Reminiscing on summer 2011. Na Pali Coast, Kauai. #beach #sea #hawaii #kauai #summer #napali #sun
Just like that, my foreign exchange experience is nothing but a string of memories. While returning to the United States was slightly strange, I found it quite easy to reacclimatize to this country, perhaps because cosmopolitan Hong Kong was less of a radical culture shock then anticipated. After a nice but brief break at home in Sonoma County for Christmas and New Years, I am once again back at UC San Diego. The last two years have been chaotic in the sense that I have constantly been moving from place to place, putting down roots, and then leaving just as the roots begin to take to the ground. This has put me in a strange state, and I am more then ready to finally settle down for a while and find some solid, stable ground. Regardless, the upcoming term is going to be a hard slap in the face compared to my time abroad. No need to fear intensity and hard work though.
As expected, since returning I have faced the same question over and over again: “So how was it? What was Hong Kong like?” These questions are essentially impossible to answer, because I cannot summarize the past four months in a short string of words. My best response is “It was awesome, but you have to try it yourself to know the real answer to that question.” The best representation of my experience remains in the pictures and stories of this blog, and in my memory. However, I can say this:
During my time abroad I learned and matured extremely rapidly and in unique ways. I received a unique “global education” from my international peers and travels, learning about the world by being wholeheartedly immersed in it. Looking back, it is amazing to think how many little pieces of worldly wisdom I have accumulated and how many memories I have created. I was privileged to meet and bond closely with many amazing people from all over the world, and I hope to visit each and every one of them someday. I ventured out of my comfort zone, traveling throughout Asia alone and meeting new people every day. I feel like I have seen so much, and I feel much “older” then before. I am certainly more mature, more wise, more patient. At the same time, it is almost frustrating to return and find that everything is the same. I know I am not the same, but this is apparently an internal feeling which is only occasionally revealed. All things considered, I know that I will eternally carry the memories, wisdom, lessons, and friendships that Asia has given me.
Just as my time in Hong Kong has come to an end, so too will the Hong Kongin’ blog. I am considering starting a different blog, time permitting, but in the meantime I would like to thank everyone who has kept up with the entries. I hope you have learned something, or been inspired, or simply enjoyed it as much as I have, even if you’ve only read a paragraph or looked at a picture.
Life is a trip. In the wise words of Confucius: “No matter where you go - there you are.”
As my time as a foreign exchange student rapidly evaporates, and I feel the ending of one era and the beginning of another, and the calling of home, my last days here have become increasingly chaotic and memorable. I am not one to finish carelessly and inadequately, and the resulting whirlwind has been simultaneously incredible, unforgettable, and exhausting. I’ve been juggling between travelling, studying for four final exams, and attempting to exploit the best that Hong Kong has to offer just one more time.
It is true that I have been exploring Hong Kong almost nonstop since I arrived, but the last few weeks have been a frantic race to check off an endless list of remaining sights and activities.
I see the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Sha Tin with my roommate, climbing up a pathway lined with endless golden Buddha statues until we reach the main temple, where we are rewarded by over 12,800 Buddha images. I watch an important Chiao Cosmic Renewal Festival in Yuen Long, feeling the scorching heat of the ghost master as she violently burns and marveling at the powerful grip of Chinese folk religion on the Chinese even in this modern time. I hike the famous Dragon’s Back trail, skipping along the spine of a mountain that overlooks Shek O and Big Wave Bay on one side and Tai Tam Bay on the other. I take a Monday to see Lantau Island, climbing up the 268 stairs to the massive 34 meter tall Tian Tan Buddha statue and walking through the fishing village of Tai O on a quiet afternoon. I walk from Mong Kok to Tsim Sha Tsui at night, through open air restaurants, a wet market, neon lights, endless, classic crowds, and the Peninsula Hotel and arrive just in time to see and photograph “A Symphony of Lights” from the TST Promenade. I stroll through beautiful Hong Kong Park in Admiralty for a much needed breather. I hike through Sai Kung Country Park and Hong Kong Geopark, watching the sun shimmer on the crystal blue High Island Reservoir, climbing over geologic rock columns, and finding a quiet cove with a beautiful white sand beach. I ride the MTR one morning to Central for the world’s greatest Dim Sum, indulging in classic Hong Kong cuisine in a frenetic atmosphere among Chinese regulars, who have been filling the Lin Heung Tea House since 1926. I take a ferry to Macau, walking through Portuguese ruins and then dirty slums and then massive casinos. Here I try the Portuguese Egg Tart, the famous and original version of the delicious Asian egg tart. I also wander around a number of casinos, including the worlds largest, The Venetian Macau, and waste HK$20 on a slot machine. The daring and addicted Chinese gamblers make this city the most lucrative gambling center in the world, with earnings three times greater than Las Vegas. Upon returning to Central from Macau by ferry around midnight, I head straight to Lan Kwai Fong to join some friends for yet another night of 7-Eleven Tsingdaos and over capacity clubs. And finally, before I even have a chance to breathe, I use the “study break” to fly from Shenzhen to Guilin in search of what is supposedly one of the world’s most beautiful and picturesque regions.
