It was almost on a whim that I decided to go on vacation to Thailand – an ‘ahhhh fuck it, I need a holiday!’ moment. A ‘I need to get the hell outta of Korea for a bit’ moment. So I pulled out my credit card and a few weeks later, found myself lying on a quiet beach on an island, Koh Pha Ngan in the south of the country. Even the weeks leading up to the trip made the whole thing worth it. It gave me something to look forward to and something other than my usual monotonous day-to-day life to think about.
I had been to Thailand before. Six years ago I was there for almost a month. It was a great trip – the first such trip I had taken alone in Asia and it was a desperately needed time of healing as I came out of a horrible year – my first in Korea and one that I always try to erase from my memory.
That trip was one of those rare times when the stars seem to align and things become serendipitous. I arrived with no set plans and just traveled around alone. I felt happy and present for the first time in god knows how long. I made my way down to beautiful Ko Phi Phi island for a few days. One day, in between snorkeling and attending random muslim weddings, as I was escaping from the heat in my swanky hotel room with turbo air conditioning, I began to channel surf. A documentary on one of the national channels caught my eye. I became intrigued – it was about a German expat and his Thai wife who started an organisation (Baan Gerda), similar to an orphanage, for children and adults that have been abandoned and stigmatized because of being infected with HIV/AIDS. I was moved by what I saw, so in an uncharacteristic moment of boldness, I contacted the founder, Karl, and soon enough, I was at their beautiful house in a quiet suburb of Bangkok and then we were on the road in their SUV and drove for three hours deep into the rice fields of the Thai countryside. I spent two days and one night there just hanging out, playing with the children and talking with Karl who explained to me all the complexities of the situation of the children, of the community, of the government. It was an extremely interesting and eye-opening experience.
Also, while I was there, an Australian woman showed up with a representative from her Thai publishing house to also learn about the work that was being done there. Just a week before, I had been looking at her memoir in a bookstore near one of the big temples in central Bangkok, wondering about who this crazy woman was – who dedicates their life to working for free in the ‘Bangkok Hilton’, one of the world’s most notorious prisons? Who does that?! And here she was, in the flesh. We spoke for a while and of course, promptly upon my return to Bangkok, I bought and read her story which was crazy, involving a criminal husband, smuggling people out of Burma and nearly bleeding to death.
And then, after riding elephants and hanging out with a tribe in the jungle, I came back to civilization, checked my email and found out I had been given an amazing opportunity to travel around the world as a reporter for Peace Boat. Those were exciting times.
Alas, this is now and my trip to Thailand this time was so different. This time, I had more of an agenda – I just want to chill out and be healthy. And with that in mind, I went to The Sanctuary, a really laid back kind of yoga resort/spa/camping ground/hippie-hipster playground for people on a budget. It’s hard to describe, but I first stumbled upon it online two or three years ago and thought, ‘Wow, that looks interesting! I want to go there!’ but then promptly talked myself out of it because that sabotaging voice in my head, which gets more say than it should, told me that it was too hard to get to, too expensive, and that it was morally bankrupt because how could I justify going somewhere like that where people pay to fast and cleanse when there are so many starving people in the world?
But this time, I decided to, in the spirit of Nike, ‘Just do it.’ And it was lovely. Although, knowing what I know now, I wish I had stayed longer (everybody says that). But I got what I needed and I know that it was important to take that time for myself because I’m about to get bat-shit busy with a six day work week and trying to keep up with everything else – I’ve never been good at juggling more than a few balls, so hopefully I can keep a piece of the Sanctuary within me to have a sense of balance and equanimity.
Ironically, however, as soon as I got back to Bangkok where I had planned to spend a few says doing girly things (sightseeing, shopping, spa etc), I was struck down with food poisoning. The universe certainly has a sense of humour – I was so healthy and relaxed and then boom! A day later I am writhing around on the bathroom floor of my hotel room, sweating, shivering, vomiting, trying to endure the incessant stabbing pains in my stomach, having no clue how to get to a doctor or hospital. Luckily, after some frantic searching, I found a pharmacy with a pharmacist that spoke English and that sold antibiotics. I had three days in the city, two were spent trying not to die alone in a hotel room and on the third day, finally I was able to get out and about a little bit.
I always had fond memories of the metropolis – I thought it’s shabbiness was charming. I thrived on its chaos and crowds. I loved the contrasts of the old temples and houses next to the giant modern malls. Now, however, I think Bangkok is too big, too dirty, too hot and too ugly. I was surprised that for such a tourist mecca, how few people spoke English, and how rude some people could be. Actually, I would probably be that way too if I was constantly dealing with snotty, privileged, high 22 year old European backpackers who demanded a fifty percent discount on everything. But anyway, Thailand you rule, Bangkok you suck!