Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Waking Up in Bangkok, Thailand

Written by Karen.

The room was quiet.  It was blessedly cool due to an efficient air conditioner.  The bed was comfortable.  I had awakened just a few moments earlier and instantly wondered what time it was.  I knew it was still early in the morning as the thin wispy curtains that covered the single-paned windows were starting to shimmer with the faintest promise of daylight.

There are times now when I’ll wake up suddenly and wonder as I lay in the darkness - or early morning light - where I am exactly before I fully wake up and can thus remember.  It might be a smell or a sound that is a bit unusual that will seep into my subconscious and remind me that I am in a different place.  This wasn’t one of those times.  There was nothing that was unusual about our tiny room - except for the elaborate white ornate wooden cornice that contrasted with the sage green wooden shiplap walls.  Otherwise, it was a bedroom that could have been anywhere. 

That is until I opened up the narrow wooden door, with the ornate silver handles that pulled down, and slid through the opening into the large foyer with the walls full of pictures of an earlier time and the shiny mahogany wooden floors that I had briefly noticed as we were shown our room at 12:30 a.m. earlier this morning.  

The heat hit instantly and unexpectedly - seemingly a blast furnace, even at first light - and the humidity that came in from the open window and balcony next to our bedroom made the air so thick you could bite into it and be fully sated.  

In an instant, I was fully awake taking in the early-morning details that surrounded me from my second-floor vantage point: the sounds of motorbikes;  roosters crowing; beeps from a bicycle cart delivering goods to neighbors down our alley; watching the cats taking their positions on top of the rooftops; the smells of food being cooked over fire  - Ah yes, we are in a different place.  

We are in Bangkok, Thailand.  

This was our fourth attempt at visiting Thailand.  For each attempt we had purchased our airline tickets and made accommodations, and each time for one reason or another something pulled us back and away from Thailand.  The last thwarted attempt was in 2014, when we were actually in the Hong Kong airport ready to board our flight to Bangkok when we found out that my late sister Julie was having brain surgery and instead flew back home to the States.   Before that, it was the epic flooding and political instability drowning downtown Bangkok.  And, before that, it was complications relating to Adam’s heart by-pass surgery. 

This time we made it. 

And now we are here.  We are planning to use Bangkok as a launching pad for exploring Southeast Asia over the next eight months: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, and Indonesia are on the list as potential places to visit and travel slowly.  But, who knows?  If I’ve learned anything about this journey of ours is that it will be unpredictable.

And so we begin again with our 21-pound backpacks and a return airline ticket back to the States next April.  We don’t have any plans other than that.

Waking up in Bangkok

My first glimpse of our new neighborhood.  We are staying in a small, family-run B&B in what seems to be a typical neighborhood: neighbors coming and going; dodging motorbikes; or stopping in for a chat or getting some food at one of the small storefront businesses. We'll stay here for a few days, work off the jet lag and ease into the transition of getting back on the road.

One of the biggest challenges for us to remember is that the Thai people drive on the "wrong side" of the road.  This means that we have to have our heads on a swivel when we walk down our tiny neighborhood streets, plus we have to remember to first look to the right - not the left - before we cross the street.  

Breakfast is served.  We decided to ease into traveling this time around. I want to savor the journey, and that especially pertains to the exploration of food.  

I love Thai food - in the limited stereotyped menu consisting primarily of pad Thai and tom yum soup that I am used to eating in the States. I know that we will more fully explore the different types of Thai food, the various nuances of regional cooking, and our breakfasts here are our first forays into understanding the various tastes, values, and presentation of Thai food.  That is exciting and a priority for me.  
I can already tell that Thai food will continue to be well-loved and a favorite of mine: The spices; the presentation; the smaller portions; the contrasting flavors of sweet, savory, bitter, sour and spicy combined together as a meal turn the disparate small plates into a symphony.  We are so satisfied by the experience that we don't eat again until hours later, when we try pad Thai at a small open-air street stall. 

Our little Bed and Breakfast in Bangkok is located at the end of a narrow road or alley, off a lane ("soi" in Thai) which is off a major street and a few blocks from the Chao Phraya river.

