Travelogue Asia 2017: Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand (an unexpected lesson)

Asia, blog, Travel

(Hello! Keep reading to the end, I promise the story gets more exciting!)

It was a quick flight from Singapore to Bangkok. Upon arriving we navigated our way from the airport to the central train station.

I traveled to Thailand a loooong time ago when I was a child. At the time, my uncle was working in Bangkok and our family went to visit his family. But I remember so little – an elephant, a busy street, a jewelry shop, street food – that I wasn’t even sure if parts of the memory were fabricated. So I was excited to experience the country again and for myself.

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Despite being in an unfamiliar environment, parts of Thailand just felt familiar. Perhaps it’s the other parts of Asia that connected with what I was seeing in Thailand. We decided to immediately leave Bangkok and travel north to Chiang Mai, later our plan was to return to Bangkok and explore the city near the end of our time in Thailand.

When we were planning several months ago we weren’t sure if we should travel south of Bangkok, instead of north. Luckily we went with north because at the time the southern parts of the country were experiencing floods and stormy weather.

Instead of flying both ways to Chiang Mai, we decided to take a train on the way there and a flight on the way back. I love trains! But the sleeper trains (ones that travel overnight) are a little bit of a different story. These trains are a little bit (more) rough, you definitely remove some of the regular comforts of home like a clean toilet and comfy bed, but you trade those things for an experience that focuses on moving slowly. It was still a lot better than my train experience in China.

I like monkeying up to the top bunks and just watching people interact below. The loud laughter at the beginning of the train ride always dwindle to a soft chuckles exchanged between bunks as the sun sets and the train lights dim. The rattling of the train at some point transforms from disorienting to soothing. I find myself staring out the window often and thinking and reflecting on everything from the way the landscape changes to the meaning of travel.

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Chaing Mai is kind of a mini backpacker’s paradise. When we arrived at the train station is was a small exodus of foreigners, all with 60L backpacks. Some were lone travelers and others were in groups. The city is the largest and most important city in northern Thailand. We found our accommodation and settled in for a while before heading out to explore the city. Just passing by the city in our cab, we saw many different temples. Within the remains of ancient walls embrace over 30 temples.

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Actually, we found out after booking our trip that both the Maldives and Chiang Mai, Thailand made New York Times “52 Places to Go in 2017”. Guess us tourism master’s students are ahead of the game!

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Despite the chaos bustling in the city and streets, it was amazing that Chiang Mai was just at the foothills of the mountains. And escape didn’t seem so far away.

Food!

What a joy to be eating Asian food. The spices, the flavours, the colours! I’m not a picky eater and actually, all most all food makes me happy – but new/familiar flavours definitely sparked excitement. One famous dish of this region is, Khao soi (ข้าวซอย) that is made with yellow egg noodles served in a coconut milk curry.

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There was only one dish, all of the small and big meals, I ate where I felt like it was too spicy. It was a fish wrapped in a banana leaf, and my mouth was on fire. I couldn’t even taste the fish! But I soothed the burning with, what grew to be, one of my favourite dishes: mango sticky rice. Seriously it was so tasty with the sweet coconut milk and flavourful mangoes, that I had it twice one day.

I love the photos of street food stalls at night. The bright fluorescent light is so contrasting to the darkness surrounding it. The light illuminating from the tiny spaces that the food stalls occupy draw you toward the food. People shuffle in between other people and stalls to bargain and sample different food.

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Temples and Mountains

We took a rót daang (‘red truck’) or a more casual type of taxi, which took us to different temples. The road was windy as our driver navigated the mountain road, but he said he drove this road so many times he could do it with his eyes closed. I believed him with the way he effortlessly weaved left and right and passed other cars.

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – the temple is often referred to as “Doi Suthep”

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Oh! Joy to be in nature once again!

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As interesting as temples are – filled with history, tradition, and rituals – I will only understand it at the very surface with my limited knowledge about the religion. I’m more interested in seeing how people live, day-to-day. I love being an observer when I travel, for me, this is the source of curiosity. I think that the people’s way of life says more about the place than the famed attractions.

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Walking the streets both day and night in search of food!

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The following day, I was feeling burnt out from the constant movement. I decided to have a more relaxed day. One of my friends agreed that a more peaceful day might be nice change of pace. The other two were keen to see an elephant and visit an elephant sanctuary. We decided to start our day with breakfast together. Our friend read about a nice restaurant, not even 2km away, so we started our walk.

As we’re walking I look on the opposite side of the road and I noticed a girl, probably around the same age as me, crying – almost hysterically. She was surrounded by several people who look a little distraught and confused. Suddenly my attention snaps off her and towards my leg. It’s an aggressive looking dog just inches away from my leg. This dog attacked my leg and bite me twice before I found myself stumbling backward. With the swift jerk of my friend’s hand on my arm, I ran across the street.

Suddenly I found myself sitting on a plastic chair next to the girl we just saw across the street. She was still crying. Sh was in a lot of pain, I could tell at one glance at her face. I look down at her leg… blood. My head connected the dots. She was bitten too. We’re at the hospital and two stretcher roll towards us. I tell the girl to lie down first. She is from China. My friends help call her family and sort out my insurance. I was so grateful for my friends. We both go into the emergency room.

The pain was slowly increasing, but it was still very manageable. The doctor approached me and briefly explained that they’re going to inject pain killer in my thigh first. Then they explained that they will put several injections into and around the wound. It must have been adrenaline that curbed the pain because it wasn’t until the needle I really felt my leg hurting. My friends stepped out of the hospital during the treatment. They came back with orange juice and watermelon slices! My favourites! The also bring a flower stem. I’m so touched. I sip and munched as we wait for a cab to take us away several hours after the accident. Before we leave, I find Goh and give her the flower stem, I thanked her for her bravery and wish her a safe and fast recovery.

Even with this, my friend laughed about how I could still smile. I’ve learned a lot from this experience and I am thankful for my friends who (literally) carried me through the pain. The rest of the day I was resting in bed. It was incredibly difficult to walk and I was instructed to return to the hospital every day for at least a week to monitor and clean the wound. I was supposed to keep traveling, and in that moment I was torn – to stop the journey or continue?

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The hardest moment of this experience was that I was supposed to continue traveling to India after Thailand. Mentality, I felt like I could continue this journey, but physically my body was saying “no”.

It’s a feeling of seeing the summit of a mountain, but turning around because it’s unsafe to continue. How much is too much? I wanted so badly to taste and experience the wonders and beauties of India (Mumbai, Chandigarh, Shimla, Jaipur, Agra…) but in the end, I decided to end the journey inThailand and go directly to Slovenia for school.

I was reminded by a dear friend and my parents that India will always be there, but my health is the most important thing. My impressions of Thailand haven’t changed because of this small injury. I was touched by the kindness of the Thai people and overwhelmed by the love from my friends (near and far). I am so grateful for a new adventure in Slovenia, there isn’t words to express my gratitude for my master’s program that has allowed me to explore different cultures and part of the Earth. I will return to India one day soon! 

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Finding myself in nature. Expressing myself through art, writing and photography. Join me on this adventure!