I shouldn't have gone to Thailand, but I did.
I shouldn’t have gone to Thailand, but I did. I flew the nineteen hours from the west coast of the United States to Bangkok. I stayed in the hostels I had read about in every backpackers guide and I ate the extremely inexpensive street foods from carts surrounded by hoards other travels and tourists on Koh San Road. I snapped photos of every Wat I passed while wandering the streets lined with monks and smiles. I saw the Reclining Buddha and waited in line to enter the Grand Palace. I experienced Thailand and it may be one of the biggest regrets of my life.
Six months before I landed in Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, I was sliding into depression. I was in a relationship that was clearly not panning out, signed into an apartment lease in a city I had just met and had a lot of free time to spend by myself due to my then job as a freelancer. I spent most of my time gawking at travel sites, reminiscing on past trips to European countries and trying to juggle stability and a pining to run away.
My track record had shown that getting up and moving across country or to a completely new continent had never solved any of my problems. My first trip abroad had ended a relationship and put strains on my friendships back home. The habit of trying a new place instead of a new practice was abundant in my routine but this time I was changing. I wouldn’t run from these fears again, even though I spent countless hours planning faux trips.
I would scour the internet for bucket list locations. Looking up flights, and the best places to stay and read forums and blogs from other travels on what they experienced while on the road. I would budget out how much it would cost for these various locations and the best times of years to visit. I would strategize what I would need to pack and researched regional cuisine. I planned hundreds of trips for absolutely no intention to ever embark on any of them. I was trying to fill a void with an imaginary itinerary and it worked, for a while. It was travel masterbation.
I needed a way to go and stay at the same time. See I needed to go for myself, but I needed to be home for any chance of improving my relationship and my “real life.” A vacation! I didn’t have to travel for months on end, I could get a taste and come right back. If I gave my significant other ample warning and a good excuse, booking my trip for my birthday week, it would have to work.
I began slow, casually mentioning in July that I wanted to take a trip for my birthday in January, ample time. A few weeks later I set a location and made it known, squeezing in Thailand into any conversation that it seemed to fit.
“Hey babe, what do you want to eat tonight?”
“ I don’t know, I heard Thailand has really great soups?”
This plan was flawless. When it came time to book flights and lodging, Chiang Mai had become nearly a household name.
My first hurdle came when I told her I was going for 3 weeks, to which she replied a straight “No.” When she pushed the fear of rent into my already stretched wallet, my stretched vacation was slimmed to nine days. Nine days to see an entire country more foreign than anything I had ever experienced was not enough. Again the trip was getting trimmed as I chose two major cities to visit instead of the initial five I had planned.
Nevertheless I persisted, telling myself that I would just wake early and stay up late and pack in as many experiences as I could. The second bump in the road came in the realities of international travel. In my pure naivety I hadn’t taken into account the time it would take me just to get to the land of smiles. Nineteen hours of flying hit my gut like I had swallowed an anchor. Again I persisted. Ok, nine days minus nineteen hours both ways that still gives me a full week to explore, I can do this. The anxiety I was feeling was heightened with my realization that nineteen hours of flying was being stretched across three separate flights with hours of layovers in between. Nine days of pure Thai exploration had now been severed into five.
Five days to explore a country I had dreamt about for five years. A business week to experience a culture that was completely alien and raised hairs on my neck even thinking about. It was heart wrenching but it didn’t matter, I had made it this far and I was so set on this trek that I probably would have gone with only five hours to experience everything.
Landing in Bangkok I had a backpack with a weeks worth of clothes and a camera, train tickets, and hostels booked and I had five days before I would be right back where I started. I did everything I had planned on doing to make the most of those fleeting days. Waking up before sunrise everyday to walk with lines of monks wrapped in saffron robes and not returning to my hostel until every tourist and Thai party goer had long been asleep. I took photos every few minutes at every Wat and food cart I crossed. Every night upon returning to whichever hostel I had booked for the evening, I would lay in bed after showering the days sweat and Tuk Tuk fumes away and diligently plan my route for the next day, later calculating that I walked an estimated 30 miles a day for 5 days.
I was motivated by a desperation to see every corner of every city block I could before my time was up. I rushed through everything. Seeing temples at light speed, snatching deep fried crickets and Pad Thai from food stalls as I moved through crowds of lady boys and market goers. I dodged around groups of middle aged men and women on guided tours of the Grand Palace. I shed tears next to strangers in a packed tour van on the way back to my hostel after visiting the tiger temples and seeing the pour treatment of such incredible creatures. My feet moved faster than my mind could keep up with and I found myself lost at a temple in the middle of a monsoon somewhere in the foothills of Chiang Mai which lead to an impromptu tour from a young Thai man practicing to be a monk. The longest times I stayed in one place was while on a sleeper train moving from Bangkok to Thailand’s northern region and while I spoke for an hour with a Japanese man at a train station so that he could practice his English.
Inevitably the days of pure exhausted exploration had to end, I boarded a plane back to Seattle and back to normality. The worst part of any trip is often the return, not only because it is over, but because no one cares as much as you do. You can tell your friends and family about your experiences and no matter how much they try to humor you, it is always shrouded in a disappointing complacency. Your experience was not theres and they cannot reflect the same emotions evoked in you when retelling your journey. So was the case with me.
Time rolled on and averageness ensued once again. Eventually my relationship hit its final wall and we went our separate way. Her sighting my trip as the beginning of the end in heated argument towards its conclusion. This is not why I regret going to Thailand.
I regret going to Thailand because as much as I had tried to see it all, in the end it was a pleasant blur left on my memory. I regret not sticking to my guns and completing the experience on my terms. I regret rushing and perceiving everything that Thailand has to offer at light speed. When I think back to every encounter I had while in one of my favorite countries, it plays out in fuzzy images next to photos on my memory card. The smells are muted and the sounds muffled. I regret going to Thailand, a country overflowing with life changing moments and not giving myself the time to drink it all in. Thailand did change my life though. It taught me to be more mindful of my time and my perception of new challenges and interactions. To slow down and soak in the details around me. It changed the way I view my own goals and it made me more thoughtful of the parts of life that my soul craves and for that I regret nothing.