My Personal Journey With Ayahuasca, San Pedro, Vipassana Meditation & The Art of Muay Thai – Am I The Same Person?

Maslow-Quote-on-Self-Actualization

I left the US 17-months ago with a one-way ticket to Thailand to start a new chapter in my life.  I had a few ideas, but to be honest, I didn’t really plan for anything after the first year.  I’m incredibly grateful to say that these past 8-months have been major milestones on my journey. Although some of these were on my list of goals to achieve, I wouldn’t have guessed at how profound each experience was or the positive impact it would leave on me. Nor would I have been able to forsee how all these events beautifully unfolded – to let go and let life flow as some would say.  There were so many lessons learned and much wisdom gained, along with a variety of emotions and feelings left inside of me.  There is one common denominator throughout these experiences though – none were easy, in both physical and mental terms…but all well worth it.  To answer the question: Am I the same person after all of this – HELL NO!  Below is a summary of each highlight, but each deserves their own individual blog entry as they delve into some deeply personal details & issues (some have already been drafted).

Before I proceed any further, let me just say this – some of these experiences involved interacting with natural plant medicines. Yes, they contain psychotropic agents in them, but to label them as “drugs” is derogatory in my opinion.  I prefer the term plant teachers as they can be used to teach many valuable lessons .  These are not used in a recreational setting where the purpose is to “trip out, get high and party”…but rather it’s the opposite – to sit quietly and be introspective – examine your thoughts, your past, your feelings and emotions, and if needed, to process them in a non-judgmental way.  Some people may have a false-view that these are illegal drugs (in-fact they are legal in South America) being used in voodoo-like ceremonies.  Let me try to make an analogy to help better understand them – Someone has a physical ailment, such as a collapsed lung that is causing them tremendous pain. They goto the hospital and see a doctor – they run x-rays to see what the diagnosis is, prescribe them pain-killers then perform surgery to fix the problem.  In South American indigenous cultures, the same concepts could be applied.  Someone has a psychological illness – depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from a negative event, ie. sexual abuse, a hostile environment during their childhood or active military duty.  Instead of being prescribed pharmaceutical uppers or painkillers to cover up or “band-aid” the emotional stress, plant medicines such as ayahuasca are administered by a shaman in a ceremonial setting to help a person get to the root of these problems – by dealing with these feelings on an emotional level which can lead to the healing process and thus move forward in life.  If there is a method or technique that can help deal with a person’s suffering, then why not utilize it?  Society has no problem popping pills for physical pain, but when it comes to “unorthodox” treatments for mental issues, there seems to be a stigma around it.  People need to realize that prescripton drugs are not 100% safe – there are always side-effects to worry about (while we’re at it, legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are just as bad).  And do you really think Big Pharma has your best interest at the end of the day?  They’re a for-profit organization.  Lastly, just because a health-care technique is not admistered in a familliar setting such as a hospital or health-care clinic, does not mean it’s inferior.  I did my research before partaking in these activities and all were conducted in a safe, caring environment.  As humans, our gut instinct is to be skeptical and scared of anything different.  I ask that you if you choose to read my blog, then you keep an open, judgment-free mind. Please do your research throughly as I did, before forming any opinions Here’s an interview with Amber Lyon from Reset.me (great website with tons of info) on how entheogens saved her life

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November 2013 – Silent Meditation Retreat at Wat Ram Poeng, Chiang Mai

At the end of last year, my parents and youngest brother came to visit me in Thailand. We spent one week in Phuket then flew up to Chiang Mai for another week.  The day they left I checked myself into a 10-day vipassana  retreat at a Buddhist temple.  Vipassana is the Pali word for insight into the true nature of reality.  This type of meditation focuses on mindfulness of breathing, thoughts, feelings and actions.  There is no talking, eye-contact, eating after noon-time or mingling with the opposite sex.  Oh yeah, they take your smart-phone from you upon check-in, so no sneaking off on Facebook!  You sleep on the floor with a 2-inch mattress in a simple bedroom.  Then wake up at 4am to the sound of bells clanging / dogs barking and meditate (walking coupled with sitting techniques) for most of the day until 10pm when it’s time for sleep.

This was definitely one of the hardest things mentally that I’ve had to do, EVER.  It forced me to face my fears and myself with no distractions.  Days leading up-to the retreat my anxiety was high and all I kept thinking was: would I go crazy inside my own head?!?  Luckily I made it through the 10-days and was on a spiritual high afterwards.  However, re-integrating back into “normal” society was a bit weird…I kept having thoughts such as why are there so many noises, there’s too much TV / Facebook going on…My 5 senses were constantly bombarded and felt overloaded…I just wanted to be a hermit and left to myself.

Some key take-aways from the retreat:

  • Thinking about doing something is harder than the act of doing it.
  • I now have more self-awareness/ consciousness  – I don’t zone out and go on auto-pilot when doing basic activities ie. taking a shower, brushing my teeth, eating food.  Now there’s more presence and I can appreciate “being in the moment” and not get caught up in the random thoughts swirling around in my head.
  • Mental detox – I learned to let go of a lot of anger from my past.  Forgiving people is easier than carrying that grudge / emotional baggage that just sucks the energy out of you.  I truly felt “lighter” afterwards.
  • I’m now a morning person and enjoy waking when the sun-rises.  You’re body can actually adapt to 6 hours of sleep (although I wouldn’t recommend this long-term).
  • Lastly, this intense experience has given me a solid foundation to expand and grow my meditation practice.  I’m more motivated to keep working on it now that I know the proper techniques and have seen/ felt the benefits of sticking with it.

