THAILAND • SECOND IMPRESSIONS

I couldn't have imagined when I left Thailand in July of 2016 that I would be visiting less than two years later. As excited as I was to get back, there was a twinge of nervousness to it all. I tried not to expect much: I knew Chiang Mai had changed, I knew I'd forgotten more Thai than I cared to think about. My team there had changed and morphed and so many other little nagging thoughts kept me from fully enjoying the anticipation of planning for this trip. Having friends to take around was probably my saving grace in all of this. Andrea and Heather were two of the best travel companions I've ever had. Seeing Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Krabi through their eyes was the best way I could have experienced the city again.

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One of the primary reasons for this quick (two and a half weeks is quick, comparatively, right?) trip was to celebrate someone near and dear to my heart. My sister and roommate, Katie, married her best friend, Zegame, while we were in country. Funnily enough, I didn't know the date of her wedding until I had already booked our tickets, and after a 24 hour travel day and a super quick "nap" of sorts in Bangkok, I flew to Chiang Mai for the day to be a part of the festivities. 

Seeing Katie, my team, meeting new babes and revisiting old haunts, this day was a dream. January is usually pretty temperate for Thailand, but the day was a hot one, the colors of the church courtyard were bright and beautiful and no one there wasn't beaming. I, for one, was pretty sure my face was going to break from smiling.

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Our first day in the south wrapped up with a sunset kayak at Ao Thalane. We rowed around the mangrove forest and into some hidden lagoons, watched starfish struggle to flip over in the sand. Lek, our guide, reminded me so much of another guide who'd encouraged us to celebrate with every turn of the kayak a couple years ago.

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Andrea is a climber. And a bucket list item of hers, and eventually mine, was to climb the cliffs in south Thailand. We headed to Railay Beach with King Climbers and spent a wonderful afternoon trying to decipher the Thai-English accent of our belay instructor. Exhausted or not, we roamed the little beach market and ate passionfruit before barely missing a storm on our way back to Krabi.

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Another motivation for our trip was a chance I had to meet my Compassion family. I sponsor a child who lives in east Thailand through Compassion International, an incredible ministry that exists to make the name of Jesus known among children and their families around the world. Aom-Am is a six-year-old beauty, and her family is nothing less than amazing. I got to meet both of her parents, her older sister, and the team that leads the school and church she attends during the week. The look on P'Gleua's (my sweet, sweet translator) face when they picked me up from the bus station and I spoke the language were priceless. It had been seven years since someone had visited this project, and I hope that I'll be back before half that time has passed again. 

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Back in Bangkok, A and I spent the day brunching, taking motorcycle taxis and hanging out with friends from other lives. Our favorite brunch place of all time, Roast, was a welcome respite after a week with only one travel-less day.

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Headed into a week in Chiang Mai, I was excited to get up north. There is a charm to Chiang Mai that you can't find anywhere else in Thailand–or the world, really. A third-culture of sorts, an eastern melting pot mixed well with western tech and trend. We relaxed at bougie hotels, we wandered temples and markets. I saw friends that made me cry, ate food that also made me cry, got a little food poisoning and enjoyed every day regardless of what we did. Being back was heaven.

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Every turn in Thailand was met with coffee, color, wheezing laughter and beautiful words exchanged by locals (also the word "farang" incredibly loudly). Being back made me think I'd long to be back for good and forever, and though Thailand has so much of my heart and I was on cloud nine for nigh a week just being around it all again, it was clear just how integral it was in getting me to where I am now, locationally and internally. Thailand, I love you.

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND • LAST IMPRESSIONS

Almost two years ago I wrote a little ditty about my first month in Thailand. I was amazed by the beauty I saw in the spaces within my city, the smiles of the people I passed and tried to meet every day, and the food. The darkness of the place surprised me, that something so beautiful as a temple was created all for naught. Now, over 20 months later, I'm changed by all that beauty I saw and I'm trying to recap it for people who ask... How I can somehow condense 20 months into 20 minutes or less is still baffling, and it's hard. I often leave out a lot of the big moments. One thing I'll never forget to mention: Chiang Mai is a world all its own, and I'm eternally grateful that it's become home to me, a beautiful place full of soul brothers and sisters that sparked change in me. 

From the beginning to the end, exploration filled in the cracks of our daily routines. We discovered dozens of markets, countless restaurants, colorful scenes and true friends, thankful that the things that struck us as so incredible became regular and everyday occurrences: chatting with Mei at the shop and getting to hear Diiya say new words and experience new things; seeing plants we'd never known existed spilling out of some ceramics on a rooftop or by the side of the road; being a small part of a normal day in a place so unlike where we grew up.

