Travelling, by its very nature, can be extremely disorientating and leave you longing for the familiarity of home. I’ve been the first to admit that living our lives in a constant stream of new places this past year has resulted in some powerful bouts of homesickness. However, what I haven’t mentioned yet is that somehow we’ve unexpectedly managed to carve a sort of home-on-the-road for ourselves here in Thailand.
Thailand served as our introduction to Asia when we took a month-long trip around the country back in 2009. Not only were we filled with wonder as we explored its beaches, cities and forests, we were also gripped with a spark of wanderlust that eventually led us into the lives of travel that we’re now living. So, it was a landmark moment to arrive back here in the land of smiles last August, this time as long-term travellers ready to kick-start our addiction with the country we now think of as our Asian home.
By the time we head back to England for a visit this summer we will have spent nearly a third of our trip (four and a half months) in Thailand. A disproportionate amount, I know. Even odder is the fact that we’ve only seen a very small area of the country – Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Chiang Mai, Pai, Chiang Rai and a few of the islands. Instead of seeking out new destinations, as we do in every other country we visit, we return time and time again to our favourite spots, even spending an entire month living in an apartment in Chiang Mai – but why?
Why do we Keep Coming Back to Thailand?
I write this post from Chiang Mai, a city we’ve returned to after over four months of exploring the rest of South-East Asia. Those months were fascinating, fast-paced and intense and we had some heart-shaping experiences – particularly in Cambodia – which I wouldn’t trade for anything. Still, there were times throughout this journey when we found ourselves seriously craving Thailand. We missed its vegetarian cafes, comfortable hotels, fast wifi and reliable buses; we pined for the cities with their malls, markets and cinemas as well as our apartment and the familiar streets of Chiang Mai.
Travelling through other South-East Asian countries has helped me see just how relatively wealthy and tourist-friendly Thailand really is. Although there’s some political instability here right now with the ‘Shut down Bangkok, restart Thailand’ protests and I’m aware from visiting the Death Railway that Thailand’s history isn’t free from bloodshed, the country still seems to have emerged relatively unscathed from recent conflicts to thrive economically and become the most popular tourist destination in the region.
By contrast, we saw levels of poverty we’d never before encountered in Laos, Burma and Cambodia, which was not only humbling but left us seriously pondering our roles as responsible travellers and dealing with western tourist guilt. We were confronted with the devastating effects of past conflicts; from unexploded ordnance in Laos to birth defects caused by the use of American chemical weapons in Vietnam to the killing fields of Cambodia. I believe learning about these issues was incredibly worthwhile and I have much to write about my experiences in these places, but dealing with all of that did take a toll on me emotionally.
In addition to this, although we enjoyed a good level of comfort in Vietnam, the physical aspects of travel were tougher in Laos, Burma and Cambodia. In all three countries we endured long, uncomfortable bus journeys and numerous break downs, accommodation was pretty basic and we both had our share of stomach aches from dodgy food experiences. I’m aware that these aren’t exactly hardships, but in combination with everything else, they wore us down over time and left us longing for a break in Thailand.
Thailand – Our Asian Home?
Coming back to Thailand feels strangely like coming home to us now. Arriving back in Bangkok a few days ago we revelled in familiar comforts; cheap foot massages and tasty meals, trips to the mall, cinema and Tesco Lotus and the chance to download episodes of The Walking Dead. We were overjoyed to step off the bus into a familiar Chiang Mai evening and settle down in the UNIrish pub to have pie, mash and for Andrew, to watch the football. On Sunday we jostled through the crowds at the Walking Market to seek out our favourite food stalls and gorge on potato twists, rice salads and samosas, fruit shakes and mango with sticky rice. We went to bed full of food and feeling at home.
As this initial phase of our travels will soon be drawing to a close we will spend this month, our last in Thailand, finalising plans for our summer in the UK and trying to research and decide where in Asia we want to live and work from September onwards. For various reasons, our minds have shifted from being firmly set on moving to Taiwan, to considering other options. Could we end up in Hanoi, Vietnam again? Or perhaps we’ll go to South Korea or Japan; which we hear are great places to teach? Or maybe, just maybe, since my heart already hurts at the thought of leaving Thailand for good, we can make this our temporary home?
But these are all questions to be answered another day. We have time to figure things out over the next few weeks of peace in Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai before enjoying the grand finale of our time in Thailand: the giant water fight that is Songkran.
Do you find it hard to drag yourself away from Thailand?