The Center of the Backpacking Universe

July 15, 2014

As we sailed through the scenic afternoon, that moment made me want to never get off.

I had gotten over the fear of traveling alone and went on another solo trip 2 months later. People told me about Thailand (mostly bad things) but it did not stop me from being curious. Even after having a bad dream about my airplane falling, I shook it off, put my brave shoes on, and flew.

Five days before the trip, the media announced that the Thai army declared martial law. Everyone was telling me to reconsider or cancel but I ignored them, did a bit of research (just to be safe), and took the flight to Bangkok without looking back.

Barricades, chaos, drama–all these things were playing through my head as I approached the train station inside the airport. When I reached the sky train, I felt all the unneeded stress leave my body. There were no barricades or chaos or drama. Just people going about their day as if it was nothing but…ordinary.

I fixed my gaze outside the window as the train started to move. It was so soothing to hear the silent buzz of the train as we cut through the city during the golden hour. As we sailed through the scenic afternoon, that moment made me want to never get off.

I booked a nice room with a river view near Khao San a few days back but my friend told me to avoid the area so I booked another cheap room just a few minutes by train from the airport.

The dimly-lit room gave one the impression of a hotel from an old horror movie. The faded wallpaper and the antique vanity dresser gave me the goosebumps and the muted sound of the street traffic made it seem lonely.

Cramped on a small corner, there was a small vertical window overlooking more buildings.

It just might be my over active imagination, but that window looked like it was waiting for someone to jump out of it.

It felt like time stood still in that little room and I was close to believing I would find an old notebook that contained secrets in one of the drawers.

I approached the lady at the reception and asked for a taxi. She asked me where I was going and what I was planning to do that night.

“I’m going to Khao San to eat dinner with a friend.” She gazed at her watch and asked me if I knew about the Martial Law thing. I said yes and she told me they had a curfew. Everyone was supposed to be out of the streets and in their houses by 10PM. She made it absolutely clear that I understood what she was saying and I assured her I would be back before the curfew. I felt like a child being watched by a parent but I really didn’t mind that much.

Immediately after arriving in Khao San, I saw a few tourists who were shirtless and wearing board shorts. Bangkok is not a beach town. Did these people mistake the big city for Krabi or something?

Anyway despite all the news, Khao San was bustling! It was filled with glowing lights that seemed to extend to infinity, crowded with people and street food.

Aimlessly pointing my camera here and there, I took a shot of a street vendor selling cooked insects. The next thing I saw was a big hand raised in front of me gesturing for money. I put the camera down from my eyes and saw a makeshift sign she was pointing at with her other hand.

Photo for 10 Baht

Shocked, I told her I didn’t know I had to pay for a photo and refused to pay. She told me over and over about the sign so I simply showed her my camera review and deleted the photo. She seemed satisfied by that so we moved on. I know it’s only 10 Baht, but I really did not plan on spending for a photo of something that’s publicly displayed.

My friend Zar and I catch up over delicious Tom Yum Soup and Pad Thai (Jeremie’s favorite).

We were in the middle of a conversation when the mood changed. We noticed that the soap opera playing on the TV was interrupted by an announcement. Everyone stopped what they were doing and focused on the message. I don’t really know what it was saying since it was in Thai but I could only assume it was a message from the army reminding people about the curfew.

And just as it had occurred, the announcement turned back into the soap opera and everyone went back to their business as if nothing had come up.

Feels like home

Most of the foreign customers preferred to eat outside but we tropical folks prefer to be inside where there’s air conditioning!

We walked around after dinner and went through small alleys filled with more shops. I was tempted to buy things but as a general rule to myself, I’m not allowed to purchase anything (except food) on the first day or I’ll run out of money on the last few days.

Realizing it was getting late, I thanked Zar and took a taxi back to the hotel. There was a slight traffic on the way back (possibly because everyone else wanted to go home before curfew).

We were speeding like crazy. One time, I noticed the meter reach 100km/h. When I got to the hotel, it was already 9:58PM. I passed by the reception lady who gave me a smile that seemed to say “Very good, now go to your room”.

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