We spent nearly a week in Thailand, and it was both plenty of time and not nearly enough all at once. On one hand, I wish I could have seen other cities and areas of Thailand – I’ve heard the southern coast is amazing. However, considering the places we did visit, I was ready to leave once Tuesday night rolled around.
Thailand is an extremely popular backpacker destination for a reason. Many people speak English, signs are usually translated, and there is literally a treasure trove of things to do wherever you go. The country is by far the most developed in the region, which means cleanliness, efficiency, and service were at an all-time high for our trip. If you want to party, Thailand is definitely the place to go. If you want to relax on beaches, there’s that, too. Into the art scene? They’ve got it. Want nature? Triple check. Not to mention the elephants, fantastic cuisine, and generally friendly people. However, there are also taxi drivers trying to rip you off at every turn, vendors charging you fantastically inflated prices, stereotypical hippie/bro/party-girl backpackers everywhere – no seriously, everywhere – and a price of living that was harsh after a month in Cambodia. Thailand really runs the gamut from authentic and priceless to cheap and insincere, and my experiences there ran a similar gamut.
Bangkok was everything you’d expect it to be: bright, bustling, metropolitan, western, loud, and larger than life. Arriving there straight from Cambodia was like falling through the looking glass into a world that you’d forgotten existed. It was there that I got my ear pierced again, got my first tattoo, and got my first heady taste of the freedom travel brings. I’ve blogged already of our experience in the national park, so I won’t repeat those details unnecessarily. In case you haven’t read that post, though, it was a delightful few days. After Bangkok, we took a very pleasant sleeper train to Chiang Mai, a smaller city in the north, nestled into the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Chiang Mai was the opposite of busy Bangkok in many ways – an old city with new growth that offers calm, charm, energy, and beauty to it’s visitors. It was there that we rode elephants (the experience of a lifetime), crashed our motorbike (minor damage only), were treated like younger sisters by the ladies running our hostel, finally did laundry (thank god), and met a hilarious Englishman named Harry. Other experiences that left me glowing include meeting one of Alicia’s friends from home, our hostel owner Kevin, fried cake, coconut shakes, and some really fantastic jewelry. So many lovely things, people, and places.
I tend to focus on the good, especially when I travel. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s a deeply ingrained tendency toward optimism or just a pair of permanent rose-colored glasses. Whatever it is, those lovely things are definitely what I will remember when I look back on Thailand. I’ll remember the beauty, the laughter, and the great people we met along the way. That being said, there were some not-so-great things about Thailand as well. Our first day in Bangkok, we couldn’t hail a tuktuk without someone attempting to seriously scam us, I puked my guts out after an overly ambitious attempt to drink the local beer (never again will I be tempted by 40 oz for less than a dollar), and taking an over-night bus is really not as romantic as it sounds. Marrisa also got food poisoning on our last night, the one we didn’t have a hostel booked for and were planning on spending in the airport. If it weren’t for Kevin from Born Free Hostel and his lovely girlfriend Wasana, we would have had literally no where to go. It was not a particularly nice experience, especially for Marrisa. To top it all off, I came to Thailand on track to be under budget and left nowhere close. The prices of food, taxis, and cough*tattoos*cough just pushed me over the edge.
I left Thailand with mixed feelings. Some of my best memories have their origins there, but I also felt like I was participating in a massive cliche – the drunk, party-obsessed backpacker who goes to Bangkok and the Thai beaches and comes back claiming to have experienced Southeast Asia. Let me just go on record to say that Bangkok, and much of Thailand for that matter, are quite the exception in Southeast Asia. I can confidently say that Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam exist in a much different realm than the parts of Thailand backpackers usually see.
I’m glad I went, don’t get me wrong. I met people in Thailand that I definitely want to stay in touch with, that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It was there that I got my feet under me as a traveller, and it was during our time there that I started to feel the bright possibility that my future could hold. We’re in Vietnam now though, and I must say I’m very happy to be here. On to the next adventure!!
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. -Ralph Waldo Emerson