There are certain things I knew I’d love about living in Thailand.
Before I moved here about seven months ago, I knew I would definitely love Thai tea, the beaches, cheap street food, etc., but there are a few wildcards that I couldn’t have predicted.
Along the same lines, there were things that I knew I’d miss about living in San Francisco. I’d obviously miss my loved ones, burritos, and a San Francisco paycheck. Beyond that though, sometimes I get hit with a homesick feeling for the most specific and unexpected things.
Just to vent, below are five examples of each.
Five things I’m surprised to love about life in Thailand
1.Watching muay Thai
2. Using my tiny little broom to sweep my apartment (for reference)
3. Eating street food whole fish
4. Taking classes at the gym taught exclusively in Thai (I’ve never been more motivated to work hard in a class than when an instructor is yelling at me in Thai)
5. Primarily eating with spoons
Five things I didn’t expect to miss about living in SF
1. Riding my bike to work and the pleasure of walking around comfortably (aka not being hot as F any time I move)
2.Getting paid every two weeks
3.Wearing jeans, coats, and scarves
4. Taking the Muni train to Ocean Beach
5. The ability to use a credit card nearly everywhere
CLICHÉ ALERT: Part of the motivation to move abroad was to have an experience that could make me a better person (key word could, because who knows). I thought I’d be faced with challenges, work through them, be forced to operate outside of my comfort zone, and then one day BOOM, you’re changed for the better. So I knew that it would be hard coming into this, but I didn’t know exactly how that difficulty would take shape. Turns out, a good chunk of my experience living abroad is spent feeling humliated. Sometimes it feels like a constant onslaught of humliation, just one cringe worthy dose of awkard terribleness after another.
I’ll give you an example – Living in Thailand seems to be just about the worst thing possible for my skin. I am putting my skin through hell in this tropical sun. The UV rays are one thing, but the real issue is the heat. I’m constantly pouring sweat from all of my pores — really, all of them. I mean it’s almost impressive — and I feel like I’m back in high school with all of the breaking out going on. Every day, I put on makeup to cover up the breakouts, then I sweat off said makeup, put on more makeup (to continue pore clogging!), sweat that makeup off, put more on, and repeat this depressing cycle until I get home.
Even the breakouts aside, the sweating is enough to embarass the F out of me. I get to events for work where elegant Thai ladies in slacks and blazers are functioning gracefully and I am straight up soaking, my wet hair clinging to my face. It’s a delight. They look at me sympathetically as beads of sweat roll down my forehead and I try to escape small talk to run to the bathroom and dry off.
Ok so the good thing about feeling constantly humliated is that it really breaks down your ego. If I lost sleep over all of the cringeworthy moments, I would really not be sleeping ever. I’ve gotten to the point where I just have to tell myself, “well, this is happening so you better just roll with it” (or I guess it’s more of a “wow, just kill me. How is this real life?”). I have to accept the awful reality and keep on keeping on.
Ultimately, I survive! I’ve learned that even when I do something and feel completely terrible (like almost die at a company retreat HAHAHA), I make it through the situation and the consequences are usually not as bad as I predict they’ll be. Counterintuitively, my self esteem is getting better the worse that things get. I’m learning how to deal with my body, my personality, my strenghts/weaknesses and it’s all very uncomfortable and very real. The byproduct of this learning is making me a better journalist. I’m less embarassed during interviews I conduct because I’ve let go of hangups I can’t control. I used to think that I wasn’t qualified or worthy of talking to people as a writer and that obviously threw me off before the interview even started. Now that I no longer feel capable of impressing people based on social graces or appearance, I can just focus on being better at a job I love to do.
Hopefully, this is all part of the “becoming a better person” scheme.
I’ve been listening to the Yeasayer song 2080 on repeat. The chorus hits home:
It’s a new year, I’m glad to be here It’s a fresh spring, so let’s sing In 2080 I’ll surely be dead So don’t look ahead, never look ahead
It fits how I’m feeling at the end of 2014, not that I’m against looking ahead. I wildly alter my five year plan daily.
