Excerpt: 'Love Always, Petra' by Petra Nemcova

I don't remember ever being happier. I was in Thailand, a country I loved, with my love, Simon Atlee. Simon was a photographer, and we'd been a couple for eighteen months. We were going to spend our second Christmas and New Year's together in a very special way. Usually, Simon booked our holidays, but this time I did everything. That is, I made all the arrangements through a travel agent in Los Angeles. She was Thai and took particular interest in helping me create the perfect vacation. This was my fifth visit to Thailand and Simon's first; I wanted him to experience with me the lush green of the land, the smells, the sunshine, the ocean, the food exploding with taste in your mouth, the culture, and most important, the people. The Thais are the kindest people I ever met, and it comes from inside -- it's not learned, it's natural. They put their hands together and bow their heads to greet you, taking the moment to show respect in such a gentle way. The gracefulness and peacefulness are addictive, and this land is in my heart. It had been nearly three years since my last visit, but the minute we arrived, I knew I was "home."

At Bangkok International Airport, we changed planes and flew on to the first of our three stops, Chiang Mai. This was my first visit to this city, so Simon and I were seeing things through the same eyes. We went on different tours, including guided visits to nearby Buddhist temples. One tour guide explained that, in the past, there had been a war between the Burmese and the Thais. Bad things happened, but the good thing was, the Burmese brought Buddhism to Thailand. I am inspired by the gentle teachings of the Buddha, so this was especially interesting to me.

We went to see a giant, seated Buddha on a nearby mountaintop. It wasn't a very touristy place; in fact, Simon and I were the only visitors. As is customary in many sacred places, we took off our shoes and went inside on our knees to pay our respects. We lit a candle and incense and placed flowers before the golden statue. Off to the side, two young monks wearing saffron robes were seated at a table with a checkerboard on top. The monks were playing checkers with flower petals and broken matches for the game pieces. Simon wanted to take a picture, but the minute he took out his camera, the monks put everything away and ran off. Obviously, they didn't want to get caught playing games.

We went to see the Long Neck Ladies, tall, thin, and elegant women who wear golden rings around their necks. These rings are a sign of beauty. They are put on starting when the women are little girls, and in time their necks stretch up many inches. I think they are a tribe from Burma.

Simon took lots of pictures, especially of one adorable little girl. She kept smiling and repeated every word Simon said.

"Hello."

"Hello."

"Can I take a picture?"

"Can I take a picture?"

"Thank you."

"Thank you."

Simon giggled like a schoolboy.

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