China - Take Two - Guilin, Yangshuo, and Longsheng:
Immediately after crossing the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border into China, I am ripped off. One minute I am asking how to get to the airport. The next minute, a baggage porter is carrying my bag to an airport shuttle bus, the same one that was “not running at this time,” according to two different Chinese officers. The porter, who from my understanding was going to take me to Shenzhen Airport for 60 Yuan, throws my bag into the bus, requests 50 Mao-faced bank notes, shakes my hand, and promptly disappears. When I am asked to pay another 20 Yuan for the bus, I realize I paid the man far too much money to only carry my bag. He was never planning to take me to the airport. And so begins the interminable misunderstands of China.
After successfully flying to Guilin, finding a hostel, and sleeping, I wake up early and indulge in a street food breakfast: tea eggs, fried dough twists, Chinese crepes, and steamed cake. Then its off to the Guilin Bus Station to catch a ride up north to Longsheng, land of the “dragon backed mountains.” I get a ticket for an 8:40am departure, and for the next two hours, as the bus ascends through the mountains of Southern China, I am wondering what is taking so long. We finally arrive around 11:15am in Longsheng. I am then informed, in extremely broken English, that I have to catch another bus to Jinkeng to see the famous rice terraces. While I wait, I get a bowl of rice noodles. They are extremely fresh and garnished with an amazing array of flavors; one of the best bowls of noodles I have ever had. At 11:50am, I get on another bus. We drive for about a minute, and then wait for another 15 minutes for more passengers only a short way from the bus stop. By the time we leave Longsheng, 40 minutes of stopping and picking up passenger after passenger have gone by. I learn that this is how the public bus system works in China. The bus leaves from the bus station, and then stops every 10 meters to pick up a passenger, until the bus is twice as full as it should be. I finally arrive in Jinkeng around 1:30pm, where I am forced to pay a large fee for visiting the area. I am greeted by traditionally dressed women of the Yao ethnic group, who are dressed in handmade purple dresses and have their extremely long black hair wrapped in a neat bun.
As I walk to the village, I am met by a panorama of steep, ridged-backed hills and wooden houses with red lanterns. China may be experiencing radical modernization and economic growth, but here these people continue to live just as they did a hundred years ago. For the next three hours, I hike up and down the stunning rice terraced mountains. I walk through tiny villages and observe how these people simply live. Towards the end of my hike, I slip on a step and try to catch my footing on some brush beside the path. Unfortunately, beneath the brush is a five foot drop, and I am launched into a dramatic backflip. I land on my knees, full of adrenaline and covered in brush and without a lens cap on my camera lens. Its just me and the mountain, and the mountain is playing games. With that, I head back to the bus stop, wait half an hour, then hop on. On the slow ride back to Longsheng, the bus suddenly stops and someone ushers me out the door, pointing to the other side of the road and yelling “Guilin.” I hurriedly jump off, cross the street, and get on another little dilapidated bus, which is apparently heading back to Guilin. I start to realize how in over my head I really am. China knows I am all alone, and she is going to manipulate me like a little marionette until I realize that this is a big, different world and if I am not more than ready to stare it in the eye, it will ruthlessly wear me down. After an agonizing three hours back to Guilin, I franticly run to pick up my bags from the hostel and get a bus ticket to Yangshuo in time. By 9:30pm, I have finally reached Yangshuo. I pay too much to have a scooter taxi shuttle me through the cold black night to an out of town hostel. The experience of riding out of town through the night is both invigorating and slightly terrifying. Finally, in the comfort of a small bed, I reflect on the day, realizing that I spent almost eight hours on horrid public buses for only three hours at the rice terraces. It is what it is.
