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?