I think a lot about travel, which shouldn’t be too surprising since it’s now my job as well as my life’s passion. One thing that has always fascinated me is why certain places resonate with us on very deep and personal levels. I’m also curious about why one person may love a city but another hate it. With all things being equal, it points towards the fact that travel is an intensely personal experience. Even if we share it with others, we don’t see new destinations in the same way and we don’t leave with the same thoughts and emotions. For me, there are certain cities around the world that I love dearly, to which I would return in a heartbeat for no other reason than to just be there. Bangkok is one of those cities and it’s ultimately how I found myself back in the City of Angels when I really didn’t have to be.
I honestly probably shouldn’t like Bangkok as much as I do. My first trip there many years ago was also my first time visiting a so-called developing country. I still vividly remember walking out of the airport and being inundated by, everything. The smells, the wet air and the cacophony of people was all a lot to take. I got used to the beautiful frenzy of Bangkok though fairly quickly, learning to accept the no-rules traffic and the incredible mass of people who call it home. Later during that same trip I was swindled by a fake tourist-cop, not the first time someone has been cheated in Bangkok, but I was deeply shaken. I walked back to my hotel rom that evening in tears and vowed never to return. Thankfully, that feeling was fleeting and within a day or so I was back out enjoying lunch at streets stalls and visiting temples and palaces. Since that first trip I’ve been fortunate enough to return a few different times and, while planning a recent vacation to Myanmar, I decided that spending time in Thailand was a good idea.
My plan ultimately was to spend a few days in Chiang Mai, a city I’d never visited before. But first I couldn’t resist the siren song of Bangkok, spending a few days recuperating from the long trip. I didn’t have to stay in Bangkok, I could’ve flown directly to Chiang Mai, but whatever about Bangkok that resonates with me so deeply is impossible to ignore, so I planned time in the city doing very little.
No Guilt Travel
Normally when I travel, I feel compelled to see and do as much as possible. Not only do I love that feeling of exploration and discovery, but I rarely return to the same destination twice, creating a compulsion to not waste time when I travel. I’m not a relax-by-the-pool kind of guy, no, instead I get up early and spend all day every day experiencing as much as possible. One of the great aspects though of returning to cities I already know well is that I don’t have that same urge to make the most of my time. I experienced the best of Bangkok many years ago, affording me the luxury now of doing exactly what I want to do. On this trip, yes, that did mean some sightseeing, but it also meant enjoying some “me” time. I have a tailor in the city I know and trust, and so I spent the better part of a morning with him, choosing fabrics and getting outfitted for new shirts and suits. I also spent a disproportionate amount of time eating, one of my favorite aspects of being in Bangkok. I took a food tour to learn more about local stalls and restaurants and also went out on my own to enjoy my favorite Thai meals. Throw in time revisiting some of my favorite tourist sights in the city, and it really was the ideal three days in Bangkok. The best part of it all though was that I didn’t feel any guilt.
Had I enjoyed a similar schedule in a city I’d never been to before, it would have driven me crazy. The incredible guilt about not making the most of my time would have been overwhelming, creating more stress than its worth. But in cities like Bangkok, cities I know and love I can just exist and enjoy the moment. Now, after several trips to the Thai capital, my favorite thing to do there is to just BE there.
Comfort and Joy
Intellectually, I know and understand that travel is about both relaxing and just having a lot of fun. And, in spite of my many foibles, that is nearly always the case for me. But I also find it impossible to do nothing when I travel, sit by a pool and ignore the complex culture just beyond the lobby of my hotel. The net effect is trips that, while enjoyable, are also exhausting. Often times it does take additional visits for me to appreciate the more nuanced aspects of a city or even country. Perhaps that’s why I love returning to my favorite cities so very much, for the all too rare opportunity to just be myself and only do those activities that I know I love. Paris, Cape Town, Edinburgh and Bangkok, these are all cities I could return to a hundred times and never be bored, not only thanks to the experiences they offer, but for my own love of these urban destinations. There’s a certain level of comfort and joy for me in revisiting these cities, a personality and travel quirk that I have come to love over the years. So no, I didn’t run myself ragged in Bangkok. I slept in, enjoyed brunches and spent too much money on new sports coats. But I also had an incredibly fun few days in the city, meandering around at my own pace and remembering everything that has endeared the city to me since that first frightening moment I stepped foot in the country.
What are some of your favorite places you always love returning to?