What resonates is the idea of simmering in the present, appreciating what’s happening now. I’m trying to savor the fact that it’s nearly 2015, that I’m 24 years old, and that I’m fortunate to be chasing my dreams (however awkwardly).
Yesterday, an AirAsia plane went missing en route to Singapore hours before I boarded a flight of my own. I keep getting reminded that EVERY MOMENT is a gift. It could have been my budget aircraft that went down. I could have easily died in the Petchaburi pool accident. I could get hit by a Toyota Camry in Fresno the next time I visit home. I’m lucky to be lazily typing this. With 2014 coming to a close, I wrote this blog post to reflect on that luck.
The year was a blur filled with epic experiences and way too many Negronis. I worked with incredible people, saw beautiful things. So much happened before Bangkok that most of the year feels like a lifetime ago. Here’s a snapshot recount:
January – European blitz with Ariel through Dublin, London, and Paris; Made a lot of people mad at Le Comptoir Du Relais Saint-Germain. March – My grandpa turned 90; Officially left my side gig at Café des Amis. May – One year anniversary in San Francisco; Family visits the city. July – Staged a bit at Alta CA.
(San Francisco Apartment)
August – Temporarily moved to Oakland; Outside Lands. September – Left Wagstaff; Last trips to Fresno and LA to see my family; Said goodbye to San Francisco with Leah, AJ, Clayton and Jacob; Got on a plane to Bangkok with Haley and Amber. Started at HotelQuickly. October – Weird solo adventures to Manila and Hua Hin. November – Nearly killed myself in that pool; Family and friends came to my rescue; Started freelance writing. December – Turned 24.
Beyond the snapshot, I reminisced about the year gone by as I stood in line at a Thai bank the other day.
I thought back on my time at Wagstaff, where I cut my teeth in the professional world and made so manymistakes. It was where I learned more than I could have imagined from Kiaran, Keelin, and the rest of the team. Where I picked up the phone and dialed my cross-country, invaluable mentor, Jeff. Where I lunched with Nicole, Meg, and Katherine. Where I fell in love with A16, TBD, and Farallon.
It was more than a job, it was a life, and a good one.
I wouldn’t have been at Wagstaff, or standing in line at a Bangkok bank, if it wasn’t for the boundless support from my family. My parents have consistently swooped in and saved the day with their love, resources, and manpower this year (and of course all the ones before that). My brother and sister in law took me into their Oakland home so I could save money before my move. My sister and her fiancé continue to keep me grounded, and feed me encouraging advice regularly. My extended family sends love through mail and social media. Whether bound to me by blood or law or whatever, these people helped build the foundation of my life. I’d be an idiot not to remind them how grateful I am for that help.
While I’m barrelling down this tunnel of thankfulness, I obviously can’t leave out my friends and coworkers at HotelQuickly. I arrived in Bangkok with the comfort of a job, complete with welcoming colleagues who turned out to be literal life savers.
Through the insanity of the year, friends new and old played vital roles in sustaining my happiness and sanity. To all of you, thank you.
This post can hardly scratch the surface of the joy, pain, and weirdness of 2014. If anything, I hope it can convey how happy I am to be watching another sunset hit the towering Bangkok skyscrapers.
Milk tea, Singha, milk tea, milk tea, iced latte, Chang, Singha, mojito, Chang. Two months in Bangkok and my drinking history was embarrassing (and way too full of dairy). The city is crawling with well-reputed cocktail bars, and I could sadly count the number of Negronis I’d sipped on one hand.
When some freelance writing opportunities came around, I decided to focus my stories on Bangkok’s food and beverage culture. I spent all day dreaming of street food and amaro, why not write about them? First stop on my ever-growing list of places to try was U.N.C.L.E., a convenient two streets from work.
The façade reminded me immediately of LA or San Francisco (until a lizard scrambled behind the neon sign). U.N.C.L.E. is a speakeasy tucked above Lady Brett, a tavern in the Sapparot Group portfolio. My friend Mike and I crept up the stairs to the bar uneasily, because it definitely feels like you’re going the wrong way. We successfully found the right room and grabbed spots at the four seat bar. The Swedish bars owners were personally slanging drinks, and we delighted in the carefully crafted libations.
