Contrary to the colorful promo brochures full of permanent smiles, Thailand gave us a rather brutal welcome when we arrived for the first time. We came into the rainy deep south from Malaysia, soaked, and chilled to the bone by the bus fans. Grim and frigid faces awaited us in the wet Hat Yai. No one wanted to help us at the bus terminal and the tuk-tuk driver was determined to rip us off. Waitresses in the gloomy hotel laid asleep over magazines, not willing to move their asses to our table. My question on where to find fruit stalls was just too difficult for the receptionist to answer. The seller of outrageously expensive sticky rice with mango threw the money in my direction when I gave up on the transaction. And so on… We were able to shed those bad impressions somewhere along the way, but despite many good experiences, there still were no sparks between us and Thailand.
This time we enter the country in the far north, charged with Laotian ease, satiated with beautiful landscapes, cheerful and satisfied. After one and a half month in Laos, we feel like savages stepping into civilization. We are shocked by the billboards, Tesco, 7eleven and ATMs on every corner. We overnight in a cute guesthouse with friendly owners. Marcin jokingly yells to me from the bathroom: “Ania, there is hot water here coming straight out of the wall!” A random driver picks us up from the road into the back of his truck and drives us to the bus stop. We try new snacks and giggle with the market sellers. Twice, we are halted on the street and asked where we are heading and if we need any help. The tuk-tuk drivers are nice and fair. And so on… Oh, how nice the Thai are!
Chiang Kong, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai – our flight back home is already booked so we speed through the north to Bangkok in a week. We don’t have time to go a little further from the civilization and we realize the cities are not really inspiring. Despite the nice people we’ve met, we still have a problem with Thailand. Our discouragement influences how we see the country. We were spoiled by so many beautiful places during the trip that we lost our interest in digging deeper in search of Thai gems. What we see at a first glimpse is a touristic product, full of characterless bars and restaurants. Numerous travel agencies offer a mix of experiences put into a form of a ready-made product. Long-neck women, Akha women, elephants, cooking classes, visa run, tickets, temples. Choose, pay, cross off your list.
Once again are we confronted with the fact that what we see and what happens to us is strongly dependent on our way of looking at the world. All we have at our disposal is perception. It’s each one of us who decides what to focus our attention on, and this way we draw certain people and events into our life. If you think that people are stupid, these will be the ones you meet the most on your way. If you think the world is a dangerous place, most of what will reach your ears will be stories of crimes and accidents. If you are afraid to fulfill your dreams, you will mostly see people who tried and failed. And so on.
The cuisine of the north is spicy and heavy – thick noodle soup with cubes of coagulated pork blood, fermented pork sausage, salad with boiled pork. Overdosed on new tastes, exhausted by immense heat, we are not eager to try any more new dishes. We eat less and sometimes go for Vietnamese. I dream about Polish bread, butter, cheese and pickles, about our lovely sweet and sour fruit. Tropical aromas available everyday ceased to amaze us. This is a sign we are saturated with experiences and it’s time for us to go home.
Over the last six months we have seen too many temples, eaten more than we could stomach, overcame language and cultural barriers every day, walked hundreds of kilometers, driven thousands. It’s hard to describe how wonderful our trip was and we are proud of ourselves for undertaking it. For giving ourselves so much time together and the space to ask questions on who we are and what we want, for seeing the reality from so many different perspectives. We are sad to end it but at the same time happy to begin something new.
During our second visit to Bangkok we meet the amazing woman again. There is time for watching movies together, laziness, meals and balcony conversations.
Spending time with Ania draws my thoughts away from the irrevocable: we’re going back. It’s time to return to our harbor, let the senses and the body rest, replenish the reserves, repair what was broken, try out what we’ve learned. Over the last half year we were excited, tired, discouraged, happy, enthusiastic, euphoric, peaceful, balanced. In the past, we considered moving out of Poland or becoming full time travelers. During this trip, there were periods when we felt we had enough but these were followed by times of awe and happiness from simply being on the move. Today we see very clearly that as travelers at heart we will always go but always come back as well. After 192 days on the road, we are flying back HOME.
To be continued.