Getting my Solo Traveling Feet Wet in Bangkok

by Ekua on March 20, 2013 in solo travel,Thailand

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it.”
– Freya Stark

Though I would eventually join a group, Bangkok is the first place I arrived completely alone. Looking back at that first day, being my myself wasn’t the focus, nor was the focus on the absence of anything or anyone I knew. Once I was there, my pre-trip jitters were entirely replaced with excitement about how much there was to see and how many people there were to meet.

Not long after I settled into my room, I headed to Khao San Road after getting directions from the hotel staff. I was disoriented almost as soon as I rounded the corner. I saw some foreigners who looked confident about where they were going and asked them for help. They were a couple from Sweden and they pointed me in the right direction, but as we began to chat, they invited me to visit a temple with them and then offered to take me to Khao San Road afterward. I took them up on this, and as they had spent some time in Southeast Asia, they had loads of great advice for me as we wandered the city together. I was amazed at how quickly a solitary afternoon had turned into a social one and how natural it felt to spend a few hours exploring with people I’d just met.

The following morning at the Grand Palace, a flamboyant young Filipino man saw me looking confused as I waited in line to rent a sarong, and he came over to explain the process to me. Once I was in the palace, I bumped into him again. He was an English teacher who’d been living in Thailand for four years. He introduced me to his female friend who was also a Filipino English in Thailand and a male friend from South Korea who they had just met while they were waiting in line to get into the palace. The Filipino guy had been to the palace a few times before, so he turned out to be an excellent guide for the day. We laughed a lot, had a great time, and as we left the palace, they invited me to continue hanging out with them. As much as I was enjoying their company, I had to decline because I had plans for the afternoon.

A few hours later, I was hanging out with a Bangkok local I’d made arrangements to meet up with through a travel networking site I was active on at the time. We took a boat to the other side of the Chao Praya River and visited a Buddhist temple that seemed so far away from the touristy areas I’d seen. We took our shoes off as we entered the temple filled praying worshipers. Outside, worshipers left offerings and rang bells for good luck. From there, we went to a shopping center that looked like a Westernized mall at first glance, but I noticed that the prices were not set. You could barter for anything. We ate an ice cream-like treat of shaved ice with sweetened condensed milk and strawberries and talked about travel and politics and everyday life in Bangkok. It felt simultaneously surreal and like no big deal to be spending a normal Bangkok day with a local about 28 hours or so after I arrived.

Later that night, I met my fantastic roommate, an Indian-Brit who was my age and a ton of fun. A solid friendship began as we shared our expertise on the process of overpacking  and compared the sizes of our backpacks. My first foray into solo travel officially ended when we joined our loosely guided tour group, but those first 30 or so hours alone were a key part of understanding that fully traveling solo was something I could do and wanted to do in the future. And central to that realization was experiencing how traveling solo doesn’t have to mean being alone, there are potential friends everywhere; for an afternoon, for a week, for a lifetime.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

tia April 9, 2013 at 6:02 am

I absolutely love the quote at the beginning of this post! I’ve done solo traveling through London, Spain, and Portugal, but for some reason I can’t imagine doing it alone in Asia.. Probably because I’ve never been so I guess I wouldn’t know what to expect. 😀 You are brave!

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