We arrived late - well after we had expected to arrive - due to several flight delays.  Although we were tired after the 26 hours of jet travel, we quickly woke up in the taxi cab as we careened down the rain-slicked roads well over the posted speed limit.  Memories of past situations when I was sure that I was going to die in a taxi cab flooded my mind.  Once again I wondered why it was that I was optionally staring death fully in its face again.  I don't know what it is with taxi drivers, but I have sworn off using them again and again, and then once again, I choose to get into another cab.  Extreme sports?  Riding in a taxi cab surely qualifies.

As we turned off the main road and went down the lane, the three of us looked for the address of the little B&B.  The taxi driver put the cab into reverse and we tried again.  It was dark, and save for a few cats on the prowl, there was no one out.  Even in the darkness, I could see the sheets of corrugated metal and the rusted fences.  What kind of place was this?

The taxi driver stopped at the intersection of a smaller lane and although we didn't speak each other's language, we knew that we were on our own now.  Somewhere down that dark small alley I hoped that we would find a safe place to sleep.

It was still drizzling when we collected our backpacks and headed down the path. We got to the end of the street and looked at each other.  Where was the B&B? And, if we couldn't find it, what next?  We hadn't purchased a SIM card for our phone yet, so we couldn't even call the B&B and find out if we were in the right neighborhood. 

The only house that didn't have a high fence in front of it still had a few lights on. I peeked through the bushes and saw two people watching television and laughing in the open-walled downstairs.  "Hello," I called. "Hello?"  Two startled faces looked my way.  I smiled, hoping that I looked non-threatening.  "Hi!" I said and waved through the bushes.  People started piling out of the house. We were surrounded by people who wanted to help two strangers who had wandered into their neighborhood.  

And, here's when the travel magic happened.  One person spoke English. Three people escorted us down to where the B&B was.  "Good place," they said as we all stood in front of the nondescript B&B.  "You be okay here.” Another person leaned on the doorbell, trying to get a response.  Yet another person got her cell phone out and tried calling phone numbers until someone answered.  Someone did, and fifteen minutes later we were in bed. 

We were shown kindness and consideration by strangers - now our new neighbors - in the middle of the night.  They waved to us with big smiles as they went back home and gave us our first exposure to the Thai greeting: the "wai." The wai is when a person slightly bows towards you with their palms pressed together in a prayer-like gesture. It felt like a blessing to me.  

For the next few hours, before I woke up in the pre-dawn hours, we both slept deeply, content in the knowledge that we were 'home' for awhile. 


Jennifer Chase said...

So great to hear more from your travels. Hope you both are doing well. Wonderful photographs :)

Paula said...

SO happy you made it to Thailand. Finally!! We're going to follow along the whole way! Big hugs, Paula (and John)

Karie said...

I love it. Knowing that you guys hit the road again made me smile from way deep inside. Update often please! I love reading it.

photodestiny395 said...

Beautiful description & photos. It sounds like it's going to be a marvelous trip! Look forward to your next posting... Love, hugs & blessings to you both, Gary & Julia

Gregor said...

Wow! You bring me back to our visit many years ago, maybe we'll make it again you make it sound so good. We'll be following along and KNOW you'll love it all.

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hi Jennifer! Thanks so much for your comment. It's been a long time since we've blogged and it takes awhile to get back into the swing of things. I'm inspired to write again and I appreciate your support and encouragement. Take care, Karen

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hi Paula (and John!) Time really does fly, but we both feel that we are doing the right thing for this moment. There's a sense of pure freedom and true gratitude that we can do what we want to do. Thanks for your comment and support/encouragement! We're following your adventures as well. Isn't life grand?! Take care, Karen

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hi Karie! Thanks so much for your comment. I've always appreciated your support and encouragement. I'm so glad that you are following our journey. It was so great to meet you guys and I just know that we will meet up again and hang out awhile. In the meantime, how are you guys doing? Take care, Karen

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hi Gary and Julia, Thanks so much for your comment. I can't believe it's only been a month since we last saw you guys! We are doing well and getting back into the swing of traveling. I think it will be a wondrous trip - I'm looking forward to writing and taking pictures to share. So keep reading!! :) Take care, Karen.

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hi Gregor (and Janice!) Thanks for your comment. It's great to hear from you. I've always appreciated your support and encouragement. So far, Thailand has been amazing. We're excited/grateful to pursue our dreams of travel and am so happy that you will be following along. Take care, Karen.