The next morning, as I exit my room, I am forced to a complete standstill. Limestone karst completely surround me, protruding out of the ground like giant stalagmites. I have a quick breakfast, rent a bicycle, and begin “pedaling slow” through the unreal Yangshuo countryside. I cycle north to Baisha Town, stopping in a number of small Chinese villages along the way. An tiny old woman slowly carries bunches of straw on her radically bent spine. A group of women wash clothes in the river. Men work the soil in the rice fields. Grain is sorted by families in front of the home. Dried meat hangs in the windows. I could be on Mars in 1763 for all I know. From Baisha Town, I cycle to the Yulong River. Once I find the the river, I am met by a beautiful old arched stone bridge, Jinlong Bridge. A fisherman by the bridge stands on a bamboo raft and uses two cormorants to catch fish. The birds’ throats are tied, keeping them from swallowing the larger fish that they catch. I watch this ancient fishing technique with serious curiosity. I then cross the bridge and cycle all the way down the Yulong River, through more villages and dramatic karst. At the end of the riverside pathway, I leave the bike and hike up to the top of Moon Hill. This giant limestone arch is not only an amazing place to catch a view of the surrounding countryside, but also one of Yangshuo’s prime rock climbing locations. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to test my climbing abilities. After the sweat-inducing climb up Moon Hill, I cycle to the famous Big Banyan Tree and also see a butterfly-like formation in Butterfly Caves.
By this time is is around 2pm, and I have been cycling and hiking all day with only a small breakfast and a cob of corn from a street stall to keep me going. I head into downtown Yangshuo and park my bike near the bus station. I get on another local bus headed to Yangdi Town. After more then an hour, I arrive and barter intensely for a bamboo raft trip. After more then three months in Asia, my bartering skills have significantly improved. We agree on a price and soon enough I am floating down the Li River, almost all by myself in a moment of complete solitude. Rafting down the Li River is the quintessential experience of Guilin. The riverside karst are huge here, and magnificent enough to be displayed on the back of the 20 Yuan bank note. As we float by this classic scene, even the raft driver seems moved, pointing at the unreal scene in front of our raft. As I float down this majestic river, I remember seeing the classic Chinese paintings of these mountains years ago. Like many, I thought this place was only in the opium filled minds of the painters, but I was clearly mistaken. After two hours, the raft is docked on the shore of Xingping Town, and my Li River trip ends but will always live on in my memory.
I am now met with the task of finding my way back to Yangshuo. I walk around the town saying Yangshuo over and over again, and finally a man says hello to me a few times (like most Chinese, hello is the only word he knows in English), pulls out a little chair, and beckons me to sit. I sit and wait. I am used to waiting. If there is one quality I have learned from traveling, it is patience. Patience is everything. If you travel without it, you will either fail or learn to possess it. Eventually, a well dressed group of Chinese board a private bus. I am ushered to the bus, and after a few words in Chinese, I find myself in the back of the bus and at the center of attention. They are all looking at me and talking about me and I have absolutely no idea what is going on. It seems they were having an event at the river, and they graciously agreed to give me a ride back to Yangshuo. The bus stops to drop me off, and when I offer to pay, they refuse to accept. Somehow, I am back in Yangshuo and I did not pay a thing to get here? People can be so nice.
At this point, I am absolutely famished. I walk to West Street, a tourist street lined with restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops. For dinner I devour a beer fish, a traditional Yangshuo dish that goes perfectly with a large bottle of light Chinese beer and a bowl of fresh, locally farmed rice. After checking out West Street a bit more, I get on my bike and ride back to the hostel. It is cold, pitch black, and almost 10pm, and it takes a while to find the hidden guest cottages.
The next morning I go on a short hike through more karst, farmland, and villages to the Yulong River and then back to the hostel. I check out and get a taxi to the bus station, and get on a bus back to Guilin. The bus picks up so many people on the way there that the entire aisle was full of people sitting on plastic bigs. When we arrive in Guilin it is raining, I am out of money, and I am worn down from the trials of traveling and China. After failing to find any money exchange booths, and then trying to exchange money at four banks to no avail, I find out that only one bank in all of Guilin will exchange money. En route to Bank of China, I realize that my camera bag seems rather light. When I open it, the camera is gone. The bottom of my bag is open, cut by a sharp knife. The bag was in between my legs the entire bus ride from Yangshuo, but the man behing me must of crawled under the seat, cut through the bottom of the bag without me knowing, and carefully extracted my Nikon. I cannot believe it. Not only did I lose my camera, but I lost all of the stunning photographs I had taken in the last two and a half days. I have included just a few representations of what I saw using Internet pictures, but it is not the same. People can be so terrible.
