Is it just me? But when I swipe through my Facebook stream today (ignoring all the borderline entertaining, yet captivating cat-and-panda-content) I notice people are preoccupied with mainly two contrasting topics: one is evolving around how bad everything is. How politics worldwide go ballistics and how the world is pretty much going down the pooper. The other one mirrors hope of some sort. Little things, that can make a difference. Clips that highlight compassion, petitions, activists… Or even on much smaller scale: vegetarians, yogis and other minorities, who are trying to change their own sphere of action, little by little. In the sixties, we started to call those people hippies. “Fuck the system!”, some of them would say. But narrowing them down to this statement simply wouldn’t do them justice, as I was about to learn first hand…
I am finding myself in Thailands most northern territories, the Chiang Mai province, and one thing is pretty clear quickly: whilst most of the rest of the country has been continuously spoiled by tourism over the course of the past 30 years, the much harder accessible northern jungles are no exception – with the little twist, that this place appears to be a stronghold for the last remaining true hippies (rather than the families, couples or the regular party-crowd). They are easily spotted, as batik pants have never gone out of style, really, and the colourful and flower-covered fashion sense goes with a hippie just as much as the beef patty on my big mac. Now, obviously there is much appeal to being a hippie in 2017, where individualism tries to beat conformity and a whole generation is loosing its grasp of perspective and trust in a system, that clearly is failing them. But of course you can also spot all those who think hippies are just plain cool and take on their style and habits, without even really understanding what the whole fuzz is all about.
“What is it all about anyway? What makes a Hippie?”, I ask myself, walking through Pai, a little town close to the Burmese border. Here you can make out first generation hippies, coming from China or Europe: their hair has greyed, their faces aged, but both their smiles and charisma have not taken a toll just yet. Appearance is not worth a second thought to them, and while the following generation is trying to make hippie-ism a fashion statement in which every piece of cloth and accessory has to fit the other, they focus on their personal qualities (sometimes resulting in questionable and entertaining fashion statements). Without judgement though, they approach others, take them in, spread love and positivity, share their visions and live in collectives. They simply decided, that the system which indoctrinated them, was simply not their place. In the myst of that observation, I wonder: am I a hippie? By this definition, I noticed for the first time, that I probably am. As visually camouflaged, as one can possibly be, I certainly comply with this ideology, now more than ever. The other day I watched “Captain Fantastic” and I thought about how much I can identify with Viggo Mortensens character and his desire to live off grid. An idea, that I wouldn’t have given a second thought about ten years ago.
While I know that this doesn’t make me anything more than a health conscious person, I even joined a yoga retreat on the wonderful little island of Koh Yao Noi. Here, meditation goes with yoga as the yin with the yang, and whilst is am still reluctant to the concept of meditation (how boring can something be?), I found those four physical days extremely helpful in order to get back in touch with my body, which I am constantly abusing in my line of work. This wonderful and peaceful little island with its secluded white beaches and turquoise water is pretty much still a white spot on most travel maps. Maybe the Lonely Planet is not featuring it just yet, maybe the lack of parties hasn’t made it alluring enough for backpackers, but one thing is for sure: it will not always stay like that.
By contrast to the economically insignificant islands in the south, you can tell that Pai used to be an old trading village and some of the original charm has still been preserved today. However, this whole town is filled with backpackers, which at times makes you feel like you’ve landed in a quite artificial environment, where one hotspot boarders to the next. While this might be fun and enjoyable for said travellers, I wonder if that doesn’t ruin it for those who came here for peace and collective living atmosphere? At least the genuine hippies can sell the wanna be hippies some of their self made artwork on the daily night markets: jewellery, postcards, fotos, leatherware. Seems like a little bit of consumerism doesn’t harm, hm? Let’s think about that for a second.
Now stop thinking about this and let’s move on.
Despite a very busy flair, I can’t blame anyone for gathering here: the landscape, even in / or especially thanks to the dry months, is simply stunning. The downside of traveling to places in low season is that sometimes the climate is showing its effect on the typical attractions: as a result, driving to a waterfall in the dry season sure ain’t fun, and after 45 minutes of riding a scooter through the rough (but gorgeous) landscape, you see a little drain of water falling into a little brown pool of standing water. No supercool instragram posting for me today. That being said, the chocolate brown colours of this area do not seize to impress, and the very special lighting at dawn makes it a photographers playground.
Jumping back to the southern islands of Thailand, I found myself captivated by Koh Lantas diversity. Okay, granted, the streets are an absolute nightmare and without a doubt in the worst possible condition (driving a scooter here requires both confidence and patience, as the immense cracks and potholes in the streets make everyone just detour them with no respect of the oncoming traffic). My point though, was that this island offers a wild range of activities and tours, from caving, to islandhopping, diving or just partying. There are couples, yes, but it is just half as annoying being single here, than for instance in Khao Lak. In the evenings, the charming wooden hippie bars are most welcoming and captivate with fireshows, music and happy hour cocktails.
Five months of Thailand passed by so fast, yet with the weight of my impressions and experiences it feels like I have spent far more time here than that. Grateful and with many memories I leave this country for good, knowing that I did what I came here for: I emerged into a culture, that is simple yet so mysterious and strange. I trained Muay Thai, dived at the most splendid sites, interacted with elephants, had countless massages, enjoyed the beaches, the parties, the sunsets, the smiles. I learned exactly two words (fuck this language is hard to pronounce and to remember), and had about 20 heart attacks on the streets. I made it out of there with no accidents, no bribing the police, no jail time, no babies (to my knowledge) and no injuries. Safe and sound, I am looking forward to the next chapter: Africa.