I'm flying on Thai Airways from Bangkok to London, yet another 12 hour long air journey
. Somehow, I've managed to book myself on many long haul journeys around the globe, but then again, this is a RTW trip. What continues to be striking for me is how large our planet is - physically - but then other times - such as when I randomly run into people I've met on an entirely different continent - our world reveals itself to be the size of a small community. It is one of the themes I constantly find myself wondering about our planet earth. Yet again, I feel I am not ready to make this journey to a new place, as I loved my time in the "royal kingdom" of Thailand, where the people are wamr and generous and are not bound by Western standards which emphasize a separation between personal space and intimacy. Thai people know no such separation between themselves and a stranger. Touching a stranger of the same sex, (never opposite sex, there are rigid cultural mores regarding this) is commonplace. For instance, rubbing Tiger Balm on my mossie (oh been down under too long!) mosquito bites, and giving hugs to passengers on the train was something I considered extraordinary. Of course, maybe they just thought I was adorable!, but in Boston if you do that you're likely to get hit. This warmth of spirit is more remarkable to me because while I found much to love about the country, I struggled with its stifling, sticky, prickly heat, its everpresent and persistent bugs of every kind, and its seedy, poverty stricken, and polluted cities. Yet Thai people are gracious and kind throughout these circumstances, making their smiles all the more wondrous and compelling. The country is simultaneously a treat and a challenge for the senses. The smiles endearing, the food tantalizing, the architecture stunning, and the other arts - paintings, sculpture, textiles, design, dance, are all brilliantly ablaze in color and joyful exuberance. Even the attire of my flight attendants on Thai Airways is gorgeous. Dressed head to toe in Thai silk - the best in the world! - full length skirts, silk jackets and shirts, of magenta and purple and salmon rose paired with pink
. Stunning fore the eyes, yet celebratory and sophisticated as well. On this flight, I am grateful for this beauty surrounding me, and more so for the three seats I have to myself, a first on my world travels, and a major score on an overnight flight!! Trips headed East and South, and even North to Bangkok from Melbourne have all been full, but this trip West is surprisingly (and perhaps tellingly) empty. Though thoroughly Asian, I noticed that Bangkok has access to those things oddly missing from antipodean Australia and New Zealand. Of course, perhaps this is due to where I was staying, however I think Bangkok is more of a hub for international business than down under, and there also seems to be a celebration of isolation that heralds not being part of the rest of the world. In any case, it was noticeable to me, which does not make it true but from my point of view, as are all of my observations about anywhere I've been. In Bangkok it is possible to find world news in print form, such as the International Herald Tribune and english language newspapers the Bangkok Post
and The Nation. Newspapers I found in antipodea tended to be national or regional, including some international news of course, but not to the same extent as the international papers. Bangkok, even though a very different culture and a language I could not read, no less understand, felt more connected to the region and the world. It is an exciting hub and very much the center of action. This connection is all the more surprising, considering even in Bangkok, Thailand's biggest city of 20 milion souls, it can feel like you're both in the 21st century and back in time 100 years. Simultaneously, one can get anything one wants or needs, while seeing people who live along the Chao Phraya River in shacks with absolutely nothing. My trip here has been a reflection of this paradox, roughing it at the elephant camp in a bamboo hut, and traveling on two overnight trains (one with no AC/aircon!!) and then living "like a princess" at the Marriott Resort and Spa, btw, a fantastic way to end my travels here and prepare for the long journey west. This is a huge tip when traveling for a long time - treat yourself to a decent bed the night before and after a long haul flight. You'll need it, and thank yourself for it later. The money is well spent on being rested, clean and nourished. Speaking of nourishment, the other item I'd been missing when down under will sound extremely trivial, but something you probably take for granted. Regular salt and pepper!! I found the Oz version of salt to be more like MSG (Accent) rather than granules and the pepper is crushed to a finely ground powder. I'm sure it's not like that in fine dining establishments in Sydney, but I never found it!!
Traveling by train from Chiang Mai, I look out on approaching Bangkok's newly developing suburbs in search of elephants kept in squalid conditions and makeshift work camps, waiting to beg along Bangkok's streets for sympathetic yet unknowing tourists. This practice is supposed to be illegal now, but enforcement is severely lacking. The sun barely makes an appearance through the haze of humidity and pollution, though the rainy season isn't until June. My memories of the elephants, especially my special girl Malai Tong with her signature injured (land mine) back leg, stay with me as I travel now to the airport. Before leaving, I buy an elephant carved from resin and contemplate my next trip back to Thailand. At the Bangkok airport, which is very dangerous if you have too much time on your hands as it has some of the best shopping, I buy an elephant T-shirt and pillows from the Jim Thompson store, which suits me perfectly as I leave the country where I bonded with so many of the gentle giants. They have imprinted on my heart forever.