First night in Bangkok. After checking into our hostel, it was time for eats and exploring the night markets. Whatever it was that I ate that night, set the tone for my debilitating existence the following day.
It was unfortunate that I was sick throughout what little time we had in Bangkok, which meant that I couldn’t muster the energy to see the Royal Palace, the floating market, and all of the tourist-y attractions that are characteristic of the city. However, for what remained, I appreciate having had the chance to do a skeletal run of Bangkok. I especially enjoyed the boat tour on the Chao Phraya River which was very scenic.
After Bangkok, we flew to Koh Samui. Something I appreciated about the island was the clear night sky. There were nights when I’d stand outside of our villa and star-gaze, admiring the beauty of the universe, just as I’d done in Varadero. The stars and the moon have always reminded me that wherever I tread, I’m always connected to everything and everyone, no matter the distance.
Another moment which deserves mentioning is the safari tour. Driving up the steep mountain and at such an incredible speed, I think it’s safe to say that we were on the most intense roller coaster ride of our lives. We sat on the wooden seats lining the back of the truck; had we not been strapped in, we would’ve flown out! It was a great deal of fun. Though I felt for those who sat on the roof; being at such a height, they got what I call a natural face massage (featuring tree branches). The safari tour also included a monkey and an elephant show. I fed Bambi here (I named her Bambi) bananas, and her trunk gave me quite the tickle.
We also visited a coconut plantation where I tried an all-natural coconut ice cream cone with some surprise sticky rice at the bottom. For a hot day, it was heavenly! (Except that returning to that roller coaster ride of a truck with my ice cream cone in hand meant that I couldn’t enjoy it in peace without giving myself an ice cream facial.)
The infamous Hinta Hinyai rocks — aka Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks — on Koh Samui. You can only spot Grandfather here.
Koh Samui was followed by a ferry ride to Koh Tao. We stayed at a diving resort as some of us decided to take diving lessons. The manager was a friendly fellow with an even more fascinating life story, and to my surprise, his hometown wasn’t too far off from mine back home. When he helped me carry my luggage, which was twice my size, up the flights of stairs, he jokingly said, “Such a big bag for someone so small; it must be all that makeup,” to which I replied, “I actually don’t have any.” We all laughed.
My companions knew the ins and outs of travel, and this is why they brought backpacks. As for me, I was causing a traffic jam everywhere I went (at least in my mind I was). That’s how you knew I was a travel novice: my luggage looked as if it was carrying my entire life savings. For someone who lead a simple, minimal life, I sure appeared otherwise. And that was because I didn’t know what or how much to pack on my first trip to Asia, so I did what every so-called normal person would do: pack their whole existence. Suffice it to say, I lived and I learned.
After unpacking and settling in to our new abode, I took a stroll on the beach and stumbled upon a friendly boy and his handsome little monkey and confidante.
Colourful fishing boats abound on Koh Tao which was always a lovely sight. After an adventure-filled snorkelling round, we stopped on Koh Nangyuan. Here’s a picturesque view of the island after a hike to the top.
Haad Rin beach on Koh Phangan. Feeling adventurous, we rented a car and with one of us behind the wheel and myself sitting in front studying the map, we set out exploring the whole island. The drive itself was an adventure, for the roads were unbelievably steep and serpentine. We were also surprised to see dogs everywhere, even on the roads.
After dinner one night, it rained incredibly hard and we ran and laughed the whole way home, and by the time we arrived, we were completely soaked. I can’t think of something more romantic than running in the pouring rain in the empty streets of a far-off island, in what feels like the middle of nowhere. That was something I appreciated while being on the island: rainy days.
Night food market on Koh Phangan. That night, we had squid on a stick, ribs, and a Thai papaya salad, as well as some fruits and fried snacks for dessert. I wish I had extra pockets like kangaroos because there were delicious eats everywhere and I had no space left!
After exploring the islands, we took the ferry back to Koh Samui. My final night there before flying back to Bangkok was low key, and involved sitting on the beach listening to James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend” all evening. It was during moments when I sat on the beach in solitude, surrounded by nothing but water and the shadows of the far-off mountains, that I truly felt that home is where the heart is.
Paradoxically, my heart wasn’t in Thailand. I felt no emotional tie during my time there. Prior to my arrival, I understood that I wouldn’t be experiencing Thailand’s culture and history, rich in all their beauty and grace, for the simple reason that our trip was a touristic one, as reflected by the choice of our destinations. Venturing to the islands, I knew that they’d be tourist-infested and overly commercialized, which is why, had I been on my own, I would’ve opted to travel to the nooks and crevices of other regions instead. But that’s one of the major downfalls about travelling with companions whose interests and yours clash, and whose veils of perception are intimately tied to their Lonely Planet: you have to settle. (As with other areas of life, where the crowd goes, don’t go.)
Time was another factor. We’d spent one full day tops in Bangkok — that we’d spent such little time there was itself a major setback; and the one day that we had to visit sacred shrines and temples, I was sick with crippling dizziness and nausea and I was unable to walk without feeling a dire need to find something to support my body. It didn’t help that it was unbearably hot and that tourists were everywhere. (That’s one of the things I liked least about being there: not the monumental number of tourists per se, but tourists whose fans and umbrellas held the capacity to knock out whatever life I had left in me, which comically, was not much.) Suffice it to say, I took a cab back to my hostel — at which point I was already on the ground while trying to wave one — and spent the major part of my time vomiting and in bed.
Beyond the little mishaps (which I couldn’t help but laugh about because they made my adventure more amusing), my quest for Asia was, in essence, a way for me to experience life beyond my Western roots. In Cambodia I had a chance to interact with locals and experience life with them, and it’s unfortunate that I didn’t get to experience the same in Thailand. Based on what little time and experience I had in Bangkok and on the islands — which of course constitute a false representation of Thailand — I concluded that these places weren’t for me, as they were a replica of everything that I’d wished to escape.
In retrospect, I had a memorable time filled with adventures and laughter, and the people I did meet were full of zest. I just know that if I’d spent more time in Thailand and ventured into the soul of the country, then I would’ve experienced its people, its culture, its history in all their true colours and authenticity. Being raised by Cambodian parents who’d taken refuge in Thailand following the Cambodian Genocide, I’m well aware of the depth of history and culture that Thailand has to offer. My time there was a touristic one, and with that came a superficial experience — a scratch of the surface with no depth.