Thailand. A country so on the map yet so hard to find.
After being here for two and a half weeks I was feeling more disorientated and confused than ever. With only a handful of photos to show for my entire time here I found myself asking the question: What the hell have I been doing all day?
Aside from acquiring more kilos in my rucksack the answer is very little. After the high of cycling Sri Lanka with its sweat, scary dogs and looking like a boy for two weeks, I was at first enchanted by Thailand’s oh so traveller friendly ways.
Buses to make the National Express cower in shame, an endless supply of goods worthy of Oxford Street (at a fraction of the cost), real coffee, fresh fruit, vegetables, AVOCADO on sticks, in shakes, on every street corner: it was everything I hadn’t had in the last three months.
Street market, Chiang Mai
After a couple of days (and one crazy night) in Bangkok, I headed north to Chiang Mai with the rationale that I would do more here and avoid the bucket guzzling Chang vest wearing crowds of the islands, sooo my last holiday to Thailand at 22 when I needed another holiday to get over the hangover.
Yes my days would be filled with yoga, massages, fresh food, reading and I would be more wholesome than a loaf of brown bread.
For a few days they certainly were; I indulged, meandering round the old city in a massage induced haze wondering which juice bar to frequent next. I sat, I read, I wrote, I reflected….
But did I speak to any Thai people aside from an exchange of goods or services? No.
Did I even attempt to take a local bus to the next town when the tourist vans would pick me up right outside my hostel for only 20 baht more? No.
Did I feel a prickle of irritation at every backpacker who waxed lyrical at the joys of traveling despite spending half their day inside on Facebook? Yes.
Even though the place had everything on offer that I could want, here I was secretly seething away, developing my own brand of travel snobbery and yearning for the days of having “which countreeeeeeee” trail after my every move.
Yes the pace had definatly changed from one where I was the odd one out and being thrust a small Tibetan child on a 15 hour bus journey journey (for no apparent reason), was a highlight, to one where foreigners outnumbered Thais and drinking Chang over a game of ‘I have never’ was the biggest learning point of the day (though you learn A LOT from that too).
Now don’t get me wrong I did do stuff, like jungle trekking for three days which was really fun; but with so many people treading the same path it all felt a little like a production line. I think I felt like this because some of the funniest and most memorable moments I’d had so far had not came not from tours or trips, but really ordinarily things, like trying to explain in charades why you don’t have a husband to a group of perplexed Sri Lankan women.
Yes I was struggling to adapt and longed for the streets of Old Delhi where it was just me in a sea of natives, never wanting to see a wheatgrass avocado mung bean soy o latte or a pair of elephant pants ever again.
But my newly acquired judgmental nature was perhaps turning me in to the biggest parody of all.
What do you mean you don’t have any fresh young coconuts?!
Realisation of this fact came the following morning when I felt my whole world implode because my favourite cafe didn’t have any fresh young coconuts left. It was then that I knew it was time to leave, I had overstayed my welcome and could not stay in this bubble any longer.
But where to next? I didn’t have a guide book or jot of advice for this aspect of my trip. I’d been so excited about going to India and Sri Lanka that I had guiltily neglected to do any proper research on South East Asia. I didn’t know why I was in Thailand and here I was judging everyone else on their gap yar month long drunkathon…. at least they knew that’s what they wanted from their trip!
And so this has been a valuable lesson. To do your research if you don’t want to get swept along, that iced chai goji berry smoothies are not the be all, and perhaps I’m one who secretly loves chaos the road less travelled…