A little over two months since my departure, I finally have the time, the energy, a real-life, functioning computer AND the sweet nectar of the internet. At a hostel in Bangkok, I'm right back to where it all started. N'SYNC is playing in the background. And so, perfectly in my element, here it begins.
The day after Christmas I embarked on a slightly spontaneous, slightly planned adventure to Southeast Asia. In the words of Alex Garland, author of the backpacker cult-read The Beach,
“If I'd learnt one thing from travelling, it was that the way to get things done was to go ahead and do them. Don't talk about going to Borneo. Book a ticket, get a visa, pack a bag, and it just happens.”
I did just that, with the exception of the ticket being to Bangkok, Thailand. As I've written before, Sameea and I tried to make a trip to Thailand as soon as we graduated, with little success. We were completely broke recent grads who had already booked a one-way flight to Los Angeles. Determined to still reward ourselves for the frequent all-nighters and math emporium nightmares, we made the trip into a West Coast adventure. Five years later, we were still itching to get a plate of real Pad Thai.
My obsession with Thailand started in high school, when my dad and I would drive 45 minutes to a Thai restaurant called Bangkok Garden (in New Haven for all my Connecticut-ers (-ans?)). Growing up in Connecticut, the only real activity to keep my interest was the excitement of restaurants. (I almost wrote my interest in eating but I don't want anyone to picture a food-obsessed slob stuffing her face right after taking a picture of what she's about to eat- that's only me on the weekends). But seriously, most people know there's not much going on in CT for high schoolers, but there are heaps of good eats. Bangkok Garden, specifically, was the only restaurant I'd ever go to where I'd order the exact same thing every single time- Crispy Golden Bags, similar to fried wontons; a Thai bubble tea, black tea mixed with condensed milk and tapioca balls; and Drunken Chicken, ground chicken sauteed with peppers, green beans and basil, served over perfectly cooked sticky rice and a spicy sauce that makes me drool even while I'm writing from Thailand. This little Thai shop all the way on the other side of the world is where the craving began to seek out the very place where the food with this effect originated. I needed to go, and like the rest of my trips (or desires really) it consumed my mind- trying to plan, thinking when, where, how.
In 2014, making our annual New Year's Eve trip plans, Sameea and I decided this was the year for Thailand. We booked a one way flight to Bangkok through Emirates and squealed over the phone in excitement. Clicking the Confirm Flight button, I had an epileptic type of reaction. I was convulsing out of my chair, more excited than any of the many times I've clicked the exact same link. I was going to Asia- an entirely new part of the world I'd never seen, a new beast to take on head first.
Landing in Bangkok, after being served warm hand towels (what luxury!), delicious food and a smooth flight stopping in Dubai, I reached elevated levels of elation. After a quick taxi ride to our hostel, we stepped out into the smoggy air. It hit me like a punch in the face, inside a plastic bag, that was stuffed inside a sauna. I was bombarded with an abundance of sights, smells, noises- the true definition of sensory overload. If you've ever seen the beginning of The Beach with my boy Leo, it was 10 times more chaotic (that was also filmed 15 years ago so you can only imagine the increase in tourism and hustle over here. It's equally exponential to the increase in Leonardo Dicaprio's gut since then. I still love them both, though- Thailand and Leo- despite their shared gut-increasing tendencies).
Boisterous and overwhelmed, I was anxious to try everything, and even more eager to eat it all. I could already sense the endless hunger that came with Asia. And I was also actually hungry. Sameea, Sam and I dropped our backs- yes, I actually stuffed everything I was bringing on this 3 month trip into a single backpack (my poor heart hurting that I couldn't fit a single pair of heels)- and headed out into the wild jungle of the city. We were staying at Boxpackers Hostel, a clean, quaint place with pod-type beds and air-con, my one essential diva necessity. We stopped at the lobby for a map but decided it'd be more fun to be spontaneous and simply go exploring. We took a left and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a market. And let me say, markets in Asia are absolutely nothing like your Sunday farmer's market back home. Though you could hardly make it through the slight walkway in between each stand, motorbikes also though they could squeeze through at the same time. I didn't know if I should panic or leap in excitement. I could hardly move among the swarm of people, meandering around while simultaneously realizing I blended in one way only- short stature.
Once we broke back into the light of the outside world, we were immediately hit with a smell I can only compare to what dogs must smell when the first hint of bacon hits their noses (snouts?). The sense can be described as an undeniable NEED to find and eat whatever it is. The trio of foodies we were, we didn't think twice- we followed the smell. Blindly led by our noses, we stumbled upon a hole in the wall spot serving something out of a giant pot, steaming so much you could hardly see the Thai man behind the pot, ladling the dish into basic white bowls. We pointed to the pot, held up 3 fingers, and sat down. We had no idea what we were about to eat but we didn't care. It HAD to be good.
Our taste buds confirmed what our nose buds had already known. It was out of this world delicious. It's what I expect Anthony Bourdain meant when he first told about how Asia changed his life. This one bowl of beef broth and noodles was changing my life, spoon by spoon. I awkwardly held my chopsticks in one hand, using them to scoop up noodles, while my other hand dipped the tiny soup spoon into the broth. I can only imagine the scene we were making as the other Thai people in the restaurant peered over wide-eyed at our slurping and sloshing. It was so spicy I had to blow my nose after each slurp, my eyes tearing at the same time. I couldn't look more in pain, yet I was in absolute ecstasy.
This is what I had been waiting for.