Arriving in Bangkok was a trip in itself. We’d been traveling for an entire day and were exhausted. I was so excited when we arrived that I left my debit card in the ATM at BKK after withdrawing the first round of Thai Baht. That led to weeks of great fun over the phone with my bank, but I got over it pretty quickly. It was around 2PM in Thailand when we were dropped off in the Khao San Road area. 13 hours later and I was waking up in our tiny guesthouse room, my girlfriend beside me just as amped as I was for the next six months in Asia. We knew it wasn’t quite time to head out into the streets yet, so we started browsing through our one travel guide, psyching ourselves up even more for an imminent, life-changing adventure.
Khao San was not an ideal place for us to be. Its very essence conflicted with our notions of what this trip was supposed to be for us: cultural integration and authenticity. Khao San caters to backpackers and tourists who are more comfortable around large groups of other backpackers and tourists. I’m not hating on other peoples methods of and motives for traveling; to each their own, whatever floats your boat, and all that good stuff. The fact that anyone took the time and resources to up and leave the comfort of home to come and experience Asia is, for the most part, respectable in itself. But for us, we wanted to see what the people were like, and what they would think of us. And we noticed a stark difference between the locals whose industry forced them to focus on the perceived wants and needs of Westerners versus the locals who were just themselves. But interestingly, it was the former that really made me take note of my own personality and how that sometimes-troublesome mentality that I adopted in my youth was not always the healthiest way to project myself to the rest of the world.
It really bugs me when people try to rip me off, mess with me, or disrespect in me in any way. It happened a lot when I was a kid and I let it happen because I was afraid to stand up for myself. In order to counter that as I got older, I sort of went too far in the opposite direction; I actively looked for people who may be “doing me wrong”, as I saw it. This is not a good thing, at all, especially in a foreign country where every visitor is a representative of their homeland and the surrounding culture is not quite what you are used to. It’s not that I went around starting fights with everyone giving me cut eye or gawking at the absolutely gorgeous woman by my side who looks more like them than she looks like me. But I did have to learn, occasionally with vehement insistence from my equally strong-minded girlfriend, to tone down the energy I projected and just take in the experience for what it was. There are a lot of phenomenally good people where we traveled, exquisitely beautiful on the inside, and that was where my focus began to shift as our travels progressed. Coupled with the aesthetic beauty of the towns, the tropical nature intermingling with the urban, the delicious cuisine, and the exotic character of our surroundings (because despite occasional similarities, Bangkok and other SEA cities and villages are nothing like where I grew up) that first day in Thailand is one I will never forget.
So we left the guesthouse at 6AM and started walking in the opposite direction of Khao San, ending up in a tiny, dark back alley where a pleasant older lady was frying up whole fish, sautéing vegetables and meats, and steaming rice. We got one of everything and it cost us the equivalent of $2.75 CAD. I’m not lying when I say we shed the occasional tear of joy at how sick this experience already was from the beginning. We sat on tiny plastic chairs (I often needed to squeeze two together because I’m not the tiniest dude you ever saw) and we just absorbed where we were, what we were doing, and how we literally had no fear for what lay in our path, most of which we didn’t even know of until the moments leading up to this adventure or that. The sun was blistering hot. Somber, shoeless monks roamed the streets collecting alms. Skewers of beef, chicken liver, and, I kid-you-not, BBQ earthworms were being sold from tiny vendors for practically pennies…and Teresa and I were truly happy, without a care in the world.
Ready to roll out in Thailand