For more info, here’s their website: http://www.watrampoeng.net/vipassana.html

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/watrampoeng.chiangmai

The temple operates on donations for the retreats.  The suggested amount for the 10-days is 2,000 Thai baht which is around $60 USD.  This includes a bed, breakfast and lunch (the food was delicious).  I’d highly recommend this to anyone, regardless of your ethnicity or religious background.

 

January – February 2014 – Training Full Time for my First Muay Thai Fight  

One book I read during the past year was “The Way of the Superior Man: A Spiritual Guide to Mastering the Challenges of Women, Work, and Sexual Desire” by David Deida.  One of the concepts discussed is that in order for man to be happy, he needs a goal or purpose in life.  Without it, he can feel lost and helpless, which can then negatively affect various aspects of his being, such as health, family life, social ties, career, etc.  So I decided to take my training to the next level and prepare for my first Muay Thai fight.  Finally on Feb.18th, 2014 I fought a Thai trainer at Suwitt Stadium for 5 rounds and lost on points.  Although a win would have been the preferred outcome, I was still proud of the fact that not once did I give up during the fight or during the grueling 2 month training camp.  I learned a lot about my mental toughness, my determination and work ethic.  My daily routine usually involved waking up at 6am for a 3-6k jog (sometimes 8k) followed by 1.5 – 2 hours of Muay Thai training.  Getting a good meal in afterwards then a nap for recovery.  Later on, returning to the gym at 4pm for a 3-hour training session.  This was 6 days a week with only one rest day.  I was sore most of the time and a few times got sick but still kept at it.  During the fight my shins were battered and I felt like I had a collapsed lung again (I’m also asthmatic).  I remember at the beginning of the 2nd or 3rd round thinking “f***, I got how many more rounds of this!?!”.  In my mind, the worst thing than losing is giving up and showing your trainers that you have no heart.  When it was over, my body had nothing left – I gave everything in the ring.  For two weeks after, I was barely able to walk since my ankles were swollen and shins bruised.  This fight tested both my physical and mental training which has given me the confidence to tackle other goals in life and believe in my self.  What also helped during my training camp was the great atmosphere at the gym – there was a solid mix of people training there who supported one another.  It felt like one big family.

Full fight video on Youtube: http://youtu.be/OnZUZB-Q0bA?list=UUzt2LlkTchsCj8xBCYRLxew

The Muay Thai gym that’s been my home-base here in Phuket is Elite Fight Club formerly Manop Gym.

Website: http://www.elitefightclub.com/phuket/index.php

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/efcphuket

 

March 2014 – Solo Trip to Khao Sok National Park

No matter where you are in the world, if you live there long enough, it’s easy to get comfortable and complacent.  You start doing the same things and get into a routine.  After a while, even living in a beautiful place like Phuket can get “boring”.  This is due to a psychological human mechanism called “hedonic adaptation” which is mentioned in the book I’m reading “The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want” by Sonja Lyubomirsky.  The underlying idea is that no matter what happens in life, positive or negative, we get used to certain things ie. brand new car, new smart-phone, or 6-figure salary and are no longer mesmerized by it.  It stops bringing us joy and happiness.  To combat this, I decided to get out of Phuket and go some place new that I’ve never experienced or seen before.  After the 100 mile/ 4.5-hour scooter ride up north, I arrived to Khao Sok National Park.  It felt like an adventure as I went by myself and stayed in a basic bungalow in the jungle.  During the 4-days there, I did two jungle treks, explored a dark water-cave with bats and got to ride a long-tail boat throughout a huge man-made dam/ lake overlooking gorgeous lime-stone mountains.  There’s something about solo-travel and being surrounded with just mother nature that helps to re-balance myself.

 

April 9 – May 20, 2014 – Los Angeles, California and 6-Weeks in Peru

Last year my middle brother got engaged and the wedding ceremony was set to take place this June in New York.  At the beginning of 2014 I started to make travel plans for my first trip back to the States.  During this time I decided to stretch the visit into a 2-3 month travel holiday by adding in a side-trip to South America, which I’ve always wanted to do.  After-all, round-trip tickets to the US are around $2000 USD and take 24-hours each way.  I figured why not take advantage of my time there by visiting a new country close to that side of the hemisphere.  Who knows the next time I’ll have this opportunity.  After some initial research Peru was chosen.  The purpose of this trip was for two main reasons – to have some intense spiritual experiences with sacred plant medicines and to go trekking into one of the 7-Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu.  By February, I had a rough itinerary, booked my plane tickets and wired money to reserve a spot at an ayahuasca retreat in the Amazon jungle.  From that point on, I counted down the days until my 6-week excursion into Peru would begin.  Fast forward to April 9th and I departed Phuket for Los Angeles.  There I spent 4-days staying with my great uncle & auntie whom I havent seen in over 15 years.  It’s exactly what I needed at that point in my life – I had gotten too complacent and bored with Phuket, coupled along with a stressful living situation with an uninvited, freeloading “roommate”.  It was a refreshing change to be surrounded by family members who loved and cared for me – and it didn’t hurt that they lived within walking distance to the beautiful mountains of Pasadena.  A few times I went there to hike and bike around.  One of the highlights was my Great Uncle Tim showing me pictures of my late grandfather and telling me stories of how my family immigrated from China to the US.  He’s a crucial link to the past because neither of my grandparents spoke much English when I was younger and therefore couldn’t communicate any of their stories.  But he speaks perfect English and is from the same generation as my grandfather (they’re brothers).  Anytime I hear about my family history, it fascinates me because I’m essentially learning about my roots/ origins and how past generation choices have lead me to where I am today.  Also spending time with my great Auntie Joyce and her 3 sisters was good medicine for my soul.  They’re such a fun and lively bunch to be around.  Even after all these years they opened their homes and hearts to me and for that I’m very lucky and grateful

