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Bangkok Subway

Bangkok, Fear and No Fear

SAM_6906 revisedYou gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face – Eleanor Roosevelt.

For those who are new to this blog, I am travelling on an extended trip through several countries with the main focus on Southeast Asia. When I was planning the trip my biggest fear was Bangkok. I actually tried to avoid going there but it ended up on my itinerary for a number of reasons which will not add value to this story.

I saw Bangkok as a big, busy, chaotic environment, where the language was unmanageable and crime was frequent.  I am actually not even sure where that impression came from. Movies? Isolated news stories?  I am not really sure. Managing my way through the airport and getting to my hotel felt intimidating when I thought of it in advance.  Never mind the idea of sightseeing in a city of 6.4 million people.

Bangkok was also to be the most solo part of my trip…there is comfort in being with someone when you are in an unknown situation. But in Bangkok, I was alone for 4 days and more than a little apprehensive about it. I was so excited about the trip, but Bangkok stood out in my mind as a place that I ‘just needed to get through’.

And I did…Bangkok is behind me and I not only survived but I thrived in that city. I emerged with a new confidence in my own abilities to make my way in a place that was so foreign and mysterious. And despite that it was a huge city, I loved it there. It had an intense urban vibe and it was simple and intuitive to move around there.

The reality, like so many other events, is that thinking about it was worse than the actual experience of it. Way worse. But isn’t that always the way?

There is an exhilaration in accomplishing something that you thought would be beyond your ability. New experiences, once conquered, expand your limits and open your mind. When you are bold and step beyond your ‘normal’ it makes you bolder and you cannot wait to try something else that challenges you.

I think that there are three steps to making a new experience a great one.

The first is to just decide you will do it. I booked the airline ticket and a hotel room. Done. Now there is no backing away.

The second is to prepare for it in whatever way that you can. For example for my arrival in Bangkok, before I went I created a step by step from the moment the plane touched down. I went on Google Images to see what the airport looked like. Pretty normal. Lots of English….I was feeling a little more open after I saw how normal it was.

I went on Google again and put in ” how to get from airport to downtown in Bangkok”. I then not only had a price to expect, but a step by step process of how to get a legitimate cab in the Bangkok airport. Oddly, when I arrived,they had a taxi stand just like we do! :) And it said TAXI QUEUE. Simple enough. I had my money ready when my turn came and an English-speaking person asked me where I was going. She gave me a chit to give to the driver with the price written on both sides of the chit…one for him and one for me….just so we did not misunderstand each other.

And off I went to my hotel.

Another way I had prepared was to print out a map of the underground system. I asked the front desk to mark the hotel stop on the map and also the first two places where I was going and off I went. The Bangkok underground was clean and new, brightly lit and efficient. Everywhere I went, there were staff, every hour of the day. I would point to where I was going on my map and they would point me which track to stand on. I quickly worked out the details of the ticket dispenser (only a long line had formed behind me while I did so. No pressure :) ).

I toured the city using the underground for three glorious days. Crowded but cool trains, hit and miss transfers but pretty smooth all the same. I did a walking Foodie Tour (booked online)with a group of women from South Africa and Singapore. The guide spoke English. We ate at eight amazing local restaurants on tour. I toured the Reclining Buddha, took at cyclo to Khao San Road and went to the Floating Market on a boat with a woman from Brazil. I took the commuter boat up and down the river to connect to the subway to go home and I actually made it home to my hotel every evening!

So preparation was a critical second step that dispelled my fear.

And the third step is simple. Go out of your hotel room and do it. Don’t think about it anymore….just dive in. I walked to the subway, went down the stairs and started asking silent questions as I went along.

Bangkok doesn’t scare me at all anymore. It is a big fantastic, lively, safe city. Everything once so foreign, is now familiar and easy. The cacophony of unfamiliar noise, the smells of Bangkok (both good and bad), the sheer number of people in every place you go…it is all so strange and exciting. And that is why I came here.

The world is a good place and the things that scare us, shrink in size as we move through them. Isn’t that true of anything in our lives?



