From Patna we flew to Kolkata (also known as Calcutta). We’d been in India for five months. We felt enriched by our time and many adventures. From the sunny beaches in the south to the snowy mountains in the north we’d experienced a lot. We had petted dozens and dozens of sweet cows, eaten countless delicious meals, made some good new friends, gone on a free*** camel safari, meditated in silence for ten days, listened to the Dalai Lama’s teaching, felt the weight of accumulated shame at our poor bargaining skills, translated a French website, gotten too close for comfort with some monkeys (video coming one of these days), gotten sick (as one must in India), gotten cured, gotten upset over minor injustices that we wished we could have not taken personally, watched dead bodies get cremated, ridden on various forms of frighteningly full public transportation, ridden motorbikes into the desert, been exposed to Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist worship, thrown up on buses, floated on the Ganges, witnessed a pedestrian get hit by a vehicle, attended a film festival, loved every street dog, inhaled a lot of dust, stepped in cow poo, celebrated new holidays and finally gotten the hang of Eastern bathroom routines. Yet finding ourselves in the Kolkata airport with tickets to Bangkok, we felt certain we’d barely scratched the surface. We hadn’t even left India before we’d drawn up a list of locations we want to see on our next visit.We’d heard from other travelers that Thailand has lost some of its magic due to its popularity among tourists. It had already been found and used up, we’d been told, and as a result of this forecast our expectations were low. We knew we wanted to go to Southeast Asia and would have been happy to avoid Thailand altogether, but chose to go to Bangkok because it was by far the cheapest flight from Kolkata. Our Thailand mission was simple: maximum relaximum. The Bangkok airport shocked us out of India. We rode on moving sidewalks and heeded the entertaining electronic voice warning us of impending doom:
A nice lady in a uniform standing near the exit asked us if she could assist us and then proceeded to explain our transportation options to us. She helped us figure out how to navigate public transportation to our guesthouse. What kind of place was this? Public transportation in Bangkok was an incredible experience for two weary travelers from India. It was immaculate, air conditioned, punctual and spacious. With remarkable ease we found our way from the airport to our hotel, which ended up becoming one of our very favorite hotels ever, and every little thing amazed us. To offer some insight into our culture shock, below is an excerpt of an email Austin wrote to her mother shortly after arriving in Bangkok. She could hardly comprehend how one hour in an airplane had changed everything she’d come to understand about life.
“Hello from Bangkok, the Western Europe of SE Asia! There are roads with lanes! And people seem to obey traffic laws. And NO honking cars or nearly dying while trying to cross the street! Sidewalks without hidden death traps. There’s no trash! Hygienic restaurants! Fixed prices! And SUPERMARKETS REIGN AGAIN!! Plus the Internet is good and there’s European chocolate.”
We’d become accustomed to our previous standard of living and were not prepared to step into such a different lifestyle. Such seemingly simple amenities felt like enormous luxuries. Just like when we’d first arrived in India, we had to get used to how things worked in Thailand. We had three weeks to do so.We loved Bangkok’s night markets, street food and bubble tea. After three nights there we caught a taxi (no bargaining required!) to the bus station. On the recommendation of a friend who’d visited Thailand on his honeymoon, we decided to go to Bangsaphan, a quiet place with a lot of coastline. We arrived to the bus terminal and found that the bus we wanted would be leaving in 15 minutes. We made a mad dash around the terminal for food, bathrooms and coffee before finding our bus and settling in for a six-hour drive south with only the name of a beach bungalow in our pocket and waves of ease washing over our travel fatigued bodies.