 

Lima

After my short visit in LA, it was off to the airport to catch my 13-hour flight to Lima, Peru.  There I stayed at an AirBNB rental close to the many parks in Miraflores and artsy bohemian district, Barranco.  I remember sitting by the cliff’s overlooking the Pacific ocean and contemplating to myself that that in the span of one week, I had been to three different continents, South East Asia, North America and now South America.  If you had asked me how my life would have turned out, never in a million years would I have thought it would look like this.  I’m so blessed to have these amazing opportunities.

During my time in Peru, I had 3 separate visits to Lima as it was the central hub airport for the various locations I would be flying to.  Some observations about the capital city:

  • The way Thailand has wats (temples) everywhere, Miraflores has free parks everywhere, which is a good thing.  Many are along the coast overlooking the Pacific ocean and are dotted with open space and free exercise stations.  Not once did I goto a gym, but instead went for jogs in the morning followed by the weight-machines.  It was a great way to start my day.  Also, these public spaces are very clean – no litter and always a city worker near-by cleaning.
  • In the Historic Centre of Lima, it feels like Europe with the architecture style and huge Roman Catholic cathedrals.  There are also large open “Public Squares” as well.
  • Chinese restaurants known as “chiefa’s” are everywhere which is a blend of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine.  Yes, these are actually owned by Chinese families…during one of my meals, I saw a Chinese statue that was the same one that my grandparents had in their home.  Chinese have been there for generations and make up a sizable part of the population (est. 5% and many Cantonese speaking).  Check out this Wiki-article for more in-depth history.  This is not the first time that no matter where in the world I travel, I can find traces of my people, haha.
  • Peruvian food is DELICIOUS and cheap! You can find Menu del Dia which is menu of day and gives you a complete 2-3 course meal for $3-6 depending on what you pick.  It’s good value and almost all restaurants in any city offer this during lunch and/ or dinner.

 

12-Day Ayahuasca Retreat in the Amazon Jungle (City of Iquitos)

The flight from Lima to Cuzco should only take about an hour and half.  However, after one of the layovers, a piece of the plane fell off during lift-off.  I could actually hear and feel it…a few minutes later, people in the back started panicking saying there was smoke/ fire. Luckily we landed safely at the next closest airport. 6 hours later we hopped on another plane to the final destination.  I stayed in the city of Iquitos for just one night. The next morning, a bus from the ayahuasca retreat, Temple of the Way of Light (http://templeofthewayoflight.org/)  picked us up – a group of 22 spiritual explorers from all over the world (Sweden, Norway, Canada, US and Australia).  The ride was about 45-minutes to the river, where we then boarded a boat for another 45-minutes.  This brought us away from civilization to the isolated Amazon jungle.  After landing, it was the last stretch to camp, a 45-minute walk through trees and muddy paths.  There I lived in a simple hut with no power, Internet or running water.  There were also strict dietary limitations that had to be followed, ie. no salt, sugar, spicy, dairy, sweets, pork, red-meat, alcohol, drugs, sex or eating after lunch.  One of the reasons for this was to help with the physical purging and detoxification process.  During my time there, I had 7 drinking ceremonies with maestros & maestras from the indigenous Shipibo tribe.  They helped me heal and face issues dating all the way back from childhood – a mental detox.  Another thing I should mention is that having 21 other like-minded people instantly gave me a network of support to get through this trying time.  Everyone’s there to work on themselves and you’re also leaving yourself open and vulnerable.  From this I was able to connect with people on such a deep level and the energy from everyone was loving-kindness.  There’s much to be talked about from this experience so I’ll just leave it at that.

BTW – I stumbled onto a book that was at the donations table in the dining hall and would recommend it to anyone.

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer

When I was talking to my Aunt Carol in NY, she mentioned that this book was on Oprah’s Book Club list.

 

Cuzco (the Sacred Valley)

One of the reasons I like to travel solo is because I know I’ll be meeting really interesting people, and sometimes bonding with them.  Inevitably travel plans get completely changed as new routes are added and old itineraries are ditched.  Instead of going down south to Arequipa, Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca, I was now going to the city of Cuzco in the Sacred Valley with Gelo & Jumee, whom I met from the Amazon retreat (original plan was to visit Cuzco at end of my trip).  Because the elevation is very high up and altitude-sickness is a real-danger to contend with, I spent a few days in the city to allow my body to adjust to the thinner air before embarking on the trek to Machu Piccu.

