Trip Advisor is my source of travel porn and I’m hooked. Over the past twenty years I’ve fallen back in love with Degas at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, shot a photo series exclusively in blue and white on Santorini, had a monkey sit on my head at the top of Gibraltar, had Park Güell all to myself in the pouring rain in Barcelona, and had dangerous late night sex on a cliff beach in Lagos, Portugal with a man I had met the day before.
Once I was traveling alone in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I rode an elephant and took a cooking class and went to Myanmar for the day just to say I did it. I learned three important lessons during that trip. First, all you can do when you are riding a pissed-off elephant is to just wait him out. Second, there is way too much palm sugar in Thai food. And third, the Burmese, not so keen on the tourists.
I was staying in a posh new hotel that was far more luxurious than its impoverished surroundings. Small, disheveled shacks lined the side of the road leading up to it. The chaotic streets were filled with “tuk tuks” which were terrifying vehicles that looked like oversized motorized tricycles with precarious benches on the back for hauling tourists around town. I was nervous that the random city on the map that I had chosen to visit was a mistake.
However, I was enchanted when I arrived at the hotel grounds. They were immaculately manicured and scattered with perfectly new, yet traditionally styled, Thai cabins with barrel tile roofs and organically curved facades. The hotel staff were lovely, inside and out, and took me in as one of their own, afraid I would be too lonely to enjoy myself on this magical journey. Every night someone would leave an orchid on my pillow and a goodnight note written in silver paint pen on a large tropical leaf.
Thailand is known widely for the art of massage that I had come to love and this hotel had an epic spa. As usual on any given trip, I spent an entire day there. First, I soaked in jasmine-infused rice milk. It was sweetly fragrant and had fuchsia orchids floating in it and something about it seemed strangely erotic. I then had a chamomile body scrub, both relaxing and invigorating, sweeping away all that was unnecessary. I finished off the experience with a traditional “Tok Sen” massage where she took a wooden hammer and chisel to my knotted muscles. It wasn’t like that dreamy hot stone massage I had in Scottsdale. It was largely ceremonial and a tad sadistic. She would locate the stiffest and most vulnerable muscles and pound on them like I was a piece of overly tough beef she was trying to make pliable enough for some sort of mystery recipe she was cooking up. Afterwards, I was a little bewildered and a lot sore, but I generally felt great.
Later that evening, I was seated in the patio section of the hotel restaurant, alone on yet another New Year’s Eve. I would have felt a little bit sorry for myself if the night had not been so perfectly charming. To start, the waiter told me the chef would like to offer me something special. I think they all wanted to treat me well since they thought it was sad and very strange that I was traveling alone. I found it odd yet comforting that they were so concerned about my solo situation.
The chef created a perfect portion of grilled foie gras for me accompanied by an unexpectedly phenomenal complimentary bottle of red wine. The texture of the foie gras was so smooth and rich that it dissolved into an ocean of exotic flavor in my unsuspecting mouth. The perfectly matched ruby colored wine was dry and complex and held its own against the intense yet delicate experience of the food.
Next came the green curry chicken. The waiter asked if I wanted it spicy and, being the adventurous badass I thought I was, I told him to go for it. His grin was noticeable. The curry arrived at the table, a piping hot green bowl of “I dare you”. I dared. It hurt. A lot. But what broke through the heat was a mélange of perfectly balanced flavors bursting with freshness. The perfect firmness of the tomatoes, the tender and unassuming chicken, and that fiery, festively colored velvet sauce that pulled it all together resulted in an unforgettable eye-watering adventure of a meal.
In the background, a Thai man with a lisp was singing “Leaving on a Jet Plane”. I chuckled when he got to the chorus. “Kith me and thmile for me”. It was all so perfect and unexpected. When midnight arrived, I listened to the clinks of the glasses the other guests were raising in toast for the New Year. And although I had no one to celebrate with, I couldn’t think if any place I would rather have been.