Traveling for personal development isn’t just a recent post on my blog (quite popular if I’m looking at statistics) but a real lifestyle for me. I always do my best to practice what I’m preaching so several days ago I started a trip to Bangkok. A week before the trip I had no idea that I would go there. Bianca had a one week holiday from the kindergarten and Diana decided it could be great to spend it at their parents. That gave me a window of opportunity, so to speak, so I jumped on it.
Planning For Thailand
Planning the trip took me around 3 hours top, including printing vouchers and arranging payments. Everything was done online of course, and you can imagine I did planned a little loose. I bounced back and forth a little between orbitz, travelocity and expedia, and eventually chose expedia. I first booked the hotel in Bangkok, the flight and 3-4 additional services, out of curiosity. For instance, I booked transfer from the airport and to the airport, and 2 half day tours.
If I would go again I won’t chose any of those services, because you can find your way around without them, but overall it was a useful experience. I know by now that a taxi fare to the airport from downtown Bangkok is no more than 400 BAHT (around 13-15 USD) and that a tour to one of the temples can be done with no more than 2-300 BAHT (including transport via BTS and Chao Phraya boat).
Oh, ok, ok, I started to talk a little ahead and mentioned things like BTS and the Chao Phraya river. I’ll stop that and come back to the main story because there is still some more to say until we’re in Bangkok. Just teasing you a little, of course.
Flying To Thailand
I flew with FinnAir and that proved to be a good choice overall. The route was Bucharest – Helsinki – Bangkok. The flights were very well connected and from what I read in the planes and in some of the materials in the airport, Helsinki is trying to become the first Europe – Asia flying hub. One of their key points in achieving that is to provide good flight connections and fast transfer of the passengers. When I flew to Bangkok I stayed in the Helsinki airport around 4 hours and when I come back I stayed around 3 hours. The airport is quiet, clean and it has free internet connection in one of its areas. Not in the whole airport, which is a little strange, so you have to go through passport check in order to reach the free internet area but it didn’t felt like an inconvenient to me.
From Bucharest to Helsinki I flew with an Embraer 170 which might be the tinier airplane I flew with so far. It’s an airplane manufactured in Brasil, quite exotic in Europe. But the Boeing MD 11, a somehow obsolete tri-jet which took me from Helsinki to Bangkok was even funnier. The entertainment system in the economic class consists on 4-5 large monitors with a fixed program for all passengers. All the other transcontinental flights I had so far had individual entertainment systems. Other than that, both planes proved to be extremely reliable, clean and well-serviced.
From Bucharest to Helsinki you fly 2:40 hours and from Helsinki to Bangkok 9:30-10-30 hours. When I got back I was so relaxed that I slept most of the time and when I arrived in Bucharest I actually didn’t felt tired at all. On the way to Bangkok I had some mild anxiety moments, but all of them were related to my old pattern of “not being able to enjoy stuff” that I’m working on for several years now.
Once in Bangkok I had to face an unexpected cultural shock. It was my first trip to Asia, a totally different culture. The people, the climate and the force of a huge city, all this made for quite an adaptation effort from my part. Starting from the first second on the airport and until the last line at the passport check to leave Thailand, I was under this cultural shock.
Don’t get it too literal, I wasn’t trembling or something, but all my systems were under a considerable overload: my senses, my interaction approaches, my expectations, everything was new and put a serious stress on my day to day activities. At the beginning I was quite lost and tried to balance by doing familiar things: a walk in the closest park, for instance. In about 48 hours I managed to be back to an average, normal way of me, but even after this initial adaptation period, I still had moments when my mind stopped and had to rely on my instincts.
People are smiling at you. First, you find your traditional european explanation to this: that guy wants something from me, and he’s buying me with a smile. Then, you realize that this is not entirely true. Yes, he might want something from you but he’s genuinely smiling at the same time. Then, you realize that maybe he didn’t want something from you and he’s smiling only because is happy. Or because he is genuinely polite.
People are not afraid to make eye contact, on the contrary. If you are making eye contact with a total stranger on the streets, chances are that he will smile at you and even give you a traditional “sawasdee” salute. When you are giving something to them (let’s say when you tip a waiter at the restaurant) the “thank you” is honest and open.
Contrast is another thing that will puzzle you in the beginning. Here’s a picture of Bangkok by night:
And here’s a picture taken a few miles away, on the Chao Phraya river canals:
Chao Phraya, in translation, “The River Of King” is the river that goes through Bangkok. It splits in several canals all around the city and it still plays an important role in transportation. Most of this is touristic but on the canals you can still find communities that are actually living on the water.