In total, I spent about 2 weeks in Cuzco and the surrounding towns that make up the Sacred Valley.  The city itself is very beautiful – there are small alleyways with brick-stones and huge Roman Catholic cathedrals everywhere. Similar to Lima, you feel like you are in Europe.  There is also a lot of history here with numerous ruins ands museums to check out.  Andean influence & culture is everywhere. Lastly, the food is que rico!  Pollo de la brassa is one of my favorite dishes.  And make sure to get chocolate made from here as it’s cheaper and tastes better.

 

5-Day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

If you want to do the original Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you need a proper hiking permit issued from the government, which needs to be booked 4-6 months in advance.  I only booked my plane ticket in January and was SOL.  Rather I researched alternative routes and stumbled upon the Salkantay trail.  It turned out that this trail was voted by National Geographic as one of the Top 25 treks to do, less crowded and touristy and has a multitude of geography and climates, ie. snow-capped mountains, hot-springs and cloud forests.  And it’s cheaper.  My group was nice and small: 2 local guides who were awesome, Jorge & Walter, 2 cooks and porter/ horseman.  And fellow travelers Katrin (Germany), Mitch & Maria (‘Merica) and Paul & Kevin (UK).  Other tour groups we saw on the trail sometimes had 8-12 people in their group.  The first two days were pretty cold, requiring us to sleep in llama-wool hats, long-johns, fleece/jackets and padded sleeping bags.  Everyday we started bright and early, around 6-7am and hiked 15 – 20 km.  However, the food was always delicious and everyone had a positive attitude.  There were so many different activities we did such as visiting hot-springs, zip-lining and taking in gorgeous views, it’s hard to pick out a favorite.

On the last day, we woke up around 4am so we could get in line to hike up to Machu Piccu.  Surprisingly, there was a descent amount of people waiting to get in.  After about an hour and half hike up, we finally got the official entrance gate (there were buses passing us as we made the ascent).  Jorge gave us a guided tour as we entered, explaining the history as well as Q & A.  Because it was so early in the morning, there was a foggy mist to the entire grounds which made the whole thing seem magical and surreal.  It wasn’t too packed with tourists either (later on it would be).

The 5-days spent trekking and camping out in the wilderness gave me so many memories.  I got to witness so many amazing & peaceful landscapes.  My appreciation for Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) grew 10-fold.  Just being outdoors in fresh, clean air was good for my soul.  Although hiking 15 km can sound like a lot, it was actually one of the things I enjoyed the most.  You don’t have to think about anything else, except appreciate where you are and be in the present moment.  I think this trek was probably the highlight of my trip to Peru.  Even if I didn’t get to see Machu Piccu, I still would have enjoyed the trip.  

The tour-company I went with and would highly recommend is Quechuas Expeditions (Jorge & Walter were my guides).  They were very well organized, seemed to be locally owned and had very competitive pricing.  I think I paid around $450 – $500 which included trekking poles, sleeping bag rental, entrance tickets to Machu Piccu, porters, return train back to Cuzco and hotel-accommodation in Aguas Calientes.  You still have to tip the guides, cooks, porters.  Also if you decide on zip-lining and hot-springs, those are extra, but they won’t break the bank.  Yes there are cheaper outfits that you can get away with, such as $300 – $350, but you get what you pay for.  Quechuas Expeditions was top quality.  Check out their Trip-Advisor reviews as well.

Quechuas Expeditions contact info:

https://www.facebook.com/quechuasexpeditionsperu
http://www.quechuasexpeditions.com/

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g294314-d2649811-Reviews-Quechuas_Expeditions_Private_Day_Tours-Cusco_Cusco_Region.html

 

Pisaq – 1st & 2nd San Pedro Ceremonies 

San Pedro, also known as Huachuma (Grandfather Medicine) is another plant teacher used in Peru.  It’s a slimy green liquid that’s drank and made from a cactus.  I didn’t know much about it before my trip to Peru (nor was I planning on working with it), but when the ayahuasca retreat in the Amazon was ending, our facilitators were discussing post-retreat integration guidelines.  Things such as no pork, sex or alcohol were recommended for 2 weeks after.  But what about other plant medicines such as San Pedro I asked?  I was pleasantly surprised by the response, which was something along the lines of if you’ve done work with ayahuasca, you should definitely wok with San Pedro…the two complement each other and it’s the icing on the cake.  One of my facilitators gave us the website http://sacredvalleytribe.com/san-pedro-ceremony/ to find someone trust-worthy to lead us in ceremony while in the Sacred Valley.  My decision was made – I’m going to be working with Huachuma.

BTW, if you are in the Amazon and looking for places to drink San Pedro, then check out Aubrey Marcus’s site for recommendations.  I’m also a huge fan and idolize him.  For some background history on this plant teacher.

