bangkok

Lost in Bangkok

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“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

If only that were true…Today was my last day in Bangkok, so I packed my luggage and left it at the hotel desk for the day. What I didn’t realize until I got to the river taxi dock, was that I had packed my map of Bangkok. I knew I wanted to go to China Town and the Indian Market, and knew where to jump off the taxi, but beyond that, I had no idea where I was actually going.

I got off at the dock and asked where to get a map. I was directed to a board with about three streets marked and the general location of the sights. I thought, “how hard can this be?” Well, let’s just say it was harder than I thought. There are hundreds of side streets, alleyways covered in tarps with stalls selling everything from knock-off barbies, to whole octopus, to air conditioners and no real street signs.

I started walking in the direction of the Indian Market, a promise of scarves, fabric and curry waiting for me. I walked, and walked some more. Suddenly it occurred to me that I had not seen another European or other foreigner for quite a while and I had wandered VERY far off the beaten path. I stopped at a shop and a sweet little old Chinese grandmother got her grandson, who in broken English directed me to the street I thought the Indian market was on. So I walked and walked some more, when I stumbled on a flower market - blocks of of the most beautiful cut flowers I had ever seen. I forgot about the scarves and the curry and just wandered the aisles. As I came out of an alley, I walked right into the Indian Market. Sometimes, when you get lost, you end up right where you are supposed to be!

Next stop China Town. I got where I was going once, surely I could do it again. I walked and walked some more (apparently the theme of the day). I found myself in the middle of a giant wholesale food market, piles of cabbage in baskets, nuts, fish, and hundreds of things I had never seen (or smelled) before - and not another tourist in sight. I emerged on a main road and headed towards the direction of the river (or so I thought). I realized after an hour that I had been up and down so many alleys, but crossed the same corner on this main road three times, so really, not actually getting anywhere.

Then it happened, the moment I thought, “I’m in over my head, I should hail a taxi (if I can find one) and just go back to the hotel.” I took a deep breath and realized I had spent the last four hours seeing things I would never have seen if I stuck to my map; that I could, at anytime, get a taxi, but really I wanted to see what was beyond that corner. So, I took a good hard look around me, and started walking. I passed the same corner for the fourth time and just kept going.

Eventually I made it back to river taxi dock. My day was nothing like I planned when I left the hotel this morning, but maybe that was the point - to trust myself to know when I’m in over my head, but also, to not let the voices in my head stop me from experiencing what is around the corner.

Am I Still A Traveller?

“Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.”
― Tennessee Williams, Camino Real

I had always considered myself a “traveller.” I had a valid passport, could pack in 20 minutes and seemingly my bucket list of places to visit was never ending. But in truth, it has been a long time since I truly travelled. I went on vacation, visited friends, went back often to familiar cities, and enjoyed the requisite beach, books and booze trips. I hadn’t pushed myself out of my comfort zone, gone someplace where I didn’t speak a word of the language, or didn’t know a soul for years.

I decided in January to get back on the horse, so to speak. When I told my friends and family that I had booked a plane ticket to Thailand alone, it was met with mixed emotions. I heard, “don’t you have anyone to travel with?, “why?”, or “are you sure?” These comments were generally followed by “be safe” or a horror story of a lone female traveller who met with disaster. I was excited about the trip, so I put on a brave face and said I was fine, looking forward to it, I knew what I was doing, etc…

Honestly though over the next two months, I started to hear those voices in my head. I had doubts. Could I still travel alone? Did I still want to? Was this really who I was? Am I a traveller?

Then of course there is that pesky age thing. It’s ok in your 20’s to disconnect, to take risks, and besides there are always lots of 20 somethings with a bad case of wanderlust roaming the world’s “must see” destinations, but what about in your 40’s. Most of my friends are raising families, so the idea of setting off alone for three weeks, isn’t possible. Travel for most, seems to go from backpacks, to disneyland vacations, to tour busses. I’m not sure what solo travel in my 40’s looks like.

So with a very light backpack, a healthy dose of doubt and trepidation, I set off for Thailand.

I arrived late last night. When I awoke this morning in a hotel in Bangkok. It hit me. I’m really doing this. Over breakfast, I poured over my guidebooks, maps and travel blogs one last time. I knew eventually I had to step outside the front door of the hotel.

Was this first day everything I had imagined. Yes and no. I leaped off a moving river taxi onto a rickety pier, I got lost in old Bangkok trying to find a noodle stand I had read about (never did find it and ended up eating a granola bar for lunch), was befriended by a monk and got an impromptu guided tour of the Buddhist university, saw the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha, forgot to drink enough water (its 95 degrees) and had to give myself a timeout in the only shade I could find under a scraggly tree on a street corner, wandered the amulet market, and took myself out to dinner.

I’m hoping as the days go by, I will find the answers to my questions, but in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the adventure of getting up each day in unfamiliar territory.

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