I spent the rest of the day walking around Guilin in the rain, exhausted, lamenting the loss of my camera and passing a number of tourist sights along the way. I paid to walk the stairs up Fubo Hill, and catch a foggy but nice view of the city from the top. At 5:30pm I made my way back to the bus station. Even finding the bus turns out to be an adventure, but eventually I am led there by two young Chinese women. When I get on the bus, I feel a mixture of disbelief, amazement, and disgust. It smells like old socks and wet dog. There are 3 rows of double bunk beds, 42 in all, packed into this normal sized sleeper bus. It is 12 hours overnight to Shenzhen, and all I have to eat are Chinese cookies and a small bag of peanuts. For some reason, I have difficulty properly feeding myself in China. I essentially detach from my body, allowing myself to simply not care anymore. It is an adventure, an experience.
At 6am, after an delirious overnight ride, I am dropped off somewhere in the middle of Shenzhen. I try and wait for a bus back to Lo Fu Station, but with no success. Finally I take a taxi andcross the border back to Hong Kong, literally breathing a massive sigh of relief as I am let back. Hong Kong is much more westernized then China, and it is a good thing because it would have been difficult to survive for four months in mainland China while remaining sane.
Although I was gone for only three days, it felt like much longer. It is difficult to describe how it felt, to be in complete isolation in China without language, running around telling myself I know what I am doing when I really don’t, losing my camera, and learning about the ways of the world. It was intense and exhausting, but I loved it.
กรุงเทพฯ. Bangkok. Krung Thep. The Big Mango. Spend five minutes here and this place immediately hits you on the head with a large, metal wok. Bangkok is sensory overload: Interminable traffic congestion spewing heavy, noxious exhaust. 32°C (that’s 90°F) hot, thick and humid air even in late November. Tuk-tuk drivers and salesmen nagging relentlessly for your money and attention. Chefs at street food carts stir-frying pad thai and grilling skewers of meat all through the night. Long tail boats speeding through the Chao Phraya River past numerous temples like there is no tomorrow.
Amidst all the commotion, my five day experience here was not defined by what we saw and did, but by small, frustrating, or hilarious events that led us into a strange and intoxicating delirium that could only happen here. At first, our response to these events was something along the lines of “Are you kidding me?” or “Holy Shit!” but by the end of our stay, a simple “Huh…that’s Bangkok for ya” became the norm. I cannot help but feel like Thailand changed me, and rightfully so.
My roommate and I begin our adventure in Bangkok at the Rambuttri Village Inn Hotel, near Khao San Road, which is most definitely the largest backpacker’s hub in Asia. Before we even check in to our room, we order some pad thai for 30 Baht (1USD) from a nearby street stall, curing our hunger with Thailand’s most famous dish. We then check in, drop off our bags, and walk around the Banglamphu area, indulging in good street eats, looking at souvenirs, and getting a feel for the unique character of this area. “This place is like the Jamaica of the East,” I told Michael. Khao San Road is a people-watcher’s dream, full of dreadlocked, grungy vagabonds and hippies, lost inexperienced, backpackers, and Thais who live off of the tourism industry. Walking around Khao San Road becomes a common activity, and we gradually uncover its rhythm and its quirks. As the night arrives, makeshift bars emerge onto street sides selling drinks out of VW buses while playing Bob Marley. Endless massage parlors offer a huge variety of massages for the starting price of 100 Baht for half an hour. Street food carts and souvenir vendors line every available inch of the frenetic streets. Everyone is intoxicated, from beer, the energy of Bangkok, or both.
The next morning, we rise early to catch a tour. We pay 600 Baht, or around USD 20, for an all day tour from 7am to 7pm. By this time, we are very aware that almost everything in Thailand is incredibly inexpensive. This is a big deal for two independent student travelers. We sleep in the back of a van for the next too hours as our daring driver weaves through traffic at 140 kilometers per hour. Finally, we arrive at a WWII memorial in Kanchanaburi. After twenty uneventful minutes, we proceed to the Bridge on the River Kwai. It was built as part of the infamous “death railway” by prisoners of war captured by the Japanese army during WWII, and made famous by French writer Pierre Boulle. We think it looks like an ordinary bridge.
Next, we find ourselves on a river, floating on a bamboo raft. We are at peace, gently gliding along the river, in the hot Thai sun.
