I’ve always considered international travel as something that was enticing but financially out of reach. But unexpectedly, at the start of the summer, heading overseas suddenly became a reality within reach.
My journey began when a family friend purchased plane tickets to Thailand to be with their daughter and had a change of plans. Not wanting her to travel alone, they asked me to go in their place.
An opportunity as generous as being given a ticket to Thailand rarely comes along often, so I immediately began to prepare for my fast approaching departure date.
Total transit time from the United States to Bangkok, Thailand, was 35 hours, which was overwhelming, as I’ve never even been on a plane before. But upon arriving, I found my taxi ride to the hotel was enough time to convince me I’d made the right choice in coming.
Bangkok was as hectic as you’d expect any urban hub to be, like New York City but more expansive. The taxi driver politely chatted with me about the weather as he skirted in and out of lanes, nearly colliding with Tuk Tuks and motorcyclists who were also weaving swiftly through the traffic. Though being in a city made Bangkok feel familiar, it was distinctly different in ways that made me eager to get out and explore.
My fondest bout of exploration in Bangkok involved a speedboat ride on the river en route to the Grand Palace. The river narrowed and the boat slowed as we passed through rows of housing situated on either side of the river. The houses were worn and partially on stilts above the water, usually with laundry strung up on a line.
Here, a woman canoed over to us, with elephant figurines, coin purses and bread for catfish for sale. I purchased a carved figurine, and she tossed some bread in the water. Immediately, 20 giant catfish sprang to the surface, terrifyingly attacking the bread and looking past her, I saw the words “Feed these fishes and life shall be prosperous,” painted on the wall. This moment was so indicative of our time there; we almost always encountered something unfamiliar but also incredibly charming along our travels.
Markets were another notable activity for us in Bangkok. Thailand, with an exchange rate of three percent to the US Dollar, is a good place for an adventurer on a budget. We could venture down the streets by our hotel and pass by countless street vendors selling local cuisine and souvenirs and one in particular where I made my daily stop for a delicious bag of dried mango for only 20 Baht. Going to markets offered a really interesting experience with the locals.
It began with some easy going haggling as they excitedly presented you with all of their goods, and then, if you’re me, ended with giving into the original price. I really enjoyed the quick back and forth with the sellers, and we frequented some stands enough that we developed a few friendships as well, resulting in a recommendation for some really good Thai curry.
After about a week in Bangkok, we took a plane and a ferry to the island of Koh Yao Yai for the remainder of our stay. The island was almost the complete opposite of Bangkok, remote and far less developed.
Once we arrived at our accommodations, we realized it was really impractical to think of going anywhere we couldn’t get to on foot, as taxis were few and far between. There wasn’t a lot to do in Koh Yao Yai in terms of events or local attractions. The point was really to enjoy the ocean and scenery and slow down.
Something that became apparent about Thai culture was the difference between personal concept of time in America versus in Thailand, which I think is why I also found everyone to be incredibly patient there. Coming from a bustling city, it was an adjustment to fight off restlessness, but eventually you really slip into a mindset of relaxation and enjoying not having somewhere to be. Our only real excursion was visiting a nearby island where they filmed a “James Bond” movie; the rest of the time we hiked through lush greenery and kayaked in the ocean, spending most of our time taking in the incredible landscape of the island.
From the copious, urban environment in Bangkok to the secluded, picturesque surroundings in Koh Yao Yai, I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip out of the country. Traveling through Thailand only makes you realize how much there is to experience and explore in the world, and I can’t wait to go back.