Call me crazy but last week I flew to Bangkok, Thailand with nothing but a camera, half a suitcase of clothes, my trusty laptop, and an incurable case of wanderlust for new adventures. While that may seem impulsive to my close friends and family, some who've made their opinions concerning my sanity very clear, to me it's perfectly normal.
I find it invigorating to periodically airdrop myself into completely foreign situations where my basic survival skills are put to the test, and Thailand is as unfamiliar to me as any place I could think of. The people, food, customs, and language are rich in cultures old and new. As a stranger in a strange land intoxicated by these exotic novelties, I see more commonalities in other cultures than differences. We may speak, think, and act differently, but the things we have in common are abundant and deep-rooted.
Changing the backdrop of your life completely from time to time keeps you thinking on your feet and does wonders for your ingenuity and your ability to think outside the box. Did I say box? What box?
Too anxious to wait another week until my flight, I decided to go to Mexico City to practice my Tequilish speaking skills while walking in the footsteps of famous muralist Diego Rivera. Like Easter eggs scattered throughout the city, finding his murals was like going on a treasure hunt. Diego is one of my favorite artists you can discover with me in this video: Discovering Diego Rivera Murals In Mexico City.
After posting that video I received a comment from @mr-monk, a fellow Steemian living in Mexico City who graciously offered to pick me up in his car and drive me to some cool places tourist don't often visit. We had some tacos de canasta from a street vendor in Coyoacán, ate dim sum in a chic food hotspot in the financial district, and visited the Anahuacalli Museum where Diego River used to work and where more of his works were displayed. @mr-monk told me that Patti Smith, American singer-songwriter, poet, and visual artist who became an influential component of the New York City punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses, also played a show there years ago.
@mr-monk is a designer and artist living a digital nomad lifestyle in Mexico City. He reached out to me on a post I made last month about my two-year birthday on Steemit and it turns out we joined on the same day one year apart. We drank beers, talked Steem and had a good time together. Check out his blog to see some really good art. He is a great ambassador to his city and a gracious host whose company was a gift.
Thank you @mr-monk. I find it coincidental that the place I found to rent in Chiang Mai less that two weeks later is actually across the street from Wat Jed Yod temple where real monks chant every morning and afternoon. When I hear them chant I think of you.
Leaving Mexico on a grueling 29-hour flight to Bangkok with stops in Toronto, Canada and China, I arrived in Thailand ready for a shower and a bed . I found both at the Holy Sheet Hostel.
Pawin, the owner of the place, looks like a younger Psy, a Thai Psy. (Psy is the South Korean musician famous for the international YouTube hit, Gangnam Style)
Crawling up the stairs to the check-in desk the first thing I see is a sign that reads, No wifi sorry. Seeing the horror on my face Pawin says before I can ask, "Yes, we have wifi, nowifisorry is the password." Feeling relief I asked him, "What's the username?" "Holy Sheet", he said.
At $5 a night, the cost of a Starbucks coffee, a comfortable bed with blasting AC to tuck you in from the tropical heat is a bargain. When they threw in free breakfast, hot showers, wifi, Tequila shots, and beer I felt like moving in forever. Maybe even marrying Pawins' sister and becoming part of the family. Or, maybe I was tired and needed some sleep. One thing for sure, sleep was not going to happen as planned.
Climbing up the stairs to the empty quarters, I showered, threw on some clean gear, and returned to the lobby to an international cluster of about 20 people ready to go out and party. Where the hell did they come from? It was empty in here 30-minutes ago. Sleep? No. Not tonight. We can sleep tomorrow.
We went out to a local Jazz-fusion bar called Black Cabin with a live band playing called Mother Funky that was smoking hot and their groove got under my skin, waking me up like it was noon again. The place was a half indoors and half outdoor BBQ patio with a huge grill of steaks and shrimp, filled with very beautiful people mingling drinks and flirtations in dim, moody lighting. Felt like being at a really cool house party. After a few craft beers and a couple sets of music, I was feeling the beat in a new way. Sabai Sabai.
