The Things I’ve Done For Luck.

If you’ve traveled anywhere, I can guarantee you have been told that by touching something, swimming in a certain body of water, or doing some odd activity will bring you luck and good fortune. I was thinking about a few things I did on a recent trip to the Caribbean that was supposed to be healing for the body and it reminded me of all the things I have done since beginning my travels in 2010, some silly, some scary, and some just plain gross. So I thought I would compile a list of the moments that stand out for me in terms of doing something because it was considered lucky or “rejuvenating”.

The Gift of the Gab

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The land of the Irish is filled with stories based around luck and good fortune, leprechauns hiding their pots of gold and fairy rings that should you step inside the ring, you’ll be cursed by fairy protectors or transported to a land of supernatural beings or forced to dance until exhaustion and death (nice things, fairies, aren’t they?). But most importantly, and often boasted about, they believe in the gift of the gab. The ability to talk your way out of anything or being a smooth talker. For those of you interested in being blessed with such a gift, you can take a ride on up to a town called Blarney, just north of the city of Cork.

Here, you’ll find Blarney Castle and the famous Blarney Stone, or the Stone of Eloquence. Up the tower you climb until you get to a human-sized hole. It’s in this whole, a rough back bend down, that the Blarney Stone sits in the stone wall. At 90ft. above the concrete, I lay on my back and put my life in the hands of a grey-haired old man. With his hands gripping my calves, I leaned my upper body backwards and down into the hole, hanging on to the bars mounted on the stone wall. With a quick glance at the concrete below, I kissed the Blarney Stone and shot back up to safety.

Eternal Beauty

On the Isle of Skye, Scotland, there is a particular river that I’ve forgotten the name of. Flowing under a bridge, we pulled up beside it and sat around listening to a legend of the most beautiful girl in the village. Many, many years ago on her wedding day, this girl was riding her horse across the river when the horse lost her footing and down tumbled the bride-to-be, smashing her face on a rock with a pointed tip. A gruesome event, the poor girl had an eyeball hanging from its socket, her face mangled. No longer was she the most beautiful girl in the village. Determined to be married, she popped her eye back in place, though not well, and hid her face behind her veil. I Do’s were said but when the groom pulled back her veil to kiss the bride, he recoiled in disgust and, being the superficial man that he was, refused to marry her.

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Humiliated, the girl ran back to the river, where she met a leprechaun.. or perhaps a fairy. After hearing her story, the leprechaun told her that all she had to do was dip her face in that very river for no less than 7 seconds and she would be eternally beautiful. As you can imagine, we quickly lowered ourselves down and dunked our faces into the ice cold water and counted to 7.

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Clear Skin in Trinidad

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Many bodies of water around the world are said to have healing properties, rejuvenating qualities, etc. On a recent trip to Trinidad, we stopped at Pitch Lake, a “lake” filled with pitch. All of the major highways around the world use the asphalt from this lake and every time, the lake renews itself, filling again and again with asphalt. Black and smelling of tar, you can walk on the lake as the top layer is hardened, a slightly squishy surface. Certain areas of Pitch Lake are filled with small pools of water, some green in color, others black as Coca-Cola. Locals come to the pitch lake to bathe in one of these small pools as it’s said to aid in healing psoriasis and arthritis due to its medicinal properties.

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Another pool of water in the Pitch is said to be safe to drink a small bottle cap-full once a day as it’s said to keep the skin clear from acne. After playing in the water a little bit, two of us were brave enough to fill up our bottle caps and shot it back.

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The Sai Sin Bracelet

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Thailand has more symbols and amulets for luck than anywhere I’ve been. You ask any vendor on the street what the symbol on a ring, image, or other piece of jewelry means and they’ll tell you it’s for luck. You can often tell a backpacker in Southeast Asia by the collection of bracelets adorning their wrists and ankles, but there is one bracelet in particular that is said to give the wearer great luck. The Sai Sin bracelet. Up on Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I knelt before a monk and a shaman as he blessed the piece of white string before tying it to my wrist and was told that it would bring me luck in my travels, my health, and my prosperity. Whatever you do, don’t cut these bracelets off. Rather, they must break naturally from your wrist when the time is right. If you do cut it off, all the luck it was supposed to bring will be gone.

Three Wishes at the Trevi Fountain

On our very first night in Rome we found ourselves at the Trevi Fountain. There’s a number of legends about the fountain, which started many years ago. It’s said that originally, tossing in a coin or taking a drink from the fountain would ensure good health. Today, the Trevi Fountain has become a mecca for tourists from all over the world. We were told by a traveling family that you could make three wishes, on three different coins, of three different currencies. Swapping coins with one another, we each had three coins of different currencies and, with our backs to the fountain, tossed them in over our left shoulder, one at a time. Each coin had a different wish and, though I’m sure you’d like to know my wishes, they will forever be a secret.

