As I walked off the plane in Bangkok, I knew this was going to be a different experience from Koh Samui and it was. After I said goodbye to my retreat friends at the airport, my private tour guide greeted me with a sign above his head with my name on it. It quickly became evident that Mr. Perez was a gentle soul. He really took the time to get to know me, and despite our differences, we became fast friends.
We drove 45 minutes from the airport to the Pathumwan Princess Hotel, where I was booked for two nights. As Mr. Perez was driving, he started asking me questions as to my whereabouts. The first question he asked was, “what brings you to my beautiful country?” This was not a difficult question to answer, but of course, I made it harder for myself. I wanted to tell him the truth, but I also wanted to impress him with my knowledge. I told him I was here for a yoga retreat. Then, after a nervous hiccup, I told him I was here to learn more about his beautiful country. I believe my answers started a gentle bond between the two of us. As we were entering the city, I looked outside and saw nothing but buildings and grey skies. What sparked my interest most was the fact that, from the highway, I could clearly see rundown apartment complexes with linens hanging off peoples’ balconies. There were many times during our 45-minute drive where I wanted to stop and take everything in. I wondered what it would be like to live here and I kept searching for vivid details within the walls of the city I was about to endure. I was amazed by the amount of unused infrastructure that was surrounding me.
When I arrived at the hotel, the valet staff greeted me through soft smiles and hand gestures. They bowed down to me. This is a typical way to greet each other in Thailand. In return, I bowed down to them. At first, I was shy in doing so because I normally don’t bow down to people, but I felt compelled to do so in order to honor their culture. I walked upstairs to the reception desk. The staff greeted me with a ginger shot. Generally speaking, I don’t like ginger, but this was really good. It was a mini party in my mouth. They gave me keys to my room and I took the elevator up to the 15th floor. When I entered the room, the gracefulness that I executed to the hotel staff had vanished. I sloppily threw my bags on the bed and rushed out to meet Nan, my roommate from Switzerland who is originally from Thailand. I was already late in meeting her and I didn’t have a clue to where I was. As I was speed walking through the city just trying to find my bearings, I saw Tuk Tuk drivers passing me left and right. I decided that I no longer wanted to walk and so, I hailed a “cab.”
My Tuk Tuk driver speeds through the city and I hold on for dear life. I kept telling myself that he was going to crash, even though I knew he wasn’t. I was in Thailand for goodness sake. When I arrived at the mall where I was to meet Nan, my Wi-Fi connection decided to go out. I didn’t panic; although I was annoyed. After twenty five minutes of trying to find each other, we finally did. I wiped the panic look off my face and smiled as I greeted her with a hug. I could tell she was determined to do the same. I felt an instant connection with her, as if we’ve been spending time together on a weekly basis. She grabs my left arm and links it through her right arm (this is a very common thing to see in Thailand) and I immediately recall her doing that exact same thing in Switzerland. Again, it was as if we’ve never left each other. I smile to myself because I just knew that seeing each other again wasn’t going to be awkward. What a relief!
When we sat down for dinner, Nan started talking. In my opinion, her English was just as good, if not better, than it was when we were rooming together in Switzerland. After we ordered our food, we bombarded each other with questions — questions we have been meaning to ask each other for 5 years now. Her first question to me was, “Do you have the same boyfriend?” Oh what a typical Nan question! I told her I didn’t due to us going in different directions. She didn’t seem to understand what that meant, so I re-worded my answer. “We were not meant to be,” I said. She understood that much more clearly. After I stuffed my guts with delicious Pad-Thai, Nan and I walked down to the ice cream shop. Memories from five years ago took over, as I distinctly remember Nan just loving to force food down my throat. After dinner, Nan asked me “Are you still hungry?” I laughed out loud, trying not to make fun of her. In fact, I wasn’t. I was just getting used to a different culture. I said “sure,” thinking she would take that as a “yes,” and she did. After hours of shopping and eating, it was time for Nan to go home. After we parted ways, I decided that I wasn’t done exploring the city just yet. I ventured further downtown and went shopping at a local mall near my hotel. I must admit, shopping downtown can be addicting in Thailand. Everything is so cheap and I wanted to buy the entire mall! I had to keep in mind that I had a lot of luggage to schlep back to America with me. I didn’t want to break my back, and so, I ended up buying a few gifts for my friends back in America.
Floating Market and Temple Tour
The next morning, Mr. Perez picks me up at 8:30 in the morning and drives me two hours north of the city. During the long car ride, I felt obligated to ask him questions. I kept my questions simple due to language barrier and after a few attempts I said, “um, excuse me, what’s that big blue and white building?” Mr. Perez answered that this was a factory and continued saying that I should probably keep silent the rest of the way. I was taken aback by his insulting reply and didn’t know how to respond. I did what I was told and remained silent the rest of the way. I had a notion that I was annoying him with my on-going questions and my initial thought to generate conversation was incorrect. As we were driving further away from the city and deeper into the country side, I noticed that there were a lot of open aired trucks with people plopped in the back seat, without any form of seat belt. Seat belts are a rarity in Thailand. In other words, if a driver notices a passenger without their seatbelt on, they simply won’t say anything. Very strange for a girl who grew up with parents checking to see if she had her seatbelt on. Anyway, the last hour consisted of complete silence. I resisted the urge to fall asleep.
