In Thailand, finally

Thailand

For as long as I can remember, my top travel destination has been Thailand. I’ve been dying to come here for years. But for one reason or another, I kept putting it off. There was always a good deal for something else or it was impossible to take time off. But the great thing about working for yourself is that you’re the only one that has to approve your PTO. And the great thing about living in the middle of the world is that everything is a good deal.

So when I moved to Prague, I knew this would be the year. If I did nothing else, I was going to go to Thailand in 2016. The flight was cheap and the timing was perfect. Of course, this was before I accidentally on purpose overstayed my visa and could have jeopardized the entire trip. This was before Thailand’s king died last month, starting the country’s year-long state of mourning.

A lot of things leading up to the trip were a disaster. But I’ve always believed that life has a funny way of working itself out. So maybe it’s even better timing than I could have imagined that I’m finally fulfilling this dream two days after the results of the US election. So here we are, my American friend and I, mourning the loss of faith in the American people and the loss of hope in the future of our country. When I passed through immigration, they had black ribbons for visitors to take and wear in respect of their king. So I grabbed one and tried not to cry in front of the immigration officer at the dramatic irony of it all. Hemingway couldn’t write something this poetic.

How the king’s death affects travel is that it makes Bangkok way more congested as people flock here to pay their respects. And the country takes on a more somber tone. Many places don’t stay open or serve alcohol late. There are massive altars all over the place commemorating the king, and almost everyone is wearing black.

Though I wrote this before seeing it in person, the number of people lining up to pay their respects at the Grand Palace was astounding.
Though I wrote this before seeing it in person, the number of people lining up to pay their respects at the Grand Palace was astounding.

After a ridiculously long journey here and very little sleep, I was finally on a busy train into the city. It’s funny how no matter how much you’ve imagined a place you’ve never been to, you’re always wrong about the weirdest things.

Though I loved it before I ever knew it, Bangkok had me at their transportation. I took a train and the Metro, and though they’re busy, everything is spotless and efficient. Bangkok uses the same system of transportation that Shanghai does where you buy the fare on a reusable chip or card that you scan in to enter at the start of your trip and return to exit at the end of your trip. Brilliant, simple, effective. The Metro is spacious and air-conditioned which is actually a lot more than you can say for many European metros.

When I got off the train, I accidentally ended up crossing a non-pedestrian highway along with at least 300 scooters. Then I walked down streets with no name using the directions and GPS coordinates our Airbnb host gave us. I love that certain parts of the city don’t technically have an address, but their Metro is on a Tokyo-level of awesome. I really enjoy that kind of dichotomy.

The smaller streets don’t have sidewalks so you have to share the road with cars, trucks, scooters, and bicyclists. In some parts of the city, there are no crosswalks. So you actually have to depend quite a bit on other people not to kill you. And I kinda love that. When locals see you struggling to cross, they smile and bravely lead you across.

Street crossings
Crossing every intersection is a wild adventure in Bangkok.

Our Airbnb is not the fanciest place. There’s sort of a kitchen but it’s separated from the bathroom by what amounts to a cubicle partition. The shower and the sink water both go in the same place, a drain hole on the floor. But at least it has AC. And frankly, you can’t ask for more than privacy, safety, and something that resembles civilization for $14 a night.

And I think I really needed this right now. For how much of a brat I was about the kind of housing I would accept in Prague, I actually really like to rough it. Not because I like to be dirty or cheap, but because I love situations that force me to adapt. It’s edifying, and it’s also fun. Without a challenge, life is terribly boring. As nice as having a microwave is, it’s important to find ways to get by without one every once in a while. And our little hole in Bangkok is a perfect place to get over myself and adapt. To being woken up by a dozen different kinds of birds, to not flushing toilet paper, to living with a baby lizard (my greatest natural enemy) in the bathroom.

When I first arrived, carrying all my belongings across perilous intersections, I was exhausted and disgusting. I showered and we went for a walk around this neighborhood which is adorable and full of bars, restaurants, and massage parlors. As we sat down to a meal of the most delicious Thai I’ve ever had (that probably rates a 3.5/5 for locals) and a beer that all cost less than $7, I felt happiness again. These people, though they’re mourning, are a happy people. And the city is buzzing and beautiful. Though it’s chaotic, there’s a fundamental sense of peace everywhere.

Now that I’m finally here, I’m inordinately excited for this trip. I think it’ll be endlessly more fascinating and inspiring than I ever imagined. I haven’t even seen most major parts of the city, but being here gives me a good feeling. Something about Thailand feels like home.