Thailand: ‘The Land of Smiles’

This piece was originally published on on February 13th, 2015.

The other day I was telling my mom about possible future destinations and she said, ‘It makes my heart skip a beat to hear you talking about visiting these places.’ That in turn made my heart skip a beat, because I heard the excitement in her voice and stopped to consider that traveling like this, unencumbered by responsibility and with the world at my fingertips, was a privilege that was never available to her.

I’d like you to know that every time I hear one of you say ‘I’m living vicariously through you’ I feel immensely grateful; grateful for the sacrifices my parents made so that world travel could be more than a dream, and grateful to share this special time in my life with you.

Now, back to business!

Eagle-eyed Instagrammers will by now have sussed that my destination after Cambodia was Thailand. I had planned to stay a week or two, blinked, and found myself there for a month. I saw, ate, and did amazing things – too many to recount in one newsletter, so I’ll tell you about my top three.

Monkey God Ramakien (aka Hanuman) serves as a bridge over a blue ocean for Rama's army, who are crossing over his back in golden chariots.
The Thai Royal Palace has amazingly detailed murals telling the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Bangkok
Easily one of the dopest museums I have ever visited, chock-a-block full of art from Thai artists. The museum itself is gargantuan, and stuffed to the gills with fabulous work. I wandered through with my mouth agape, struggling to tear myself away from one beautiful painting so that I could see the next. One of the most impressive installations was quite an experience: first, you walk through a midnight black room painted to look like space; then you enter an all white sensory deprivation chamber that seems to have no walls, beginning, nor end; suddenly you are birthed into a huge room, where three incredibly detailed and vivid paintings each 30 feet high depicting Heaven, Earth, and Hell loom above you.  (Artist:The Late Great Thawan Duchanee)


If you’re bored one day, I highly recommend typing the museum’s name into Google image search.

Chestnut brown wooden bench has carved mushrooms sprouting from the middle.
At MOCA Bangkok, art is everywhere.

Thai Massages
Ok. So. Thai massages seem like a torture dreamt up by a sadistic contortionist. You are pulled, kneed and kneaded, elbowed and yanked into stretches and positions that most don’t reach outside of yoga. The first time I got one, I kept giggling in surprise (You know how everyone has a ‘default shock reaction’? Some cry, some freeze up, some hyperventilate; I giggle. This, as I’m sure you can imagine, is often quite awkward.) as the masseuse flipped my head in various directions, finally force-twisting it under my raised arm. But then it’s over! And you feel great! You are limber, breathing more clearly, and darn it if your blood isn’t circulating more vigorously.

Magical Sunset Cruise
I generally eschew group tours because I’m a stuck up traveler who 1) doesn’t like being told what to do, when and 2) doesn’t want to pay lots of money to spend the day with people who may suck (some of you may remember Double Toe Ring Guy from last newsletter’s Extra Helpings…). But I was talked into one in the south of Thailand, and it was the best $30 I’ve ever spent. We went to some really, really beautiful islands. You know the type.  We went snorkeling, and I saw some rainbow fish and some dangerous looking sea urchins. Then, we watched a blood red sun in a gray sky dip into the horizon.

As it was setting, I noticed a huge black bird flapping in the seabreeze. Hmm, wonder if that’s a tropical sea bird, I thought. Then all of a sudden hundreds of these huge birds rose up from the island, and I realized that these huge birds were actually huge bats. The boat crew told us their wingspan was easily 2-3ft. It was quite beautiful to watch them fly above us; they were clearly having fun soaring on the sea winds, and were no doubt excited about the nocturnal feast that awaited them. After the shock wore off, we had a yummy barbecue on a small island where the crew-by-day-fire-breathers-by-night performed some pretty scary and cool looking tricks.

A group of people sit around a ring of 3 men breathing fire. It is night.
Fire breathing on small islands in the Andaman Sea.

Just when I thought the night couldn’t get any better, it did. We went swimming in a bioluminescent bay. The boat cut off its lights and we plunged into the water, emitting blue sparks as we did so. The plankton in that bay turn electric blue when disturbed, so every time I waggled my hand underwater, it looked like blue fireworks were spouting from my fingers. It was so cool!!! I alternated between slow and frantic movements and would have happily stayed there all night. But all things must come to an end, so my new friends and I took a glitzy swim back to the boat and made our way to shore.


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