  1. SB says:

    And yes, that would be my sister-in-law. How proud are we of her??? :) xo

  2. Wow,makes me want to go there!
    instructions are worth keeping and following.
    Glad you’re having a great time.

  3. Hi Kelly…this is a great post with great reminders no matter where or when we are “traveling!” #1 Make the decision to just do it! #2 Plan ahead; #3 Then do it! I know that lots of people say you should “just go with the flow” of everything…but then a lot of those people never end up trying new things at all…and often just end up repeating everything they’ve done before. I find by planning ahead I am able to round off the edges of some of my hesitation so much so that I am then able to more easily “flow” with situations because I have an understanding of the whole experience in a much more accepting way. That’s what I read in this post and probably why I agree with it so much :-) I am happy to hear that your trip is unfolding in a wonderful way. May it continue to be so…. ~Kathy

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Kathy. A prescription for travel and for life isn’t it. I like how you say that preparation rounds off the edges of your hesitation. Perfectly worded. I think that describes the exact feeling of being as prepared as possible and then just leaning in to the challenge.

      We get to a point of flow when we accept all the possible outcomes that could come next. So we prepare and then open ourselves up to whatever happens. Thanks for your thoughtful words.

  4. I think that part of your fear of Bangkok was probably because you had been to so many quieter places. Bangkok is famously crowded and huge. Pat yourself on the back for handling it so well and preparing in a way that made it much easier to cope with. You are growing in an amazing way.

    • Kelly says:

      You are right. The contrast of coming from quiet places into the busier spots makes them seem excessively stimulating. I went from beautiful quiet Hoi An into Hanoi (just realized that great little anagram) and Hanoi seemed like high stimulus also.

      Thanks for your insight into my personal journey…I know that after leaving Vietnam it will be easy to feel grateful for my life. :)

  5. Nancy says:

    Hi Kelly. You are such an inspiration and fantastic writer! I am a friend of Joanne Smith’s and so glad I connected to your blog through her. I look forward to reading about more of your adventures!

    • Kelly says:

      Nancy, thank you for coming to my blog It is so great to know that people care about what I write. It is so flattering that you think I am a good writer. Perhaps when you write from a place close to your heart…it turns out okay.

  6. DJan says:

    What a wonderful adventure you are on! I loved this description of how you handled Bangkok. I was fortunate the first few times I went there to have a Thai friend who arranged for me to have a two-hour-long Thai massage! It was magical and I’ve never forgotten it. Any time I find myself there I have at least a foot massage daily. It’s a wonderful place and the people are very helpful. Love your style of writing, too. :-)

    • Kelly says:

      Somehow it does not surprise me that you have been to Bangkok several times. I bet you were not afraid either, as I read the adventures on your blog as well.

      Massage is so inexpensive here. I told the girls in Bali how much RMT’s (who are more highly trained I know) earn in the West and they were shocked that their skills were considered so valuable. I think that in the East their skills are not only poorly compensated but also poorly regarded. I suppose many ‘female’ skills can be underestimated all over the world, but never more than here.

  7. PCgal says:

    Your experience sounds liberating. I am sensing that you may be away for a while…

    • Kelly says:

      I definitely feel a tug to home a little now after six weeks of being away. I was in a big busy city…Hanoi and maybe that is why I felt a call to home.But now I am in Chiang Mai and it feels good so I am expanding my thoughts to maybe include Laos and Myamar. Just waiting to get a sense of what I need next. Maybe some peaceful thoughtful time in a smaller place like this one.

  8. nancytex2013 says:

    Love the Eleanor Roosevelt quote and I love the common sense recommendations: Just book it, then do your planning/prep, then go. As a reform(ing) control freak, I can say that I do step two very thoroughly. To the point where we are on itinerary overload based on all my research of must-see/must-do’s. :-) I’m starting to ease up and ‘go with the flow’ a bit more — but fully expect to continue as much pre-prep/google-work as necessary for new destinations.

    Enjoy this amazing journey Kelly! Very bad-ass that you are conquering so much of it on your own!

