly) always get you to where you want to go.
SpicyThai...uh? I'll reupload this another time,
They instil (often with force and regularity) a practice in the necessary arts of patience and ‘letting go’ to circumstances beyond your control that are essential tools of travel psychology. In many places they are positively moving works of art (Nepal) or miracles of mechanical engineering alchemy. How do they keep on going?!? … aaand sometimes they don’t (keep on moving that is)! Just ignore the ones crashed and burnt out at the bottom of rocky ravines. “Hey man! A/C buses crash too!”. You’ve just bought into a more expensive coffin ;D

13. Basil-drenched focaccia bread, [Cinque Terre, Italy] - Widely available throughout Italy, but a regional speciality (amongst others) of the Cinque Terre villages of the north-western Ligurian coastline.

New friends : The Christmas SpicyThai gang.
Cheap, filling and tasty-tasty gorgeous. I miss good, fresh bread based food stuffs soooooo much right now! Divine.

14. The Petronas Twin Towers, [Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia] - Whilst I’ve experienced many architectural wonders of ‘Man’ (both modern and of antiquity) in my journey so far, these incredible towers have exposed themselves most blindingly and crisply upon the photographic paper of my minds eye. Illuminated at night, they have an elegance and symmetry of design and appearance that I found quite, quite breathtaking.

15. A deepening appreciation of what it is to love and to miss family and ‘Home’ - Well yes, the saying goes that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But family is Heart. Your heart.

The Petronas Twin Towers.
Our hearts. Right? We carry family; our hearts with us. Within us. Wherever and whenever we go. When we leave. Whenever the space between us and our loved ones expands. I know this. But it is heartening to me to realise that the cord stretched between us is not weakened, frayed or made more fragile by the distance I am creating. Far from it. It toughens and grows in both strength and the quality and beauty of its fibres and threads. I think I have experienced this sensation before. Through loss(es). And to travel is to lose each other again, I guess. For a time. But only a brief time in the scheme of things. We regain everything in the end.  I hope.   And appreciate things more fervently upon return I’m sure. I must reach out to them (my family that is) in different ways and contact, now rarer, feels a little more cherished and meaningful when it happens.
Paper lanterns at New Years in Pai.
 And the sadness of missing family and all those little details and comforts of Home (nation) life is a necessary, salutary counterweight to the privileges of unbounded excitement and joy it is my good fortune to currently be enjoying.

16. Paper Lanterns, [North Thailand] - Not by any means the especial property of Thai celebratory culture, but it was here amidst various New Years revelries that I experienced the gentle beauty of these simple, tissue paper lanterns being filled with hot air and released high, higher, far and away into the night sky. Particularly in Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. I love the look of expectant happiness on the faces of those; friends, families or lovers lighting their faces and waiting patiently to release their lights into the universe.

'Ave Maria crossing the Lake' by Giovanni Segantini
The child inside them all growing and glowing through their smiles the brighter all the while. Simple, gentle and beautiful as many of the best things in this life should be.

17. Giovanni Segantini [St.Moritz, Switzerland] - I am eternally grateful to Donata Lietha, a darling dear ol’ swiss lady who drew my attention to this artist, his connection with the Engerdine region of the Alps and the museum dedicated to his works in St.Moritz. Stylistically none-too-distant from Van Gogh to look at (and painting before him). I’m so happy to have been introduced to the beauty and serenity of his elegantly realised paintings. I am not a religious man but Ave Maria Crossing the Lake is probably the most beautiful painting I have ever seen, in the flesh or otherwise.


18. Penang curries - A very well known and exported Southeast Asian classic. A simmered down, thickened creamy, spicy coconut sauce with chicken (or whatever you wish) with steamed rice and a scattering of sweet basil leaves. Done well, it’s become absolutely one of my faves. (The more potato and cashew but rich Massamum curries too). The best one so far? Na’s Kitchen in Pai, north Thailand. And, yes Na, I forgive you for more than likely giving Paul, John, Julia and I food poisoning. I’d still eat your Penang curry for a month of Sundays to come. They were that good!

19. Venetian canals and vaparettos - On an unlimited 3 day pass I could have ridden the waterways of Venice from dusk ‘til dawn on each and every one of ‘em if there wasn’t so much else of intrigue and wonder to get up to in the ‘floating city’.