A few drinks and a shot of Fernet later, we left in a happy daze. This place was leaps and bounds better than the watered-down cocktails served at many Bangkok watering holes. I would definitely be back.
My buddy Abhi and I started Sunday right with brunch at Brooklyn Baker. We had egg-y comfort food at the restaurant, which is nestled in a relaxing spa down a street I could never find again on my own.
After brunch, we cut through Bangkok’s treasured Lumpink Park and I suddenly stopped in my tracks. I had seen my street food white whale – ไอติมขนมปัง, or the Thai ice cream sandwich. People told me about this wicked treat, but I had never come across it on my own.
Holy mother of God this thing is good. What is not to love about a white bread bun, sticky rice, fresh coconut ice cream, drizzled in condensed milk? WHAT IS NOT TO LOVE. Type 2 Diabetes? Worth it.
Post ice cream sando, Abhi and I lazily walked through the park in the blinding heat. I was literally dripping sweat when we emerged on the other side of the beautiful park. We parted ways and I went to Vesper Cocktail Bar & Restaurant. This place gets me – barrel aged Negronis, uni, antique maps. I am putty in its imaginary hands.
My mission was to photograph some of the cocktails, although I was distracted by the torrential downpour of sweat I was drowning in. Being 9 million degrees outside, I was unable to cool down when I got to the swanky bar. I continued to sweat excessively throughout the shoot, soaking through the paper towels I swooped from the bathroom. Clearly my body was meant for places like France or Antarctica, not tropical Bangkok.
In addition to the many other wonders (like the magical, dry ice finished War of the Roses), Vesper has a fun selection of cocktails to share that are served from a teapot. The sweaty struggle aside, I was semi-confident I got the photos I needed of the bar’s precisely executed drinks. I thanked bar manager Colin for his time and went back into the heat. Instead of being cash conscious and heading home, I went around the corner to the highly-revered Eat Me Restaurant.
In an attempt to be frugal, I ordered but a snack at one of Asia’s 50 best restaurants, guzzling the complimentary mint-laced water to rehydrate. I had the delightful Zucchini Carpaccio along with most of the free bread.
After spending a day and a half spending money like it was on fire, it was time to figuratively cool it on the semi-fine dining front (for at least a meal). Dinner was spent in my go-to coffee shop,Glur, where the green curry is delicious and the staff extremely welcoming.
I write this holding back tears, the tears of an idiot. I’ve been in Thailand a month now, I can handle Thai spice [eats Thai chili and immediately regrets it. Eyes water. Mouth burns.] 20 minutes later, my mouth is still on fire are I am dangerously low on water. Kill me.
Anyway, despite the physical suffering, the weekend was a great one filled with sightseeing, galavanting, and not losing a single thing. I woke up Saturday on a mission to see some sights. I hadn’t had my fill of temple visits, so I decided on heading to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.
Pro tip: Wat means temple.
After renting a long skirt (for modesty), I entered the hallowed grounds of the riverside Wat. I was immediately overcome with awe. I’ve been to religious sites before, but I’ve never had such a physical reaction to a place. I felt calm and was filled with respect for the beautiful grounds. I’m not a sappy person, but it was really special. I stalked a monk and took his photo, because that’s what a tourist does at a Wat.
I spent about a 45 minutes touring the incredible place. To get to the best vantage point, you have to climb up narrow stairs that are essentially a ladder. Very nerve-wracking, but totally worth the experience. I couldn’t help think about all of the teeth I would knock out if my foot slipped. Positive thinking!
One thing that really stood out beyond the splendor of the holy temples was the presence of the guys pictured below. I’m sure they are really wonderful to some people, but I was sort of like, why are these giant-headed baby monks here? They’re a little off putting and way less majestic than the rest of the area. I mean, those heads!
I took a tuk tuk to the nearest BTS station and spent the rest of the night enjoying the nightlife of Bangkok. Beervana’s anniversary party, dive bars, and street noodle soup were the perfect end to another great day in Thailand.
