My flight from Houston to Bangkok took longer than 40 hours including the layover in LAand Doha in Qatar. Doah was very clean and bright. The airport was immaculate and extremely fancy. There were so many high-end stores. My feet swelled up like balloons for the first time while flying.
When I got to Bangkok, my phones were both dead. I brought two phones with me because I thought I could get my old phone unlocked and keep my actual as a backup. My phone company wouldn’t let me unlock it so I had to scramble to find wifi once my phones were charged so I could text my next couch-surfer without getting charged crazy fees. Once I got a hold of him, I took a taxi from the airport to his place. The taxi driver asked if I had a boyfriend and at one point told me he loved me…Yes…he was looking for an American sugar mama to take care of him…:(
I got to the home of my couch-surfer, we will call him “V,” in the Sukhumvit district of Bangkok. This area is named for the very long boulevard that runs through it of the same name. Sukhumvit is well known for its restaurants, shopping, ex-pat friendliness, and brothels.
When I arrived at the four-story townhouse, I was greeted by my host and a beautiful white and grey cat named Dexter. My host was in the middle of conducting an interview for a movie a friend of his was making on relationships. From this interview, I learned of three of “V””s jobs including a traditional bamboo tattoo tourism gig, a modeling agency, and a perfume production company. I also learned that his parents worked for the Italian mafia. Yes, the mafia. He is part Italian part Thai. I later learned that being a part of the Mafia for Italians is like being in a political party.
I met his three other roommates who were all to my luck, involved in the food industry: a lythe and mystical, yogic, Iranian, chef in training; a charming and confident Thai, sapphic, Thai food classes chef; and a witty, dry, highly humorous, Slavic, bearded, manager of a cooking tourism business. These amazing strangers eventually became my family away from home. We spent evenings talking and playing games late into the night. They told me about their amazing travel adventures and the Thai chef instructor taught me to cook a delicious salted fish and green curry meal that we shared with the rest of the crew. They were patient with my inexperience and nervousness upon traveling in a foreign country and the moments when my social anxiety would take over, they were honest and kind.
The first night “V” and I went out to grab food and hunt down a place to get my phone unlocked. We wandered the many malls of Bangkok and my need to buy more clothing itched at me like a mosquito bite. I remember it was like a dream. Darting from store to store where words were just mumblings to me. Strange smells and American music like Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber were everywhere and the contrast was jarring. Each mall had a different theme including but not limited to Terminal 21 the airport terminal mall, Siam Paragon mall the lush plant filled and real aquarium mall and MBK Center the street market mall.
Eventually, we found a place that would unlock my phone. “V” spoke fluent Thai and was able to get me set up with a chip that when inserted into my phone, under my sim card would unlock my phone for any sim card I wanted to use…couch surfers are, most of the time, amazing.
My host took me to the Rod Fai Night Market that evening where I ate grasshoppers, dry ice fruit loops and gave into my shopping craze just a little. I was astounded how inexpensive everything was. Nothing in the market was over sixty dollars that I looked at. At the night market, we passed vintage cars lit by strings of tiny lights and antique stores filled with things I knew I could only carry home in my camera.
One thing I noticed right away in Thailand is how slow things moved. Everyone and everything were on a slower time schedule than I was used to. Waiters, lines, and events were all laid back as if there were no need to accomplish the next thing. This drove me crazy at first and then I realized how beautiful it is to slow down. American culture thrives on accomplishing and doing something all the time, but this city reminded me to be truly present. Despite being a thriving, dirty crazy beautiful city, Bangkok was present and focused on the right now. It pulled me in and made me spend more time taking in the crazy drivers, the faces, and characters of the people around me, my photos, on my writing and just being. It was Thai Time I learned to let go and so I began the process.
The next few days were a flow of jetlag recovery mixed with wandering. “V” took me a few places the first couple days during the day and then I took over once he had work to get back to. I ate street food, saw all the touristy things I could muster and visited every art museum I could. I went to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, The Bankok MOCA, and the Jim Thompson House. I also tried to hunt down ghost art museums that Google said were open but turned out to be just shells or closed for the summer.
I walked or used the sky-train system as much as possible to save money. I spent an entire day on a bicycle at a park with mini versions of Bangkok sites called the Ancient City (Mueang Boran) where they were filming a documentary. I saw the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and crossed the Chao Phraya river to Wat Arun or the Temple of the Dawn. I drank at least two fresh coconuts a day and explored all the less expensive top-rated restaurants.
I had my hair cut at this amazing Japenese salon called BOYRiKYU where they drew a picture of how my hair would look before cutting it. I spent two rainy days doing laundry, getting over jetlag and watching bootleg American movies. I saw two beautiful parks where I saw beautiful plants and unusual animals, like giant lizards. It was bliss. Each day offered the opportunity to explore and experience things as I chose with no boundaries or restrictions, besides money of course. Like The American from the musical Chess: “the world was my oyster.”
At night I went out with my host and roommates to beautiful bars and restaurants. Notable were the Nowhere Bar with steps going into the ceiling and the Iron Fairies, a bar with live jazz, giant jars of glitter everywhere and the smokiest drink I have ever consumed, served in a bottle with a cork. My host had connections in the taxi world due to his tourism jobs, so we rarely had to pay full price. I met Russian and Ukranian models from the modeling agency, that my host also runs, and I saw the city from the top of one of the tallest towers.
It was on that tall tower or Sky Bar , the last night of my stay in Bangkok, that I truly pulled in the weight and freedom of my adventure. I marveled at the challenges I had to overcome to get there. Family, money worries, depression/anxiety, and self-doubt all defeated to achieve this goal. Two years I planned to see this country. During those two years, seeing this place was what kept me going. Looking back and reflecting on the time before my trip, I don’t feel the pain that I remember, but see a beautiful and strong past self, fighting to live with purpose.