The day after arriving in Cuzco, my spiritual soul-brother Gelo (from the ayahuasca retreat) and I jump in a cab around 6:30 am to take us near the towns of Urubamba/ Pisaq.  We arrive to a lovely South African couple’s house, Bernhard & Liza-Marie, situated in a remote area amongst mountains, a creek and beautiful garden.  This is where I’ll partake in my first San Pedro ceremony.  Again, I’ll write more about this experience in a detailed post.  If you want get in touch with them for ceremony, here is their website: http://ubuntuayni.com/

Shortly after I embark on my trip to Machu Piccu.  Upon returning to Cuzco, I decide to work with San Pedro again.  At Bernhard’s recommendation, I reach out to Paul.  He graciously accepts me and this is held in another beautiful, safe atmosphere, at his home in Pisaq.  He can be contacted via:

paul@innervisionquest.com.au  /  T. (+51) 984-239499

http://sacredvalleytribe.com/san-pedro-ceremony/

The next morning as we are discussing and sharing our experience, Paul mentions how he takes some of his long-term visitors on a hike that goes up to 3 lakes (Kinsa Kocha) and drinks San Pedro up there.  I inquire as I was having hiking-withdrawal after completing the Salkantay trek and wanted to do some more before leaving Peru, even if it meant going alone.  He gets on his cell phone and talks to his friend Miguel – we arrange to go for the guided-hike the day after.  Paul said that sometimes sometimes Miguel brings San Pedro with him.  Although this wasn’t my original intention, I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity.

3rd Ceremony at Tres Lagos Kinsa Kocha

The day started bright and early, meeting Miguel and his pitbull, Maya.  We take a cab for 30 – 45 minutes to the mountains, then proceed to start our 2-hour hike to the 3 lakes that make up Kinsa Kocha.  As usual, the surrounding views of the mountains and valley’s are stunning.  They are so huge.  Green and white can be seen everywhere.  This ceremony was a bit different from the other two in that it involved songs by Miguel and prayers of gratitude from the both of us. There was nobody else up there and the water was very pure and clean looking.  It was a perfect way to end my time in the Sacred Valley before leaving for Lima and ultimately the US.

Miguels’ contact info:

http://alfredoiturriagasj.wix.com/allpamamajourneys

Allpamama@gmail.com  or pichunator@hotmail.com

​T.+51-974.277.171 or ​T.+51-984.206.845

Some insights from my San Pedro ceremonies

  • As Miguel explained to me, let life flow like water.  You can try to fight and swim upstream, but eventually the powerful water will win.  Accept things and move on.  When I look back at the past 17-months and how both good and bad things have come into my life, this concept makes sense.
  • Life is a gift & really can be beautiful if I let it be.  Stop trying to control and plan for everything.  Things happen for a reason and usually work out.  These past 6-weeks have been an amazing gift to me.
  • I felt deeply connected to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and could appreciate all her beauty.
  • In Kinsa Kocha where it’s higher and colder, Miguel pointed out that the Grandfather Cactus we spotted grows “fur” or “hair” to adapt to this environment.  We as humans also have this ability to adapt to the situations that life throws at us.

May 21 – July 1, 2014 – 6-Week Visit to US – Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, New York

During my time working on Wall St. and going to graduate school, I remember day-dreaming about what I would occupy myself with if I didn’t have a 9-5 job to deal with…one thing I wrote down was to spend more time with family, including the ones that were scattered throughout the US.  Now that I’m at this point in my life, I wanted to keep that promise.   As my time in Peru was up, it marked the beginning of my homecoming journey to the US, starting with a flight from Lima to Denver, Colorado.

Colorado

  • I’ve never been to this state, but my cousin Sarah moved here because her husband JP grew up in Denver.  My brother Andy flew in from NY to meet us as well.  I finally got to meet the baby twins for the very first time.  They were born right around the time I left for Thailand.  So cute.  My favorite babies
  • Staying with my cousin and JP felt like staying at a 5-star hotel.  They have a really nice house, but because I was coming straight from Peru where I was camping and living in hostiles, I forgot what it was like to have basic things we can take for granted, such as running hot water for showers, a comfy bed with silence and blazing fast Internet.  I really enjoyed these luxuries and it made me appreciate the small things in life
  • I missed micro-brews since I’m a beer snob and American comfort food since I’m a fat-kid! Luckily Colorado does both really well.
  • Andy & rented bikes via public bike-share program and checked out Denver.  We also checked out the legal marijuana dispensaries.  The brownie and chocolate chip cookies tasted delicious, but didn’t feel much else from them. 😛
  • Went hiking in Roxborough State Park as well as the Flatirons in Boulder.
  • Tried CouchSurfing for the first time.  I got to stay with a group of laidback Boulder University students.  They took me hiking, to a really good Indian restaurant (Jaipurs), and to the local live-music scene.  Thanks Summer, Mads and David.
  • I’m down with Colorado (along with Cali) and is on my shortlist of places to live in the US **IF** I ever decide to move back.  It has so much natural beauty and the people are friendly and open-minded.  Spending a week with my family was so much fun and I got an up-close view of what it’s like to be parents for twin-babies…something I’ll eventually have to do, hahaha.