I woke up late on Sunday with a mean hangover, but still wanted to get my Wat on. My mental capacity was a little less sharp due to said hangover, but I managed to wait in only two wrong lines before figuring out how to take the Chao Praya river taxi.
I got off at the taxi port across from Wat Arun near the Grand Palace. Having been to the Grand Palace in 2013, I didn’t need to go back before seeing the other sights of Bangkok. Instead, I wandered in the direction of glimmering temple roofs until the sun went down.
Without a destination, I wasted a lot of time wandering through less eye-catching areas, but still enjoyed seeing Thais go about their sleepy Sunday.
Ended the day with some Szechwan food while it poured rain. I can’t remember the names of all of the Wats I saw, or even the names of the neighborhoods I walked through, but still a win in my book. I’m getting better at my Thai numbers, and getting used to Thai people laughing at me when I practice.
My weeks are spent keeping up with the hustle of working at a startup, and weekends exploring this massive city. Breathaking, confusing, sweat-inducing – I am falling deeper in love with Bangkok with each passing day.
You lost your debit card in the first three days of your move
You lost your iPhone in the first month
You’re renting an expensive apartment with a year lease
You’ve only had Pad Thai 3 times
What the f is wrong with me?How could I possibly lose my cell phone? HOW HAVE I MADE IT THIS FAR IN LIFE?
On Friday, my friends and I went to Khao San Road, one of the most touristy nightlife destinations in Bangkok. It wasn’t until we were back at home that I realized it. Phone = gone. I thought back to the timeline of the evening. We started the night at Khao San posted up at a bar where we drank buckets of soda that were allegedly alcoholic. At the bar, I definitely had my phone, but couldn’t remember using it after we left to dance in the street. Whether someone stole it out of my purse or I left it at the bar, it didn’t matter. It was 4 am and it was gone. We ate street food noodle soup and I tried not to be too upset about the fail.
My friend Chris (pictured above) helped me try to get it back, even though it was super late and I’m sure he wanted to go to bed. We talked to the person who had taken my phone, trying to persuade him to return it for a reward. Instead, he kept asking us to give him the phone’s password (tempting, but no).He said that he already had a phone, and didn’t want to steal mine. Great, but not convincing, considering he took it two hours south of Bangkok. Shortly after talking to him, he disconnected the phone number he had called us on.
So it was gone, the phone was gone. The next morning, Chris, Etty (his girlfriend) and I went to the Fortune Town IT Mall at Rama 9 to look for a new iPhone. It was going to cost me a lot and no one took American Express. After realizing this was going to be a herculean task, we parted ways and I continued my hunt.
Fast forward 5 hours, and I was the owner of a terrible new $100 Samsung. The graphics were pixilated and the downloads were slow; I missed my iPhone so much that I could have gotten a tattoo of it’s serial number on my foot. Fortunately, my dad went to the AT&T store in Fresno, California and was able to get a replacement iPhone 5s for $99! Until it comes in the mail, I’ll be able to survive in my Android hell (first world problem alert).
I wanted to move to Bangkok for the challenge, but not the challenge of dealing with my own avoidable mistakes. One month under my belt in Thailand, and I had already gone through a slew of bad moves. At the end of the day, it could have been worse. No one got hurt – unless you count the hangover of the next day – and it’s just a phone (but who am I kidding, it’s 2014 and I’m addicted to technology).
Bangkok is a gateway for travel throughout Southeast Asia. You can go to endless places (often cheaply) from the city’s airports, train stations, and bus depots. I want to take advantage of that as much as possible while I live here, with a special emphasis on train travel.
My first trip out of Bangkok started with a 100 baht, or $3.08 USD motorcycle taxi ride to the Hua Lamphong Railway Station. Since becoming accustomed to motorcycle taxi etiquitte, I realize that my first few rides in the city must have horrified the driver. Instead of gracefully balancing on the back of the bike holding onto the seat as Thais do, I molested the first two or three Thai men by squeezing their waists intimately. Oops!
