Sawasdee & Welcome to Thailand

It’s early in the morning, the air is steamy and thick, and I’ve just arrived in a place over 8,500 miles from my New York City home. Sawasdee ka, explorers and welcome to Thailand, from your (almost) fearless guide, Tati!

Although a relatively small country, Thailand’s climate and landscape are very diverse. In Chiang Mai, in the north, one finds the country’s highest mountain range, endless rice paddy fields, and lush rain forests. In Phuket, in the south, there are long stretches of white-sand beaches and thick tropical trees. My journey begins here, in the sprawling city of Bangkok.

Weary-eyed and disoriented from the time change, I am met by Pair, my guide for the majority of my three-week journey. Luckily, I remember to ‘wai’; pressing palms together and bowing my head slightly. This is the proper way to greet people in Thailand. In my past travel experiences, it’s always an appreciated gesture by foreign cultures when I make an attempt to learn how to say “hello” in their native tongue. And bowing to one another as part of the proper salutation? I’ve got that down! The same gesture is a sign of respect and humility in my native Ethiopian culture.

Driving from the airport to the hotel, I stare out the window at the massive urban landscape. With approximately nine million people living in the city, Bangkok has a slightly larger urban population than New York City. Immediately, there is something about this city that makes me feel as though I’m at home; bumper-to-bumper traffic, sidewalks crowded with pedestrians, and hundreds of skyscrapers seemingly vanish into the clouds.

I continue over the Chao Phraya River, which cuts through the heart of Bangkok. Buildings and indecipherable signs flashing before my eyes, I catch a glimpse of Wat Arun, one of the many Buddhist temples my guidebook designates as a “must-see”.

Despite warnings from friends that Bangkok is a bit unsavory, I certainly have not seen this side. Could this impression be merely misrepresentation in the media? The energy of the capital is palpable and the illuminated temples around which this city is built are majestic. It’s an experience in itself to see this fusion of Thailand’s history and ultra modernity within Bangkok’s city limits.

I’m eager to take in all sights, sounds, and smells.