If you look in a Thai-English dictionary the translation for the word ‘sabai‘ will probably say ‘comfortable’, but that doesn’t really explain how important this word is in the Thai language or the Thai approach to life. Traditionally speaking, Thais like things to be Sabai Sabai with the word repeated to add extra emphasis a bit like saying very comfortable or really relaxed. There are numerous ways sabai is used in the Thai language and even if you don’t speak any Thai, you are still likely to be able to pick out the word sabai when you are in Thailand because it is so commonly used. Thai people may greet you with the question ‘sabai dee mai?‘ which is the equivalent of saying ‘how are you?’ They will also add the polite word khap or ka at the end depending on if they are male or female. A standard response would be ‘sabai dee‘ which would be the same as saying ‘I’m fine’, ‘I’m well’ or ‘I’m good’. Again, to make the response more polite you should add khap or ka as appropriate e.g. a man would reply by saying ‘sabai dee khap‘ (‘I’m fine thank you’). source
So there I was feeling very comfortable when the drummer in the band taps me on the shoulder and asks, "Guava ganja? You like?"* Feeling like the Chestshire Cat I accepted, first testing it with my nose and confirming the band has been drinking it all night and playing in top form,. How bad could it be, I wondered. My first sip was pure ambrosia. Heaven in a cup. Guava and cannabis, it seems, are the perfect match, part stone and part thirst quenching.
I gulped the stuff while remembering the words of warning my over-anxious family members felt compelled to advise me on, who perennially spout their fears about the dangers of places they have never visited. Years ago, like Jim Morrison, I broke on through to the other side to discover there is nothing to fear but beer itself.
Crawling my way back to the empty Holy Sheet I plopped down on the couch when a very stoned South Korean man emerged wearing a shit-eating grin that begged to know what he was so happy about. "I'm so stoned.", he said. "It's so illegal in my country to smoke weed.", he continued. "It's very illegal here too.", I reminded him. That didn't stop us from sharing a joint on the street side patio in front of the hostel. The side alley street was empty enough at 3 AM to get away with it. Moments after finishing the joint a cop rode by on a motorcycle completely oblivious to our crime. The ganja gods were with us.
I spent a few days in Bangkok, skipping Khao San road and the usual tourist traps, before booking a flight to Chaing Mai which I paid for in cash at 7-Eleven. ($47.74 USD one-way) I'll be back to explore Bangkok's hidden gems in due time and wanted to get to Chaing Mai well before high season to find an apartment to call home base. I was hoping to meetup with @waybeyondpadthai while in Bangkok but will for sure make a point of it when I return in the near future.
I did manage to go to a rooftop pool party at the Weston Hotel in Bangkok that everyone said was going to be a wild party and while there were really cute girls and the DJ was great, the party wasn't as wild as promised, at least not by my definition of a wild pool party. Everyone still had their clothes on as far as I could tell and the punch was not spiked. Still, it was fun but overpriced.
The railway transportation system in Bangkok is clean, cheap, fast, easy to use, and air-conditioned. I used it to get everywhere in the city from the moment I stepped off the plane until I got back to the airport. With connections in major areas of the city, it's really convenient.
I visited some of the biggest shopping malls which rival any malls I've ever seen in New York, London, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Bangkok is a shop-a-holics paradise offering everything imaginable and doing so in style.
Going to the cell phone store to buy a new SIM card with a local number was like walking into a nightclub. The decor of the place was over-the-top for a store, but I noticed all the stores were like that. Banks at the mall look like the lobby of a fancy hotel.
Getting a SIM at TRUE was easy. A copy of my passport and a 45 baht fee ($1.39 USD) for the SIM card was all that was needed. They gave me the best service and 16GB for 699 baht per month ($21.53 USD), let me pick my number out of a list, and pay when they bill me in a month at any of their booths. They even threw in an extra 7GB free the first month for signing up. I've only used 2GB in the first 2 weeks.
Thailand is famous for delicious food which is available everywhere and ridiculously inexpensive. I'll go into more detailed about Thai food in a future post, but just want to say that the diversity, availability, and affordability of the food is overwhelming. You can eat out every day for just a few bucks.
