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Travel stories

An artist celebrates her time in Thailand

Aug 22, 2018 by Emily Houston

Go Ahead Tours traveler Kathy creates watercolor paintings that capture the sites and experiences from her far-flung adventures. On her most recent tour to Thailand, it was the floating markets, gilded temples, and majestic elephants that inspired her. Kathy shares some of her favorite memories from tour alongside her artwork, which highlights the welcoming spirit of the Southeast Asian country.


Why did you decide to set off on our tour of Thailand?

One of my best friends from high school works in Thailand and I made plans to meet her there so we could travel to Vietnam together. I took those plans as an opportunity to see even more of the region since I knew that making it to this corner of the globe entailed a long flight. I’d heard so many good things about the beauty of Thailand. Plus, I like traveling to rural areas so visiting Thailand before my trip to Vietnam was the perfect addition.


There is such a variety of scenery throughout the country. Which places were your favorites?

My absolute favorite day of the trip was when we visited the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. We learned about wildlife conservation and how the workers at the camp care for injured and abused elephants as part of a widespread effort to end animal mistreatment. I assumed we would be looking at the elephants from afar, but we could touch them. It was an absolutely incredible experience to be among the elephants, some of which were over 70 years old!

I also loved how much time we spent on the water throughout the tour. Whether we were visiting floating markets or coasting along the canals, traveling by boat helped us see places that we couldn’t access by land.


How did you come to use painting as a way to capture your travel experiences?

I was a public school teacher for 34 years and I taught painting and sculpture classes. I’ve been creating various types of travel journals for almost ten years. I began with writing, but I wanted to do more than just write down my travel memories so I had the idea to make a visual journal. It started with cutting photos out of magazines to create collages and eventually evolved into a watercolor journal.


I’m sure you visited many incredible places on tour. How did you decide which ones to paint?

Composition, color, and architecture are the main elements I focus on. I take photos during the day and at night I choose the ones that fit on the page and give a flavor of whatever it is I saw that day. In Bangkok, I learned a lot about Buddhism by visiting the Grand Palace Complex and talking with the monks about their religious practices. Combining the intricate imagery of the palace with some of the beautiful, colorful lotuses I saw created a nice contrast and told a story about that day’s activities.

I then trace the image in pencil, go over the pencil in ink once I’m happy with the sketch, and finish it off with a wash of watercolor. Altogether, each page takes me about four hours.


How does travel inspire you?

For me, the inspiration comes from the sheer beauty of a country and seeing architectural elements that are different from what I’m accustomed to. I drew a map of the region before I left for tour and included a Thoreau quote that reads, “I have longed to travel deliberately to encounter the ‘essential things’ of history, venture somewhere strange and unknown, ancient and elemental.”

My trip to Southeast Asia trip was exactly that—somewhere unknown and ancient—and encompassed all of the reasons to travel. I love seeing new parts of the world, understanding more about how people live, and creating artwork that represents my trip.

What’s your favorite way to capture memories from tour? Email with your story!

Traveler stories
About the author | Emily Houston
Emily loves the simple travel moments—like watching hours pass by in minutes while sharing a meal and a laugh (or many) with her friends and family. Outside the office, you'll find Emily listening to anything and everything John Mayer, attempting to cook a New York Times recipe, or dreaming up her next trip.

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Grand Tour of Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand
22 days | 26 days with Laos & Bangkok extension

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