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Ann Arbor, Michigan

  • After 10-days in Colorado, I flew to Ann Arbor, Michigan to visit my Aunt Janice and my cousin Emily and her family for 1-week.
  • I got to be a little kid by spending time with my niece and nephew.  Went hiking behind their house, fished for tadpoles at the pond and played with remote control toys and Nerf guns.
  • The other thing I did was eat, eat and eat.  Japanese, American Deli sandwiches, Middle-Eastern, home-cooked meals, pizza, and so many other cuisines.  I definitely gained a few pounds.
  • Got to watch my nephew’s soccer game and niece’s ballet reticle.
  • I stayed at my Aunt Janice’s house and it was nice to have deep conversations about life.  Growing up, she was about 5-7 hours away and I only got to see her during major holidays/ b-days.
  • The last time I got to see Emily and the fam was during a business trip right before I flew to Thailand.  The kids are growing up so fast.

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Hoboken, New York and Upstate

  • I was excited to finally visit my home state, New York.  During the first week, I took the train down to Hoboken, NJ and stayed in my old apartment since my good friend Leslie now has the lease.  When I left, it was a bachelor pad…now it’s been girly-fied! But she does have better taste so can’t argue, haha.
  • When I lived there for 8 years, I didn’t really take advantage of exploring the city since I was too occupied with work and school…this time I did, checking out Central Park, Williamsburg, Park Slope, and the High-line in Chelsea amongst other things.
  • After visiting my old office, I was walking towards the Port Authority during rush house in Times Square.  There was a guy riding his bike asking people nicely to get out of the bike-lane so he could proceed.  Someone else responded with a “F*** you!”.  Oh, how lovely I thought and chuckled to myself.  Where else do you get such blatant hostility.  That negative energy from people I definitely do not miss.
  • Speaking of walking, my friend Leslie said I walk too slow and seem to be on a different time-schedule when it came to basic activities such as getting ready! lol…Thai culture has rubbed off on me.
  • The main purpose of my trip to New York was for my brother’s wedding and it turned out to be a beautiful event.  It was also like a big family re-union.
  • We also got to check out the huge waterfall in Thatcher Park, Albany.
  • Besides staying with my parents in upstate NY, I got to live in Park Slope at my brother’s apartment and also in Times Square at my aunt’s apartment…It was fun to be a New Yorker again.
  • I used Metro North as my gateway from NYC to upstate and would sometimes people watch. It was insane how many times I saw people sprinting or bumping into one another during rush-hour…one guy clipped a girl from behind almost like a linebacker!
  • The rest of my time was spent trying to meet up with as many friends as possible for dinner, lunches or drinks.  Despite the fact that I had a month, there was not enough time and some people I missed.
  • July 2nd I boarded the plane from Newark to Hong, Kong –> Phuket.  And just like that, 3 months flew by.

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CONCLUSION

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When I take a step back to examine who I was and add up all these different experiences to compare myself 17-months ago – there’s no doubt that I’m a changed man with chapters of personal growth.  There’s this consciousness about myself that I’ve never had before. I also feel more comfortable in my own skin, along with inner-peace.  I don’t feel the need to always be right or get defensive about things  – especially the small things.  My time in NYC definitely tested my wisdom and patience.  I remember during one of the last days there, someone walked on my new sneaker and almost knocked it off.  Immediately I felt anger run up my spine and for a split second my body temperature boiled, but then I realized the person didn’t mean it, let alone even aware of what he did. My old self would have gotten mad and maybe tried to walk behind him to clip his shoe. But I just let it go.  Having that awareness saved me from un-needed stress in my life.

 

A major observation during these 8-months is that all of these things I experienced grew on top of each other or complemented one another…it’s as if there was a master plan (by the Man Upstairs) already set in stone – synchronicity.  Eventually they snowballed and gained momentum from one to the next. For example, going to the silent retreat in Chiang Mai mentally prepared me for my first Muay Thai fight.  During my stay in the Amazon, the Managing Director said that vipassana meditation goes hand-in-hand with ayahuasca and the two are a match made in heaven.  When I went to Khao Sok National Park, Thailand and did a 14 km trek, that prepared me for what I would face on the Salkantay Trek in Peru.  And lastly, if I didn’t have my brother’s wedding to attend to in NY, I never would have taken a trip to South America or re-connected with my family in Los Angeles.  This is why I truly believe life works out best when you stop trying to keep a such a tight-grip on things.  The universe already has a plan for each of us – we just have to be open to it and accept things.

 

Lastly, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m far from perfect – but I’m making progress and every day is an opportunity to work on something.  I remember Skyping with my parents and my dad posed the question “You already did a retreat in Chiang Mai…why are you doing another one in Peru?”  I explained to him that there is no magical checklist to complete that will solve all my problems.  I will never be “completely done”.  Self-improvement is a constant journey and there is always something to work on…But we all have to start somewhere.

