Bangkok

Our final destination of the Thailand trip was Bangkok. Even though I was only in the city for a day and a half (due to my flight being a bit earlier than everyone else), I think that it was my favorite place that we visited. It is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever had the privilege to visit. I left feeling like I had only seen a glimpse of the massive city, and before my plane had even lifted off the runway, I was dreaming about the next time I would be able to come back.

Bangkok is so incredibly full of life. Unlike the smaller-populated Chiang Mai, Bangkok is densely metropolitan; in other words, it has that feeling of controlled chaos that many large cities have. After factoring in a different and distinct culture to this familiar city feeling, my American perspective read it as a whole different world – barely restrained chaos, verging on absolutely unrestrained. Cars and busses zoom by pedestrians at all hours, weaving in and out while tuk tuks and motorcycle-taxis orbit dangerously around the other vehicles, slipping in nearly impossible spaces to beat out their larger counterparts. And the traffic rules? Well, they technically exist, but there were a few times when I was sure they couldn’t due to the blatant disregard for one-way roads that my tuk tuk drivers had.

There were also river taxis, which were quite convenient for travel to many of the touristy sites in the city which sit on the banks of the Chao Phraya. These were especially fun and fascinating at night – when the sun was setting, all the high-rises on the shore were lighting up, their yellow and blue lights lighting up the dark river.

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During my day in Bangkok, we went to see the Royal Palace and respective temple grounds. Although we had seen many temple grounds on our trip, these were especially grand. There were so many visitors – foreigners and Thais alike – milling about the architecture, taking pictures of the beautiful gilded and gem-set temple exteriors. Everything is so detailed and worthy of awe – thinking about the process to create the magnificent structures is mind-blowing.

One of the main attractions of the grounds is a certain temple called Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the famous Emerald Buddha. This statue is very important in Thailand and in Buddhism. The account of its discovery was recorded almost 600 years ago, and it has been moved around the country to different locations ever since. However, since 1784, it has been in the very same temple grounds that we visited. It is jaw-droppingly exquisite inside the temple. There is an air of respect and a sacred stillness as people file in and out, voices dropping as they encounter the quiet and peaceful air. No pictures are allowed, and foreign tourists can only enter up to a certain part of the chapel interior. The front part of the space is reserved for Thai people only – many who make long pilgrimages to witness the Emerald Buddha in person and worship their god with prayers, presence, and incense.

The food in Bangkok was another one of my favorite parts. There was so much to try and it was so cheap! Unlike Chiang Mai, there was more of an international  influence on Bangkok’s food courts and markets. There were dishes from many different countries in Asia and a huge selection to choose from – Chinese food, halal food, Japanese food, and American food are some specific examples that I can recall. The food scene in Bangkok felt like a melting pot of food culture. Even as you walked down the busy street, just navigating to get to a tourist location to which you were headed, food lined your path from individual stalls offering pad thai, fried insects, Thai tea, pre-cut fruit, smoothies, and so much more. You can imagine the constant temptation – even if I wasn’t hungry, I was thinking about buying yet another mango sticky rice to-go (my weakness for sugar met its match with mango sticky rice, which is pretty much the most delicious dessert ever).

And even though I felt as though I had just arrived to Bangkok, my time came to an end. Although it was a full day of sightseeing and other lovely touristy events, I felt like there was still so much to see. I remember a moment when Dani and I were zooming through the city in the back of a tuk tuk for about 30-40 minutes, on our way to a market. We raced through the city, in between the perpetual traffic, enjoying the quick flashes of stores and markets and people and neighborhood shrines. I remember thinking – this is a city of undiscovered cultural treasure and experiences that I cannot even imagine. I feel so lucky to have seen it for just a day. The next time I am able to return, whenever that is, I know that the beauty and energy of Bangkok will be waiting for me. There’s so much more to discover!

And with that, the sun set on my time in Thailand and I made my way back to Spain. I was received well – very jet-lagged, but mentally refreshed and excited to see my friends and my beautiful city. I’m so happy to be back! And now it’s 2019. Who knows what exciting and beautiful things this year holds for my life, and for all of us?

Stay open, stay curious, and stay inspired!

Thanks for reading, and if you’ve kept up with the whole series, an extra thanks to you! If you want to connect with me to discuss your own Thailand travels/questions/inspiring stories – I’d love to chat. Find me over at my contact page or tweet me.

THIS IS PART 3 OF A 3 PART SERIES. CLICK HERE TO READ PART 1, AND HERE TO READ PART 2.

Chiang Mai

A month or two before the Christmas holiday, an opportunity to travel to Thailand with my friend Dani and her family opened up to me. At first, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to go. I was hesitant, but after having several encouraging conversations with friends (encouragement such as: “Haley, if you don’t go, you might regret it for the rest of your life!”) and budgeting out a financial plan several times, I ended up buying my tickets in a Starbucks at the beginning of December. 8 days later, I was in Thailand. I wanted to blog about my experience here as I’ve just returned with everything fresh in my mind, because otherwise I would inevitably forget details that I would like to remember. (Note: The trip consisted of three parts over a span of two weeks, so I will be writing three separate posts to give each their space and time).

