Spring in Siam
Goodbye, Mango! I’ll miss your heavenly taste. I accidentally eat about a hundred of your cousins these past months.
An imaginary conversation with fruit seems out of touch, but for a good while my reality also felt out of touch. I spent most of this spring in Thailand and detoured to Saigon towards the end.
It’s a lot of time to unpack, but I’ll let the photos do the work. I recommend you view this on a big screen!
Chiang Mai puzzles me. Nearly everyone I met who’s been there loves it, myself included. Yet it’s hard to explain why. It’s not a big city, nor a remote destination. It’s an average city with good food, close proximity to mountains and a healthy tourist-to-local ratio. Maybe it’s that simple.
Every time I visit Chiang Mai I cut through another layer of its fabric. It’s fun to become intimate with a place so foreign. Once you go past the apparent differences, familiar patterns of city life and social dynamics begin to surface. It’s also a tad melancholic, as the novelty gets washed away in the process.
Maybe highlights for others, but for me the night life and lively markets are background noise. Although they’re not my cup of tea, I don’t mind them. Oddly enough, I find it comforting to have options I end up never choosing.
A lot more comfort, however, I get from the putting the urban life on hold. Which made the following transit particularly exciting.
The smooth transitions are my favorite aspect of island life. Let me explain. Get hungry while strolling on the beach? Find a table and sit down. Driving around and feel like swimming? Park your bike and jump into the ocean. Barely any doors or walls, changes of shoes or clothes. Activities merge.
My mind was prolly not as tranquil as of the guy in front of me, but I felt we were on the same page sharing this quiet beach at 6am. Not a lot to be said really, except that I feel grateful.
As much as I enjoy the sandy beaches, I find turning around to face the abundant wild forests even more appealing.
Riding these wild island roads feels like a serotonin bath for my brain. Particularly climactic is crossing the apex of a hill and seeing the ocean rise from behind the horizon as you begin your descent. Pure joy.
Whoever says island life is carefree is wrong. After a while you begin to worry about having no cares!
Half joking, but I’ve noticed a pattern where overnight people snap from “I could live here forever” to “I have to get out of here”.
Songkran, the traditional New Year in Thailand, is when everybody gets wet outdoors. No escape. Perfectly on point in the driest, warmest time of the year.
Exploring North Thailand is one of the reasons I went back to Thailand. The burning season, however, when famers burn their land to clear it for year ahead, was not to best time to explore the rural landscapes. Still, it was well worth it and full of surprises.
Even though, to quote a fellow traveler, I feel templed out in Thailand, after a while I still feel like visiting another temple to enjoy its calming atmosphere.
Ho Chi Minh brought me back to my first time in Bangkok. Objectively, they bear no resemblance. But both cities triggered a panicky feeling I’ve not felt elsewhere. Culturally, I don’t get spooked easily. I was, however, experiencing an environmental shock. The heat, air and smell exceeded my limits.
Luckily, the unease diffused after day one and morphed into the curiosity that guided the remainder of this trip.
You have to be aware of motorbikes at all times in Saigon. Even inside markets or on the sidewalk (aka “the highway”). Any sudden move can lead to dangerous contact with a rider coming out of nowhere. And if you’re a headphone junkie like yours truly, you’re in for a video game experience.
Food is cheap and delicious in Saigon. But while it’s true you can eat at a good restaurant for $2, import food like raw nuts and seeds is hard to come by and can cost as much as in Western Europe. Eating out is always a pleasure, but I found grocery shopping and cooking at home unsuitable.
Spending time in a less developed country reveals the impact of technology on our evolution. You see local people, often swinging in a hammock tied to electric poles on a smelly sidewalk, browsing the latest generation of mobile apps at 4G speed. It’s remarkable how much more evenly distributed the virtual world is compared to the rest of the global wealth.
Bangkok is the poster child for the concrete jungle metaphor. The unleashed vegetation interwoven with harsh concrete pillars turn the figure of speech into a literal description.
Although my first encounters with Bangkok left me unsettled, this time around my distress was replaced by fascination. Another reminder to avoid judging by covers, especially on something as alien.
A large part of Bangkok’s appeal, on this occasion, was reliving some of my experiences from 5 years back, under different lens. Revisiting places and tracing my initial steps is a lifelong fetish of mine, and this episode sits right at the top in this category.
I’ll tell you a cute coincidence. My first time in Bangkok, I made a habit of drinking a yuge Caramel Macchiato with croissant at a Starbucks attached to the hotel I was staying at. I remembered that place vividly so I decided it’s a perfect candidate to satisfy my travel fetish.
I don’t drink sugary drinks anymore and it was too late for coffee. So I order just the croissant for a partial trip down memory lane, only to randomly win a free coffee. Fine, I go for the full menu and tell the staff all about my plan to reenact my first visit to Thailand.
The place looked exactly as I remember it, but not for long. Turns out the interior was due for a major redesign. A few weeks later and the place would’ve been unrecognisable!
Two and a half months solo in SE Asia is definitely a trip to remember. And possibly to repeat. By staying longer, my fondness for Thailand grew even larger, as well as my appreciation for my homeland.
Along the way I faced two of my biggest fears — deep waters and small spaces — by learning to dive and by crawling through the original Củ Chi tunnels.
But “traveling solo” is inaccurate, as I’ve made many friends along the way and was always in good company. My best regards to all of you!