This time last year, I was taking a dream vacation. It was my first time traveling to the Far East. Bangkok, Thailand punctuated by visits to Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi, and the River Kwai and finishing up in Phuket. I didn’t plan the trip the way I normally would. Usually I like to do all the research for myself, choose what I want to see, make a few concrete plans and let opportunity take over the rest. Often, I’m planning a solo trip with plans to do everything by myself which can provide a lovely feeling of freedom, and occasionally, a sense of loneliness. I may see something so amazing, so captivating, so hilarious, so breath-taking, and immediately think of the person in my life who will appreciate it best. And there’s a sadness that they cannot be there to experience it with me; that I cannot enjoy them having the experience with me. I enjoy traveling by myself so that feeling is not a constant, but it occurs from time to time. But this vacation was different. I had no concept of what I wanted to see or do in Thailand. To be completely honest, the entire trip was planned around a visit to a spa in Phuket. Maybe a year or so earlier I’d been flipping through the pages of my favorite spa magazine and I flipped past a page that displayed two huge nests tucked away in the jungle, illuminated only by indigo and azure light. The Coquoon Spa at the Indigo Pearl in Phuket, Thailand. I ripped the page out of the magazine and carried it with me, unsure of when I’d get to Phuket but knowing that I had to go just to get a massage in an indigo azure nest in the jungle. Yep. In the world of my mind it’s perfectly normal to plan a jaunt to the other side of the globe just for a massage or to swim in a specific hole in the ground or to walk behind a certain waterfall or to see if the water really is that clear or to see if the sky really lights up in that color or to see if the glacier or the cave or the volcano really looks like that. Yep. Perfectly reasonable.
So this trip was different. I chose to buy a pre-planned trip package offered by Friendly Planet. The flights had already been chosen, the hotels and resorts (all 5 star, by the way) already arranged, the excursions all decided, meals planned, even pre-planned free time. The package price included everything, even the tour director who was available to the group during the entire stay to escort us at all moments . This trip was also a bit different because I would have a travel companion for the last part of it; the part that carried me to Phuket and the amazing glowing relaxation nests in the jungle.
So off I went on my ChinaAirways flight from LAX to Bangkok with a layover in Taipei. After flying for 18.5 hours, I met up with my group and our Friendly Planet tour guide at baggage claim in Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and the adventure began.
Bangkok is an amazing city, bustling with non-stop activity. If I must compare, it reminds me a bit of Istanbul. Traffic, traffic, everywhere. It was not uncommon to see a family of five all perched on one little scooter. People and music and food and temples and buddhas, buddhas, everywhere. Huge hotels and tiny hotels and shopping malls and food trucks holding unrecognizable delicacies, and ladyboys and highways leading to the countryside filled with rice paddies and tiger sanctuaries and castles and mansions and floating markets and more temples and more buddhas! It is, indeed, what I call a sensory overload. Bangkok is amazing but I enjoyed the excursions to Ayuttaya and River Kwai more because they weren’t so congested. The temple ruins are stunning, the elephant ride through the jungle was something I’d always dreamed of and I enjoyed every second of it. I fed a leopard in an outdoor shopping center and bought more Thai fisherman pants than one person needs. And how could I forget the lovely jungle resort, River Kwai Resotel, accessible only by a tiny speed boat through a river infested with piranhas or the raft ride down another river full of snakes? A rousing good time!
And then my friend arrived. And even though there were a few stressful travel snafus, I knew that the trip was going to go from good to great. Because next up on the agenda was Phuket and the glowing jungle spa nests that I’d been waiting to see. And my friend was with me and our excursions were always life altering. Always.
We took a short flight from Bangkok to Phuket and took a taxi to the Coqoon Spa at the Indigo Pearl Resort. We were greeted at the front desk of the welcome area and given iced glasses of a fruity indigo elixir; the same indigo that would illuminate the nests in a few hours when night fell in the jungle. We were taken to the nests, accessible by a small suspended bridge, given a platter of fresh fruit and had our feet washed before our treatments began; massages in the nest and thermal body wrap treatments in the private spa suite. Literally, the page that I had ripped out of that magazine a year or so earlier was now in front of my face. And I couldn’t be happier.
Once the day of luxury and relaxation was over we had to settle our bill and take a taxi to the other side of the island to Cape Panwa Hotel which was included in the pre-purchased package deal. I decided to use the lobby wi-fi to check my messages. I logged in to Facebook and the first thing I saw was that my grandfather had passed.
He had been ill for some time and months earlier, his doctors had given him only months to live. Months to live. That was something that I saw on television or read about in books. That wasn’t something that I knew how to process. Months…to live. I didn’t understand that but I knew that my family was preparing for that reality. That in a few months, he may not be around. We are people who believe in Jesus and in healing and in miracles and in prayer. So we were believing, in prayer, but also preparing for the possibility that in a few months, he may not be around. Being on the road constantly, I knew that I may not get to travel home to see him so I decided to keep checking in with him, more regularly than I had before. Every time I called and spoke with him, every time I missed his call and heard his voice on a message, I never heard illness. He sounded like grandpa. He sounded strong. And maybe that’s why it was difficult for me to process months…to live. Because he was grandpa and he was strong. The day that I left for my dream vacation I sat in the international terminal at LAX and made sure to call him while I waited for my flight. Our conversation was short. I told him where I was going and what I was going to do. He told me he was proud of me and that he loved me. I told him I loved him. And that was all. And a week later I stood in my dream jungle nest, clinging to my friend but wanting to be alone so that I could hide my tears as I wrapped my brain around the fact that I would not see him again.
It took a few attempts to make a call to the other side of the world to have a barely connected conversation with my dad. Over the patchy connection he told me not to worry and to try to enjoy the rest of my vacation. I changed my flight arrangements so that, instead of flying back to work in Arizona, I could fly straight from Thailand to Ohio to attend the funeral.
The next day, we took a trip out to the amazingly beautiful and famous Ko Phi Phi island in the Andaman Sea. We chartered a private boat which took us to the tinier islands with more secluded beaches. On one of those beaches, I saw dozens of little rock alters. I’ve seen them all over the world. Different people build them for different reasons; some may want to say “I was here”, some may say a prayer over their rock formation, others just want to see how high they can build before all the rocks topple over. I built one and dedicated it to my grandfather. In that moment it was the best and only way to honor him and I felt that it would be a memory between he and I and God.
A few months ago I experience a hard drive crash. Many things were recoverable from other hard drives and online picture sites. But most of Thailand now only exists in my memories. Bustling Bangkok, the buddhas, the temples, the piranha infested waters leading to the beautiful jungle resort, the glowing indigo and azure nests. All the “proof” sits tucked in my memory. Of the few pictures that remain, the two pictures here will always remind me of that amazing trip to Phuket, the pearl of the Andaman Sea, and Ko Phi Phi island where I held a private memorial for Lewis N. Schofield Wade Sr.
Sunrise June 13, 1932
Sunset November 7, 2013
For more information about the resorts mentioned here: