I logged onto my wordpress account recently, and saw the date of my last post glaring back at me: October 26th, almost than a month ago.
The last time I let such a time pass between posts was during IFSS, when my three weeks in Spain marked the gap between London and Berlin.
This time, looking at my photos and words from my last post, it feels like an age has passed since that time, like my three weeks in Sri Lanka were a whole ‘nother world, another trip apart from my cosy guesthouse in Chiang Mai where I am writing this now.
From quiet Mirissa to the tourist beat of Unawatuna, where Clare and I passed three nights and four days in a blur of finding (and fighting for) a beautiful blue shack above a bar on the beach, falling in with a group of English guys who worked anti-pirate security on high risk shipping runs, drinking beer and going for midnight swims in the warm tropical sea, and seeing more sunrises than I had in the past month.
From Sri Lanka, and my farewell to Clare, I caught a plane to Singapore, where the clean streets, quiet hostel, and perfectly functioning public transport were a stark but welcome contrast to the relentless noise, chaos, and stares that follow and surround you in Sri Lanka. Then from Singapore, the leg of my trip that, when outlined to fellow travellers, had never failed to produce a confused stare and a series of questions: New Zealand, and the Asia Pacific Forestry Commission in Rotorua. This trip deserves (and hopefully will be, when I get around to it!) a post of its own – as does the sneaky stop-over in Melbourne on my way back to Singapore, and the subsequent week in Java, Indonesia.
But for now I’ll jump forward, to Thailand – the beginning of the final stage of my nine month adventure. I’m here to lead a series of student volunteer projects, with a company I worked a season for in Australia last year. My first project was supposed to start tomorrow, and I was supposed to have spent the last week in Chiang Mai for training. Instead, my first project was cancelled, and I found myself with a week to kill in Bangkok.
I have a sort of love hate relationship with that city. Like most Asian cities, it can come as a shock; the noise, pollution, traffic and general chaos can be overwhelming. That was my experience the first time I went to Bangkok, back in 2009, and it was less than 24 hours before I was headed north on a bus to Chiang Mai.
And yet there are things I love about Bangkok too: the cheap and delicious food, the wonderful shopping,the easiness of it all, as a city used to hordes of tourists.
After six days in the city, my love hate relationship had been even more (ill)defined.
Arriving at Don Mueang airport, I realised it was not the main airport I was familiar with, and that I had no idea how to get into town and my hostel. Then felt a sense of relief and gratitude when I was directed by a friendly security guard to the bus stand up the road, and approached by a series of concerned locals eager to help me find my way.
On my second morning, running late for a workshop on the other side of town, I reached a peak of frustration when almost no taxis would pick me up due to traffic, and those that would – along with the tuk tuk drivers I approached – wanted to charge a small fortune to do so. Then I found a bus that travelled my exact route, and one that was free (that’s right, free!) at that.
After three nights in Khao San area, I realised I couldn’t take the crowds of drunk tourists and heckling touts anymore. So I found a beautiful boutique hostel near Victory Monument, an area full of cheap street food and bustling, local night markets.
Still, after six days, I was more than ready to leave the (big) city, and to jump on a plane heading north.
I’m in Chiang Mai for the next two weeks, being put up by the volunteer company in exchange for a few days a week helping out in the office. I’m currently staying in a beautiful, bustling guesthouse – the same guesthouse I stayed in all those years ago. Tomorrow I’m moving further west to be closer to the office, and then I’ll settle in for my stay. I can already feel the chaos of Bangkok slipping away, with the honking traffic jams replaced by the odd scooter rushing past, the drunken mess of Khao San replaced by a chilled backpacker vibe, and the high rises replaced by the low buildings and leafy streets of the old town.
Not a bad place to get stuck for two more weeks.