When I got to the train station, I had no idea where I wanted to go. I knew that I wanted to go somewhere with a beach, and that I didn’t want to go anywhere 12 hours away. The clerk at the information desk suggested Hua Hin, a quick four hour ride. A coworker had recommended the seaside town, so I bought a third class ticket for just 94 baht, $2.90.
I packed light and overdressed for the trip. I shoved a change of clothes, a book, and some toiletries in my work purse. Being a solo female traveler, I wanted to make sure I did the trip as safely as possible. No laptop, briefcases full of cash, etc. My thought process for the overdressing was that if I looked as far from a backpacker as possible, people might treat me less like a backpacker (take advantage of me, price gouge, murder, etc.). It was also by default because I brought about 90% work appropriate clothing to Thailand, so casual isn’t really my go-to.
I got on the train and walked back and forth like a crazy person a few times before finding my seat, 57A. I lunged toward the window as I had already begun to sweat intensely. The heat was alive and well, and I needed the air condition-free train to start moving ASAP before I drowned in a pool of my own sweat. A woman and her daughter dressed in hijabs were my seat buddies, and I couldn’t stop thinking “HOW HOT ARE YOU IN THAT HIJAB AND FULL LENGTH GOWN?!”
We started to leave the station and I braced myself for the life-saving breeze that was sure to come. We began to pick up speed and then stopped picking up speed, holding a very mediocre pace. The wind in my hair I dreamed of was more of a slight puff, and I would continue to pour sweat the rest of the journey, using my spare shirt as a sweat rag.
I was the only farang (foreigner, usually white) on the train and felt out of place. I was clearly having a hard time with the sweating, and my traveling companions were kind to me. Despite the language barrier, the woman and her daughter offered me snacks like pork (which I couldn’t eat) and boiled peanuts (which I could and did) throughout the journey.
My heart seized up when the woman THREW HER STYROFOAM TRASH OUT OF THE TRAIN WINDOW! Coming from San Francisco where environmental awareness is king, I was blown away by the blasé act. WHY ARE YOU LITTERING IN YOUR BEAUTIFUL COUNTRYSIDE?! It’s hard not to be culturally insensitive/ethnocentric during such events when the behavior seems so wrong. I have to remember that this isn’t my country- I have to cool my jets and accept things the way they are.
Although the woman at the train station said Hua Hin was a quick four hours away, the trip ended up being six and a half hours of sweat, snacks, and culture shock. I arrived at sunset and walked through the town known to be loved by Thailand’s royal family. Being on the water, there was seafood galore in the restaurants and food stalls.
I had a delicious seafood stir fry dinner and went hunting for a fun bar to grab a beer. My goal was to find fellow travelers or expats to chat with about life in Thailand, what’s up in Hua Hin, what the hell is going on with all of the styrofoam, etc.
September is not a particularly booming time for tourism in Thailand, but the demographic that travels year round are the sexpats, tourists who visit Thailand (or move here) for the prostitutes. While most of the bars in Hua Hin were empty save a few Thai women, there was at least one or two old white men pawing at the beautiful locals selling their services. It was a depressing place for a lonely American girl to wander. I walked around for hours in search of a place with younger patrons, but had no luck. I gave up and had a beer at a nearly empty restaurant before taking a 15 minute truck taxi to my hotel.
In the morning, I woke up reenergized and ready to enjoy Hua Hin’s shining feature- the beach! The hotel offered a shuttle to a nearby beach and I took advantage of the ride at 8 am. I didn’t want my phone stolen while I was frolicking in the sea, so I left it back in my room, taking only a book and towel. The hotel shuttle promised to pick me up in an hour and dropped me off at the beach. I stepped onto the sand and was overwhelmed by the smell of dead fish and trash coming from the dead fish and trash strewn about the near-empty beach. Great!
I shook off the initial disappointment and decided to spend my time in the ocean and waded in, delighted to be in the water. The water too smelled like trash, but I didn’t mind. Another blow to my enthusiasm came when I noticed fat jellyfish floating around my legs. I bolted out of the water dejected and decided to read on my towel in the sun.
