When I arrived at the first hostel of my trip, I was a little overwhelmed. With no common room or other common spaces to socialize, I wasn’t sure how I would meet people. As a solo traveler, common rooms are your holy grail. They are the easiest place to start making connections.
On my first day, I didn’t meet anyone at my hostel.
On my second day, I put on a bright yellow skirt and an equally bright yellow shirt because I felt it would make me feel extra happy as I explored. I walked out the door and there were two guys sitting on the stoop of the entryway.
“Hey I love your outfit! You look like the sun.”
“Thanks,” I joked, “I figured if I was going to be homeless I’d bring one outfit that makes me feel really great.”
“I get that. We’re homeless, too. But then aren’t most of us around here?”
I sat down immediately.
A little while later, another guy joined us; we were a quartet now.
I spent the next few hours on that stoop, talking to my new friends. They are serious travel veterans. All on the road for a long time, all intending to be on the road for even longer. I spent the next few hours soaking them in, talking about our views of the world, on how life really is so much simpler than we make it out to be.
Eventually we decided to go out for dinner – and by “out for dinner” I of course mean that we went to a roadside stall. We sat on plastic chairs and with traffic whizzing by and chopsticks in my hand, I got to know them better. Not “knowing” in the sense of last names or schools they’ve been to, but “knowing” in the best sense of the word.
We talked about the stuff that builds a soul.
As I recently shared, I had celebrated the Yee Peng lantern festival the day before. The day I met my friends would be the last day of celebrations; the Yee Peng parade around the old city and the release of krathongs into the Ping river. The latter is the celebration of Loy Krathong.
Loy Krathong means “to float a basket.” It’s a Siamese celebration where decorated baskets (krathong) are made and floated on a river. Traditional krathong are made from a banana leaf trunk or a spider lily plant. They are decorated with folded banana leaves, flowers, three sticks of incense and a candle.
During this year’s celebration on November 23rd, thousands of people met along the Ping river. Lanterns were released continuously, filling the sky with twinkling lights. Krathong were floated down the river, hundred of glowing offerings to the river spirits.
I went to the Ping river with my new friends and we enjoyed the beauty and chaos of it all – definitely a fair amount of organized chaos here. Thousands of people releasing lanterns in close proximity makes for some interesting (read: dangerous) moments.
While I made sure to keep an eye on any flaming lanterns close by, I also enjoyed watching other people’s enjoyment of the festivities. Little girls on their tippy toes so they can see the river. Parents showing their children how to light a lantern –the (sort of) safe way.
We enjoyed the festivities until the masses became too much. We headed home and I released my own krathong in a little body of water I had sat beside on my first day. I had sat there after the lantern festival and just soaked in my gratitude and joy. I wanted to go back there to release my krathong- I told you I enjoy poetic symmetry. As instructed, I put a piece of hair, a nail and a coin in there. My offerings.
We went back to our hostel –yep, the very one where I had been so worried I wouldn’t meet people- and went up to the rooftop. We watched the lanterns float up from all different areas of the city. We talked. About everything, really. We talked until the yawns became too frequent to keep talking.
One conversation in particular stands out.
We were discussing what it means to be a good person; what it means to have good people around you –what it means also, to discover good people in new places, as we had all done now. Here’s a snippet that I particularly loved:
“You can light a candle in a dark room, and darkness flees.
Conversely, you can walk into a room full of light, hope and love and there will be no amount of darkness that can overpower that.
Darkness flees light. So be light.”
I looked at my new friends. I looked at my bright yellow skirt. I looked up at the sky and saw the light of twinkling lanterns floating by.