After 33 hours of travel, my arrival to Bangkok was nothing short of a spectacular relief. Insanely dressed in a (culturally appropriate) floor length skirt and long sleeve shirt, I was dripping sweat before leaving the terminal. I sailed through immigration after receiving a free 30-day visa stamp for Thailand (note: entering by land only grants a 15-day visa). I'd booked a bed at Bodega Bangkok from Hostelworld.com (highly recommend this site if you like to book ahead of time) and was determined to get there via the cheapest route possible. This meant AirTran (FREE) to Subway (27 baht, roughly .83 cents) and a long walk through some hectic Bangkok sois (streets).
Upon arrival, I instantly met a professional jump-roper from Baltimore (Note to self: check out CirqueDream). She had been (diarrhea) sick for two entire weeks (even hospitalized for five days) and invited me out for her first meal since it all began. What did she choose? WAFFLES. Did I come all this way to the culinary capital of the world to eat waffles?! I don't think so. I did join her though. And then broke away to wander where I discovered my overall opinion of Bangkok is average mainly because nothing really appealed to me at that moment in time. But then again, cities usually never appeal to me. I realized I've had this vision of Southeast Asia for a long time, and Bangkok is SO far from that image that I could not shake it.
Considering Bangkok is home to over 8 million people (comparable to NYC), the streets are overcrowded with (hazardous) food carts, maniacal motorbike drivers, vendor tents with all the same various goods and bundles of (mostly empty) tuk-tuks. The sidewalks are hardly manageable for pedestrians to walk on and amidst all this chaos are the gnarliest smells that only rats should know about. What a way to kill an appetite. But contrary to my novice nose, everyone eats the next-to-nothing-but-oh-so-delicious street food. Apparently, many Thai families don't even have kitchens in their homes. So I get it. They are trying to feed their people...all 8 million of them + the nearly 30 million tourists that pass through their city on an annual basis. I just feel like they could be a little more innovative with their set up. I know I sound like a diva, but it's a logistical nightmare--there is garbage, grease and gasoline fumes everywhere. Where is the government involvement in all of this? MUST RESEARCH. I definitely like that it seems to be run by the people, but they appear to have no sanitation or safety guidelines or concerns.
But then there is night time. And this is when Bangkok sparkles. All the grime disappears, the lights come on and it feels like a less energy sucking Las Vegas. I went out to dinner with new friends (from America, Scotland, New Zealand & Sweden) and ate my first Thai meal--squid & rice & fried egg + Shanghai beer (100 baht / $3). It was divine. We proceeded to play our own version of King's Cup, Bangkok style (see rules below) and recruit a slew of other worldly comrades, all of us buzzing with energy from around the globe, brought together through our love of travel and adventure. This, I recalled, is the backpacker's life. You're never alone, you're never bored and you're always absorbing some form of culture just by putting yourself in a new place. It's spectacularly stimulating.
King's Cup, Bangkok Style
Ace: Bust a move
2: Fuck you
3: Fuck me
5: Drive & Sing
8: Pick a date
9: Bust a Rhyme
10: Never Have I Ever
Jack: Make a Rule
Queen: Question Master
King: Jam Session (sing-along-song)
*Next day: Overnight train ticket, tuk-tuk to the Grand Palace, Buddah.
*Next stop: Chiang Mai
They key to happiness was meeting Sebastian--an Osprey Porter 46 liter Travel Pack. His front loader flap beamed with lobster red joy as I explored all his thoughtful pockets and strategic clasps...my mind ran wild with the packabilities. He was everything I ever dreamed of. I could instantly trust he would always have my back, no matter what and carry my load even when I'm a bit too overbearing. And he knew that without me, he'd be empty and immobile. I asked fairypackmatch.com for three features in my perfect pack: 1) a front loader (let's be real, top loaders are just giant ass holes), 2) a safe pocket for my computer and 3) a bag small enough to carry on a plane, bus, boat or train. And it worked. It really worked. Once we met, everything else just kind of fell into...well, Sebastian like a dream, but with very little wiggle room. My biggest hassle was the nine months worth of daily contacts, which not everyone has to deal with. But Sebastian saw my vision, stretched his limits and made it possible. Such a gent. Also bear in mind, now that I am here I wish I'd brought less of my own clothes. Southeast Asia has an incredible collection of apparel that is not only appropriate for the culture, but dirt cheap for the budget traveler. So below is my ultimate (female) packing list for nine-months in Southeast Asia:
Saying goodbye has never been one of my specialties. I generally avoid it like tiny, harmless spiders and if faced with it, run away faster than I do from my next karaoke performance…with humanity in mind, of course. Short term residency makes this kind of detachment a slight bit easier than saying goodbye to Jackson, Wyo. It’s been my home for more than five years. I’ve made some of the best friends of my life here--watched them come, and go, and come back again, and go again. This place, and a lot of the people in it, have a natural magnet for human beauty that support the nomad, adopt the dweller and enjoy the ephemeral. Although I am one of those people that supports, adopts and enjoys, I also passed the threshold of letting it go with emotional ease. With only four days left before I depart on my Southeast Asia journey, my heart keeps getting waves of warmth full of beautiful sentiment & nostalgic memories, followed by uncontrollable sappy tears that have yet to reach their full potential.
However, the resolve of all this is appreciation and love--for a place, it's people and an irreplaceable and life-changing experience I've had. A new, refreshing friend wrote me a poem (dare I say, lyric?) the other day that’s fitting for my current life status in so many ways. It reminds me who I have been here, and how I have lived and interacted with the people I have met. We embrace the moment so, dare I say, epically. We showcase ourselves with such genuine ease and explosion. Our intake and release of experience proves unique and wonderful time and time again. We make memories that change us so subtly, but so powerfully that the the thought of forgetting them, let alone leaving a place where they happen so frequently is incredibly heart tweaking. Now, for the little ditty that describes so many of us Jackson folk:
Impressive little ember and your bright sharp stealthy sparks
You strive to be the ender in wars of witty remarks
A memory is a moment whose secrets have been revealed
Then it fades slowly, and the truth of it again…concealed