Travel Diary: A Passage to Bangkok

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” – Buddha

So here I have been in Bangkok for a week. There have been so many cultural differences I’m not sure where to start. I guess let me first tell you about my journey here (because those are always nothing short of amusing).

My flight left the LAX airport at 1:30 in the morning. That’s right, the first part of my journey began when most are catching hearty little z’s. My 13-hour flight was about to be underway. Stuck in one of the longest security lines, I met a nice little Jewish man who happened to live in Austin back in the day. He ran a quirky little shop that sold “vintage” clothes in the 60’s… so think wacky 30’s clothing to 1960’s hipsters. Talking with him was interesting enough because he too was headed to Bangkok..but on another flight. Will we run into one another while I’m here…who knows.

I slept for 8 hours of that journey. Spent a good hour talking with the nice Chinese man next to me, and spent the rest of the time catching up on American movies and tv. Thirteen hours later I landed in Beijing – the first stop to my journey. My layover in this smog-ridden city happened to be nine whole hours. But after consulting with my Chinese advisor, she told me due to traffic and security I wouldn’t be able to see much of the city if at all so I decided to stay put in the airport for the total of my layover.

Fun fact: If you have a long layover in China (at specific airports like Beijing and Shanghai) you do not need to acquire a visa to go out of the airport and see these cities – but only if your stay does not exceed 24 hours and you have proof of travel outside of the country.

So, the Beijing airport is AMAZING. It’s so clean and has all these amazing structures like these:

Structure inside Beijing International Airport

There were also moon cakes EVERYWHERE. Unfortunately, everything was fairly pricey because it was inside the airport which kept me from buying all the things. But, alas, after nine hours, I was on my next flight to Bangkok.

The first things I saw upon entering the airport was all the ads posted up about skin whitening lotions and all I could think was…I’m definitely not in America anymore.

I walked out of the airport, Thai Bahts in hand and went to retrieve a taxi. Thailand has a quirky system set up and the taxi must be retrieved through a machine. You take a number and it directs you to which port to find your taxi. Always tell the taxi driver you want the meter or they will charge you a crazy amount. Expressways are the fastest way to travel and cost 50 Baht to enter. Luckily, my hostel gave me all these instructions beforehand or I would have been a completely lost duckling.

Walking up to my hostel I noticed shoes lying about the doorway. A sign stating no shoes were allowed inside. I was not about to take my hiking boots off with a load of backpacks attached to me so I walked in and took my chances. To my pleasure, no one was too upset about my decision but did let me know I could not take my shoes with me upstairs. According to Thai custom, it is extremely rude to wear shoes in to the place where someone lives/sleeps. I’m pretty sure this is why everyone simply wears slippers.

I fell asleep almost immediately after I tucked away my things and got a shower. I mean, completely PASSED OUT – at 9:00 pm.

Exactly my feelings day one of my arrival.

And then woke up at 6:00 am.

I had a full 5 hours to kill until my driver would come get me and take me to my new accommodations for the next month. So I did some reading and ate breakfast. I was in no mood for exploring.

I came to Bangkok on a whim. I found flight tickets, and decided to make something of my trip instead of only exploring the countryside as I did in Europe. So I looked up volunteering opportunities and found one I knew I could get excited about. So, I’ll be living in Bangkok for the month of September working with a women’s shelter.

Luckily, the next two days with my volunteer organization proved to be quite exhilarating. I was given an orientation about the program, Thai culture, language, and food. I would work alongside six other girls who were also first-timers in Thailand. We were shown Siam Center (the giant shopping mall), different Buddhist temples, the skytrain, and the Chatuchak market.

Chatuchak market reminded me so much of the bazaar in Turkey, and then made me crave Turkish kabob something terrible. But the homemade coconut ice cream I found made up for the lack of pitas and gyros in the market square.

I have mixed feelings about volunteering abroad. The International Relations major in me sees it as a “white savior” project: where white people from western countries go to developing countries to “help.” There has been a lot of research about this phenomena that proves volunteering abroad does not really have a positive effect on the locals. You can find some tasty articles about it here and here. Volunteerism is a way to feel as if you are “saving” those who are less “blessed” or less “lucky” as you. It has also been said to be the anti (or reverse) colonialism: white people going to colonized countries as a way to make up for the bad or unfortunate circumstances that colonialism left behind.

Whatever the reason, it exists.

As for why I chose to volunteer abroad, I would be lying to say it wasn’t somewhat self-interested. I wanted to get to know a culture more in-depth and be able to give back while doing so.

After combing through pages of options, I found an organization that places volunteers with different nonprofits in different cities. One of those cities happened to be Bangkok. The project I’m working with would be with a women’s empowerment shelter. It was a little unclear what I would be doing at first, but working with women has always been my passion. I’ve formed women’s groups, had all women’s dinner parties, taught women to drive, and established women’s only English classes.

Essentially, my favorite thing in the world is giving a woman the tools she needs to be super successful in a man’s world.

I found out after my orientation I would be working with a home that shelters pregnant women. These women find themselves in desperate, vulnerable, and undesirable situations, pregnant with nowhere to go. They can stay at this home during their pregnancies and then after giving birth to their child (children in the case of multiples such as twins), and can stay up to two months to help figure out what their next steps are. The place is called Home of Grace and if you are interested in learning more about their program you can find out more through their website here. I’ll write more on these situations and what helps create these kinds of vulnerabilities in Thai society later on.

Although I know this entry isn’t as fun and wild as my last few travel diaries, my first week has been slow going.
It’s all about easing myself into a culture very unlike my own and being comfortable with this kind of new world around me.

Buddha statues outside a temple

I promise after my trip to Kanchanaburi and Ayutthaya this weekend, all the stories will begin to unfold.

As far as how I’m liking Bangkok so far – I can’t say I’m a love-sick puppy. I’m more amused than anything else. Amused with how taxi’s will either refuse you or try to take advantage, amused with wai and elephant pants, and ultimately amused with how much I’m continuing to learn about myself (and how much I enjoy elephant pants…and coconut ice cream…and all the mango sticky rice…and being in the land of red beans and green tea matcha….).

The Vihara of the Reclining Buddha

Until next week.

Sawadeeka!

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