Once on the shore, we hop on an elephant for a relaxing ride beside the river. I rhythmically move side to side on my seat as the powerful animal carries three of us effortlessly. Afterwords, we feed the animal a basket of bananas. He grabs them with his impressive trunk and then shoves them into his mouth. A monkey becomes obsessed with Michael’s shoes, or perhaps he just wants a friend.
After a brief lunch and visit to a waterfall, its off to the Tiger Temple for the culmination of the day. We pay only 100 Baht less than our day long tour to enter the Tiger Temple. While it is supposed to be a tiger sanctuary and Buddhist monastery, it is essentially a major tourist attraction where tigers are breed and domesticated. There is overwhelming evidence that tigers are mistreated. Although we both are able to get a number of good pictures with large tigers, the experience felt akin to standing with a goat at a petting zoo. An employee holds your hand for most of the time as she takes you around and takes pictures of you squatting behind a chained, domesticated, sleepy (and perhaps drugged) tiger. All things considered, it was still a cool experience.
After this we speed back to Bangkok. We spend the remaining part of the day walking around Khao San Road, eating, drinking, and enjoying the scene. We also take a brief detour to Patpong Road, slightly curious about the “ping pong show” that every other Thai salesman bothers us about. While I do not want to go into the nitty gritty of Patpong, its safe to say that this place has no rules. Prostitutes, topless bars, relentless immoral salesmen, and dangerous alleyways. We leave pretty quickly.
On Saturday, we head to Chatuchak Weekend Market, one of Southeast Asia’s largest markets. It covers over 35 acres and receives roughly 200,000 visitors per weekend. It is massive and chaotic. We are immediately engulfed in a maze of stalls, which are selling everything from food to clothing to Thai souvenirs to modern decor. Everything is incredibly, even overwhelmingly, cheap. After navigating the market until the mid-afternoon, we emerge soaked in sweat and with a number of unique, inexpensive souvenirs. Thailand has by far the best souvenir selection I have seen in any country I have been to. As a result, by the end of the trip my roommate and I have trouble packing our bags as the number of purchased souvenirs and gifts exceeds the amount of available space. Our temporary shopping craze and ability to spend hundreds of Baht in minutes became a major joking matter during our travels.
After the market, we head back and then go to Wat Pho, one of Bangkok’s major Buddhist temples. The main attraction at Wat Pho is the gigantic golden Reclining Buddha, which measures 46 meters long and 15 meters high. The sky is gray and the ground shows signs of rain, but this does not detract from this massive image.
On Sunday morning, we visit the remaining must-see temples of Bangkok, which are all in close proximity to each other, forming a “temple triangle.” The first stop is the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, or Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Grand Palace was the official residence for the Kings of Thailand up until the most recent King. Thailand is indeed a Kingdom, and citizens of this Kingdom hold their King in highest regard, plastering elegant posters of his face everywhere. In contrast to most monarchs, the current King of Thailand has been involved in important political decisions throughout his long 64 year reign.
The Grand Palace is large and displays many intricately constructed buildings and structures, all demonstrating the unique aspects of Thai architecture. Despite the high price for entry, it is still a worthwhile visit.
The elephant is an important part of Thai culture, a national symbol. The animals were once important during battle, and are now revered for their intelligence. From statues in temples to beer logos, elephants are everywhere. As we walk from the Grand Palace to a public bus stop, which turns out to be much farther then anticipated, we see this monument.
Once we finally reach the bus stop, we take a bus to the nearby Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. We avoid the steep fee of a long tail boat tour to the market by taking the spacious, air conditioned public bus. This market only operates on weekends, and while it is small and obviously not practical, it is quite interesting and exciting. Floating markets used to be an essential part of Thai culture because life was centered around the river. Stilt houses were built on rivers. River boats were used to travel from place to place. It was only a matter of time before floating markets offered food from the river. Nowadays, floating markets seem more like tourist attractions. However, to my surprise, this market is almost entirely trafficked by native Thais.
We walk around and then sit down to have a delicious, floating, lunch. We watch masses of large freshwater fish fight for pieces of bread that are thrown into the water. The fish literally rise out of the surface of the water in a chaotic cluster of desperate, hungry, voilence.
From here, its off to Wat Arun, which turns out to be my favorite temple of the trip. The “Temple of Dawn” at sunset is arguable one of Bangkok’s most recognizable images. The temple has an aged appearance, made from colorful inlaid tiles that have been weathered over many years. We were able to climb the steep steps of the pyramidal structure, granting us a breathtaking 360 degree view of surrounding Bangkok.
