Ahhhh Bangkok, sweet tranquile respite.
Ok, so I realize that is not what comes to mind for most people when they think of Bangkok. Heady, spicy, schitzophrenic, sinful, and chaotic are more like it. But most people don’t come to Bangkok from India. Coming from India, returning to Bangkok was nothing short of heaven. For 2 days we wandered around the city in awe, stopping in our tracks to voice newfound appreciations. “Oh my god I love walking on sidewalks SO much!” and, “Look, there’s a trash can. That guy just used it.”
The truth is, I feel like a bit of a sell-out. We didn’t like India. So we skipped out early. Part of me feels that we should have stuck it out for the fully allotted time (a bit more than 6 weeks). But were there for just shy of one month – we spent time in Delhi, Rajasthan, Goa and Kerala, so it’s not like we didn’t give it a chance. It’s not like we left after three days.
My original expecations of India proved to be right on. I thought India was fascinating, but I didn’t actually like it. There are still a lot of things there that I would like to see and do (in particular the north and the northeast – Amritsar, Kashmir, Darjeerling, and so on), and I am not ruling out returning one day. (Max, on the other hand, hated it and vows never to set foot there again.) I think for me it’s just that the time was wrong.
We were there over Christmas and New Year’s, without any advance plans – that was the first mistake. Trains and buses were booked up 6 weeks out. Discount airlines had revoked their discounts for the season. Hotels doubled – and in some cases, tripled – their rates. We spent half of our time trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B or finding decent and reasonably priced accomodation. We spent the other half of it in various degrees of illness.
India wasn’t as hard as a place to travel as I had been led to believe. Earlier in our trip, when I spoke of being frustrated by the hassle in Egypt, people remarked ominously, “Just wait ’til you get to India…” When I talked of the challenges of transport in sub-Saharan Africa and the lack of tourist infrastructure, I was often met with the same refrain. But I maintain that the hassle was infinitely worse in Egypt. And the transportation and tourist infrastructure in India were actually quite good. In contrast to Africa, there were loads of transit options for most routes, tons of hotels, legions of other independent travelers with whom to swap tips and tales. (In Africa, on the other hand, there were often no other travelers save for those on overland tours. Once we got stuck in a city – a provincial capital no less – because we missed the 3:30am bus. There was no other way out for two days. We saw only one other foreigner in that town. She was working there for an NGO.)
But India was, by far, the filthiest place I have ever been. And by the time we got there, we were on our 5th month of travel. The risk of getting sick in exchange for a local gastronomic experience, feces of various species in the street, these were no longer novel parts of the adventure. They were just gross. A place does not need to be covered in trash and exrement and bacteria in order to offer a new cultural experience or a sense of adventure.
I need to return to India someday with a clean slate. Some time when I’ve been at the daily grind, cocooned in my sanitized comfort zone for too long and I am itching to get out. When I return to the frame of mind that allows me to see dealing with the smell of rotting fish as part of the adventure. But at the moment, I’m over it.