It’s a long way from Shag Rock and the fir-clad hills around Trinity Bay to the white sands of Phi Phi Island and jungles of Thailand. Years of dreaming and months of planning finally paid off for Lisa Day and her husband, Randy Brown in late October, when the Cavendish couple were able to make the 12,725-kilometre journey to Southeast Asia. They returned home Nov. 18 after 24 days of exploring the exotic Far East.
For Day, 33, finally setting foot on Thai soil marked the fulfillment of a teenage dream going back almost 20 years to when she first learned about Thailand from television’s Discovery Channel.
“I had a fascination with Thailand because I felt I was drawn to the culture,” Day told The Compass during an interview at her Cavendish home.
Day, who teaches Yoga and fitness classes in nearby Hopeall, was so taken by the beauty and way of life in Thailand that she taped the shows and still has them on VHF.
“It was really beautiful and their way of life was really different,” she said.
Growing up in Dildo — Day moved to Cavendish about eight years ago — she said, “I always kinda felt like there was something else out there, something on a level we don’t always see in our culture.”
The huge golden statues of Buddha and the nation’s many temples presented a stark contrast to rural Newfoundland, where, “everything around here is wood.”
When she first told her family she would go to Thailand one day, they dismissed it as just another teenage dream. But Day never abandoned her dream.
After a couple of attempts to make the trip earlier this year, they finally got off the ground in late October, which is supposed to mark the end of the rainy season. But this year was different, very different.
For over three months, beginning in late July, the highest rainfall in half a century had caused the worst flooding in the country’s history. By early November, the disaster had caused over 600 reported deaths and adversely affected more than 2.3 million people.
Fit to travel
Ten hours before departing for Thailand, Day called ahead to make sure everything was still OK to travel there. Up to that point in time the country hadn’t declared a state of emergency, so it was deemed fit for travel.
“When you have plane tickets bought, you don’t really have a choice, you go,” she said.
They arrived in Bangkok to find their hotel was on flood watch.
Tired after their 25-hour flight, they decided to take their chances and stay for the night anyway.
But the next morning they got the even worse news that the parts of their trip that had been booked with a tour guide were all cancelled due to the flooding. In fact, they were advised to get out of Bangkok.
“There was a lot of water everywhere, and thousands of sandbags,” Day said, adding, “I felt really sad for the Thai people.”
The water wasn’t expected to recede for another six weeks. The cancellation of the guided segment of their tour meant they couldn’t get to Ayutthaya or Kanchanaburi.
“We had planned to go swimming under the seven-tiered waterfall and visit the floating market on the Praya Chao River — we couldn’t do that, the water was way too high,” Day explained.
Having to rebook flights and pay for more hotels was frustrating, she said. But not even the heaviest rainfall in 50 years was going to dampen their desire to see Thailand.
“The upside of it is that it was really educational,” she said.
From their base in the Thai city of Chiang Mai, they were able to make day trips to the neighbouring countries of Laos and Myanmar. They visited the golden triangle, once the site of the world’s second largest opium trade and took river cruises down the Mai Ping River and down the Mekong River to cross the border into Laos.
During their odyssey, the couple travelled by traditional songthaew, an authentic but primitive Thai taxi; dined on traditional Thai cuisine; visited a tea plantation where they sampled almost a dozen different kinds of tea; had ringside seats at a Muay Ti boxing match, Thailand’s national sport; slept on bamboo planks and board-covered concrete floors; spent time with Buddhist monks; trekked through the jungle on elephants and saw homemade king cobra snake, scorpion and tiger penis whiskies being brewed in Laos. The aroma from the mixture was enough for them to decide not to taste the brew.
They visited the ruins of Sukhothai, Thailand’s capital before Bangkok, and took in the Loi Kratong Festival, a Buddhist holiday that falls on a full moon that attracts some five million people. They also visited Sukhothai Park, a UNISCO world heritage site.
“We went jungle trekking in Northern Thailand with the Akha tribe, who live a very basic way of life,” Day said.
But the highlight of the venture for Day happened during a trip further north to spend time in the jungle with the Palong tribe. It was there she met and quickly bonded with a four-year-old girl from the tribe.
“I felt like I connected with her instantly. Her name was Yune.”
Language barriers and generation gaps proved to be no match for their mutual attraction. Day said Yune taught her their traditional dance and showed her how to weave with grass.
Day took such a shine to the young girl, she ended up sponsoring her to go to school, something her family couldn’t afford to do.
When the time came for her to leave, Day said Yune didn’t want to say goodbye.
“Through the interpreter she thanked me and told me I would be very lucky. She would be a very good girl and do her best in school because she was given the opportunity.
“She told me she would never forget me her whole life and she wanted me to come back and visit her.”
Yune’s family doesn’t have access to email, but the interpreter does, and Day plans to continue the lines of communication with Yune through him.
Day said she’d like to return to Thailand in a couple of years “to visit Yune just to see how much she’s grown and learned.
“That was definitely the highlight of the trip for me. I think the best thing in the world you can do is to do something good for somebody else. And to give a child a chance to learn to read and write, that’s giving them a future. For me that was really important.”
Day said they brought back some Thai rum, which cost the equivalent of about C$5 a bottle. She also picked up a wooden fish carving, some clothing and jewellery.
“That’s about it because you don’t have room for a lot in a backpack.”
Besides their most recent adventure in Southeast Asia, the globe-trotting Cavendish couple have already visited the Inca trail and Amazon River in Peru as well as the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
What exotic parts of the world are in the couple’s future travel plans?
“I’d like to see Greece and India.”
And if things ever get peaceful enough in the Middle East for travel, she says, “I would love to see the Pyramids of Egypt and the ruins of Petra in Jordan.”
And, of course, she looks forward to returning to Thailand, hopefully when the waters have receded and they can take in all the places they couldn’t get to on their first visit.