One thing several people have asked me about since I left Asia is, "What did you do? It looked like you just drank coffee." I'll just be honest. I did. I drank a lot of coffee. Cups and cups of the stuff. I cherish every sip and every conversation I had over those mugs, every project I finished up or photo I edited while drinking coffee. I remember all the baristas we befriended, all the doors that were opened and all the geeking out I did when we ran into a new, white-brick, rainforest copycat café. The subculture of hospitality in Thailand, the tourist fueled culture of cafés and hotels is an inspiring one, one that makes me happy to be a creative and know the Creator himself. These places were oases, places to withdraw and recharge, very necessary in the go-go-go world of ministry and expatriatism. Also, see: exploring.

I've blogged quiet a few of my favorites, but if you're traveling through Thailand and you need suggestions for Chiang Mai cafés, you'll be sorry if you miss Woo, Khagee, Bay's Café, Diff Home Bakery, Ristr8to Lab, and SS1254372.

More than anything, I'll echo what I said before: these people are the kindest, most beautiful people I've met. You'll be hard pressed to find a mean person in this place (they're there, they're just hiding in heavy traffic). I found myself drawn to the same vendors, seeing the same smiles, practicing my accent with the same people and leaving feeling more joyful each time. The one store owner who invited me back to practice with her each week became one of my closest friends. The village captured my heart every week, when I was tired of dancing and sweating like a pig and the girls still wanted to hear what I had to say, listened when I spoke about the Savior who loves them, even if it made no sense to them or they couldn't understand me. The lovely small group I studied the Bible with every Sunday, our partners and those who helped us translate offered me some of the richest friendship I'd ever experienced, knowing that language barrier or not, I'd have a confidant and someone to rejoice and to pray with. 

Farangs included: there are too many people to name in how they helped shape my time overseas, how they encouraged and challenged me to seek the Lord where he may be found and to call upon him in the midst of my trials and my victories. Looking at you, Katie, Lyna, Emily, Katelyn, Casey, Julie, Susan and Kelly. Oh and maybe a few guys I know named "Jo."

Leaving this country wasn't anywhere near easy. I'd lived in Chiang Mai longer than any other city since I left home after high school. My coworkers, my friends and my sisters were staying. But I know God has been preparing such a wonderful season for me to walk into. I've got a few things tucked up my sleeves and in my pockets from Thailand, things that will never leave me, and a lot of things that will come back to me. 

This verse covered the time before I moved to Asia, was offered to me more than once as encouragement while I lived in Chiang Mai, and has been my banner going forward into the mystery of this next season. He is good, and he is working. 

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Philippians 2:12-13

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND • BAY'S CAFE & FOOD 4 THOUGHT

It wasn't very long after moving to Thailand that I kept hearing "you haven't been to Bay's?!" from just about everyone I knew in town. Granted, I didn't know that many people then... However, when Katelyn had a birthday and we all came to Bay's and Food 4 Thought to celebrate, I asked myself with every bite why I'd waited so long to try the place.

Bay's Café and Food 4 Thought are two amazing establishments tucked away down a soi off Canal Road and Huay Kaew. Bay, a good friend and coffee connoisseur, is a master of espresso and an expert brewer. Food 4 Thought shares the property and kitchen, making incredible food to match the prowess of caffeinated drinks available from Bay.

It is rare to come to Bay's without seeing him brewing something new. An avid collector of roasts and beans from all over the world, he'll begin tastings at his leisure, those present getting to partake in the festivities. This particular time, we tasted beans from Japan, Rwanda, and some other place I can't remember but am sure was exotic. I've got a few bags of beans I've been meaning to take by to try with him, and he's been known to send lists of "beans to get" with friends who are traveling to other countries.

The café is known for its cold brew, more recently made with coconut milk. It's slow brewed, bottled and sold in house only, but is worth the drive to get it and every sip afterward sings of... well, you know. It sings.

Food 4 Thought's menu is one of the best in Chiang Mai. Wraps for days, fancy pastas and unique combinations of veggies and grains set it apart from your average "farang" food establishment. The Mexican Wrap is by far the best thing on the menu, and the chickpea salad (though deadly spicy) is another favorite. It's impossible to come here and not enjoy what you get. It is completely possible to come here and spend more time deciding what you want to eat than actually eating it. The decision is tough.

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