thailand

Changing Gears

I left Chiang Dao yesterday around noon after a last hike along a mountain side trail, then began the long trip south. First a pickup truck/taxi, then a bus, then a tuktuk from the bus station to the airport, then a plane to Bangkok, another plane to the island of Koh Samui and then finally a minivan to my hotel. It only took 10.5 hours, but my backpack and I finally made it.

I woke up this morning, stood out on my balcony and looked out over the Gulf of Thailand. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore or northern Thailand for that matter. I walked out on to the main street in Bo Phut - my first look in the daylight. Cafes and restaurants lined the streets - no shouting in Thai, but lots of French and German. I felt a little culture shock if that is possible.

I wandered in search of coffee. There are few if any street vendors, sandwich boards in front of restaurants had menus in English, French and some Thai. I found my coffee, settled in and watched the town come to life.

I knew I wanted to end this trip with some time at the beach, but in a strange way, I was already missing the challenge of the previous days. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself, no list of sights to see, no travel plans to figure out - just drink my coffee and go to the beach. It was harder than I thought to change gears.

Eventually, I packed a bag and headed towards Mae Nam on the north end of the island. I had heard it was quiet and more remote than the eastern side of the island. It was. I rented a chair on the beach, and tried to sit still. I got up, walked the beach, came back, read my guidebook (there must be something I should be doing), but slowly I started to relax. I went for swim, read and ate pineapple from a beach vendor. By 3pm, I thought, “I could get used to this.”

But in reality, my time in Thailand is running out, so tomorrow I will go in search of waterfalls on the interior of the island and have booked a sea kayaking/snorkeling trip. I’ll still fit in some beach time though.

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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.