This is a rather Throwback Thursday-esque series, but my time in Thailand at the top of 2013 left such an impression on my heart that I couldn’t go without finding a place for it here on PBU. I debated on whether or not I should even write about a trip that happened over two years ago (sheesh does time fly), however, I decided to go for it. Thailand is so special a place that I’m setting out to return very soon. 2015 soon.
My two week trip through mainland Thailand’s three most popular cities and one of its small islands was everything I could wish for -- enriching, adventurous, exciting, challenging… different. I experienced a number of firsts... Ones that stick around and feel fresh in your mind far after you’ve flown away.
I’d just started my senior year and I knew my time in college would come to a bittersweet close sooner than I knew it. While I did hop on the chance to study abroad once after sophomore year (a beautiful Business, Culture, and Design two week summer course in Italy), I halfway regretted never pursuing a full semester overseas. Since my opportunity window to do so was dwindling away, I felt this tugging urge to fit in one more short term trip before I found myself walking across the stage, diploma in hand.
I majored in marketing and wanted a course that would earn credits towards my business degree and also be relevant to my career field, so I headed straight to UMD’s school of business’ Global Initiatives page to check out what it offered. There were several different business courses all over the world --in China, France and Germany, India, South Africa, and more -- but there was one that especially stuck out to me: “Doing Business in Thailand - Social Value Creation and Corporate Responsibility.”
Despite having known very little about Thailand at the time, thoughts of visiting the country pulled a heartstring. It could have been that particular course description and the interesting activities planned; or maybe I had recently read wonderful things about Thailand, or perhaps it was an alluring combination of both. I can’t even recall exactly why, I don’t even know if there was a why, but I just knew it was the trip for me. I went with my gut, applied, and got accepted!
Introduction to Southeast Asia
Traveling to Thailand was a whirlwind in itself that took a full day and night when it was all said and done. The class began just two days after New Year’s Day, and I had already had a round trip flight to Vegas for New Year's. My solution? Skip out on my return flight to DC. I instead flew from Las Vegas to Thailand after 4 nights of non-stop debauchery, using those long flight hours in the sky to sleep off the exhaustion Sin City delivers. I had a layover in both Los Angeles and Hong Kong before finally arriving in Bangkok about 21 hours later.
Thailand, I’m hereeee! Sa-wat-dee-ka! (Thai for "hello") I mentally shouted. Even after traveling for a ridiculous amount of time, losing a full day in transit, and being thrown into this crazy opposite time zone, I was WIRED. I had stepped afoot my third continent. I needed to go do something. Inhad not a single friend or classmate by my side...Bangkok was all mine for the taking!
The Very First Adventure
Well, for the first day at least. I cabbed it to the Grand Sukhumvit Hotel and got myself all checked in. It was swank and modem, with a restaurant (lavish breakfast included), large bar and lounge area, and an overpriced pastry cafe/ice cream shop. I was happy to find that our room was spacious and comfy with a cool view of the city, as this is where we'd be staying for the majority of the trip.
My roommate Mandy hadn't yet arrived. I had an evening to myself before officially checking into "class" the next day, and spending it in the hotel wasn't an option. I wanted get a jumpstart on exploring. I wanted to see Bangkok, I wanted to feel the city first without a guide or a set itinerary.
My burning wanderlust brought me to ... The mall. Ha! I'd scoured the Internet doing research on Thailand, discovering through multiple outlets that shopping in Bangkok was plentiful and jaw droppingly cheap. Platinum Fashion Mall is one of Bangkok's main shopping venues, and luckily it was only a few miles away from our hotel. It was only right I withdrew a few thousand baht (Thailand currency) and paid a visit.
I caught a taxi, made sure the driver turned on the fare meter (this is a must in Thailand! Or else they will try to jip you), and made a beeline towards the shopping Mecca I was so anticipating... Only to be held back by a wall of traffic holding me back. I would come to realize that Bangkok's traffic problem might rival LA's and -- if you know -- you know how excruciating that daily rendezvous can be.
On a more pleasant note, I also found out how cheap the taxis were. My taxi ride to the mall was only about 4 bucks! "This is going to be very clutch," I thought as i excitedly skipped my way into the very alive shopping arena.
I didn't even know where to start. To my left, my right, straight ahead, and at least two more stories above me were rows and rows of stores. Hundreds of mini boutiques -- most no bigger than an eighth of of the size of your typical Gap -- displayed trendy outfits and accessories hung up all around their space. As a first timer, I was mall-struck.
I was induced by the shopping frenzy that is Platinum Mall, and my hypnotic state caused me to buy things simply because they were interesting pieces for under <$10. I bought some of the most random clothes! I still wear a lot of my finds to this day, but there were some items I had absolutely no business dropping baht on. I picked up well made pieces, as well as others that weren't made well in the least -- but hey, when you pay $5 for a shirt, you can't really get mad when they rip after several wears. I've got shirts from Banana Republic 8 times as expensive, that have fallen apart after way less usage.
I could have easily burned through my cash all within my first few hours in Bangkok, like a madwoman. The mall’s closing time was my only saving grace. There were soo many stalls and shops calling me in every which direction. I was saddened by the fact that I couldn't get around to all of them, even though I had more than enough newly purchased attire, and a complete two weeks to conquer more than just Platinum.
Instead of cabbing it back to my spot, I opted for an infamous tuk tuk ride. Tuk tuks are an even cheaper transportation alternatives -- they're 3-wheeler, little open air rickshaw carts. They're fast, albeit a bit seedy (most of the drivers first take you to their friend's tailor shop to try and get you to buy a custom suit for the low, in exchange for the cheap ride), and they're undoubtedly an essential of Southeast Asia's culture.
That sensation I felt breezing through busy Bangkok on my first tuk tuk ride was beyond liberating. I clutched all my shopping bags tight (so no motorcycle thieves could zoom by and grab them), and welcomed the foreign streets and smells. In my tank top and shorts, my skin was exposed to thick and warm nighttime air. Inner city Bangkok wasn't beautiful aesthetically, but it was new and stare-worthy, unlike any other place I had ever physically been to.
There I was, for my very first time in a country this foreign, navigating around on my own, making it back in one piece. I wouldn't be solo for long, but that one first evening to myself was thrilling, awakening, captivating. It was all I needed to spark my desire for plenty of future solo travel...
To be continued...