Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 7:00am found my brother Kevin and me waiting in the terminal of Sky Harbor Airport. It was the start of what would be one of the most unique and incredible experiences of our 23- and 24-year old lives. Neither of us quite knew what to expect, and though we had been saving up for this trip for months and our desire to travel internationally had been conceived years ago, our anticipation mingled with trepidation. It had been mere weeks since we’d agreed on Thailand as our destination and mere days since we’d finalized out itinerary. But it was adventure we said we wanted, and it was adventure we were sure we’d get.
Our international travel experience (or lack thereof) was made plain by the yet-unmarked pages of our passport books which we brandished with pride, perhaps secretly hoping to let everyone who saw us know that we were worldly folk. We had made no attempt to ease our way into this new existence; Bangkok is about as near to the opposite side of the globe of Phoenix, Arizona as one can hope to get (that spot actually lies somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean), and the flight there is one of the longest anyone can take. We were diving in head-first and we weren’t wearing life jackets.
Hiking shoes, sunscreen, and mosquito spray–plenty of mosquito spray–were tucked away in our luggage and would, we hoped, be enough to protect us from whatever awaited us in the Thai jungle. Yes, we were really doing this. There was no turning back now. So as the airport gate agent called our boarding group, we did what everyone else there did–business men going on business trips, families going on vacation, students going home for the summer–and what we’d done dozens of times before; we boarded our plane. Those first steps were the start of an adventure we will never forget. We were on our way…
Three flights, twenty hours airborne, and two full calendar days later we arrived at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok. Despite the time it took to get there, the flights were extremely comfortable (shout out to Korean Air): private touch screen in-flight entertainment systems, decent leg room, friendly flight attendants, and the food was actually quite good!
If you’ve never been to Bangkok, I highly recommend visiting if you have the opportunity. It’s difficult to describe the city sufficiently because it’s quite unlike any place I’ve ever been. Its Thai name is Krung Thep, which means City of Angels, and if that’s true, they are certainly not angels of the variety one typically imagines. It is a place at once beautiful and filthy, bustling and relaxed, Eastern and Western, sacred and profane. Immaculately decorated Buddhist temples are masked by thick veins of corroding power lines twisted together in sinews connecting every building and obstructing every view. Having once been thought of as the “Venice of the East,” the streets of Bangkok still operate more like waterways than roadways. Hundreds of cars, motorbikes, tuk tuks, bicyclists, and pedestrians clog the narrow streets with little regard for the painted lines and “flow” together, squeezing into whichever space they can, weaving in and out of one another like a river current. And when there is an obstruction to the flow, the stream simply diverts around it, spilling onto the banks or sidewalks as necessary. The faces of the buildings are worn and scarred, but possess a sense of strength and wisdom, like an old man seasoned from battle. The potent smells of spicy thai food and smog mingle and permeate the air. It is a remarkable city full of history, culture, spirituality, and art.
The people in Bangkok are as wonderful as the city itself. We had some difficulty communicating because where we stayed was not exactly “tourist-friendly.” (As a quick aside, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard a spoken language I find more pleasing to the ear than Thai. It has a musical quality and flow to it that I find simply beautiful). What wasn’t lost in translation, though, was the genuine serenity and friendliness that the locals all seemed to possess. People stopped and talked to one another on the streets and there wasn’t a sense of urgency that is often associated with large American cities.
Our time in Bangkok was shorter than I wish it had been and we weren’t able to experience as much of the city as I would have liked, but what we did see certainly left an impression. In the next few days I’ll go into more detail about what we experienced on our trip. For now, you can check out pictures in this album.