A Speed Date With Bangkok
The instant my plane touched down in Bangkok a sense of relief swept through my entire body. I think the initial feeling actually came from having survived the most turbulent 13-hour flight of my life, but deep down I was most relieved knowing that my wait was finally over.
For six months, I had been harboring anticipation for the second half of our trip. For those who don’t know what that’s like, the feeling of deep anticipation is like carrying around a 40-pound backpack. The longer you wear it, the heavier it feels, and the heavier it feels, the more you want to take it off (which is not the best feeling after a while). Even before Jeremy and I left home six months ago, I had been anticipating my return to Asia, so let me tell you, my back was getting pretty damn sore. But that touch down was my moment – the moment of sweet, weightless relief. I was there, in Thailand, at the beginning of Part 2 and five long-awaited months in South East Asia.
I only had two days in Bangkok before my bus to Koh Tao, and with Jeremy spending a few extra weeks in Colombia with a friend, I had the whole city to myself. Well, not literally…. Who am I kidding. Bangkok is crazy! There were people, animals, tuk-tuks, temples, and hot pink taxis everywhere. (And did I mention it was New Years?) It wasn’t long before I was picked up by a couple other travelers and thrown into the hoard of tourists and locals that swarmed the streets, maneuvering through Khao San Road in sensory overload. As I walked, the lights, colors, music, and smells consumed me. Khao San road is the touristy part of the city and is lined with rows upon rows of vendors selling everything from dragon fruit shakes and full body massages to bronze statues of Buddha and scorpions on a stick. It’s an incredible scene with an energetic vibe that never sleeps.
One reason I love Asian cities more than others I’ve visited is because within the craziness of you can still feel the calm of the people. For the first time in six months, I didn’t feel nervous to walk the streets. I wasn’t worried about being alone at night. In Thailand, the majority of the people are Buddhists and everywhere I went, people were full of smiles and honest generosity. One person even stopped what they were doing to help us cross a busy intersection. Day one and I was already falling for this place.
What I loved most about my speed-date with Bangkok, however, were the temples. Every few blocks, just as I was starting to tire of all the hustle and bustle, I’d find myself at the entrance of a temple. Stepping out of my shoes and through the open gates, my ambient environment would change immediately. In just a few steps, the busy street chatter was hushed to a low murmur, and the pungent smell of sizzling food shifted to a sweet aroma of cut flowers and incense. Covered in shimmering gold and colorful mosaics, these temples were clearly more than just impressive works of art.
Cross-legged on the floor, I sat for a long time in front of that towering gold statue. After several minutes of admiring the intricacy and the careful placement and constant replacement of offerings, I began thinking more about the people. Buddhism teaches people to follow a highly moral code which encourages compassion and moderation while shunning self-indulgence and anti-socialness. Some seek true enlightenment, or Nirvana, an undefinable, blissful state of being. Others seek merely to be reborn higher up on the incarnation scale. Buddhists believe that it is their good and bad actions that determine the “ranking” of their next incarnation (a little something most of us know as karma). One of Buddhism’s most inspiring principles, in my opinion, is that Buddhists are taught to recognize that the world we live in is ever-changing, just as our lives and ourselves are impermanent. It is this understanding which frees them from craving and valuing material possessions, and instead, continue to strive for intangible perfection.
Sitting in the temple, I watched in wonder as people of all ages bowed their head to the floor in prayer. What were they murmuring? What were they thinking? What was the monk in the corner saying to them? I was in total amazement and fascination. How can there exist such a peaceful culture within such a crazy city?
My two-day speed date with Bangkok ended as all good dates should – with a hangover. In my two days of knowing Bangkok I visited all of the nearby temples, walked half-way around the city, sampled every street food I could, and discovered that the alcohol content un Chang beer is not to be trusted. Waving good-bye, I hopped on a bus (then ferry) to my real destination, the tropical island of Koh Tao.
Koh Tao is one of the smallest islands in the Gulf of Thailand and is known for having some of the best scuba diving in Thailand. That is basically all I knew about the island before I decided to sign up for a 4-week diving course with SimpleLife Divers. But as I filed on to the ferry with about 100 other passengers, I felt nothing but happiness. It was a new year, I was in a new country, surrounded by an inspiring culture, and on my way to fulfill another life dream: becoming a Scuba DiveMaster.