Not two minutes later, I heard a noise and looked up. A man was masturbating aggressively staring at me 50 ft away. I looked down instantly and panicked. What the f was I supposed to do? He started to yell noises at me to get my attention, and I realized that I was the only person on the beach. Alone, scared, confused, and grossed out, I put my clothes back on as quickly as possible and power walked down the road I came from. I wanted to run, but the packs of stray dogs have been known to attack people and I didn’t want to get their attention by flailing through their territory.
Fortunately, the man did not follow me down the road and I made it back to my hotel safely. I couldn’t report the incident to the hotel because the thought of explaining the scene with the language barrier seemed insane. I huddled up by my hotel pool and felt very weird about the whole experience. A night of sad sex tourism on display and a day of indecent exposure was not what I had intended for my weekend getaway.
I ended up taking an overpriced taxi back to town after a lackluster breakfast at the hotel. The thought of riding back on the train for six and a half hours after the let down was not enticing, so I took an air conditioned van back to Bangkok. It was very uncomfortable, but only took three hours and got me back in time for a late lunch with friends in the city.
While I enjoyed the experience of train traveling alone, Hua Hin was not my favorite and I don’t think I will be going back any time soon. Fingers crossed for a better adventure next time!
On Saturday, September 13, I left San Francisco to start a new chapter in Bangkok.
As I sat in the Manila airport on Monday morning after a 14 hour flight from SFO, it still didn’t seem like reality. Why would I leave a life I loved in California to be extremely uncomfortable in Southeast Asia?
With a five hour layover in Manila, things were off to a good start. The people were happy and friendly, and there was free WIFI. My friends Haley and Amber, who were off to Vietnam, were with me the first leg of the trip. We managed the 14 hour flight and enjoyed a coffee in Manila as they waited for their plane to take leave for Ho Chi Minh. When it was time for them to go, I just stood there in a stupor. This was it, I was about to be alone in Asia. I’ve never done anything epic alone, so the idea of literally flying solo was hard to take in. I took photos of them in a panic as they boarded their plane.
I paced the terminal and found myself in a 30 person line for the bathroom. I thought it was nice that they had a stall set aside for “Elderly Use Only” even though that meant the wait was wildly long. Using What’s App, I stressfully communicated with loved ones back in the USA until my 8:50 flight to Bangkok.
When I landed in Bangkok and went through customs, I logged into the airport’s free WIFI and opened HotelQuickly, the app I would be working for, to book my first hotel room. After booking a night at the Hotel Icon Bangkok, I found a metered taxi and headed for the city. My taxi driver may have been the least friendly person in Thailand, but I tried to stay happy despite the 24+ hours of total travel time. I spotted a billboard on the freeway that helped comfort me in my insane decision to move here:
“Opportunity has landed, welcome to Bangkok” was a comforting sight to see. Thirty minutes and less than $10 later, I was at the hotel where I was greeted with a sweet, violet-colored beverage and an iced cold towel. I checked into my room and was still in a general disbelief.
After so much travel time and reading up on the possible horrors that could happen to a single woman traveling, I was extremely paranoid to leave my room again. I had been so fixated on the idea that everyone was going to rob me, rip me off, or kidnap me that the thought of leaving my safe little abode was overwhelming. I showered and lingered for two hours before mustering up the willpower to go and buy a cell phone.
I took many wrong turns, went into many wrong buildings, but finally ended up at the TrueMove H store where I bought a prepaid phone for $20 from a man who spoke very little English. I kept finding that whenever I asked people (in Thai) if they speak English, they find it hilarious and usually laughed at me. So that’s great.
Overwhelmed and jetlagged, I went back to the BTS (the skytrain) and got off when I saw a sign for massage. I settled into a comfortable chair at the massage parlor and had one of the best foot massages of my existence. This could have been due to the roller coaster of emotions I had experienced over the past week, or just that the woman was a true genius. Either way, it was heaven. The cherry on top of the day was dinner: my first pad thai at a place called Lee’s near my hotel.
I walked back to my hotel and flopped into my bed. I continued to repeat “how is this real?” as I talked to family and friends online. The first day was under my belt.