The Grand Canal, Venice.
Being sat on the open-deck rear seats of the number 1 or 2 vaparetto up and down the Grand Canal is an endless pleasure. The boat across the watery expanse between St.Marco back to Giudecca island every evening at sunset or after, with Venice in pastel-colour backed silhouette with the rose-tint street lamps on the quayside… just pure magic.

20. “NAMASTE!” - The warmth and welcome of the people of other nations. The degree of this changes across one border to the next of course, but, so far my month in Nepal has struck me the most in the pleasure and sincerity of interaction with the local people. “Namaste” is about the only word (shamefully) I learnt in my four weeks there but it’ll get you through every time. Always happy to greet and assist, the Nepalese people are very humble and genuine and I thank them for their hospitality.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy
Raj, Rajendra, Kala, Binn and Laxman in particular.

21. The Cinque Terre, [Italy] - There are many places I have fallen in love with on my travels already (Prague, Zermatt, Venice, Petra, Annapurna, Ko Phayam & more) but for three days in the Cinque Terre (‘Five Lands’) on Italy’s Ligurian coast I was utterly transported. An almost transcendental response to the scenic beauty and deep sense of calm imparted to me by this tiny collection of pretty, cliff top villages set besides the blue, blue sea and amidst the greens and golds of the olive trees and lemon groves on the hilly slopes. If I were of Native American Indian cultural persuasions (and not wanting to spoil the warm vista I have here painted with a touch of cold morbidity), it is to these sunset facing sea-hills to whose summits I would return and climb when the time comes to lie down and breathe my last.

The Ligurian coastline as seen from high up on the Cinque Terre hills.

22. The Glacier Express, [Switzerland] - This was one of only two things I absolutely promised myself I had to do on this journey. And I did it. And it was every bit as incredible an experience as I had imagined it would be. Check the blog. What a ride!

23. Blue skies ‘n’ sun in my eyes - I cannot deny that I have thus far been exceptionally blessed by the weather I have experienced during my travels. It’s been utterly perfect almost every step of the way. Seeing every destination in the best possible comfort and light, giving me full range for my emotions to engage with and fully appreciate everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve seen. At the time of writing, barring a couple of inconsequential drizzles or downpours, I have still only had one genuine, full day of rain.

One of the UNESCO World Heritage recognised viaducts on the Glacier Express route.
And, masochistically, I am beginning to miss it a tad just the same. It’s true to say. And what can I say. You can take the Englishman outta the rain, but you can’t take the rain outta the Englishman for it runneth in his veins. (p.s. it’s ok though, you can keep it all to yourself Britain ;D)

24. The kindness of strangers - I have been lucky to have benefited from plenty of this. And I hope too that I have paid my dues to Travel Karma by assisting or otherwise occasionally enriching the experience of others I have met. I dunno. You’d have to ask them. Just a day or so ago I had one of the best meals of my trip so far, not least for the fact that Ian and Elvine took pity upon me and my meagre plate of egg-fried rice and drew me to the bosom of their food laden table and their generosity.

The panorama train carriages of the Glacier Express
My TB pal Patricia (pms70) also offered me great generosity early on in my travels and set a very high standard for others to follow. And the beauty of the kindness of course is that it so quickly and permanently transmutes strangers to friends.

25. Hot spring waterfall, [The Dead Sea, Jordan] - Total bone-deep; soul-deep relaxation lying on my back after a long dip in the Dead Sea whilst the warm waters of Mother Nature’s embrace pounded and washed over me. I coulda fallen asleep and drowned a happy man right there and then with a siren besides me on either flank.

26. Street stall food - The budget traveller’s best friend and often the best, and sometimes only way to get to experience samples of truly earthy, delicious local cuisine.

Patricia (pms70) and a happy daughter :) My TravBuddy pal.
Particularly satisfying so far in Southeast Asia (Thailand & Malaysia). For 30 Baht or 3-4 Ringgit (60p ish) you will often feed on far better, more interesting and varied fare that you will find elsewhere for thrice or many more times the price.

27. The sea - I’ve talked about this in previous blogs, but, having grown up by the sea on the south coast of England there is a psychological need for me to lay my eyes upon ocean waters from time to time. The soul gets a little too parched otherwise. The oceans of the world. Borderlines that are tidal; shifting; fluid; undefined and with unknown depths and treasures. That kinda fits well with my feelings for how borders should be. Nothing rigid. Looking out to sea. A horizon line that sinks into blue and suggests an infinity for the imagination that city-neon living cannot achieve.

