Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind - Seneca.
It happens almost as soon as you land. You get off the plane and walk those long passageways to immigration, past the Macca's and Burger King, to where you wait to be inspected. Once through, you get your bag from the carousel, load up and before you’ve had time to think any further the switch has already happened.
Old brain off. New brain on.I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure when you remove yourself from your routine, your comforts and your wee little bubble back home, something in the brain changes. The familiarity with which you normally operate is gone, everything is different, perhaps unfamiliar, and your brain starts to wake up from its reverie as a result.
It’s like being in survival mode. Where do I get food, water and a place to sleep in this foreign place? These thoughts dominate travel and activate another switch inside.
The little mouse has come off his wheel. Still a little dazed he pokes his nose in the air, trying to figure out what to do next. The world is beyond. Some mice are too afraid, they will return. For others, the world beckons.
After coming to Thailand over a dozen times in the past eight years I’ve come to expect a certain way, an expectation of what to expect. This is the first time I’ve seen Bangkok like this though.
The airport is eerily quiet. And I mean quiet. The normally bustling, annoying and hectic airport has changed. I think I’ve seen more people at the old airport in Port Moresby than i did in the terminal as I arrived.
The approach on the tarmac to our gate alerted to such as I spotted all the Thai Airways planes littering the way. They’ve been grounded since COVID and lay parked until further notice.
The usual 45 minutes to get through Suvarnabhumi Airport customs takes me all of about thirty seconds and I’m at the baggage carousel expecting that it’ll be a fair wait before the bags arrive. But as I wander the almost desolate space I see bags are already being turned out from below. I only wait five minutes before my backpack rises from the depths of the baggage exchange and presents itself to me - begging for the journey to begin.
I heft it onto my back and decide what to do next. I'm tired and think I’m going to indulge in a taxi, something I haven’t done since my very first trip here. The taxi fare cost about 600baht back then, tonight’s fare was only going to cost me 270. I tipped the driver – handsomely … the drive took all of about 20 minutes which is not what Bangkok is like.
I talk with reception when I arrive at the hotel, questioning why everything is so quiet. They respond with the COVID line, but I am more caught off when she mentions that there are no Chinese allowed to come here. No Chinese travelers means the most populous tourists in the globe are not out on the road. I smile, she smiles and proceeds to tell me she hates Chinese people ... I have a good laugh.
If this isn’t an advertisement to get your ass out on the road then I don’t know what is ... Travel without the crowds is a blessing, take advantage of this whilst it lasts.
Now, having arrived hungry I head out onto the street to see what I can quickly grab to eat. After about ten minutes I figure I must have walked into a different universe, I can’t find street food – in Bangkok! Funnily enough I do find a bar and quickly tuck away a fresh beer and some spring rolls before heading back to crash.
I walk gingerly back, smelling the odd scent of moisture in the air as I do so. No sooner have the massage ladies tried to sell me their services as I walk back to the hotel than a patch of several large raindrops start to deposit themselves on the dusty concrete.
Oh right. It's monsoon season and I’d forgotten. The smell of dust in my nose quickly reminded me and hastened my steps. I had less than a hundred metres to the hotel before the deluge opened up like a stormwater drain, flooding the streets in big old fat rain. I have no protection from it. It douses me easily, soaking me from head to foot.
The rain is heavy. Powerful. It beats down upon the city with such rapidity that after less than ten minutes its bowels are spent and the rain dries up. The storm passes, saying its goodbyes as its drifts off, whispering ‘… see you tomorrow.’
My survival instincts, my brain switch, reminds me to remember that message and to avoid the rain from now on.
Welcome to Bangkok.