I spent an entire month in Thailand.
I didn’t plan on coming to Thailand. Well, I didn’t plan anything for this six month trip. No set destinations, no hostels booked, no excursions planned. Just vague, wanderlust-y dreams and ideas floating around in my head, it’d be cool to stay in a castle, I’ve always wanted to hug an elephant, I’ve never had a fresh coconut, I want to buy a shit car and travel in a foreign country, I want to help a family on their farm, etc. Despite my openness to and hope for spontaneity, I didn’t expect to end up in Thailand. But when my friend, Jenn, who is working in Stockholm for 6 months said, “hey, let’s go somewhere warm for Christmas”, I said, “let’s go!”.
An entire month in Thailand and it wasn’t enough.
Krabi, Ao Nang, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Suratthani, Chiang Mai, Bangkok. So many places and yet there are so many more; so many more mountains to hike and new friends to make and travel stories to exchange over large Chiangs and stray dogs to share my dinner with and beaches to spend the day at and food carts to buy food from.
When I think about Thailand, I think about food; banana smoothies and mango sticky rice and chicken pad thai and banana roti pancakes and fresh coconuts and stir-fried vegetables and grilled shrimp and coconut milk soup and glass noodles and red curry and green curry and yellow curry and massaman curry and iced coffee with condensed milk and the sweetest pineapple I’ve ever eaten.
I think of smiling faces and bowing heads and hands in prayer and, buy a suit, have a massage, need a taxi?, rent this bike, take this excursion, stay at my guesthouse, buy a train ticket from me.
I think of scooters and motor bikes and long tail boats and tuk-tuks and songthaews, always available, always ready to take you anywhere your heart desires.
I think of 7-11s to buy bottles of water and to escape the heat, and tuk-tuks turned restaurant, and night markets overflowing with homemade food, and pickup trucks overflowing with coconuts and men, and stray dogs laying in the middle of the road, and forests of palm trees covering the mountains, and roosters crowing at 4 am, and plastic water bottles scattered everywhere, and sweating through every shirt, and swimming in the ocean to cool off, and bathrooms without toilet paper, soap, or paper towels, and learning how to use a “bum gun” (it’s exactly like the spray gun we have on our kitchen sinks, except it’s next to the toilet and used to clean oneself in lieu of toilet paper) and taking shoes off before entering any doorway, piles of shoes at the front of stores and houses and hotels.
I think of sitting on the white beaches of Koh Tao with a beer and old friends watching another perfect sunset, and climbing an hour through the mountainous jungle on Koh Phangan to get to a secluded beach, of the best swim of my life. I think of learning to breathe underwater and hugging elephants and overnight trains. I think of sitting on cushions on the floor, leaning in close over a short table in a rooftop bar, of strangers becoming close friends. I think of laughing hard and deep.
I think of a boat ride with a local boy who didn’t speak English but spent the entire ride playing games with the tourists, showing us tricks, teaching us hand games, dancing. I think of three weeks of sun and then the sudden downpour of monsoon-like rain that flooded the streets and soaked us to the bone in a matter of seconds. I think of dirt paths that are considered legitimate roads and elephants on pants, shirts, scarves, bags, lawns, temples.
I think of the beauty of extreme heat, how it causes everyone to become their true selves; no make up, ponytails, bathing suits and slouchy clothes to keep the sun off but to let the heat escape, everyone slightly disheveled and uncaring at being so. I think of power outages in the middle of the night, waking up to sticky, still, hot air, of spreading candles on the floor. I think of the wind whipping through my hair as I ride to the beach on my scooter.
I think of turquoise oceans the temperature of bathwater and getting sand on everything I own no matter how often I clean my feet and wipe down my clothes. I think of men selling corn on the cob and whole pineapples on the beach, both prepared to order.
But most of all, I think of how little everyone had and yet how they had everything, more than everything. Driving through towns on my motorbike, on trains, in tuk-tuks, I saw the most poverty-stricken, low-income homes and families I have ever seen. Not even in the poorest towns of the United States have I seen such little had by a family. And yet, they have everything. You can see it in the lines around the corners of their eyes where years of smiling has left its mark, and in the way they carry themselves, tall, proud, but softly, with nothing to prove.
Children play in the ditches of rainwater next to the dirt roads, grandmother’s sit with babies on raised bamboo platforms outside their houses made of cement bricks and bamboo, watching the world pass by, men sit at the pier smoking and women sit at the local restaurant gossiping and laughing together. They have what they need; they have family and community, they have happiness and contentment and humility and deep appreciation for what they do have. They have it all.