My Journey To The Land Of Smiles

During the winter of my junior year in college, I decided to volunteer for an English education program through Friends for Asia – an independent organization that develops international volunteer projects to assist local communities. The decision to do so was largely inspired by my group of friends – we each had enough scholarship money to travel lavishly for a month, possibly two if we were resourceful. The opportunity presented itself: we were young, motivated and eager to see the world.

This enthusiasm translated itself into five tickets for Cathay Pacific, the international airline whose airplane I would be trapped on for 16-hours. The anticipation before the flight was overbearing, but the flight itself was unremarkable. Aside from the lift off, in which you get to hover in between clouds and over the highest skyscrapers, I was under-entertained the rest of the journey. But I have no right to complain: my poor friend, who sat to the left of me, battled food poisoning for the majority of the ride.

Lesson learned: don’t eat a full meal before take-off.

Landing was glorious. If my neck weren’t temporarily locked in a cricked position – the unfortunate side effect of an extended flight – I would’ve kissed the floor. But I refrained, resisting the temptation long enough to haphazardly navigate my way out of the airport and into Thailand.

Now if you’re accustomed to travel, you know that the first steps out of any airport cannot be explained. The sliding doors are almost like gateways into separate worlds – quite literately and figuratively. The first thing that struck me about Thailand was how completely different the atmosphere was. This, of course, is to be expected, but the transition from New York City’s 30-degree weather to Bangkok’s 70+ was so sudden, it almost felt surreal.

Whereas New York winters are mean, unfriendly, Thailand winters are inviting, forgiving. If I could compare a New York winter to something, it is most definitely a permanent eyebrow furrow while Thailand winters are laugh lines and veiny crow’s feet. How could two entirely different locations possibly exist on the same planet?

The obvious answer is science: Earth’s rotation, its orbit around the sun, its calculated spin on the axis, etc.

While this all may be true, science’s logic is not always enough to trump my awe. In fact, I refuse to let it explain the crystals of a snowflake or intricate weaves of a spider’s web.

They still exist as little miracles in my mind.

This was my introduction to Bangkok. Its humidity hugged me, snuggled with me – and I gladly returned the gesture with a relieved embrace.

So, with my winter coat slung over my shoulder, my friends and I embarked on the start of what eventually was to become an amazing journey – but first, we had to flag down a taxi that would willingly take all five of us and our luggage to the hotel.