Below are some lessons/ observations that I will try to keep reminding myself going forward:

  • Developing and having self-love is one of the most important things to work on.  I have to tell myself that yes, even I deserve happiness and there’s no need to feel guilty about this.  Life doesn’t have to be an everyday struggle.
  • When traveling, I keep an open schedule. You never know who you will meet or what place you may end up in.  It’s best to just embrace change. I’ve applied this same outlook to my general view on life – keep an open mind to the possibilities. If direction changes, go with it.
  • There were times when I had self-doubts about each experience – ie. was I doing it properly or did I really get anything worthwhile out of it?  But when I take a step back and allow the time for these changes to settle in, I realize that all these small steps made up one-big step in my evolution as a person.
  • I learned to really appreciate life & be grateful – Not just because of the circumstances I was in – but to just be content with what I already had.
  • Always try to be in the moment, forget about the past and future.  It will do us no good.
  • I found inner peace and learned how to let go of negative things from my past.  I can now move on from them.
  • I don’t have to worry about every little detail; they’ll work themselves out once I figure out where it is I’m headed.
  • I learned to trust in myself and my decision making capabilities.  I don’t need validation from anyone.
  • I know how to actively work on my happiness and can pick myself up after bad situations.  Life is not all upside, there’s going to be down times too.  But it’s how we deal with these bad times.  Here’s a hint: Keep the right attitude & perspective.
  • Got back in touch with the tree-hugger inside of me. Now that I’ve seen and felt the beauty of mother nature, I’m inspired to go on more treks into the wilderness once I return to Asia. I also have a deeper respect for Pacha Mama as she provides everything we need to live, ie the fruits and vegetables that were harvested in front of me went directly into the dishes that fed me.   
  • There is no perfect place in the world.  Each country has it’s drawbacks (Thailand, Peru and the US).
  • Living out of my backpack for 2-3 months was really fun and a unique experience.  I definitely plan on doing this again.  Being a minimalist helps to simplify your life and makes it easier to be happy.  Remember that line from Fight Club –  The things you own end up owning you.”

If you need some inspiration, check this one out which helped motivate me – Joe Rogan: Be The Hero of Your Own Movie

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Q & A Section

What was it like coming back to the US and seeing day-to-day life?

Obviously I was excited to see all my friends and family.  But I was a bit apprehensive because of the possibility for reverse-culture shock, especially when it came to NYC.  I remember after my first trip to Thailand in 2012, it took me about a month to re-adjust to the chaos of the city.  People were so loud and aggressive with each other.  This time however, I tried to be mindful of what my thoughts and feelings were when subjected to this crazy atmosphere…it wasn’t so overwhelming and I got a few laughs when seeing how ridiculous people really are.  In terms of the 9-5-commuter-cube-job-life, it felt weird to see in action and a bit depressing.  Depressing because I see how stressful and miserable people are.  It was also scary because if I had never taken a trip to South East Asia, I would be on that same life-path.  Seeing all these things re-affirmed my decision to travel and live abroad.  It was the best decision I ever made.

Could I ever move back to the US again?

  • No, living abroad has tainted me. Nothing excites me.
  • Standard suburbia-family-life is not appealing to me right now.
  • But there is a tiny feeling that I’m missing out on events & time with friends and family as their babies grow, people get married and other life changes happen.
  • I recently read an article by Mark Manson “The Dark Side of the Digital Nomad” In it, his mother asks the question “Will I ever see you for more than a handful of days once a year?” Like him, I honestly don’t have an answer for that right now.

What’s my 6 – 9 month long-term plan?

  • Focus on my career & business – Now that I’ve done a lot of “internal work” to lay the foundation for a healthy, balanced mindset, I now want to work on the career part of my lifestyle.  This will mean going back to working from a laptop.  Plans have already been set in stone.  😉
  • The end-game of my digital business venture is to create a lifestyle that allows me to spend half my time in Asia and the other half in South America.   Here’s a great article explaining my aspirations.
  • A lot more traveling in Asia, specifically 1-3 week visits to neighboring countries Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.  I also plan on visiting China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and Nepal for a month or two.
  • After 9 months, I see myself going back to Central & South America to do 3-4 months of back-packing – Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile…after that I’ll pick a country to use as a home base.

 

Join the discussion 19 Comments

  • Giles Butler says:

    Hey Chris,

    I’ve always kept an eye out on your updates and pictures on Facebook. It has been really fascinating to watch your journey unfold but this blog post was something else! Such a great and inspiring read, I liked the detail you went into on how certain experiences opened your mind and prepared you for obstacles you were to face in the future. I have been meditating for the last few months and it’s really helped me be more mindful in my day to day life. I’m also thinking of visiting a retreat to take it to the next level and challenge myself and I’m I’m thinking of going on a round the world trip as I want to try working remotely. This has given me a lot to think about and a lot of useful reading material to add to my research stack! Thanks a lot mate, really great to see you doing so well and living the dream!

    Giles

    • admin (Christopher Chiu) says:

      Giles, WADDUP brother!! Awesome to hear from you. Thanks for reading & your comments mate 🙂 I’ve actually been following your journey as well and where you’ve been working from – I’m trying to set myself to be just like you. A round-the-world trip, aren’t you already doing that!?! lol…well if you come to Asia, hit me up. Would be more than happy to take you to some temples/ retreats. Glad to hear you got into meditation and the benefits that go along with it. Def do the retreat, it’s well worth it.

      On a side note, I met up w/ Vinny while back in NY- we attended a daytime event w/ some deep-house DJ’s – the ch00nes were cranking, lol.

      • Giles Butler says:

        Yo!! No worries, your welcome dude. Haha looks like we have both been keeping track!
        Haha no I kinda slowed down on the round world part recently and have been in Australia a while but I’m looking to change that soon and get back on the road hopefully. Yep definitely will hit you up if I make it back that way, possibly around xMas time for a short trip but I’ll keep you posted. Are you in Chiang Mai still, I only got to see it briefly for a day or two when I was there before going to Laos but I’d love to come back and see more as I really liked what I did see.

