Thailand happened at the fag end of our 5-month trip to South America. And the minute we set foot on Asian soil (right at the Swarnabhoomi International airport) in Bangkok, it felt like we were home. Almost. India felt like just a hop away instead of halfway across the world, that we had got used to in South America.
But first things first, why did we get to Thailand instead of returning to India?
Well, it’s a funny story and an important tip for long-term travel.
We hadn’t booked return tickets when we left India for our first long-term international trip. (First international trip ever, actually, for me!). When we started looking for tickets on websites like JustFly, we realised that the cheapest tickets towards India from South America were actually tickets from Sao Paulo to Bangkok.
Now usually while travelling on an Indian passport, information like this isn’t of much use. The first thought that comes to mind is the visa procedures. However, Thailand offers visa on arrival for Indians. We didn’t have to worry about a thing. We had never visited Thailand before. Which meant, not only travelling cheaper but also travelling to a new country! How convenient was that!
So essentially, we weren’t travelling to Thailand, we were only getting closer to home by “dropping by” in Thailand! However, after being on an entirely different continent for 5 months at a stretch, we didn’t really drop by here. It was more like we were jolted back. A reverse cultural shock was hitting us.
So, what was it about Thailand that felt like India?
1. Losing our “exotic” status
This was our very first reaction even before crossing immigration. We weren’t special anymore, from the far away, exotic, beautiful land of India. We had gotten used to revelling in this added attention that being Indian brought to us.
Not any more.
In the previous 5 months, we hadn’t met a single Indian who lived in India (except Sachin, and that’s an entire blog post worthy story!). But the moment we landed at the airport in Bangkok and Indians were everywhere. Women in saris had queued up in the toilets. A flight from Mumbai had just arrived. Naturally, there were loads of Indians waiting to get their visas at the immigration counters.
Shopkeepers at the malls just knew we were from India. No, “de donde?” or “que pais?” (from where or which country). And some of them would even talk to us in Hindi!
2. Aromatic rice
Though we loved trying the local cuisine in all of South America and never really disliked anything much, we would be lying if we say that towards the end of our stay we didn’t start craving for the aromatic rice we take for granted in Asia.
We didn’t know “our rice” was indeed special till we felt nauseous of the lump of starch that would be passed off as rice quite often. On our first night in Bangkok when our Couchsurfing host’s home was filled with the fragrance of rice, the feeling of “almost home” hit us.
3. Hanging out at the malls
We hadn’t visited a single mall in the 5 months in South America. The culture of people visiting malls as a family activity was conspicuously absent. While travelling in the metros in Bangkok, however, every station would have a sprawling mall on either side. It would be full of people of all ages even in the middle of the day. This felt strangely similar to India, at least urban India of today.
Likewise, there weren’t many locals that we saw in the middle of the day when we visited Lumbini Park, a massive green lung at the heart of the city.
4. Human pyramids
This one was totally unexpected. While walking on a busy street in Bangkok, people dressed in bright purple costumes caught our attention. We waited to see what was happening. To our surprise, they started climbing one on top of the other, just like they do for Dahi Handi, in India!
The stronger, bulkier ones formed the base, while slender nimble-footed ones climbed to the top. All of this happened right in the middle of the street, again transporting us back to Mumbai!
5. Garlands and Ganeshas
The temples had Ganesh idols. The malls had Ganesh idols. Restaurants had Ganesh idols. People lit incense sticks and offered garlands made with fresh flowers. How could we not feel like we were in India?
In Thailand too, Ganesha was considered as a remover of all obstacles. Ganesha was worshipped as a God of arts and education.
These were just the most obvious similarities that we observed as soon as we landed in Thailand. Besides these, there were the usual signs of the ubiquitous traffic and mobile phones which one sees the most in Asia.
And most importantly, everything cost the same, if not cheaper than in India! Street food was delicious, varied and super budget-friendly. We paid the same at the hostel in Bangkok as we would at any tourist destination in India. And transportation was definitely more convenient bust cost just as much as it does in Indian cities.
The reason we noticed these was probably because we had been far removed from anything familiar for a considerable time. While it felt good to be back to familiarity, it was also difficult to not have everything new around all the time.
Of course, Thailand, including Bangkok, was starkly different than India in many aspects. We will write about these differences that we noticed in the little time we spent in this country in another post.
The question of how did we reach India still remains unanswered.
How did we make it to India from Thailand?
We again found a really good deal to fly into Kolkata from Bangkok. And took the good old Indian Railways to get back to Mumbai!
Our first trip to Thailand ended up being more of a stopover close to home. We admittedly didn’t do justice to this extremely popular tourist destination. But we saw enough to know that Thailand deserved another trip. Or several other trips.