    • Kelly says:

      There definitely is a balance between over planning and winging it. Somewhere in the middle is a good objective to target. I plan in the face of fear, but once I get the skeleton of a plan in place, that is good enough for me.Maybe our method of travel reflects our personality too…

  9. Great story! You’re right…it makes you stronger every time you face fear!

    • Kelly says:

      Funny you should comment now. I just came through Bangkok airport this evening, for a second time. It was hilariously normal to move about in a place that instilled so much fear of the unknown! In retrospect I was actually puzzled at where my crazy fear came from.

      Stronger every time you face the fear…

  10. Tamara Reddy says:

    Aren’t the Thai people lovely? Perhaps more Buddhists in the world wouldn’t be a bad thing!

    One of my standout memories in getting up early in the morning and participating in the morning offering to the monks. A lovely, very spiritual experience if you haven’t gotten the opportunity yet. :-)

    • Kelly says:

      Thanks for the suggestion Tamara. I am in Chiang Mai now and there is an opportunity to do that. I will make sure that I get to see it.

      When I was in Vietnam, I saw/heard the monks chanting at Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue but heard that the experience you recommended would be even better.

      There is also supposedly a Monk Chat where the monks sit and talk with you to practice their English.I will need to be on my best behavior. :)

    • Kelly says:

      I actually did this yesterday and it was amazing. I also went to the temple and was able to sit and talk with the monks. What an interesting life they have.

  11. Barry says:

    Bangkok is one of my favourite cities ,others being Manila and Beijing.If you feel Bangkok is overwhelming, try Mumbai ! ( My homtown ).

    • Kelly says:

      Although Bangkok intimidated me at first, it is now one of my favorites as well! I can imagine that Mumbai will be an interesting experience too. After realizing that Bangkok has a heart and soul, I will be more open to those cities like Mumbai that will be challenging but rewarding.

      Thanks for coming by my blog and sharing your thoughts.

  12. territerri says:

    Love this! It was so timely for me to read it at this time in my life. I’ll be facing some new experiences soon and have been battling feelings of anxiety and insecurity. Reading about your experiences just proves to me that even though the unfamiliar can be a bit intimidating, the fear of it is probably much worse than the reality.

    • Kelly says:

      Thanks for your thoughts here Terri. I keep on relearning the same lesson over and over…that thinking about what I know I wish to do, is way more scary than doing it. I am not sure how many times I need to learn this to really get it and be able to apply it consistently. I guess fear never goes away but we learn to live alongside it.

  13. Your “3 steps” conquer fear and inertia. Brilliant! Thanks for following my blog (www.cubabusdiaries.com) so that now I’ve discovered yours! Looking forward to reading the next one and the next one and the next one….

  14. Pam says:

    Thank you! Found this in perfect time… I will be going solo to Bangkok in 3 weeks and your blog gave me a great deal of “calmness”. I love adventures, and I especially like to travel alone, but for some reason Bangkok overwhelms my senses, so I’m sure I’ll feel as proud once I master this adventure. Thanks so much@

    • Kelly says:

      Hello Pam. Thanks for dropping by my blog. You will do just fine in Bangkok. I was so worried to go there on my own and it turned out to be clean and friendly and fabulous! The subway was safe and efficient and their airport taxi was very straight forward.Everything was in English. It was such a victory for me as well. Good luck on your solo journey!

  15. Retired Syd says:

    I have been looking forward to our trip to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand in April. We will end the trip with 3 days in Bangkok. Everyone that I know that has been to Bangkok has loved it, so I’ve assumed I’d love it too. But now it seems the political protests are getting a little more serious. Our hotel said not to worry-the closest protests are 1km away. Sounds a little too close to me!

    • Kelly says:

      I would be nervous about a 1 km distance as well Syd. I might suggest that it could be over by then but I would definitely be too nervous to enjoy myself if it doesn’t. I opted out of Myamar for the same reason when I was over there. I just decided Myamar could wait until another time.

      Maybe on a different trip you could use Bangkok as a transition point and spend 3 days there then. If it does not settle by then. I hope it does settle for you…I will be watching closely and thinking of you.

  16. poh peng says:

    glad that I bumped into this blog. I’ve got quite a few tips. thanks so much for sharing such useful info!

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