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The first city we stayed in, Chiang Mai, sits in the northern part of the country. My first impression of Thailand was the people – they call it the Land of Smiles, and that is so true! Most of the people I interacted with were so cheerful and always greeted us with a smile. My friend’s dad was born in Thailand, so he speaks fluent Thai. One of the greatest things on the trip was whenever he would order his food in Thai, because the waiter would usually freak out – “how can you speak such good Thai?!” To help us non-Thais out, he taught us some phrases that we could use, such as “hello”, “thank you”, “where is the bathroom”, “how much does this cost”, etc. I loved being able to communicate with the people I met in this little but meaningful way, even though most of the time I absolutely slaughtered the pronunciation. I think I need to work on tonal inflection for my next trip.

The food in Chiang Mai gave us our first taste of Thai cuisine. Although there are a lot of touristy places, such as international restaurants and Asian-fusion restaurants in the city, there are also some more authentic sites with classic dishes like pad thai, tom kha, tom yum, chicken satay, green curry, and a ton more. My favorite thing that I ate (and continued to devour throughout the whole trip) was tom kha… there wasn’t one bowl that was bad. I’ve decided that I am going to attempt to make it myself in the upcoming months. Sitting in the open-air restaurants, feeling the Thai humidity, I kept thinking – how much better of an experience would this soup be if I ate it on a frigid day in the city? Well, it might not be a better experience at all if my attempt fails in deliciousness, but there’s only one way to find out. If someone has a good recipe, please share it with me!

One night, we went to a traditional Thai dinner and show. The food was pretty much the same as I described above, with the exception of fancy cocktails and fried pig ears (which were surprisingly delicious). The show aspect was great – there were a few presentations of beautiful, traditional Thai dances, a Thai boxing match (obviously super staged, but nonetheless entertaining), and live music. The final part of the show featured a bit of crowd participation. Dani and I were off to the side, sipping on a mai tai and enjoying the spectacular, when we were approached by two of the dancers to join in. After brief hesitation, we shrugged and went to the floor – “why not?” I’m not sure how successful I was at the dance, but I remember laughing most of the time because it was so much fun. In summary, I have fond feelings about my introduction to Thai dance, even though I probably looked ridiculous.

On the final full day in Chiang Mai, we went to the highest point in the city, with is a mountain called Doi Suthep. On top of the mountain is a huge Buddhist temple. The temple is a sacred spot in the area, but many tourists also visit to see the beautiful art and architecture as well as the incredible view of the whole city from the summit. It was wild seeing the city from above – it honestly had felt much smaller to me than it actually is. I think it’s because of the streets and clustered buildings – it’s not a vertically dense city, but more widespread across the intersecting streets, with little shops and restaurants crowding the blocks and corners. I did not go into the temple itself, mainly because I couldn’t tear myself away from the incredible rosy sunset view, but was able to see a lot of the temple grounds. A few of us explored the temple grounds and admired the rising moon as it perched itself above the temple. The grounds are decorated with flowers of many colors, bright paper lanterns, religious art, various lookout points, and Buddha statues. There were some monks in their orange robes, which is a fairly common sight in Thailand, but seeing them walking around the temple grounds, solemn, tranquil, content, and in their element, was a really special thing to me. One monk that I saw had a dog calmly flanking his heels as he glided around the grounds, checking to make sure all was in order. I found it extremely fascinating.

I’ll share one final anecdote about Chiang Mai. Before Doi Suthep, we went to an orphanage/daycare about 30 minutes outside of the city. Dani’s family has mutual friends with the director of the orphanage, which is called House of Love – the overarching organization is called Hope for Hilltribes. We were able to go visit the kids in the daycare and introduce ourselves, and then they each introduced themselves to us – then sang us a few songs and danced for us. It was so special to be able to see their sweet smiles and watch them perform, and to see the joy that they got from singing and dancing for us, their new friends. After, we toured the orphanage and sat down with the director, a kind American woman who had been living in Thailand for 34 years working in the orphanage. She told us all about her experience, the joys and sorrows that she has seen in her three decades in Thailand, and more about how the non-profit works. It was very interesting to hear the story of House of Love and how she got involved and ended up staying so long. I left feeling very inspired from her life story of altruism, the work she and the organization have done in northern Thailand, and the visit with the kids. Hope for Hilltribes has really made a difference in so many lives and their work is needed and important. If you’re interested, I would encourage you to read more on the website I’ve linked above.

I was totally in my head on the ride back to Chiang Mai, asking myself questions like: how can I make a difference in the world like this woman has? How can I use my life to change others? It’s an essential question that I think about often, but after experiences like this, I am always filled with inspiration and motivation to think about ways that I can better the world around me. It’s an alignment of my head and my heart that is one of my favorite feelings – like I’m falling upwards, progressing more into the person I want to be. It’s an alignment that I want to seek more often. Encountering places like House of Love and seeing absolute selflessness and quiet service in action amidst sadness and devastation is like finding a space for the divine in the midst of an absolutely confusing and hectic world. I hope that you have found spaces of inspiration like this in your life, and that you can think of thin places like this for yourself, dear reader.

Thank you for reading my blog! If you have any thoughts, questions, or a Thailand experience of your own, I’d love to hear. Share over at my contact page or tweet me.

THIS IS PART 1 OF A 3 PART SERIES. CLICK HERE TO READ PART 2, AND HERE TO READ PART 3.