My train just left the station on its way from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. It’s leaving right on time at 8:50am and I’m arriving in the capitol city of Thailand at 6:30pm. I decided to take the train instead of flying since it’s a more adventurous way of traveling — I can just sit back, relax, take a nap, read my book The Beach, and watch the scenery go by my window speeding along through mountains, past rivers, streams, and forests. I could have booked a plane ticket for roughly the same price including checked luggage, but I’m in this for the long haul, ya’ll. The journey is the destination.
Note: Due to travel restrictions I decided to cancel my direct flight to Bali, Indonesia and made the rational decision to extend my tourist visa for another month in Thailand. These are challenging times to be a digital nomad traveling during Coronavirus outbreak. You can read the full blog post Why I Decided to Extend My Visa in Thailand During Coronavirus. And here’s my full list of financial resources for entrepreneurs, small business owners, individuals, and families.
Everyone is freaking out about the Coronavirus! The world is going crazy over what I largely consider to be mass hysteria perpetuated by the big media outlets regarding a contagion similar to SARS and Bird Flu but on a larger scale. It’s spreading around the world originating from mainland China. According to the World Health Organization WHO, there are currently 142,649 confirmed cases and 593 deaths in 135 countries at the time of writing. Here’s the updated list of all the countries imposing travel restrictions. For more information, I highly recommend reading this full writeup on Broke Backpacker entitled Coronavirus: What Travellers Need To Know.
My friends back in America, over 13,000 miles away from the danger zone, are behaving like crazy people hoarding toilet paper, stocking up on hand sanitizer for $50 a bottle, and holding up inside their private prisons. They are spreading intolerance and fear on a massive scale, which I personally believe is more dangerous than the virus itself. In the prophetic words of FDR, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
I refuse to allow the Coronavirus scare to put a damper on my travel plans in 2020! You can call me selfish, ignorant, or a danger to myself and others. To which I reply with a famous Steve Jobs quote, “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels… Think Different”. In my rational unapologetic opinion, it is the hoards of people who are “self–quarantining” and hiding in their houses to protect themselves who are the selfish ones. They don’t really care about the elderly people and young kids who may contract the disease. Not in the abstract they don’t. They’re oversensitive germaphobes who are just looking out for #1. And let’s be honest, the chances are they are infected is vanishingly small.
Whereas I’m putting myself at risk of contracting the virus by traveling in countries bordering China. Combine that with the fact that I’m also staying in hostel dorms with other travelers who have a higher likelihood of being infected. And guess what, the majority of people I talk to during my travels in Thailand are not worried about Coronavirus (it’s a safe country with only 75 reported cases). Why, you might ask? If I were to wager a guess, perhaps it’s because they’ve been through this bullshit in the past and always come out alive on the other side. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! The mortality rate on average is 3% and that’s higher for “baby boomers” over the age of 60 years old. My parents are in that age group and I should probably call them when I arrive in Bangkok to let them know I’m alright and make sure they are as well. My dad went to the Kroger grocery store the other night and found all the shelves of the toilet paper aisle completely picked over.
At the end of the day, all of this mass hysteria is merely another excuse for me to continue exploring Southeast Asia until this whole thing blows over. And to be honest, I’m probably safer over here than back in the States anyway. Note: I’m grateful to have full-coverage travel/medical insurance with Insured Nomads just in case anything happens and I’m hospitalized for some unexpected reason. It doesn’t make sense to go back home and be forced into some type of house arrest situation like a caged bird with clipped wings. I’d rather be the free-spirit that I am. Besides, I’m a US expat fed up with the corrupt backward-ass political system.
I’m an independent; diametrically opposed to Trump and I don’t support the Democratic candidates either. I finally understand how fortunate, privileged, and delusional America is. The majority of the world population subsists on less than $2 per day without clean drinking water or sufficient food to eat. Everything is so easy comparatively. Need a ride? Hail an Uber or hop on an electric scooter. Hungry? Order from a touchscreen kiosk at your nearby Whole Foods. New laptop? Order from Amazon Prime with next-day shipping. And yet, so many people are still unhappy and depressed. Sometimes I feel like a sane man in a crazy world.
The stock market had its worst day of trading since 1987; the year I was born. Already this “world pandemic” has caused $11 trillion in lost revenue! Let that sink in for a minute. That’s a staggeringly large number in far excess of the US national deficit. A huge conference that brings in people from every corner of the planet known as SXSW in Austin, Texas was canceled by the reactionary mayor Steve Adler due to chronic fears of the Coronavirus. That’s $400 million down the drain, one-third of the full-time staff let go of the company, and as if all that wasn’t bad enough, they have the audacity to refuse refunds to customers who bought a ticket. It’s like a repeat of the controversial Fyre Festival on a grander scale. On the plus side, at least now I don’t have to worry about missing the greatest tech conference on Planet Earth! (#NOFOMO)
I don’t currently have any plan to return to America until I finish my tour of Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia. I will most likely get a visa to live in Bali or Jakarta for an indefinite period of time. There’s still so many beautiful places to visit in Indonesia — Java, Flores, Nusa Penida, Gili Islands, Raja Ampat, and more islands than you can see in a lifetime. I still need to book my airline ticket to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh on the double before they impose travel bans in and out of the city. The whole thing is ridiculous! There’s so many places to see in the world and I’m not going to allow the mass media to scare me into hunkering down in a cellar with my fully-automated weapons, food rations, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer like we’re living in a version of the Zombie Apocalypse. Wake up and smell the roses, people!
