Setting foot into Thailand felt like I was falling into a future I never thought would arrive. Thailand was only a speck in my future when I first hit the road that I had never considered what I would want to do when I arrived. Turns out, all I really wanted to do was nothing. After months of never sleeping in the same bed for more than a few nights in a row, I was grateful for the opportunity to unpack my bag for a couple weeks in the northern city of Chiang Mai. My college buddy, Graham, has been a teacher in Chiang Mai for the last two years and very graciously offered me a place to stay for a few weeks. I am very thankful for the hospitality given to me by Graham and his housemates.
While I must admit that I succeeded at doing very little during my weeks in Chiang Mai, I still managed to push myself to visit a few sights. After the marvelous temples and ruins of Myanmar, I was fairly apathetic to seeing more, yet Chiang Mai offered up a few surprises I am glad I saw.
While there are many more things to see and do in Chiang Mai, my time was spent lounging around during the day, trying delicious or interesting foods, and making Thai friends. Through Graham and his Thai housemates, I got to hang out with local Thai people every day. They would bring me to the best restaurants, order me unusual foods (like birds nest), and spend evenings laughing together as I butchered pronunciation of different Thai words. It was a glorious and much needed vacation from my previous high-powered travel schedule.
After a few weeks lounging around Chiang Mai I was ready to explore another area of Thailand and found an opportunity to work in a Bangkok hostel.
Working in Bangkok
Most tourists short-change Bangkok. They arrive for two or three days and then leave in a rush, eager to leave one of the most remarkable cities in the world. Why, I don’t exactly know. There are so many wonderful adventures around Bangkok that lead you to huge markets, amazing city views, and a nightlife that must be the most unique in the world.
Every major city takes more than a few days to get the feel of it, and I am glad that I took the time to learn and experience Bangkok. I got a job at a hostel away from the main backpacker haven and committed to working at least two weeks. I had different shifts running the reception desk throughout the week, where I checked guests in and out, offered advice on where to go and things to do, and generally socialized with other travelers. In return, I had a free place to stay in an intriguing half Muslim neighborhood, close to amazing food stalls, and be part of a friendly local community.
I had always wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of the hostel desk. I wanted to watch the flow of travelers from around the world arrive and disappear on their own adventures, as I stayed static. The work was incredibly easy, but in the end I prefer to be the traveler than the hostel worker. Through the twenty days I did stay, I got explore Bangkok at a leisurely pace and loved every minute of it.
One of my favorite adventures was visiting the Ghost Tower, a.k.a. Sathorn Unique Tower. The Ghost Tower is an unfinished skyscraper sitting at 47-storeys tall. Due to the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the tower was abandoned when it was about 80 percent complete. Easily a full day activity if you want to explore all the levels. The Ghost Tower is a fun activity and easy climb to the top where you get amazing views of Bangkok, especially at sunset.
You can try to sneak in when the guards are not present, but otherwise you need to pay a hefty 500 baht. If you get there early enough to explore around before sunset then I think it is a much better deal than paying for the Grand Palace.
Bangkok has markets, floating markets, temples, and shrines galore. Besides doing all the sightseeing, you can easily get lost in any neighborhood and find something delicious to eat. Any corner you turn you may run into a new kind of market of some kind. To top the perfect day off you can never go wrong catching the sunset at a rooftop bar to watch as day slides to night.
When I was working at the hostel in Bangkok I received an email from a dive center down on Koh Tao offering me a volunteer position for a couple of weeks. I had emailed them much earlier when I had been in Chiang Mai but had never heard back. While I was sad to leave the hostel, an opportunity to stay for free on Koh Tao and receive a friendly discount to make getting my advanced certificate affordable was too great a prospect to pass up. In exchange, I had to do an hour or two of cleaning every day and have fun at a few barbecues. Life is good. I forgot to mention Koh Tao looks like the background of a moviet set, absolutely stunning.
My work and play spot was at French Kiss Divers, whose motto is “the deeper, the more pleasure.” Breathing under water was a whole new experience and I immediately fell in love. It is an activity that is exhilarating yet calming at the same time. I became friends with the instructors, fellow volunteers, and even customers of French Kiss and I look forward to visiting them in France, or wherever they are diving in the future.
As relaxing as my time was in Koh Tao and Thailand in general, it was time to meet old friends and explore new places. It was time to visit Hong Kong.