Travelling memories: ups and downs in Bangkok

On my way to Australia in June 2016, Bangkok was the first city I visited for a short stopover. Even if it was a brief stay, I went through a lot of unexpected adventures, from a terrible start to a luckily much better ending. This is the story of 3 days and dozens of contradictory emotions in Bangkok, 9,800km away from home.

📷 For more pictures have a look at my gallery of photos of Bangkok.

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If you’re flying from Europe to Australia, unless you’re using the first ever direct line between London and Perth inaugurated in March 2018, you’ll necessarily have at least one stopover on your way. It might be somewhere in the Middle East (Doha if you’re flying with Qatar Airways, Abu Dhabi with Emirates for example), in India, in China or in South-East Asia. When I planned my trip in 2016, I was torn between going straight to Australia or spending some time in Asia on my way, as I also never visited this continent before. I eventually decided to compromise by staying 3 days in Bangkok.

The last weeks before leaving Europe were very hard for me. I had to face a lot of complicated administrative procedures in Switzerland where I was living, I was struggling to choose between what I would pack and what I wouldn’t and what I would do with what I wouldn’t pack, and saying goodbye to my friends and family was much harder than I expected. I was tired, scared of what was coming… but at the same time very excited about that giant step in the unknown and extremely impatient to begin my Australian adventure. My level of stress was breaking records, and I only felt a bit more relaxed after my plane finally took off.

But my anxiety came back as soon as I landed in Bangkok, reinforced by the fact that I was exhausted after a long flight during which I didn’t sleep at all (I just can’t sleep in planes, I never could) and completely jetlagged. I was worrying a lot: what if something went wrong at the customs? What if my bag was missing? Well, everything went well at the customs, but my bag was indeed missing.

It’s only long after everyone else had left the baggage claim area, with only one lonely blue suitcase left on the conveyor belt that I had to face the reality: my backpack wasn’t there. I had started my one-year trip since less than 12 hours and I already had lost almost all my belongings!

I don’t remember crying at that moment, but I clearly remember how completely lost I felt. I explained my situation to the airport staff and gave them the phone number and address of my hotel in case they would find my bag, and left the baggage claim area with my carry-on (a little suitcase that luckily contained all my most valuable items as well as some spare clothes). I found a bench in the airport hall and laid down on it, like a kid who would have lost his mother. If anyone would have come to me at that moment to let me know that a plane to Paris was about to leave, I would have bought my return ticket without any hesitation. But that didn’t happen, and after feeling sorry for myself for about an hour, I decided that there was nothing more I could do about it so I finally stood up and started to explore Bangkok.

Bangkok

bangkok-streetMy first impression was the heat. It was hot in Switzerland before I left, but nothing compared to this humid heat of Bangkok that instantly made me sweat. It felt like the short walk between the station where the airport shuttle stopped and my hotel was never ending. For the first time I felt lucky I didn’t have to carry my backpack! My second impression was the constant noise and agitation everywhere; an extraordinary ballet of motorbikes, cars, trucks and tuk tuks on the street, and a mix between occidental tourists, street peddlers, buddhist monks or soldiers that gave to Bangkok a unique colour, completely different to any other place I’ve ever been to before. I also remember the smell: sometimes the captivating smell of spices in the markets or incense in the temples, sometimes a disgusting stench where piles of rubbish were accumulating.

On my first day, I went to see the lying Buddha of Wat Pho. I didn’t really know what to expect and was completely overwhelmed when I first saw this exceptional 15m high and 43m long golden statue! The temple itself was also really beautiful, but the pouring rain of the monsoon started to fall as I was exploring it so I had to find shelter inside and wait for this violent shower to stop.

The evening was one of these unlikely moments that happen so often when you travel. While I was beginning this adventure, the 2016 European Football Championship was taking place in France, and that stay in Bangkok coincided with the game France against Ireland. It turned out that there was an Irish pub not far from my hotel so I spent the night watching the game with drunk Irish and French supporters, and after a tight game celebrating the French victory!

I spent almost all my second day exploring the Grand Palace of Bangkok. Once again, it was an extraordinary visit. The richness of this palace is unbelievable. What a contrast with the inextricable maze of power lines at every corner in the city!

In the late afternoon I took a train to the North of Bangkok where I had booked a room in a different hotel for my last night in the city, next to the Don Mueang airport from which I was flying out early in the next morning. Shortly after I arrived, it started to rain extremely heavily again, making it impossible for me to leave my room and search for a restaurant in the area. Luckily, the family that owned the hotel offered me to eat a frozen meal in the breakfast room where they were having dinner. We tried to communicate and thanks to their young daughter who spoke a bit of English, I even managed to learn some Thai words (even though I forgot them all since). It was a lovely and very friendly moment!

And what about my backpack? When I came back to my hotel in the first evening, the receptionist informed me that he had received a call from the airport telling them that it had been tracked down in… Vienna. Did someone at the boarding gate accidentally mistake Austria with Australia? Anyway, they promised me that it was going to be sent to Bangkok with the next direct flight and brought straight to my hotel. I was worried that they couldn’t make it in time, but luckily they managed to deliver it to me on that last evening, giving a great end to this short visit!

Bangkok, the Grand Palace

Do you have any similar travel experiences? Share them in the comments!

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