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The Cursed Tomb of Alexander Stewart

Despite all the things I’ve done for luck, my reckless self also did something that is said to curse the individual for as long as they live. In the small Scottish town of Dunkeld sits a cathedral. Within that cathedral, is the resting place of the Earl of Buchan in 1812. After leaving his wife and six children, he was excommunicated and, as a result, he burned two towns to the ground. They say that anyone who touches his tomb will be cursed with bad luck for the rest of their lives. Whether this is true or not, perhaps the many things I have tried for good luck outweighs the curse. Either way, whenever I get a bout of unluckiness, particularly without explanation, I blame Alexander Stewart.

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These are just a few stories of the things I’ve done around the world in the name of luck and beauty. For more stories, you can read about swimming in Tobago’s Nylon Pool for rejuvenation, rubbed Juliet’s breast for luck in Verona, and doused myself in mud in St.Lucia for soft skin and healing properties.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep: Temple on the Hill.

If there is one temple everyone tells you to go to in Chiang Mai it is the one located on Doi Suthep, the mountain just on the edge of the city. After a winding, uphill ride to the base of the temple, you’re still not quite there yet. Pass the many stalls offering you an assortment of trinkets to purchase and make your way to the 309 stairs (or take the tram for a small fee).

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This temple attracts foreign tourists, local Thais, as well as monks and other Thai nationals from other cities. One of the pieces that you will see once you enter the pagoda is a statue of a white elephant. The albino elephant is rare and is historically held in high regard by Thai people. It is said that a monk once had a vision telling him to go to a certain spot to find a relic. What he found there was a bone. Some even say that this was the shoulder bone of Buddha.

The monk took the bone to a northern city in Thailand, where it apparently broke in two. One piece of this bone was put on the back of a white elephant by a king and the elephant was sent off. The story goes that this white elephant climbed up Doi Suthep where he let out three trumpets before dying. The king took this as a sign and thus, built what is now Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

 

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When I visited, there was a monk and a shaman who were sitting in a temple and blessing the string bracelets (Sai Sin bracelet) that many travelers to Thailand come to know. These string bracelets are blessed by monks in Thai ceremonies and those who wear them are brought good luck – in travels, in their endeavors, health, success, and even wealth when blessed over a pile of money. They tell you not to cut these bracelets and either untie them or allow them to fall off, for cutting them diminishes all the luck they are meant to bring.

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This is also the temple where I was taught by a visiting monk how to pray.

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As you walk around the temple, you will notice a few areas where you can sit, relax, and take in the beautiful views of Chiang Mai that can be seen from both sides of the pagoda. Whether you are in Chiang Mai for a day or a week, this temple is one of the most beautiful in the area.

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A Day in Chiang Mai

So you’ve found yourself in Chiang Mai, a large city in Northern Thailand. Maybe you were told by friends how great it is or maybe it’s just a random stopover before moving on. Whatever your reason for being here, you might be wondering how best to spend your day.

If you’re looking for cheap accommodation filled with young, lively folks like yourself, Little Bird Guesthouse and MD House might be two possibilities. Both located within walking distance from each other in the Old City, these two hostels are right where the action is happening but tucked away in their own little nooks so as not to disturb those trying to get to sleep at night.

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Start your day off with a trip to Somphet Market, where you can find Tip and her big yellow sign, serving up delicious fruit shakes and fruit muesli. This is also the market that many local cooking classes will take their students to collect fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and spices for their meals. If you enjoy cooking or simply want to do something you may not have done before, cooking classes are a fun way to spend the day and you have the choice of an in-city class or one on a farm in the countryside.

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After browsing around the market, flag down a songthaew, a truck with two rows of seats, to take you on up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the temple on the hill and the most popular temple in the city. This alone could easily fill up your afternoon with the intricate detail of the temple and the beautiful views of Chiang Mai below.

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Interested in speaking with an English-speaking monk? Head over to Wat Suan Dok and make your way to the university that is attached, where “monk chats” are available by donation to learn more about Buddhism and their way of life.

As the afternoon comes to an end and night begins, the buzz of the night market comes alive covering nearly 2 kilometers of road. Selling beautiful handcrafted items such as paintings and jewelry, the night bazaar has become one of Chiang Mai’s most popular tourist attractions. If you happen to be around on a Sunday, there is the famous Sunday Night Market.