Upon leaving Wat Arun, we begin to notice something special lining the tables of a nearby market. They are the very reason the my roommate and I decided to visit Thailand during this specific weekend. They are krathongs, small boats usually made of banana leaves and flowers, and used in the main ritual of the Loy Krathong Festival. The night was approaching, and Loy Krathong was coming with it.
After a brief recharge at the hotel, we see the sun beginning to set and know it is time. Soon it is dark, and we quickly head to the river. The energy, the excitement of the festival, a celebration of light, is already electrifying the air. We had heard little about the event during the previous days, and did not know if it would be a “big deal.” It is a big deal.
We make it to the river and are instantly in complete, consuming awe. We walk along the river for some time, but cannot stand the intense crowds any longer. We head towards the magnificent Rama 8 Bridge, where much of the action seems to be taking place. As we get closer, it is obvious that there is not even room for two more people amongst the extremely crowded bridge. We wander through back alleys near the river, and finally find a hidden pier, which is only sparsely populated. This is what we see.
People are lowering beautiful krathongs, which have flaming candles and burning incense sticks, into the swirling river, letting all their troubles and sins float away. Massive, majestically lit floats gently glide by on the river in an amazing procession. Fireworks explode in the sky. Children play with sparklers, moving them up and down and watching the trail of light quickly disappear before their eyes. People light large balloon lanterns, letting them gracefully leave their hands and float into the sky, where they will join hundreds of others. A large, luminous full moon watches from above. It is at once one of the most beautiful, awe inspiring sites I have ever witnessed. Bangkok is always energy, always chaos. It is a madhouse. Adding a national festival to the mix is like combining ecstasy and heroin. The result is unreal.
We purchase a krathong near the pier and then ask a Thai to give us a hand. He lights our candle, and I set the intricate boat into a metal basket. It is then lowered into the river. We both watch it slowly float away, and I exhale, feeling my troubles evaporate. After releasing our krathong, we leave the pier and walk around for a while, attempting to take in the festivities. Later, we return to the pier. We find two plastic chairs and set them up on the pier, witnessing, relaxing, with bottles of Chang beer in hand. I ask a Thai man for some food, and fifteen minutes later he brings me a porcelain plate with a delicious vegetable and chicken stir fry. This is a moment I will always remember. Everything feels perfect, just sitting their, watching this unreal festival unfold before me. It is a powerful reminder that life can be so good, that life can be so unbelievable, and that life is so precious.
After almost an hour of almost meditative sitting, we get up and decide to walk back to Wat Arun to see what it looks like at night. We know it is far, but again we underestimate the distance. After 45 minutes of walking through crowds of rambunctious Thais, endless tables selling krathongs, and an occasional food stall, we reach our destination. The temple looks quite striking at night, especially on this light-filled one.
After this, we are ready to head back to Khao San Road. Unable to walk any longer, we search for a taxi or tuk-tuk. We are wary of tuk-tuk drivers, who always seem to either try and rip you off or to have something else strange up their sleeves. After a few minutes of searching in vain, a saint magically appears.
He is a Thai man on a scooter, a convenient, popular form of transportation among Bangkokers. He asks us where we want to go. “Khao San Road.” “Okay, 50 Baht,” is the reply, which is accompanied by an unmatchable Thai smile. “Both of us?” I ask. Michael hops on behind the driver, and then I sit behind him. We whiz off into the night.
I hold on for dear life as we weave through traffic, feeling surges of adrenaline and wind in my face. I look up and see hundreds of lit balloons floating in the sky. Again, I am thinking “There is no way this is real.” My thoughts are soon confirmed. Our cheerful driver begins to sing. “Looooyyy looooy krathong, loy loy krathong…” In a moment of bliss and perfect cultural harmony, we sing the Loy Krathong song along with him, speeding through the Bangkok night.
In the morning, it takes some time to recount all that occurred in the previous night. We happily discuss and laugh about it over breakfast, then catch a cab to Jim Thompson’s House, a famous American expatriate who helped spearhead the Thai silk industry in the 1950’s. We take a brief tour through his red, Thai inspired house. He was an architect, and I cannot help but admire the way the house is set up, with small cottages built on columns and open, outdoor living areas assembled under these raised cottages.
We then return to the hotel, somehow spend the large amount of deposit money we forgot about, and then head off to the airport.
After five amazing days in Thailand, my only wish is for more time in this unbelievable Kingdom.