The ocean from the river flows...
The cool, clear waters that I am experiencing. The waves washing over this weary traveller’s blistered toes. The sea rejuvenates. Nowadays also diving within the sea's blue embrace, a minute amount more of its myriad treasures I go forth to trace.

28. Freedom to write - I’ve pretty much never written before. I’m a doodler by tradition if not trade. But in the last decade or so I have always itched to start to sketch and paint with words. But previously I have always failed in my attempts and fallen frustrated at the third sentence clause or so. But having escaped the constant distractions and little suffocations of daily employed life (self-inflicted distractions too) I find I can finally, falteringly at least, begin to try to find a voice for my pen. And this journal and TravBuddy are proving a wonderful forum to at least begin to “give it a try”.

The Sea.
And I am greatly indebted to TB for that, and for those who constantly encourage me on this point.

29. Freedom - I have it right here, right now. In so many ways, shapes, colours and compositions that I don’t even know where to begin. It is of course, an indefinable thing. But I have it. Them. Freedoms.  It is undeniable. It is a privilege I hope not to abuse. I am very lucky. I know this. It does of course come at a cost. At costs. Costs past. Costs and accountabilities in the future too. But before I wade through so many more manners of cliché, I will leave ‘Freedom’ at that and say no more.

30. YOU - Yep, tha’s right. You. “Yes, YOU!”. Sat there, right now in front of your computer screen at this very minute. Reading aaaaall this. I don’t know who you may be. You could be my sister, my aunt or a cousin (although statistically this is unlikely). A stranger (for now), a friend old or new (and always I hope)… and whoever you are, if you are reading this now and have got this far, I am amazed, and thank you so much. Give yourself a pat on the back. A gold star. Sip the dregs of that long since cold coffee and bathe your weary eyes in cold water. Because I am so humbled by the time, attention and responses I’ve received for this journal so far that I cannot thank YOU too much and I only promise I’ll strive to try to keep it rolling, and hopefully improving if I can.

1...2...3... “Haaaappy birthday to meeee”… see you soon from Stevie x

Stevie_Wes says:
Yep 'H', I sure do miss my Malay coffee :(( I shall return and consume vast quantities of it some day!
Posted on: Aug 03, 2009
hlek says:
Bravo!!! Great compilation of list...i particularly like #5...hehe
Posted on: Aug 02, 2009
Stevie_Wes says:
Cheers Patricia! :) Yeah, actually I'm not usually in the habit of lists but actually, like that self-quiz thingamy you sent me the other day, it can really help ya to examine and take a snapshot of your own heart/ soul so it's worth doing at apt moments in ones life.
Posted on: Jun 17, 2009
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The Monestary and the moon, high u…
The Monestary and the moon, high …
Malaysian Kopi  yummmmm...
Malaysian 'Kopi' yummmmm...
The mighty Matterhorn seen from th…
The mighty Matterhorn seen from t…
Stevie (aka.Mountain Boy) in the S…
Stevie (aka.Mountain Boy) in the …
Annapurna range at Dawn.
Annapurna range at Dawn.
Chillin in a tree in KoLipe with …
Chillin' in a tree in KoLipe with…
We love to reeeeead ... 2nd time r…
We love to reeeeead ... 2nd time …
I dreeeeeam of ice creeeeeam! :)
I dreeeeeam of ice creeeeeam! :)
SpicyThai...uh?  Ill reupload thi…
SpicyThai...uh? I'll reupload th…
New friends : The Christmas SpicyT…
New friends : The Christmas Spicy…
The Petronas Twin Towers.
The Petronas Twin Towers.
Paper lanterns at New Years in Pai.
Paper lanterns at New Years in Pai.
Ave Maria crossing the Lake by G…
'Ave Maria crossing the Lake' by …
The Grand Canal, Venice.
The Grand Canal, Venice.
Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy
Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy
The Ligurian coastline as seen fro…
The Ligurian coastline as seen fr…
One of the UNESCO World Heritage r…
One of the UNESCO World Heritage …
The panorama train carriages of th…
The panorama train carriages of t…
Patricia (pms70) and a happy daugh…
Patricia (pms70) and a happy daug…
The ocean from the river flows...
The ocean from the river flows...
The Sea.
The Sea.
Ko Phayam
photo by: Stevie_Wes