Now, let’s calm down and be rational for a moment. The vast majority of reported cases are in China (currently at 100,000) with 66% of the fatalities; mostly the elderly and young children with compromised immune-systems. There’s nothing one person can do to save these people, as much as I wish there was. This should be a wakeup call to fix our failing healthcare system. A vaccine is apparently being developed, but it’s anyone’s guess when it will be ready for the public.
Both Italy and India (with more countries to follow) have closed down their borders with mass quarantines and aren’t letting anyone in or out of the country. Large international airports are deserted, appearing like an eerie scene out of The Langoliers, since everyone is too afraid to fly anywhere. Which also means you can find super cheap airfare to exotic destination around the world. For example, you can fly round-trip to Hawaii for less than $350. Every cloud has its silver lining, as the saying goes.
In all honesty, I’m way more concerned about the severe levels of pollution in Chiang Mai during the burning season from February to April. It’s been ranked as the most polluted city in the world, which I find difficult to believe (just look at New Delhi, India), but it is quite apparent when you step outside the front door. The sky is enshrouded in dense clouds of smoke hanging ominously over the city. When I go for a walk without a face mask, my eyes hurt and I start coughing.
Even as I look out the window on this passenger train, I see terrible pollution covering small villages, roaming livestock, farmers in fields, and vegetation dotted along the train track. I can’t help but ask myself, what would happen if the same level of media attention and public outrage against Coronavirus were levied against climate change, pollution levels, wildfires, extreme poverty, genocides, etc. I always reach the same conclusion: Worldwide revolution, overthrowing governments, and rioting in the streets!
And don’t get me started on the deep-seated racism displayed against the Chinese people themselves for being the source of this “red Communist plot to take over the world”. 😉 I made a post on a Facebook Group called “Chiang Mai Digital Nomads” featuring a Pro-Chinese sign. It received hundreds of angry comments in just a few hours with intolerant racist attacks. Very disturbing! I heard stories about hotels turning away people simply because they were Chinese even though they didn’t exhibit any symptoms. In this trying time, it’s critically important that we rise above our baser instincts and treat everyone with respect, love, and compassion.
I spotted this sign outside Cat Motors, a motorbike rental company in Chiang Mai since 2010. Just over a week ago I embarked on an epic motorbike adventure along the Mae Hong Son Loop in Northern Thailand. Thankfully, I had sufficient funds on my credit card to rent the 2019 Honda PCX motorbike from a competitor and was determined to follow through on my vision! The ride to Pai about 150km outside Chiang Mai was absolutely beautiful with exactly 762 switchback curves up into the mountains. I was driving all day for 8 hours passing by waterfalls, temples, viewpoints, little coffee shops, small villages, caves, national parks, hot springs, bridges, and monks walking along the side of the road in search of enlightenment and self-actualization.
I stayed at a hostel with free breakfast and yoga for just 2 days, drove to a hot spring on a full moon late at night, and then continued my journey to the town of Mae Hong Son. I made sure to make a reservation at a luxury hotel ahead of time on Agoda. It’s possible to find really great deals on this website, especially if you’re a VIP member. I grabbed a delicious cheap dinner at a restaurant near a Buddhist temple on the water and invited an interesting girl I met from Slovakia to the night market. We didn’t meet up and I instead opted to climb 800 steps to the top of a Buddhist temple for an impressive view of the city all lit up at night.
The next day I checked out of my hotel, got my deposit back, and hit the road on my way to Tham Lod Cave; one of the largest caves in Thailand. After a few hours I was famished and pulled off for a bowl of noodle pork soup. I got a small bottle of the Thai version of Red Bull for 10 Baht, chugged it down, and drove up into the mountains at the suggestion of a local guy drinking Chang Beer at a nearby table. Fun fact: Did you know the the original Red Bull originates from Thailand?
I kept going up and up and up into the mountains wondering when I would finally reach the summit. I made sure to pull over a few times to take photos and give the 150cc engine a rest. This was probably the most beautiful drive of the entire 600km (I finished with nearly 1000km!) loop and it just so happened it was the correct path to Mae Surin Waterfall. I snuck through the entrance gate without paying the mandatory 100 Baht fee and walked the short distance with bare feet to the waterfall. I was disappointed to find a viewpoint about 100 ft away and no access to reach the waterfall to swim. I hopped on my trusty motorbike and rode to my next destination in Mae Sariang, checked into my guesthouse, grabbed a quick bite with some friends (one of the guys was teaching English to Thai kids at a school), and hit the sheets to wake up early the next morning.
