Thailand Is As Transformational As You've Seen On Instagram
I decided to travel to Thailand for a couple of fake reasons. I’ve always had a huge issue with saving money, so I told myself that if I had a goal which required me to save a X amount of money, I could to do it...right? Right.I also was itching to do something fun for my birthday in February, which was about four months away at this point. So I thought, where can I travel to that is somewhat affordable and realistic? I had never really thought much about Thailand until I noticed that a different person from high school or college was posting beautiful pictures of Thailand on Instagram like every other week. So, I did a little research (by a little I literally mean Googling “how cheap is Thailand?”) and was dead set.
So there ya have it. I’m going to Thailand because
1. It’s cheap
2. It’s gorgeous
3. I really just want to fucking travel.
Anyone who has travelled before understands “the bug”. You fiend for the adventure and the freedom that only travelling can give you. You miss having no agenda, no obligations and no worries other than if your hostel is legitimate or a total scam, and even if it is a total scam, you’re really not that worried. My best friend Dallas loved the idea too and decided to join me. We did our research, figured out a rough timeline and booked a hostel or two, but otherwise, we went in pretty blind. I had no idea what Thai culture was like, didn’t really know what the cities were all about and only had a couple of definite places/things I needed to see. So a couple weeks after I turned 24, we packed our backpacks and took off for 16 days.
I won’t go into detail about what has already been said about Thailand. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: Thailand is breathtakingly gorgeous. Everywhere you go is different, but the people are the common thread that tie it all together. Bangkok is insane, busy, stressful and electrifying. Chiang Mai and Pai are more laid back, they feel a little more homey and the jungle lifestyle is right up my alley. The islands are unreal. The beaches are paradise, the lifestyle is almost too chill and you feel like it can’t be the same country that you were in a week prior.
Overall summary of Thailand:
Amazing + Stunning + Comfortable + Intriguing + A Grand Ol’ Time.
What I really want to speak on is what Thailand taught me about what it means to be human. I’ve been to Europe a couple times and thought THAT was culture shock for an American, but let me tell ya…. Thailand is culture shock for an American. I was very cautious and somewhat uptight my first two days there. Granted, Bangkok is a crazy city to be thrown into. The streets are absolute MADNESS and the people are slightly more aggressive than other parts of the country, albeit charming. English is a rarity (boo-hoo, privileged white American!!) and the only foods I recognized on menus were fried rice and pad thai (both deliciously feeding me for the first three days, nonetheless.) But as I grew less jetlagged and more at ease, I realized there was nothing to worry about. In our first 48 hours, Dallas and I would learn how gracious, kind, helpful and genuine the people of Thailand are, and would only continue to learn this over the course of our trip.
Uptight, scared, slightly rude and judgmental tourist moment #1 occurred our first morning in Bangkok. The day we arrived we had explored a little bit but ended up passing out at 8 PM due to jet lag and waking up around 7 AM the next morning. We got ready for our first full day, but had no idea what to eat for breakfast due to the overwhelming amount of street vendors selling foreign looking meat morsels. So we ended up buying some fruit and muffins from a grocery store and literally eating on a planter box on a street corner.
While sticking out like two sore thumbs for a multitude of reasons, we were approached by a tall, welcoming Thai man who asked us where we were from, told us how much he hates Donald Trump and then offered to drive us around the city in his Tuk Tuk for 40 baht. He even brought us to a travel agent who helped book our hostels and trains for the remainder of our trip! Wow! So much kindness out of the blue from a total stranger! First reaction: NO!!!!!!!! We know we look like dumbass American idiots, but we aren’t THAT dumb, sir!!! Umm hello, we’ve been to Paris before and we know how this works: we give you 40 baht, you drive us to one landmark and then leave us stranded there as we facepalm each other for being so gullible! No thank you, please leave us be with our muffins and dirty eating area!
Even after we kindly declined, he continued to pursue. He asked us what our plans for the day were, where we were going after Bangkok etc etc, and we quickly realized that we were totally clueless. Apparently the park we had been planning on visiting that day was actually like a private royal palace that wasn’t open to the public. So ya, off to a good start...
He showed us a map of his route that included four famous Buddha statues in Bangkok with a pit stop at the travel agency and ending at our final destination of the day, The Grand Palace. Here’s the thing; 40 baht is equivalent to about $1.25. It’s literally nothing. We had no idea what we were doing or where we were going so we said “fuck it, bitch”. Let’s see where this takes us and worst comes to worst we’re stranded and $1.25 short.
