Finding peace and happiness in Thailand wasn’t something that I expected.
Thailand had never been high on my WonderList. In fact, it wasn’t on my list at all. My cousin became obsessed with the Phi Phi Islands and so our company planned a group trip to Thailand. We don’t usually take groups to places we’ve never been, so my partner Norma and I went on a reconnaissance mission. Although we didn’t make it south to the islands, this turned out to be one of the best trips of my life.
You may or may not know that I have a master’s degree in Theology. Not because I’m a particularly religious person, but because I’m fascinated by the history of religious doctrine and the psychology of belief. I’ve studied Christianity, Judaism and most recently Buddhism. So, I was excited at the thought of spending time in a primarily Buddhist country and seeing how those beliefs and practices are put into action on a daily basis.
B A N G K O K
After a 25-hour flight from Los Angeles that included a layover in China, we arrived in Bangkok. I’ll be honest, Bangkok wasn’t one of my favorite cities. From the beginning we encountered a few unscrupulous characters. It started with our Grab driver. Grab is the Asian version of Uber. You schedule your car and pay through the app. You can also choose to pay cash. We brought a limited amount of cash on the trip and had planned on putting most large expenses on the company credit card. I accidently reserved a large SUV, the equivalent of Uber Black I suppose. The ride came up to 675 Thai Baht. When the driver dropped us off, I said I wanted to pay through the app. He said that the credit card wasn’t working and wanted us to pay in cash. The woman behind the desk at the hotel gave him a strange look. I knew this wasn’t true, but after a long trip I wasn’t in the mood to argue.
After checking into the hotel and getting some rest, we decided to head off to find something to eat. I again called a Grab to pick us up. As we stood outside the hotel waiting for the car it pulled up. Same make, model and license plate as in the app. As I went to step out to open the door, the driver took off and cancelled the ride. Now I’m not one to scream RACISM at the top of my lungs but being the only black woman standing on a street in Asia and being refused a ride, I’m going to go with that is a little suspicious. After filing a complaint with the app Norma, my white business partner, reserved the next ride, and we were off.
We spent a few days in Bangkok eating street food, visiting temples and wasting about $80 at the floating market. This city is built on tourism so it is difficult, but not impossible to find a true authentic experience here. We spent 2 days here and for me that was enough.
C H I A N G M A I
Next, we took an overnight train from Bangkok to the northern city of Chiang Mai. I’d seen plenty of YouTube videos about the overnight train and we were really excited about the experience. One thing we found is that the first-class compartments sell out fast. We’d been planning this trip for a months, but you can only buy the train tickets 90 days in advance. Also, there are a few third-party agencies in Thailand that buy up the tickets as soon as they become available. So, while still in the US we literally had to set an alarm for 12a Thailand time exactly 90 days from the date of our trip in order to get first class. Even doing that, there were only 2 rooms left when we bought our tickets directly from the train station.
The train left around 8p, so we loaded up on snacks from the 7-Eleven and prepared for the journey. The room was small but comfortable for 2 people. There is no cell service or Wi-Fi on the train, so I’d downloaded a few shows from Netflix for the ride. Not surprisingly we didn’t sleep well. I think we both woke up around 4a and proceeded to stare out the window, watching the sunrise and taking in the sites. We arrived in Chiang Mai at 7a.
I LOVE Chiang Mai. I love everything about it. We arrived at the hotel way too early to check in, but they allowed us to eat breakfast at the buffet and stored our luggage while we took a walk around the city. Although the city of Chiang Mai is large, the old city was within walking distance of our hotel. We spent a few hours roaming around, looking at temples and just soaking it all in. We spent 4 days in Chiang Mai eating at the night markets, visiting the temples, and enjoying the city. One day we hired a private tour guide and took a trip even further north to the city of Chiang Rai. On another day Norma spent time at an elephant sanctuary and I got an authentic Thai massage. I ate fried rice and chicken for breakfast every morning. I found my happy place.
I loved Thailand. I loved the food. I loved the experience. I loved the people. I loved the feeling of peace that I had being there. I loved feeling safe and comfortable and welcomed. When you have a country, or more specifically cities that are primarily dependent on tourism, there is a different level of service and hospitality that you experience. In some countries it feels forced, but in Thailand I got the feeling that the people we encountered were genuinely happy in their jobs and happy with us being there. Granted, there is an ugly side to tourism, but if you approach people with kindness and respect, 99.9% you get the same in return.
Unfortunately, our group to trip to Thailand has been delayed because of Covid-19, but I’m planning on going back when I can spend a month or so living in Chiang Mai as a digital nomad and immersing myself in the culture. There is no wonder why there are a slew of blogs and YouTube videos about Thailand. It is a wonderful country with wonderful people and so much to see and do. I can’t wait to return.