When we reached the first leg of the tour, I was finally able to get out of the car to stretch. The first stop was Thailand’s form of “plantations.” This is where they grew corn. It was more of a process than just simply planting seeds into the ground. The workers somehow remained functional in these sweltering conditions. I give them big props for working as hard as they do. They kindly allowed me to look around for twenty minutes before heading to the floating markets. I was doing my best to be considerate while taking photos. I didn’t want to come off as rude or disrespectful, but I wanted to capture the moment as best as possible. When it was time for us to leave, my tour guide announced that it would be “just one more hour” until we arrived to where the boats departed. Sigh. Accept. Move on.
Once we arrived, I followed Mr. Perez to the boats. He threw me a life jacket and said “You must wear this.” I laughed out loud, put on my life jacket and hopped into the boat.
Off we went!
As the boat was speeding through the small canals, I noticed the sound of the air rushing past my ears and the wind in my face. I was stunned by the scenery and felt very grateful in this moment. My face went numb after some time and I realized “Shoot, I forgot to put on sunscreen.” With this scorching weather, I was bound to get severely burned. Luckily, our first stop had bonnets and hats for sale. I bought a straw hat. By all means, this was not a glamorous hat, but it did its job well. After my tour guide left me to shop alone, I felt enormous freedom. I walked the streets with a huge grin on my face. I was starving at this point as I hadn’t eaten all day, and was going to eat anything I could get my hands on. I walked to the food section of the market and decided I wanted noodles. I gave the lady 100 Baht and ordered myself a big bowl of noodles. I sat down on a blue chair that was two sizes too small for me to fit on and ate until I nearly felt sick. While walking back to the shops, all of a sudden, I felt someone grab my shoulder from behind. I pivoted to my left and saw a woman holding two small round bottles. She begged me to buy what she was selling. I raised my eyebrows and said “I’m sorry, I don’t have any money on me.” I turned around and kept walking. Less than 10 seconds later, she appeared again and quite frankly, scared the crap out of me.
“How much?” I asked.
“90 Baht” she replied. (Sigh)
In this moment, I realized that I was in a foreign country and didn’t foresee myself coming back to a country like this anytime soon. I had to seize the opportunity and take her up on her offer. It was cheap and I was helping someone in need. I bought two small bottles of Icy Hot and kept trotting along. After a few minutes of walking, yet another lady stopped me, trying to sell me the exact same thing. I chuckled carelessly and thought to myself “Are you kidding me?” I walked away as quickly as possible and ducked into a shop. For goodness sake, I couldn’t catch a break. I peaked out to make sure the coast was clear and surely enough, it was. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone holding something big and I turned around to get a clearer look and surely enough, it was a huge snake. Intrigued, I walked towards it. The man in charge approached me without any hint of hesitation and said “here you go beautiful.” He threw the snake on me. No, not placed, but threw it on my back. He was sly about it. His mischievous laugh made me nervous. He grabbed my phone and started taking photos of me and this massive beast of his. He repeatedly said “strike a pose.” I felt like I was in a photo shoot or something. It was quite nice. The snake’s eye touched my cheek and I froze in fear. It was jolly old fun, indeed.
I met up with Mr. Perez and we headed to the temples. The temples were absolutely stunning. Mr. Perez told me that these temples were the ones his mother and father took him to as a child. When the car turned the corner, Mr. Perez pointed to the elementary school he went to. “Brings back a lot of memories” he whispered to himself. “Yeah, I bet” I replied. This reminded me of my own elementary school days. I began to sink deeply into my own thoughts about my days at Fallsmead Elementary School and after about two minutes, I snapped back to reality.
As touching as his personal stories were, Mr. Perez had been here many times and left me alone during the rest of the tour. I took my shoes off and walked into the “Reclining Buddhas” room. The Reclining Buddha represents the historical buddha during his last illness, about to enter the stage of parinirvana. The Reclining Buddha statues are not supposed to induce sadness towards people but rather, the reclining buddha should be taken as an object of encouragement that all beings have the potential to be awakened and release themselves from any type of suffering. The expression on the Buddhas faces’ portray compassion and symbolizes the meaning of rebirth. The symbolic meaning to this particular sculpture really touched my heart and caused me to view death in a different way. I have found that as I get older, the more I accept death as just another part of life. However, there have been many times where I think about death so deeply that it makes me want to cry. I’m not sure if the tears come from fear, realization, sadness or a combination of the three. I’ve become good at pushing away my dark thoughts when it comes to things like this. I stood there and took in all the earthly colors. I circled the Buddha slowly, capturing only the scenes I wanted to remember. When I walked outside, there were three beautiful stupas waiting to greet me. In Buddhism, a stupa is a mound-like structure that serves as a place of meditation. Their colors were vibrant and astonishing. I craned my neck to see the very top. After viewing all the temples, Mr. Perez pulls up in his black car and honks his horn. He picks me up at a traffic light and takes me to the last temple. The last temple was one of many golden temples, although I feel like this was the goldest temple of them all. It was extremely shinny and it even hurt my eyes to stare at it for too long. Just the thought of this tour being over made me sad. I don’t know when I’ll return to a foreign country again.
Mr. Perez asked me what I was going to do when I got back to the hotel. I told him that I was probably just going to relax at the pool.
To Be Continued….