So we jump in a Tuk Tuk (basically like a motor-cab-bike-car… if you know, you know) and were driven to our first Buddha statue and essentially, our first tourist attraction in Thailand. Tuk Tuk man brings us to three more stunning statues, and even takes some selfies with us whilst wearing my Ray Ban aviators that he asked to borrow. This guy is awesome and even though there is a slight language barrier we are all laughing, chatting and thriving while being carted around in this new type of car in a new city for the first time. It was thoroughly enjoyable on so many levels.
Tuk Tuk man would literally sit in his parked tuk tuk for 15 minutes as we explored and then take us to the next place when we were ready. When he brought us to the travel agent, the thing we were most weary about, the sweetest mother figure angel queen walked us through our trip, booked us all our hostels, busses, taxis and ferries. It was unnaturally easy. Literally all we did was tell her where we wanted to go and when we wanted to be there, she made some calls, we gave her money and she gave us receipts. Keep in mind, she booked almost two full weeks of accommodations for under $300 each. We didn’t even bring enough money out with us but she said we could go back to the hotel to grab it and she would bring us our receipts later. Once again, we thought, if this is all a big scam, at least it’s not all our money and we will learn our lesson???? But ALSO once again, by some miracle, it all worked out. Almost every hotel, bus and ferry that she said would be waiting for us was waiting for us on the day that it was promised. Only ONE taxi didn’t show up to the airport to bring us to our hotel in Koh Sumui, and we were reimbursed from said hotel upon arrival for the money we paid to get there. Seriously… The hotel paid us for a taxi that they had no affiliation with. You guys… Thai people are the best.
Okay, but for real, Thailand survives off tourism. Everywhere you go and look, there’s tourists. As a tourist, though, you feel more integrated into the culture than you do in, say, Europe. Thai people WANT to help you, because it in turn helps them. And they don’t want to fuck you over, because that fucks them over in the long run. Since tourists are going to blab their mouths on social media complaining about how many times they were scammed or attacked or taken advantage of, and then their friends won’t want to go visit and so on and so forth. Although I’m sure Thai people are sick of dealing with foreigners left and right and think we’re idiots most of the time, they don’t let you know that. They’re sweet, welcoming and helpful because they want you to like them.
Every local I met, I liked. There was the taxi driver whose car broke down in the middle of the freeway, who called his fellow taxi-driver-friend to come pick us up and finish our trip. The restaurant server who sold us the most delicious breakfast of our entire life when he could tell that we were hungover and in dire need of greasy sausage. The bartender at the one gay bar we went to who drove me to my hotel across town and back to the bar when I told them I forgot something in my room. The street vendors who put up with my “I want this shirt for fifty cents less” bargaining. And the hotel front desk guy who dealt with my flirting for two days and finally gave in with a solid make out sesh at the bar we ran into him at on our last night in town (full story to come…) I never met someone who treated me with disrespect or seemed malicious. It sounds simple, but it was painstakingly noticeable, especially when coming from and going back to Los Angeles.
It’s very common to travel with intention. You go somewhere new, you’re out of your comfort zone, every experience is a new one. You travel to ~find yourself~ or ~realize things~ or ~escape reality~ or ~find perspective~ or ~some other tacky two word quote that you see in a tumblr post that is easily relatable to any situation, therefore is SOOO you.~ I get it, and everyone has their own experience, but I don’t believe in travelling in search of something specific. To me, travelling is about leaving your day to day routine to experience different ways of living. It’s so easy to get caught up in the present, to be stressed about your job and relationships, to feel like you’re going nowhere fast and free falling at 100 mph into a dark abyss at the same time.
Right before I left for Thailand, I was over it all. I began hating the restaurant job I used to love, I hadn’t done anything creative in ages, I didn’t have anything to look forward to and I was essentially in the same place I had been almost a year before. Turning 24 made me feel old and stuck. Some of my closest friends were thriving around me, and while I was happy for them, I felt shitty about myself. This trip could not have come at a better time. I needed a break from my home, my job, my routine, my safety net. And if you’ve ever been to Thailand, or anywhere in South East Asia, I assume, you know that it is DIFF. ER. ENT. It wakes you up, it energizes you and it keeps you on your toes in all the best ways. Part of the difference is how cheap it is for most visitors. I mean, look, I like to live a champagne life on a beer budget most of the time, but I feel the bitter day to day effects of that lifestyle often. Lets be honest, it is more like I am living the Andre $7 XL bottle champagne life than the Don Perignon.
