WOW it has been one hell of a long time coming for this one. But I have finally arrived at my “final” destination for the moment: Thailand!
As I’ve said before, one of the main reasons I wanted to become a freelancer was to have location independence so I could travel/live abroad. I had a bunch of stuff I had to take care of first though – both expected and unexpected – so I spent a year living mainly at my parents’ house working, saving, and otherwise putting my “dreams” on hold.
Then in October I finally bought some tickets.
And then last night, I arrived in Bangkok.
So far, I’ve traversed all up and down Khao San Road and have revisited my old stomping grounds in Pinklao, have eaten pork and pepper soup at the Green Restaurant I used to love, and have had papaya, a watermelon shake, and some spicy chicken, veg, and rice soup (khao tom gai) (for breakfast!) and everything feels so shockingly normal. More on
first second impressions below.
But first, allow me to address some Frequently Asked Questions:
If you know me IRL, you know I’ve been talking about Thailand ever since I left 5 years ago. The memories from living and traveling here are sort of seared into my heart, maybe because it was a formative time in my life (I was 22, right out of college), or maybe because it was different and exciting and a bigger adventure for me than the previous one in Australia two years prior.
Either way, I’ve been wanting to revisit this place for ages. It’s been on the top of my list.
In terms of living abroad while working, I also wanted to live somewhere I was at least somewhat familiar with because the whole idea of taking my work abroad terrified me. If I end up crashing and burning in that sense, I want it to be in a place I know how to navigate.
And lastly, I wanted to keep my living expenses quite low, and besides India, Thailand is the most affordable country I’ve been to.
Also see: the weather, the beaches, the food, the culture, and the people 😀
How long will you be there for?
I don’t know. Three months? Six months? A year? Not sure!
Where will you live?
I think near a beach. Last time I lived in Thailand, I lived in Bangkok so I know I don’t want to do that again. Not that I don’t like Bangkok, but I tend to prefer places with more nature.
I’m thinking somewhere in the south. OR maybe Chiang Mai but that’s a second choice for me compared to the islands/beaches.
Are you going to teach again?
No, not unless I need to. I’m really grateful for my experience teaching in 2012, but the work itself didn’t resonate with my soul as much as writing and content marketing does.
Second impressions, or How It Feels to Be Here Again
It feels like the most normal thing in the world. I’m shocked actually at how much I remember. You know how your mind stores thousands and thousands of song lyrics that you didn’t know you knew until an old song comes on and you find yourself singing along with it?
That’s how it feels reexploring the streets of the Old City here in Bangkok. This was sort of my neighborhood because I lived in Pinklao, just over the bridge to the northwest. I used to walk down into Khao San to get Indian food or trade in an English book I was reading, or, on one occasion, get my nose pierced 😉
A lot of the places and things I remember are still here, which is amazing to me given how quickly things can turn over in Thailand.
All the foods I remember are here too and it’s so freakin easy to find things to eat. I know I’ll probably get sick of the food just like last time, but for now it’s all so wonderfully delicious and accessible.
I went back to my old soi to see my apartment building and even said hello to one of my former landlords. She invited me inside and we tried our best to communicate without being able to speak each other’s languages, which turned out to mostly be us staring at each other and her telling me I was “very beautiful”.
I was glad to see my apartment building was still there but the whole area in front of it has been developed into a small mall. Still, a lot of my “neighborhood” looks the same, with Central Pinklao and the market across the street and all the street food stalls I remember.
What’s new is that almost every Thai person I’ve encountered so far has spoken at least some English. This is WAY different from five years ago. Maybe it’s from social media/the internet? Or maybe all the English teachers coming over are making an impact? Either way, this has been a new surprising sort of bittersweet thing to discover.
Things are still as relaxed as I remember; I hadn’t booked a place to stay beforehand and just ended up taking a cab to Thanon Phra Arthit and walking into a place I’ve stayed at before and asked about a room, negotiated it to a price I liked, and now I’m here.
Related: Bangkok: First Impressions (from 2012)
It has all felt so simple. I get that this probably shouldn’t surprise me – after all, I DID live here once – but it does.
I haven’t done a lot of traveling in the past year or two and had built up a lot of fear about it. I’m honestly not even sure what I was so afraid of. I guess that’s the point of actually pushing yourself to do the thing you’re most afraid of…
I’m sure I’ll have some more insightful things to say about this topic later but for now I’m still just so excited to be here and it all feels very whirlwind and completely surreal. And normal. Ha.
But wait – there’s more!
The prequel to Bangkok
Right before all this, I went to LA to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. I LOVE Thanksgiving and this year’s meal did not disappoint. The food was amazing and so was hanging out with everyone. I also got to see my friend Jena and her boyfriend, Matt. Then I was back in Atlanta for just three days before heading out again.
So I started this current journey about two weeks ago when I left Atlanta and headed to Boston. I stayed with my cousin Molly who I hadn’t seen in two years for the weekend. I had never been to Boston but mostly this leg of the trip was about reconnecting with my cousin, and I’m really glad I did it.