Initially this contrast was part of my shock, but after several days I learned to embrace it as a wonderful manifestation of life in all forms. Just because those people on the canals didn’t have luxury that doesn’t mean they weren’t happy. They were just living differently and learning to respect difference was one of things I learned during this trip.
Accommodation In Bangkok
I stayed at a hotel in the Siam zone, near Ratchadamri BTS station (BTS is the skytrain in Bangkok, one of the things that I really liked in the city). Siam is a somehow upscale area, not the usual backpacker heaven, but I was glad I chose it. It was at walking distance from the center zone and the service was exceptional. I especially enjoyed the selection of fruits they had, but more of that below.
If you’re traveling to Bangkok, accommodation can be a problem. A problem of choice, of course, not a problem of getting short of it. I was lucky finding this location, because you might get a place that could substantially diminish your experience. My advice is to search something that was reviewed at least several times in the last 6 months because things are changing really fast there. Your choice is practically endless: you can chose from a small room in a hostel near Silom plaza (a market area, crowded and noisy) or you can chose something at the Millenium Hilton:
Whatever your choice, please be sure you have air conditioned. It’s pretty common there but better check first.
It’s hot and humid. Thai people have this traditional joke: we have only 3 seasons in Thailand: hot, hotter and hottest. It’s pretty difficult to adapt in the first few hours and it’s part of the shock I was telling you about. After I checked in and unpacked, I thought it would be wise to stretch my legs a little around the hotel and get familiar with the surroundings. I walked around 3-4 miles, making what I call “power walk”, without realizing that I’m doing this under 35 degrees Celsius. When I found the Lumphini Park, I was happy to rest for a half an hour trying to get my breath back.
Because of the clime most of the activity is done very early in the morning. On the tours I booked they actually picked me up from the hotel at 6:30 or 7:30 AM, and I was supposed to be ready by that time, lunch included. Around 3-4 PM things are pretty much done and everybody is going home. At 6 PM, during this time of the year is actually getting dark. From 6 PM until 1 AM is the Bangkok night life but that’s another story.
The most important part in the cultural shock is the visual one. The colors you see in Thailand are so different than the colors I was used to. Strong pink, magenta, cyan, electric green, orange are predominant colors. The photo below is summarizing what I’m trying to say much better:
This photo, which I consider to be iconic for the Thai visual expression was took at the flower market in Bangkok, one of the most interesting places I visited there.
GTD And Traveling
A little surprising, I suppose, is the fact that I’ve used some GTD habits during this trip, and they proved to be extremely useful. One of them is “getting it out of your head”. I’ve actually stored everything I needed outside me: printed vouchers, phone numbers from the guides, hotel information, everything was stored outside me, usually on pieces of paper safely stored in my backpack. So my brain was free to look outside and find the best angle for the next photo instead of trying to remember what time should I be up tomorrow, for instance.
The second rule: if you can do it in 2 minutes, do it. Amazingly how interesting is to try this when you ride an unknown skytrain, for instance. If that train could take you to the next station in the next 2 minutes, than do it, don’t delay, don’t second guess. If you could stop to that boat station and take a look around for 2 minutes, than just do it, and then come back in. It really streamlined my entire experience down there.
Keeping A Raw Food Diet in Thailand
This is one of the things that surprised me the most. It’s so easy to keep a raw food diet in Thailand. Even more surprising is the fact that, even if they had so much choices for fruits and fresh vegetables, 90% of the Thai food is cooked. I really enjoyed staying raw vegan and I had fantastic fruits plateau, fresh juices and salads. I ate most of the time at the hotel restaurant or via room service, but even when I was outside I could find fresh fruits basically all over the streets. There was one exception to that, and that actually made me to eat some traditional thai food, but more on that on a later post.
Although I initially planned to write my Thailand trip impressions in one post, I soon realized that this is simply impossible. So, I will split this travelogue in 3-4 more posts, because there is so much left to be said. I will try to outline my trip day by day and when it will be possible I will compress several days in one post. I made around 5-600 photos, but of course, I can only use several dozens, and I’m sure some of your already saw them on my twitter or flickr account. So if you wanna see more photos from Thailand, keep coming back because in the next posts I will surely have more.
The most important thing that happened in this trip was really something related to personal development. I couldn’t say I had an epiphany, but something really close to that. It’s still to early to talk about it, but in the next few weeks I’ll put to test my discovery and most likely I will publish my conclusions on the blog. I’m really, really excited about that.