In Thailand, Dallas and I lived like kings on a peasant's budget. Private rooms in cute ass beach bungalows, three course meals with cocktails to accompany, full day excursions in different cities, and shopping at every street market we stumbled across. At the end of the two weeks, we spent all the money we had saved for the trip, but did way more than we ever expected. While living this faux-bougie life, you get to see more things, meet more people and live more experiences than you normally would. This gave us the opportunity to delve into the culture to an extent I would’ve never expected. We did some touristy things here and there (a day at an elephant sanctuary- crucial, a day snorkeling in Koh Tao- beautiful) but for the most part we just walked around each city, wandering into different shops, restaurants, temples and markets along the way. It was less about “seeing the sites” and more about getting to know the city, which is how I prefer to travel. With this kind of experience, we learned more and more about true Thai culture each day. It also allowed us to meet so many fellow travellers from all over the world.
I love meeting people knowing that I most likely will never see them again. Something about the idea of befriending someone who’s only known connection to you is that you happen to be in the same city at the same time is so thrilling. You are meeting the most authentic version of this person, because who gives a fuck what you think about them. I love hearing what they have to say about their trip, why they’re travelling, what they’ve done and what they do back home. Inversely, I feel comfortable opening up to this stranger because, for the first time in probably a long time, I’m talking to some who who has absolutely no preconceived notions or bias about me. Sure, there’s always the few people who you really get to spend some time with and add on Instagram or Facebook, but for the most part, these people come into your life for a brief period of time and then leave it for good, and that’s beautiful to me. I was able to talk to so many different people from different backgrounds, doing different things, living different lives and thinking different thoughts.
Like I said earlier, I don’t travel with specific intent. I know that the experience will mean something to me in the end, but I refuse to start with something in mind. Thailand taught me was how much variety exists within the human experience. No matter where you’re from, or what you believe in, we are all one species. We are plainly, simply, unmistakably human. What we do with that existence is where we differ. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area knowing that one day I wanted to live in LA, become an entertainer and live the grandiose life of fame and fortune. My six years in LA have been nothing short of spectacular. It was exactly what I needed and wanted for my college and post-grad years. And yet, at 24, I feel like I’m drowning in calm waters, and I hate that. My dreams and aspirations haven’t changed, but my outlook on how to achieve them has. Now, suddenly all the way across the world, I’m meeting people who packed up and left their routine to teach English in Bangkok, or spend a year exploring Asia, or live in Tokyo with their army husband, or get scuba certified Koh Tao, or simply take advantage of all the possibilities that this planet has to offer. And I’m sitting here like… HOLY SHIT Y’ALL. Less than two weeks prior, I knew nothing of this part of the world. My brain waves weren’t even reaching past LA County. My entire future was where I planted myself because that’s where I needed to be at one point. The idea of trying something new, something different, scary and uncomfortable didn’t even cross my mind.
Because of Thailand, I can’t stop thinking about what else is out there. I’m obsessing over the stories of the strangers I met who, by the way, have no idea the impact they left on me. I found thrills in other people’s stories and inspiration in their fearlessness. This is news to no one, but surprise surprise: you have one life to live as the person you are right now. One chance to not only make shit happen for yourself, but to make the most of your time along the way. As someone who used to NEED structure, purpose and deadlines, I’m learning to thrive off of the opposite. I get my fix from living carefree and seeing where this life takes me. It’s not always going to be easy, in fact I think embracing fate and following the universe’s signs can be one of the hardest things there is to do. But there is no checklist to life. There’s no step by step manual on how to get to where you want to be. There is no right, there is no wrong. There’s just you and your decisions. If something feels right, embrace it. It could blow up in your face or it could blossom into your dreams, but if you don’t light the match then there is no fire.
And with that, as the poet that I’ve been known to be, I will end this post. Take a chance, live your truth, do whatever the fuck you want to do. I’ve had three glasses of wine in the process of typing this and I’m ready to take on the world!!! At the end of the day, we’re all same same, but different.