My feet hit the ground in Bangkok. The rawness of this city never ceases to amaze me. This was my first time arriving in September. Smack bang in the low season. Smack bang in the wet season. My first time without a plan. And smack bang – it hit me in the face. It slammed me up against myself with a ferocity I hadn’t known. And suddenly, there was no escape. This was it. My moments all compounded into this… here and now.
It was hot, humid, sticky and chaotic. Horns, shouting, bartering, open sewers and sweet smelling street food. So contrasting. Such an assault on the senses. Everything I remembered.
I’ve never particularly liked cities. The bigger they are, the stronger the feeling of disconnect and isolation. I struggle to find my place among so many people. It’s bustle and business and the air is thick. And here I had dumped myself in the heart of it: two blocks from Khao San Road. Backpacker heaven.
For me this place represents a mecca of transition. It filters in newcomers: fresh, clean and buzzing with excitement and opportunity, and spits out those who have been stumbling around the lost corners of South East Asia searching for answers. It sends them home with a tan, a full suitcase (or two) and many a travelling tale. Answers? Well, I’m not so sure.
It’s streets teem with tourists gorging themselves on shopping and cheap drinks and food and the freedom Thailand affords. It’s raucous and rowdy and young and idealistic.
This city is love-hate for me. I know it leads to hidden treasures. I know from here, the road goes anywhere.
Twenty-four hours in, as I struggled with myself and tried to figure out what the hell I was going to do, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. I began to notice the ones who had fallen through the cracks. They had a grubbiness, a weatheredness; and a ruthless edge that had taken them far from the well-trodden paths of the tourist trail. They had barely any belongings. They were alone. They walked like they had crossed through this colourful, crazy city many times. They seemed to know where they were going but I couldn’t quite figure out where that was… and I wasn’t sure I wanted to follow them to find out. They were searching for something I could not see. Either that, or they had already found it. Regardless, they looked like they had lived on the road for a very, very long time and whatever it was they were running from, or to, seemed etched into their very core.
Maybe I noticed because I felt vulnerable. In your own company, in a foreign place, you become more aware of yourself. I found myself trying to draw parallels for comfort, but there weren’t any reference points to gauge myself against. Ironically, that’s the very thing I love about travel… you are free to be, and you are free to become.
So as I stumbled down old familiar roads and took new turns I realised there was nothing new here I needed to fill my pockets with. I didn’t want to smash myself on 10 cocktails and crawl home (I’d been doing that for the last year or so). So I booked the next bus and made my first plan: get the hell out.