Bumping along in a minivan on my way to Thailand, I felt myself rapidly going downhill. Arriving at the border crossing office between Cambodia and Thailand things got worse!
There was around an hour long queue to get passports stamped.
In the heat, the strange smell of live animals and rubbish was really overpowering, I stood for a while, then sat on the floor shuffling my large rucksack forward a few inches and at time. When I was half way through the queue I faced a dilemma. Should I leave my place in the line to find a toilet and face holding up my whole group or stay and try with all my might to keep the creamy, Beef stroganoff I ate the night before in my stomach?
The decision, in the end was made for me. I had seconds to react and thankfully the greatest sight before me was a nearby window which I stuck my head out of. Luckily no one was passing by below or they would have had quite a surprise. This was probably one of the physically lowest points of my journey. Being sick, whilst on the move, isn’t fun. I would be forever grateful to the girls guarding the toilets on the Thai side of the border who then let me in without payment when I crossed over. I think they took one look at my face and relented. Also to the South-African family who brought me some plain food when I was laid up in bed that night.
“Being sick, whilst on the move, isn’t fun.”
In the blur of my journey I saw how different Thailand is to Cambodia. Expensive cars replaced mopeds. Advertising billboards with modern brands trailed the motorways. Roads were smooth, well tarmaced but also congested with the number of cars. Tall buildings everywhere. The contrast to Cambodia is massive.
I rested up in a plush hotel in Bangkok and felt suprisingly well the following day. This was the end of the organised tour and I said farewell to all my fellow passengers, apart from Dion, a lawyer from Johannesburg who accompanied me on a day exploring the city.
We caught the local bus and visited Wat Pho temple, which houses a 46m long statue of the reclining Buddha and many beautiful and elaborate stupas. These are mountain like shapes which house the ashes of people or important relics.
I was getting hungry so we headed for street food, which is practically everywhere in Bangkok. The entrepreneurial spirit of Thai people to create delicious, portable food stalls is incredible and I enjoyed freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and Pad Thai.
“The entrepreneurial spirit of Thai people to create delicious, portable food stalls is incredible.”
We took a 3 baht (5p) river boat ride across to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn and admired the intricate mosaic tiles that adorned the buildings.
This was followed by a crazy boat ride through the winding Bangkok canals on a super long thin boat with a giant engine.
Our journey took us back through Bangkok flower market. This is a vibrant and beautiful place packed with a multitude of shops selling garlands, bouquets and bunches of exotic flowers. I saw sack loads of individual orchid flowers being sold for very low prices. The Thai people really love the beauty of flowers and also use them as offerings when they visit Buddhist temples.
The evening held a nice surprise. My friend Tanzeena from the UK had returned from travelling in the Thai islands and we met up for dinner on a roof top over looking the river and city. It was really great to see a familiar face in such an unfamiliar place and catch up on her adventures. We arranged to meet up again in a few days time.
The next day was Christmas eve and I headed across the city to meet a Thai family who had connections to my own family and spend a few days with them. After navigating the Bangkok MRT underground system and taxis I was introduced to some new faces and welcomed to their house. It was nice to be part of a family for this time of year and it was a great mix of young and old, Thai and Indian people.
This was the first moment I had to really acknowledge it was Christmas. I had seen lots of decorations in the Philippines and Vietnam, but it felt strange that people were still working and it was super hot and sunny.
I was taken out for an evening meal to a huge, outdoor themed restaurant popular with Chinese tourists called Chocolateville. This is where I saw my first Asian Father Christmas and got covered in fake snow. The young girl in the Thai family and I had a great time.
Christmas day was business as usual in Thailand. I enjoyed the lack of pressure to purchase and consume, but I missed my family, my church and the sense of stillness and togetherness that happens in the UK. So, after managing to have a nice chat with my family back home I decided to embrace my location by having a Thai massage. This was a vigorous and unique experience. Firstly you put more clothes on than you take off and the masseuse manipulates your legs and arms to angles I never thought possible! After recovering you do feel great afterwards
In the evening we did get together as a family and we had a delicious Thai dinner followed by a lucky dip of presents that the young girl had organised for us so she could experience a “real Christmas”. We watched a cheesy but fun Christmas movie and danced to Christmas music salsa style. A very memorable and different Christmas.