The flight to Thailand felt like forever. Pretty early the lights were off and it was quiet as most people fell asleep, only rustles and faint whispers could be heard.
I was reading one of the books I took with me, The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, but couldn’t concentrate. I imagined the usual banal things, what the grocery stores are like in a different continent, how kids go to school, do traffick lights look different?
I swayed among sleepiness and alertness, woke up by the slightest motion of the plane and every flight attendant passing by. In the distance there were black clouds, lit by a bolt of huge lightning once every few seconds, and it was getting closer as we arrived at the thunderstorm. Almost everybody on the plane was awake by now. A big man with salami-breath leaned above us with a camera and tried to capture the lightning. It was hypnotizing and scary. After about half an hour the clouds cleared and golden rays appeared from the East.
A long line of people with toothbrushes was formed by the restroom as the sun risen. We could see the ocean through the clouds, dotted here and there with deep green islands and beaches. There it was, East Asia, where we would spend the next few months.
From above, Bangkok’s airport has a strange shape, like a big white spider, and inside everything is clean and decorated with plants. The hot humid air strikes you while descending the plane. A weird dollish voice speaks Thai from speakers on the walls, and long conveyors lead inside. I was too happy to feel how tired I was and had no idea what the time is.
We were delayed by bureaucracy – you need to fill a form while entering Thailand and write where you’ll stay, and we had no idea. A mustached man with uniform and a wide smile asked us to book a hotel online – “It’s important for my country that you write down the hotel’s name” he said, in a heavy accent. Then he winked and whispered we can just make something up.
A squicky clean taxi took us to a hotel we chose randomly.
The chatter from the radio was in Thai and I tried, unsuccessfully, to understand some language structure and distinguish different sentences, names and tones.
The city outside looked completely different than anything I ever knew, as if everything was more saturated, with its highways and roads and succulent plants, rich neighborhoods with skyscrapers, slums, people hanging laundry outside, floral squares with golden statues, huge signs with the royal family in central points.
Thailand for us was just a stop in the way to Vietnam, and up until that day, I had no idea how little I knew about this country. I’ve heard dozens of stories about beach parties, light and heavy drugs, massages, ping-pong shows, shemales, prostitutes.
I’ve been told that the Thais are naive and you need to bargain for everything.
I’ve felt so stupid when we got there.
More and more Hebrew signs emerged between buildings as the driver navigated through the chaos of complex alleys until we stopped in front of the D&D hotel in the center of the Khaosan, a super touristic area.
A young man approached and collected our backpack, and we followed him into a dark den with travel agencies and cheap clothing stores, and eventually the hotel’s lobby.
We sat on fancy leather couches under a green flickering neon lamp, together with a group of pinkish European tourists, and in a short while, the room was ready.
Everything felt weird. Parts of the hotel were under construction and the room had luxurious parts but the walls were flaky and the shower was fidgeting. We didn’t care much, being so curious to see the city, so after a brief shower we went outside.
The street was bustling and ridden with tourists. The Hebrew signs and Israeli families made me feel like I just flew for 13 hours to come back home. This can’t be it, right?
We wandered around until we’ve managed to leave the Khaosan, and looked for something to eat. The main streets were netted with hidden alleys, and inside them were booths that served all kinds of local food that seemed and smelled great. As we walked into one of them, a middle-aged woman who sat by a plastic table pointed at a large menu that was hanged above her head. We chose fried noodles with pork and iced tea.
Here we are, finally, as I imagined – just walking into a restaurant in the other end of the world, randomly choosing something, sitting with people I have no common language with. It was not disappointing, at all. The food was hot and comforting with strong flavors, and the tea was bright orange and sweet as hell.
Afterward, we kept strolling around in the area, getting lost in a maze of narrow streets were people sat on the doorways or cooked in the yards. Domestic cats with colorful collars were walking lazily around. The scene was intimate and we felt like intruders, so we got back to the main streets.
The air was thick and mellow and smelled of sewerage, pollution, spices, and foods. It all struck me, the airports, Russia, Thailand; all the strange people.
I thought about all the warnings I’ve heard – diseases, pickpockets, robbers, organ harvesters, earthquakes, tsunamis. I felt overwhelmed and just wanted to take a shower and rest.
It was already noon when I woke up from a nap, feeling dazed and grumpy.
Roni was outside and I met him at a colorful Pad-Thai restaurant in the street. The spicy smell of foreign food was still too much for me, but little by little my appetite came back.
The streets were even crazier at night. BBQs were burning around every corner and loud music played, neon lights shone from above.
The worries from before seemed distant and silly.
We felt like children in a toy store.
The Khaosan is full of Israelis, Americans and Europeans, which turned the whole area into a tourist trap. Lots of cheap clothes and jewelry, booths and wagons of light food and fruits, people selling bugs on skewers and charging ten Bahts for a photo, women with colorful hats selling bracelets, and tuk-tuk drivers offering transportation.
After a stroll outside we went to the hotel’s roof to have some beer by the pool. it was very quiet, only the music from bars bellow was echoing.
A small TV showed trashy soap operas and commercials.
The feeling was a bit heavy and strange. We sat on the pool chairs that were scattered around, and as I closed my eyes I could still feel the movements of the plane.
We went to bed, hoping that tomorrow will be less confusing.