Thursday, March 22, 2012
Thailand: Traveling to and Navigating Bangkok On My Own
"Will he be happy to see me?" I fretted. "What if he thinks I'm crashing on his trip when he was looking forward to getting away without me?" All those concerns were squashed when a week after leaving, A. would not stop emailing and sending me messages about how much he missed me and wished I were there. "We'll get our chance, I promise you," I replied. Little did he know that just a week from then, he'd get the surprise of his life. Maybe if he did, he would've let up on contacting me so damn much. It was getting to a point where I didn't how I was supposed to "disappear" for a couple days while I traveled to Bangkok without raising any suspicions. But in a way, him saying all those sweet things made what I was about to do so much better.
I'm not going to lie - that flight took years off my life. The first leg to Jordan took 11 and a half hours and I could barely sleep a wink during that flight. (Note to self: invest in neck pillow.) When I landed near Amman at 5 p.m. the following day, I felt like a wreck, but would need to wait eight hours before I could board my next plane. Surprisingly to me, if you have a long layover, Amman Queen Alia International Airport offers you a voucher for a free shuttle bus ride to and from a hotel room - which is also free! I was a little hesitant at first because with the language barrier and my general skepticism, I didn't truly believe that I wouldn't a) get charged for this service or b) get left behind and miss my second flight. But after a quick scan at the mediocre seating options in the lounge and my inability to get a free WiFi access, I decided to go for it.
"Oh my God, I'm in Jordan!" I smiled to my reflection as I looked at the empty streets whizzing by the bus window. To my left sat Dave, a guy who was also traveling to Bangkok on his own and meeting his girlfriend at their hotel. Honestly I don't even remember if Dave was actually his name, but it is now. I wanted to make a quick note of him because of how easy it was for me to talk and make friends with a stranger. In Europe (as in life), I'd shy away from making contact with people I didn't know. I'd cautiously peer into restaurants and shops from corners so as to not spark any conversation with "others." I was too happy in my little bubble to burst out of my comfort zone, engaging solely with A. and reaching out to someone else only if necessary.
Now here I was talking with another traveler about our journey, our careers, my surprise, and our good fortune at scoring free hotel rooms. We met up again in the hotel lobby before heading back to the airport and even crossed paths while sightseeing in Bangkok.
The Golden Tulip Airport Amman Hotel was nice enough - and being free made it even better. Yeah, maybe I had trouble keying into my room and maybe I had to sit there in the dark with nothing but the bathroom light because I didn't know how to turn the bedroom lamps on, but that's okay. I was able to check in with my sister (who wanted to travel vicariously through me and later stress me out to no end), maintain an online presence (in case A. reached out), nap, and shower. You have no idea how helpful the last two were in preparing me for another eight-hour flight into Thailand.
Nantra Silom Hotel, I tried taking everything in. Here I was in Asia for the first time, where so little was familiar to me, the language, the scenery, the writing on the highway billboards, the colorful money in my hands, the song this driver was quietly singing. "How long has he been cabbing for?" I found myself wondering. "How's his family? Is it frustrating not being able to communicate with your passengers? I can't believe I made it here…" Not only that, but I was figuring it all out on my own and it was actually pretty easy.
"They're just people," I'd told myself before I left home. (Incidentally, it's also what I tell myself to calm my nerves before interviewing celebrities.) No matter the differences between us, the communication barriers and strange territory, I couldn't be scared of the foreign situation I would find myself in because at the end of the day they are people just like me, willing to lend a hand or point me in the right direction. Understanding that, I'm able to wander and engage with the world with less hesitations.
She really was beyond adorable though I never could figure out what she always found so hysterical and wondered if that's just how she masked the fact that she didn't understand what I was talking about.
But that first night, I spent hours hanging out on the front porch with Kiki and two other guests, Jay and Tony, who were visiting from France. We couldn't always understand each other, but still managed to get to know and eventually poke fun at each other before rolling into Kiki's small room to lounge on the bed and watch awesomely bad pop videos for a couple more hours. The four of us made quite the eclectic group, me with my English and Spanish fluencies and bits of French, the guys with their broken English drenched in heavy accents, and a giggly Kiki teaching the three of us as much Thai as we could handle from underneath her covers.
"How do you say hello?" I kept asking.
"Sawadee mai," Kiki answered.
"And how do you say I love you?"
"Chan rak khun."
"Chan rak khun…" I repeated knowing full well I'd be asking her again before A. arrived.
I returned to my room that first night around 3 in the morning, happy about the experience I'd just had and the fact that I let myself connect with new people at all and eager for the next day to finally arrive.