“Can you do me a favor?”
“Sure, what’s that?”
“Can you walk me to the bus stop? I want to give you my coat so I don’t take it to Thailand. You know, I won’t be using it there.”
“Yeah, that sounds good. Want to do lunch before hand?”
“Yup. One last Korean meal sounds good.”
And twelve hours later, I was in the Bangkok airport with just a messenger bag, a camera bag, and nine free days to play, being greeted by one of my very best friends, LZ. I never thought I would, but we then did the Romantic-Comedy movie thing, and ran into each other’s arms, laughed, and almost stood astonished that we had actually met up in Thailand for vacation. It’d been about eight months since I had seen her, so we obviously had some catching up do – mainly with stories told in half accounts interrupted by laughs and hugs and thoughts drifting into vacant space. It was, after all, almost one thirty in the morning.
After some bartering with a Taxi driver, and dismissing questions of “honeymoon?”, we made it back to the hostel for the night. Tomorrow, LZ said, we’re going to eat so much good street food. That and get on a train for 16 hours. Okay? “Sounds perfect.”
I went to bed with an empty stomach, and that may be the last time I felt that sensation for the rest of the trip.
And this is where we dive into what Thailand really was about. Forget up coming posts of adventures, classes, and reunions. Thailand was about food and nothing but. It was about walking under one kilometer and eating at seven food stalls. It was about filling up on condensed milk and bananas and sugar, only to have conversations later about how we hadn’t eaten enough that day. I was about wanting to scrape the top layer of your tongue off with a chopstick because the curry was just a little to “pet” or spicy. It was about fresh fruit and dim sum dumplings. It was about urging LZ to keep walking past that coconut pancake. It was about vegetarian and Muslim and vegan restaurants. It was about restaurants that didn’t have walls, but had menus for days. It was about smoothies and ice cream.
Recapitulation and Summation: Thailand was about food.
The first day light hours in Thailand, we did just as she had said, and headed straight for the street food. It wasn’t that hard to find, either, seeing as Thai city streets are bordered with food stalls, carts, and boxes. There is no real reason anyone ever has to enter a restaurant. Simply pick up a meat from one stall, walk three steps down and get your vegetable dish, then maybe six steps down, you have your dessert.
Along with food stalls, Bangkok was — despite what others tell me — a beautiful city. Above the food vendors and the occasional merchandise stall, stood tropical trees fanning their leaves over the busy streets. Colorful signs decorated building’s outside walls. Dogs dotted the sidewalks, and People were dressed for a North American summer in February, covering their feet with only flip-flops.
The first stop of our seemingly never-ending food bender was a fruit stall. Like many things in a new place, these at first seemed to be a novelty: Fresh fruit sliced up in a cart filled with ice, and dolled out like candy to the nearest customer in a bag accompanied by two longer, thicker, tooth picks. Seeing as we were in a tropical place, tropical fruit was our choice: pineapple and papaya. We couldn’t have chosen better – the pineapple was sweet with a tangy bite, as if from a granny smith apple, and the papaya – a fruit I normally don’t appreciate – was smooth, creamy, and had a mild sweetness that was unique and addictive. The novelty may have worn off throughout the rest of the trip, but the fruit always remained a good choice for our street-wandering cravings.
With fruit in our hand, we doubled back to find our soon-to-be drug. Chai Yen and Café Yen (Thai Tea and Thai Coffee). This stuff is so good, that I can’t even delve into it now. I have to save a whole diatribe for it. So suffice it to say, we made it to the subway with full hands and satisfied taste-buds, to find Chinatown and our train slash accommodation for the night (see: sleeper trains are the way to go)
This simple transition, I will point out, is much like every other transition from here on out in our trip in Thailand: go to one place, eat, travel to another place only to eat again. Hunger was never a question.
Once we hit Chinatown, we were greeted by a Tuk-Tuk driver who wanted to tell us that Chinatown was closed for Lunar New Year, and we should go over to Wat Arun today. Good try, smiling Thai man who has a heart of gold, but we know that street vendors sleep for nothing, even if all of the stores are closed for only the biggest holiday of the year. Sorry.
Winding back through streets adorned with Chinese lanterns and wandering dogs, we searched for the street food, yet again. It was a –badum-cha— a fruitful exploration seeing as we stumbled into one of the more claustrophobic markets I’ve been in recently. Low roofs, hustling people, flip-flops dangling over my head and cartoon-printed t-shirts in my face, everything we brought to Thailand on our backs: I only trudged on in hopes that the utopia of Thai delicacies were just around the corner.
Just like that, it was. Goods held in small cups, big plates, plastic bags, banana leaves wrapped around confectionary wonders, and finger-foods were all around me. I consider myself a pretty well versed 20something cook slash chef slash eater – I even worked in a Thai restaurant for years and yet – some of these foods had escaped me. Sure, I remembered the words for chicken, pork, vegetable, and curries, but some of these things were too local to recognize. But, again, some of these things were so foreign to me that all I could do was plunge my teeth into the thin pastry to taste hot, creamy, sweet coconut hidden inside.
And that was the theme from there on out. See it? Had it before? Want it? If one of us answered yes to one of those questions, we bought it and devoured it, hoping that we’d remember what it was so we could get it again, later.
Thanks to LZ’s good sense of direction and her watch, we made it to the train station in time to find water, the bathroom, and our seats for our 16-hour train ride north to Chiang Mai.
You may think that the street food bender only happened that first day, in Bangkok, because everything was so new. Think again, Slick Rick. It happened everyday. Almost all day. To the point that every time we passed a stall, LZ would slow down ever-so-slightly, keep her head fixed on the chicken on a stick, and slack her jaw just a bit.
It was this tell that I knew she wanted to stop, and get it. I never argued, in stead I normally finished off the treat. See: a chicken stick during the first 20 minutes in Chiang Mai. See: the walk from the train station to the hostel. See: the entire day in Chiang Mai. See: the grilled bananas in Khon Kaen. See: the fresh mango smoothie. See: the Thai take on a crepe (roti) filled with an egg, banana, and chocolate. See: heavy stomachs and happy hearts.