        Cool that you caught up with Vin back in NYC, I still keep in touch every now again, the party sounds awesome to haha! That reminds me, I need to send him the new track I’ve been working on to see what he thinks. Plus I said I’ll work on a track with him but im useless at getting things finished ha!

        • admin (Christopher Chiu) says:

          I should be in Chiang Mai by the time you come back – I fell in love with that city. It’s super chill. Would love to do some trekking in Laos as well.

  • Sean says:

    Dude. What an epic journey! I’m totally in awe with everything you have done and am definitely going to try to follow in your footsteps in more ways than one. Thanks for sharing your story man, it’s really inspiring hearing from people like yourself who go on these spiritual journeys and come out a new, more enlightened person. Keep doing your thing man!

    • admin (Christopher Chiu) says:

      Sean, waddup my fellow nak mauy 🙂 Congrats on your recent win over the former Lumpinee champ, that’s huge! Thx for stopping by to check out my site and your kind words. If you come back up to Chiang Mai, let me know as that’s where I’ll prob. be residing. Your muay thai journey has been awesome to follow along as well. Be well brother.

  • Emily says:

    Took me two visits to your site, but I read your whole post. 🙂 It sure has been an adventurous life and changing year. We so honored that you made the time to come visit us in Michigan and we really enjoyed seeing you.

    • admin (Christopher Chiu) says:

      Hey Emily,
      Thx for checking out my site. I had a wonderful time spending time with the whole fam. Will def be stopping by next time I’m in the US. Miss you guys much. Tell everyone hi for me.

  • Janice says:

    Hi Chris,

    After several visits, I finally finished reading your blog. You’ve had such an amazing journey. I enjoyed your photos and expressive writing style.

    I’m so glad that you made the effort to visit me and Emily & family. I enjoyed the conversations with you and look forward to seeing you again in the future.

    Stay SAFE and HEALTHY!

    • admin (Christopher Chiu) says:

      Hi Aunt Janice,

      thx for visiting and reading the site…I’m glad I have so many happy memories from my visit with you and the family. Hope to see you soon at the beg. of next year 😉

      love,
      chris

  • Finally finished reading your post and seriously thinking of taking some time off to reflect.

    You have had an incredible adventure and was not completely aware of it until now. Good for you making the most of life especially in your younger years. This really does make me think.

    Heading over to Peru interests me, but because I am in Thailand already maybe a 10 day retreat to the Suan mok Temple is a start. 10 days with no outside world interaction … gee that sounds intense.

    My new favourite quote: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

    Best Wishes

    Darren Behnke

    • admin (Christopher Chiu) says:

      Hey Darren,
      Thx for reading, glad you enjoyed it. I think you would benefit highly from any retreat you goto. Suan Mok is pretty intense and I’ve heard many good things about it. Check out this link for a review – http://www.bemytravelmuse.com/monastery-thailand/
      She also has an article on what to pack. Very good blog.

      I like your quote – I think it’s very true and people sometimes get it mixed around. Check out the book “Choose Yourself” by James Altchur
      http://www.amazon.com/Choose-Yourself-James-Altucher-ebook/dp/B00CO8D3G4
      He talks about how to lay the foundations for your life – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. This makes up the “Daily Practice” – once you take care of that and have that in place, everything else will fall into place 😉

      If you want to do the retreat in CM, let me know and I’ll be more than happy to take you there and give you a tour.

      Good luck brother.
      -Chris

  • Adam says:

    Hey man, just heard your interview on the Travel like a boss podcast. This is an epic post!

    I’ve been interested in Ayahuasca for over a year now and am planning to head down to Peru in the next few months. Was happy to see you provided some info on the places you went but then I saw the retreat is 12 days and $2000. haha Unfortunately can’t afford that but hope I’ll find a week retreat for a fraction of the cost.

    I’ll be starting an online business as well. Good luck with growing yours! Cheers man

    • admin (Christopher Chiu) says:

      Hey Adam,

      Thanks for listening, it was a lot of fun.

      The Temple of Way of Light is prob. one of the more pricier retreat centers, but it’s totally worth it. I’d recommend Aubrey Marcus’s Warrior Poet site which lists some alternative centers to see what the prices are there. Just be careful though, you don’t want to just go w/ any shaman as sometimes he/she may not be trustworthy.

      Good luck with your Internet business as well. 🙂
      -Chris

      • Adam Clement says:

        Awesome, I have heard Aubrey Marcus talk about his experiences on Joe Rogan’s podcast. I’ll check out his site for different centers. I’ve read/watched quite a bit about Ayahuasca so I definitely want to find a place that is legit and takes it seriously. At the same time I’m a cheap backpacker so I think 1000s of $ is crazy.

        I’ve for sure felt drawn to it since I heard about it. Don’t think I can travel to Peru and not have that experience!

  • Really incredible stories. I am amazed by your life and adventures. Keep writing, I’ll keep reading.
    Hannah

  • Fernando Abanto says:

    an alternative route to reach Machu Picchu, Salkantay is, this map will provide them information about
    Salkantay Trek Map

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