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Looking to get your drink on and let loose a little? THC Rooftop Bar is a good choice if you’re looking for something a little more chilled out. After climbing a windy staircase, you’ll find yourself in a colorful, shoes-off, chilled out atmosphere that overlooks Thapae Gate. Zoe in Yellow, or Zoe’s for short, offers a garden/seated area if you just want to sit down with a few beers as well as a big dance floor for when the night gets wild. It’s also where I spent my 21st birthday. Reggae Bar, just down the road from Zoe’s, is a fun place to go if you’re looking for some Jamaican music, live bands, and a dance floor.

With it’s mix of modern and traditional, Chiang Mai is a popular city that attracts thousands of tourists and is home to many expats who have fallen in love with the place and decided to make it their home.

Celebrating Birthdays Abroad

Birthdays. For a lot of people this is the most special day of the year, filled with elaborate plans and huge celebration. Personally, I get a bit overwhelmed by it all. All of the planning, RSVP’s, trying to decide what to do, being expected to do something. It all gets a little tedious. Don’t get me wrong, I love to celebrate the day I was born, but elaborate parties are not my thing.

Perhaps that’s one reason why I like celebrating my birthdays abroad. First of all, it is kind of fun to say that your nineteenth birthday was in Florence, Italy and your twenty-first birthday was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. But when you’re abroad, everything happens so spontaneously and that is what I love about it. There’s no need for elaborate plans, weeks building up to the big day, none of that. Instead, there’s a bunch of new friends and quick decisions. My past birthdays abroad have gone something like this:

A balmy evening in Florence, three of us were sitting at a plastic table, on plastic chairs, after finishing dinner. After the ATM eating up $400 and not giving it back, I was in low spirits. My friends, the gems that they are, surprised me with a one euro cake from the shop beneath the campsite “restaurant” and fashioned a lighter into a candle. There we sat, giggling at the sight of my birthday cake as I blew out the lighter flame.

My 19th Birthday Cake and Lighter-Candle from Sophie and Alex!

With a party in mind the three of us made our way from our campsite into the city, trying to find ourselves a discotecca to celebrate despite having to catch a train the next morning at an ungodly hour. As we walked, we realized that discotecca’s don’t open until much later than bars do back home and, to top it off, the rain began to pour down yet again. To our very good fortune, none other than a gelato shop had materialized across the street to provide shelter from the rain.

What we had believed would be a night of dancing had turned into a night of gelato tasting and exploring Florence by night. That evening, I flicked a creepy-crawly off of my pillow and we routinely tucked ourselves in as tight as possible to prevent more creepy-crawlies finding their way inside our blankets. When I woke up it was my first day as a nineteen year old and it began by moving as quickly as we could to catch our train as the sun came up.

Florence on my 19th Birthday

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In and out of temples, up and down side roads, pedicures, eating food from street stalls and a daily shake (or three) from Tip in Somphet Market. That was Chiang Mai by day. Sitting outside at A Little Bird Guesthouse, comfy mats under our bottoms, Chang in hand, and a group of new friends. All of us sitting in a circle, requesting songs to the man playing the guitar and all of us passionately singing along. As the evening got later and people tried to sleep, we moved on to a bar called Zoe’s, just around the corner.

My 21st Birthday Cake in Chiang Mai, Zoe's Bar!

My surprised look after too many Changs.

To my surprise, two Irish girls I had the pleasure of meeting arrived a little later, surprising me with a makeshift cake of mini sponge cakes all in a circle and a pile of m&ms in the center and they sang happy birthday, with everyone in our section of the bar joining in. That was Chiang Mai for my birthday. After a long night of dancing and having a lot of fun with a man from Oxford, it was morning. With only two hours of sleep, I spent my first day as a twenty-one year old hopping in a tuk-tuk with the two Irish girls, arriving at a posh guesthouse with a massive pool. It was there that I spent my birthday day, acting like teenagers and cooling ourselves from the mid-day Thailand heat.

It is these birthday abroad that I remember the most, though I’m not sure why. Maybe for the spontaneous, and often hilarious, events that ensued, or maybe simply just because it was in a far-away place. With my twenty-second birthday fast approaching, the two nights I shared with you keep popping back into my head. Celebrating birthday abroad will always be something that I enjoy doing, but sometimes it’s nice to spend it at home with the people that you love and this year, I couldn’t be happier to do just that.

Sunday Snapshot: Local Life on Koh Tao

A local boy snacking on chips in the ocean.

This photo was taken on my very first afternoon on Koh Tao, Thailand. Koh Tao has become an extremely popular tourist destination, particularly for diving, and it can sometimes  be easy to forget that people are born and grow up on this island. This local Thai boy was just chilling, sitting in the ocean and eating a bag of chips under a palm tree. Island life looks pretty good to me!


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