I intended to visit a crystal cave with a guy from the Netherlands but it was about 40km in the opposite direction, and considering this was my last day of the loop, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of daylight left. The weather was incredibly hot and humid after coming down from the highlands of Northern Thailand. You pass through a town outside a place called Chom Thong that is literally called Hot. I stopped for a hot minute to hydrate, apply sunscreen to my neck/arms, and take a photo of my motorbike in front of a golden temple. The wind was so strong at times that I was afraid I’d be blown off the bike going 100km/h. I made sure to pull over in Chom Thong to visit a very famous Buddhist temple who’s name currently escapes me. Did you know Thailand is 95% Buddhist population with over 30,000 temples across the country?
After that, it was onward to my final destination at Doi Inthanon National Park. I went off the designated path to visit Mae Ya Waterfall, probably the most impressive waterfall I’ve ever seen in my life! I took lots of photos, stripped down to my birthday suit, and plunged into the cold water with the entire natural beauty to myself. Solitude is bliss! And Coronavirus combined with burning season means a lot fewer tourists to contend with! Again, every cloud has its silver lining.
I stopped to fuel up at a gas station, spoke to the attendant for a few minutes, and gave him my photography business card… because why not? By the time I reached the entrance gate to Doi Inthanon National Park it was 4:15pm and the security guard informed me that the park closed at 5pm. He said, I probably wouldn’t make it in time. After everything I’d been through, I wasn’t about to turn around and give up after coming so far. It may be true that nice guys finish last but I’ll be damned if I’m going to quite before reaching the finish line!
I accepted his challenge and put the pedal to the metal out of the gates. I was racing around curves, overtaking other vehicles, taking calculated risks; fully determined to reach the Great Holy Pagodas at the highest point in all of Thailand! It felt like something out of MotoGP only this wasn’t some stupid video game; it was real life! No do-overs, no reset button. I made it to the next checkpoint 20km ahead by the skin of my teeth with just 5 minutes to spare — Phew! Paid the mandatory 300 Bhat entrance fee and raced ahead to the official entrance arriving in perfect timing shortly before sunset.
I captured all the photos in about 30 minutes, talked to a two friendly guys from Brazil, and rode down from my mountain to find an affordable resort called Touch Star. I didn’t feel like making the long drive back to Chiang Mai on unfamiliar roads at night. I would wait until early next morning, check out a few beautiful waterfalls in the national park, and finally arrive back at my home base. I retrieved my hiking backpack at Hug Rooftop Hostel, told a few people the short version of my story, and checked into my favorite hostel in Chiang Mai for 4 nights.
On March 14th I woke up early in the morning to grab a quick breakfast at Suneta Hostel, say goodbye to my intrepid traveler friends from England & Spain (provided them extra face masks for safer plane travel), and hailed a tuk-tuk to the train station using an app to get a free ride. I only have 300 Baht (or roughly $10) to my name right now and waiting on a very substantial personal loan from my university credit union to cover travel expenses, grow my business/brand, scale up my marketing efforts, improve search engine visibility, hire more virtual assistants, and possibly launch a coaching program for aspiring digital nomads. With any luck the funds will be deposited into my account by the time I arrive in Bangkok…
I already booked a cheap hostel with my credit card on the famous backpacker haven of Khaosan Road. My friend Andy offered to let me stay at his fancy hotel around the corner for a few nights but I prefer to be independent and meet other travelers on the road. We met a few months ago in Bali at an Entrepreneur Meetup and stayed in touch via WhatsApp. I’m excited to meet up with him for drinks in Bangkok and discuss how we can possibly work together in digital marketing and grow my affiliate marketing business for Airbnb. I’ve already hired one virtual assistant in the Philippines to take over the tedious work of lead generation for boutique hotels, hostels, guesthouses, homestays, and villas in various countries. I’m determined to finally make my business fully sustainable and profitable in 2020!
In the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it!” I encourage my readers to get out of your comfort zone, experience different cultures, embrace adversity, overcome challenges, and keep growing as a citizen of the world! Anyone can sit around the house all day, obsessively watch the news, play video games, and mentally masturbate about what-if’s. Fortune favors the bold! Money comes, money goes, but you’ll never get your time back! Choose to spend it wisely. We most often regret the things we didn’t do and chances we didn’t take on our deathbeds. Life is relatively short so you might as well make the most of it while you’re floating on this Pale Blue Dot. What are you most passionate about? Stop reading this memorandum; and go out and fucking live your wildest dreams imaginable!