Flying to Chaing Mai from Bangkok takes just over an hour with views of a network of rivers winding through the country, like a centuries-old snake slithering through time. As we approached our destination the patchwork of waterways and rice fields blend into thick, mountainous forests. On the other side lies Chiang Mai, a valley full of fruit orchards circled by a ring of mountains with the city nestled in the middle.
Chiang Mai means "New City" and was so named because it became the new capital of Lan Na when it was founded in 1296, succeeding Chiang Rai, the former capital founded in 1262. source
For a city over 700 years old, it lives up to its name, blending old and new, rich and poor, past and future, into one. That's one of the first impressions one gets from Thailand, there are no clear divisions of rich neighborhoods and poorer neighborhoods. I'm sure they're there once one looks closer, but at first glance one sees poverty and decadence living side by side, harmonious or perhaps oblivious to each other.
Booking into the HUG Hostel for two nights (150 baht per night. $4.62 USD) just north of the moat of Old Town, I hit the rooftop bar to drink cold Chang beer with the English invasion that seemed to have invaded the place (as usual) mixed in with a few girls from Holland, Berlin, California, and the ever-present Australians. (They're everywhere). Drinking Chang beer in Chaing Mai seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Lost count of the beers but know we stayed until they kicked us out.
The last to go to bed and the first to rise, I woke at 7 AM the next morning with a mission to find an apartment to call home for at least a few months. (It just occurred to me that's exactly what I told myself when I went to Mexico for the first time and ended up staying for 15 years.)
Shower, coffee, fresh mango juice. Next on the list is find a driver to take me to the short list of eight places I wanted to look at. None of them really spoke to me until I got to the eighth on the list.
Bingo, this is home for now. Brand new furnished apartment with a king-size bed, balcony, kitchen, bathroom with plenty of hot water, AC, TV, microwave, free wifi, kick-ass, saltwater pool, and a gym for the amazing price of 7700 baht per month. ($237 USD) Not only that, but I get to wake up to birds singing and monks chanting in the morning for free.
It's funny how easy it is to rent a place in almost everywhere in the world but the US. I'm a US citizen and to rent a place there you have to prove you have a job, a bank account, get a background check which you pay for even if you don't get the place, and jump through a bunch of paperwork, but most places I travel to just want an ID and the money. Simple, right? That's why it's called renting. To get a place in the US you'd think you're buying the place with all the questions and forms you need to fill out. And they call it the land of the free.
The same was true when renting a motorbike. Most people in Thailand get around on a motorbike. Yes, there's plenty of cars too but motorbikes can weave through traffic easily and are cheap to fuel. I rented a new one today with insurance for 2800 baht a month ($86.23 USD) from D2 Bikes and all he wanted was a copy of my passport, my address, phone number, and the money. He didn't even ask to see my license. I was in and out of there in 5-minutes.
With the new found freedom of wheels, I'll be exploring the surrounding areas and started today by climbing the mountain to the Doi Suthep temple. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is its full name but people call it Doi Suthep, named after the mountain where it is located. Doi Suthep is 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) from the city of Chiang Mai and the views of the city are overshadowed only by the exotic sight of the temple itself.
Another thing one can't help noticing in Thailand is the friendliness of the people. Thailand is called the Land Of Smiles and there are no shortage of smiling faces willing to help a stranger navigate their country. Something about my face must say I smoke weed because no sooner than I hit the pool at my new pad did that Thai friendliness offer to procure some for me. For $3 USD one can get a 3-gram compressed block of seedless herb that instantly had me smiling too. All on the down low, of course. Very hush hush.
So, my first impressions of Thailand from my very limited 2-week exposure is it's very laid back, friendly, delicious, and affordable. I've barely scratched the surface and hope you'll join me as I write about my adventures in the coming months.
If you're here or will be coming to Thailand soon and would like to hook up, or know of some places worth visiting, please share that in the comments below, unless of course, you are a Thai law enforcement officer, in which case you should know that parts of this post were fictitious and no real weed was smoked in the writing of this story. Thanks for reading my post.