I think the highlight of the Boston stay was exploring the Venetian palace that is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It was this lush, green oasis in the middle of the city. Isabella inherited a bunch of money and decided to collect all this art and strategically display it in massive halls throughout her home-museum for guests to enjoy.
The Venetian style and inner gardens reminded me of Vizcaya in Miami, but there was also this whole other layer of the museum/art part of it. Highly recommend if you go to Boston.
We also walked through the Harvard and MIT campuses. Harvard wasn’t as collegiate-looking as I expected after hearing about it my whole life and knowing its reputation. MIT made me think of Good Will Hunting a lot, even though apparently they didn’t even shoot it most of it there.
Oh and one night we went to Molly’s friends’ house party where there was lots of art and music. We all sat around a campfire and sang songs together like the most wholesome, joyous movie scene ever.
I got to try the local cider when I went out for dinner and drinks with another lovely person who I don’t get to see very often, Antoinette. We met while traveling in Portugal in 2014 and have actually gotten to see each other twice this year!
After Boston, I flew to London to see someone else I hadn’t seen in 3 years: my friend Joe. We had an absolute blast catching up. (If you’d like to remember, he’s in this post from the end of my Thailand stay in 2013 by the way.)
You know you’re in England when the first question you’re asked immediately upon opening your eyes in the morning is if you want a cup of tea. I had plenty of tea, and it’s a good thing too because the weather was a grey, freezing mess a lot of the time (no surprises there I guess). It even snowed, which apparently doesn’t happen often in London.
Joe and I spent hours wandering the Tate Modern Museum and even found this room (literally a giant empty concrete room) that kept us entertained for ages singing and listening to our own echoes. It’s absurd but was also completely enchanting.
I did some other British things, like went drinking at the pub and had Sunday roast AND mulled wine AND sticky toffee pudding one night. I got to see my mentor Rowena for breakfast and catch up with her and her family as well.
Can I go back yet? I really had the best week in London.
Life happens out there, not in here
I think the biggest thing that has come out of the travel I’ve been doing this past month or so – since Santa Fe basically – is that life happens outside of the computer and social media. Yeah yeah yeah you’ve heard it all before, I know. But here’s my spin on it anyway:
In the past five years especially, I think we’ve all become more attached to our phones, Instagrams, and text message inboxes. It’s a VERY recent phenomenon and we tend to forget things weren’t like this a mere few years ago.
As a blogger and writer and “digital nomad”, I am intrinsically tied to my laptop and my phone. Like right now I am literally in the center of one of the biggest and most vibrant backpacker neighborhoods of the world and I’m sitting in my tiny little windowless room typing up this blog post into my WordPress editor, alone. And a lot of my life in the past year has been just like this: staring into a screen, typing, alone.
I’m okay with this – I love my work, and working on a laptop instead of, say, with people is a sacrifice I make to do work that I find fulfilling.
But I have to keep reaching for a balance between hanging out “in here” and living life “out there”. Despite what it may feel like sometimes, this – the words, the pictures, the likes – ISN’T ACTUALLY REAL.
It’s confusing for me because all this “not real” stuff I create is also my livelihood; it translates into real money, that I can then use to have real experiences, out there. So my relationship with hanging out online or in social media in the past year is more muddied than ever. I can’t just unplug, and I wouldn’t want to anyway because it sustains me both literally and existentially.
But yeah I think being exposed to both my cousin Molly and my friend Joe’s minimalist internet/social media habits, plus spending so much more time than I have in the past year out there in the moment instead of in here has reminded me of this principle.
So here’s to trying to balance my digital and analog worlds…
To reexploring Thailand…
And to seeing the beautiful wonderful people I love who I wish I could pluck from their respective homes and drag around the world with me 🙂
Pretty jealous right now. Don’t skip Chaing Mai. In my opinion, it has the best food in all of Thailand.
Yeah I’ll definitely head up north to explore at some point! I’m also curious about Pai since I’ve never been there. But gotta get some beach time in first 😉
“we’ve all become more attached to our phones, Instagrams, and text message inboxes. It’s a VERY recent phenomenon and we tend to forget things weren’t like this a mere few years ago.” – SO TRUE.
Finding a balance isn’t easy and you’re totally right: the pictures, etc aren’t real. What’s outside the computer is real. It’s validating to read someone else, especially a digital nomad, voice this 🙂
And thanks for the photos – I haven’t been to Thailand yet and am curious!
Yeah the situation with social media and the internet feels really complicated while nomading. I’m glad to hear it’s resonating and that I’m not alone in this!
Thailand is an amazing place to visit – I HIGHLY recommend it, whether you come to work for a bit or just pass through on holiday.
Will be in Bangkok 3 days in October 2019 as part of a trip to Vietnam and Taiwan . Never thought I’d even consider Taiwan. Taking a Day Trip to Chiang Mai. Thanks a million for all the links in your post about teaching.
Hey Robin! 2019 – wow you are definitely planning ahead! October is a great time to come here, although you should stay for longer and explore the south too (if you like beaches of course). Glad to hear the teaching posts were helpful for you – are you planning on teaching abroad?