Going new places is (probably obviously) high on my list of things I love to do. There’s nothing like entering a new city, except maybe opening a brand new book. Low on that list, however, is the process of international travel. Being cooped up in an airplane seat for fifteen and a half hours between two strangers, only one of whom speaks a little English, is simply an unpleasant experience no matter how you slice it. Even international flights with a group of people I’ve known my whole life are a trial.
Thailand is exactly twelve time zones ahead of the east coast of the United States. It was quicker, therefore, to fly over the North Pole rather than across the Pacific, and that made for some spectacular sights out of our little airplane portholes. The first, I’m sure, was the pole itself, though poor sleep the night before my flight made sure I was passed out before we’d even cleared Canada. Don’t worry, I fully intend to catch a glimpse on my way back over. The second coolest thing I saw on this flight was not the Disney-Marvel Thor (though Hemsworth and Portman certainly did their jobs well); it was what I presume to be the Gobi Desert (it wasn’t labeled on our digital in-flight map). I’ve flown over the Sahara and spent time in the American Southwest, and it fascinates me how different each desert is from all the others. Cacti, for instance, are an exclusively American phenomenon. The Sahara is like a sea of sand, with dunes instead of waves. The Gobi looked flat and rocky with just a little bit of sand, with pockmarks resembling craters on the moon.
Without a doubt, the coolest thing I saw from that airplane was Siberia (pun in no way intended but absolutely allowed). Rocky, hilly, green, and grey, with frozen rivers snaking between the bumps on the landscape. Lakes, too, with steep shores and icy grey-white surfaces. Nothing, though, can compare to the king of all lakes, Lake Baikal. Containing more fresh water than all of the Great Lakes combined, not only is it the biggest freshwater lake in the world, it is also the deepest lake on earth. Even despite this incredible volume, the surface seemed frozen clear across. We flew over its western edge, but the lake is so massive that the curvature of the earth prevented us from seeing the other side. Truly incredible.
A four-hour layover in Guangzhou, China and another two-hour flight later, I finally found myself in Thailand—Bangkok, the capital, to be specific. Because Thai airports apparently have the best WI-FI of any airports in the world, I had no problem calling an uber from Suvarnabhumi Airport to the Bangkok Christian Guest House, which would be my home for the next two nights. My driver, Sophon, spoke enough English that we were able to converse, though I didn’t know what questions to ask to get any useful information from him. No matter; I’d learn everything I needed to soon enough.
Bangkok is famous for its street food. Just about every corner has at least one, usually more, vendor with a mobile stand selling food made on the spot. Many Thai don’t have a kitchen in their homes. Instead, they purchase prepared meals at a nearby market or vendor and bring it home.
It’s been said that it’s unwise to trust a skinny chef. So when I saw a rotund man sweating over open coals, I knew I’d found my first street food meal. Chunks of what was most likely pork had been skewered ahead of time and were now roasting over the coals, a delicious smell wafting into the air. Those ahead of me got theirs with rice, but as I was planning on eating mine on the go, I didn’t bother with it. I did, however, bother with the glaze that he had in a little pot in the middle of everything. I’m finding that Thai chilis are one of my favorite flavors ever, and I’m very excited to continue eating them in new and different recipes. The problem is that my tolerance to spice is so low that I can only eat so much of it at once. Ah, the limitations of this mortal form.
Unfortunately, my time in Bangkok was so limited that I really didn’t get to do anything unique to the city, what with jet lag and being in a totally unfamiliar setting. That’s okay, though, as ahead of me are two very different destinations, where I’ll spend a week each. First up, Chiang Rai, the northernmost city in the country, where I just might get to ride an elephant. From there, I’ll head to Phuket (pronounced with a hard p and a short e), which is the vacation destination in Thailand. For now, I’m going to bed early to try to fight off the twelve hour time difference. Don’t worry, though; you’ll hear from me again soon.