42 hour in. After three years of making a home in Seattle I am reconnecting with the world traveler I used to identify as so clearly. It feels good.
Jonathan and I will be travelling together for nine weeks. Thailand, Nepal, France, Germany, Norway. Our destinations will all re-connect is with friends, family, and in Jonathan’s case his”other home” in the Himalayas. This is my first time in Thailand to Nepal and yet I already feel a sense of connection through Jonathan.
The first day and a half of our journey sets the tone: Our first stop over is Vancouver, BC. What a treat to be welcomed into Amy’s and Harry’s home, cooked for, offered a spot to stretch and nap before we board our 12-hour flight to Bangkok.
From the well wishes of friends to solidarity with strangers. As we get in line for the security check at the airport most of our fellow Asian travelers are wearing masks, a precaution against the remote but concerning possibility of being exposed to someone who might transmit the Corona virus that had been spreading across Asia and the world in recent weeks. I feel a pang of empathy with those I imagine might be from mainland China – they have reason to be frightened. We are being careful but aren’t overly concerned. Jonathan and I don our masks – the first I’ve every worn – and struggle against the claustrophobia of breathing against a piece of cloth. After a while though, we begin to get used to it and the masks stay on for the next 18 hours.
China Airlines (misleadingly named, as it is in fact Taiwan’s national carrier) turns out to be one of the nicest airlines I’ve ever flown with. Conveniences that have long been thrown overboard by most European and American lines are still served up here: slippers, cushy blankets, complimentary tooth brushes and hot towels, and a variety of tasty vegetarian meal options to choose from. They even play bird song over the speakers to lull us to sleep on this late night flight! The plane is so empty, Jonathan and I each stretch out over the seats and knock out for the next nine hours.
Eight more hours and a layover at Taipe airport later, we touch down in Bangkok. This is my first time in Thailand. First order of the day: shed a layer and free the toes! Ah, how liberating it feels to be in sandals and feel air on our skin after all those winter months in Seattle. Walking through the terminal I believe I can already smell a hint of Thai spices. First impressions riding the convenient skytrain into the city: dry fields interspersed by small residential areas. We are still on the outskirts of the 10 million resident capital, and we’ve arrived towards the end of the dry season. Then mosques and temples, then more and more sky scrapers looming left and right.
Wer exit the skytrain and finally feel the heat. 10 a.m. and it’s 30 degrees Celsius outside. The humidity envelops us and it feels so good. Crossing the bridge over a steady flow of traffic we spot a shrine with a pond of kois in a private courtyard. The smell of exhaust fumes, moist air and street food reminds me of the time I visited Vietnam. Smells like Southeast Asia. We walk a short distance with our heavy backpacks to our hostel, Home Mali. Jonathan has stayed here before and the owner and his wife and young daughter recognize him. They used to run a restaurant in Bend, Oregon! The space is modern, simple but with beautiful touches like tired floors in the bathroom and printed curtains around the dorm beds. The toilets are Western and it’s okay to flush toilet paper – luxury.
My first Thai street food adventure awaits. We head around the corner into an alleyway that turns out to be dominated by Muslim restauranteurs. Malay looking men and women offer curries and rotis in one stall next to another. We pass a mosque just as the Muezzin begins his call to prayer. It is broadcast over loudspeakers along the entire length of the alley. Delivery trucks, cards, mopeds, and bikes move next to pedestrians through the narrow street. They neither slow down but honk as they pass us. Apparently everyone is expected to anticipate everyone else’s moves. Yearning for refreshment and a treat after 30 hours of travel, I buy my first iced Thai tea with foamed milk – delicious! For the equivalent of 2 US Dollars we buy a coconut curry, a vegetable soup with pork, steamed rice and taro wrapped in banana leaves, and a sweet-salty-spicy noodle dish. They are all packed hot and fresh from the stove into little plastic bags which we carry back to the hostel to enjoy while little Mali is watching an American cartoon dubbed into Cantonese in the background.
Time to head out into the city now. It’s just a short walk from the hostel to the river and Express Boat stop. There is Wi-Fi, a live screen, detailed route information in English and Thai,a the first of many posters we will see throughout the day explaining how to take precautions against the Corona virus. I am impressed.
We get in nearly 20,000 steps that afternoon. Discover a Hindu temple with an extraordinary thorny tree with exotic flowers growing in the courtyard,n to a pond with tiny fish and a purple lotus flower rising out of the water. As we peak into the temple dedicated to Ganesh we spot a family dressed all in white blessing a baby. We walk around the huge grounds of the Royal palace. It is closed already but we can see the gorgeously decorated colorful spires rising from the complex. I drink coconut water straight from the fruit, chilled. I’m starting to feel exhausted. It is just too humid here to wear the mask, although we see many Thais protecting themselves. So I am breathing in a lot of exhaust fumes with humidity as we walk and walk on concrete roads. The body needs time to adjust to this radical climatic transition. Thankfully we reach Wat Pho, the Temple of the giant golden reclining Buddha. The statue is mind-boggling. After surrounding it, we rest on a bench in the courtyard as the haze begins to clear and the late afternoon sun turns the sky pale pink, reflecting gloriously off the golden embellishments on the roofs of the Wat. I stretch out my tired legs, close my eyes and he listened to the Twitter of birds in the trees above. A cool breeze brings relief to my burning cheeks and ruffles my dress.
A papaya salad and omelette reinvigorate us just enough to catch a took took to the Flower Market. This extraordinary place runs 24/7 but truly comes to life at night. Hundreds of vendors are assembling spectacular flower arrangements of marigolds, roses, and frangipani. Delivery boys in pink vests move swiftly to load the fragrant goods onto wheelbarrows and deliver them to their destinations. It’s an astonishing sight and spectacular ending to our first fabulous day in Thailand.