Warning: This article contains discussion of sex, THC, and truth. Reader discretion is advised. I left Bali in tears, unsure how to transition back to real life, so I chose to decompress in one of the busiest, noisiest, smelliest places on the planet: Bangkok! And as I sit reflecting upon my experience, I’m so glad I chose the path I did, allowing it to unfold naturally, without much plan or thought. Bangkok was so opposite to Bali, such a clusterfuck of senses and awesome, overwhelming and drastically different from anything I’d ever experienced. It helped me cope from missing Chicago, family, friends, leaving Bali, and helped me decipher just how I’d like to transition back into Los Angeles, my new home. LA seems like a breeze, closer to the feel of Bali than Bangkok, but still its own weird animal. Bangkok helped me settle into reality again. Here’s how it went...
I arrived in Bangkok late Saturday night, took a silent, long cab ride to my hostel, stared in awe out the window as the huge cityscape passed me by. I walked down tiny alley roads to eventually find Chilli hostel, a clean, cozy space to myself with a bathroom for $11. I was stoked to just sleep. I woke up around 6 the next morning, walked about a mile or so to the MRT at Hualong Pham and rode nearly the entire length of the train to Chatuchuk weekend market where I perused the hundreds of vendors, walked and sat in Chatuchak park, ate at a few different streetcars inside the market, including a yummy strawberry-kiwi-mango smoothie for roughly 75 cents, and lunch for $2.
I then rode the MRT back to Chilli, shockingly didn't get lost, called Tu, the man a fellow traveler in Bali connected me with, had him explain where he was to the employee at Chilli, who then kindly walked me to a bright pink taxi cab, explained where to take me and we were off.
This cabbie was loud and chatty. I almost preferred the silence. He was obsessed with money, how much things cost in America versus here, convinced always it was more here. Not possible, certainly not the food. He concluded Bill Clinton was our best president, I couldn't really argue with that. He spoke with Tu like four times and we finally made it. Tu greeted us and he walked me down a few narrow paths to his little sanctuary. There's a carved wooden gate welcoming you to Tu's place. We remove our shoes and then walk into this dark wood structure. The living room has two distinct open spaces, connected via a walkway; to the right, dozens of guitars, drums and sitars; to the left, four meditation cushions, a board with each tenant's name, a small fridge with water and beverages, coffee and tea and some photographs. Walking through there are private bedrooms, simply donned with red and gold window and wall treatments, a soft mattress with a very distinctly Thai bed sheet and pillow on top, mosquito net surrounding. There's a small mirror, low table, plug and a light. Underneath the stairs lies one of two bathrooms, equipped with a toilet and our shower system: a large caldron of water resembling that of a large vase, with a bowl to fetch water and pour it over your dirty body. Easy as pie.
If you walk through to the back you'll find an open area with a couple small sewing machine desks (I was excited because I have a similar one in my home), some chairs, a hammock (yes!), and tons of plants. I sit with Tu for 20-30 minutes downstairs as he enthusiastically and rapidly discusses his biannual trips to India where he studies yoga and energy healing. He's so joyous, so vibrant, so energetic. He speaks of health and the importance of keeping your mind and body sharp, your energy channels open. He apologizes for talking so much, but of course I didn't mind a bit. During our conversation he put his body into various yoga postures, extreme seated poses and balances, ones that even eluded me. None of it was bragging or bullshit, I've yet to meet anyone in the States this authentic, this happy from the inside out. I was so grateful I happened to meet Frannie at Seniman in Bali, otherwise I would've never known about him or this serene place. He took me to the rooms upstairs, charming, quiet, warm. He said I have to sit and feel them out, see what spaces feel best to me. We stopped in one and were again talking about energy blocks, yoga, personal growth. He noted the tension around my throat, very common amongst westerners as we're very much in our heads and not outwardly expressing our truth on a constant basis.
I know how much I've evolved since finding yoga but I also recognize the miles I have to climb. I could tell just listening to him, absorbing his presence would catapult my growth, adding to Bali’s already huge influence. He showed me parts of my hands and feet that connected to my kidneys and other vital organs, noted that I’d exhausted my adrenals and my body needed rest and therapy. Somehow a simple massage in my hands led to the most interesting and healing energy and body work I'd ever had. He began cleverly leveraging his own body weight (the man weighs at least 15 pounds less than me) to bend, stretch, fold, massage and sometimes crack my body in ways I've never, ever been touched before. I was all over, twisted, mangled, extended, every which way to sundown. I closed my eyes, breathed, rag-dolled my body and simply trusted him.
Somehow, over two hours passed. He finished and left me quiet in a svasana like posture for however long until I came to. I rose in a fog, feeling so centered, so calm, so clear, so limber. I thought I was open, wow, clearly I wasn't. I saw him and thanked him. He thanked me for trusting him, said I was very healthy and balanced for a woman of my age and background but there was a small section behind my heart, as well as an area around my throat that he was focused on opening. He said that I was simply protecting myself and I just need to keep letting go and working on it. Done. He's supposed to do some oil work on me as well to help before I go. All this amazingness and I'm paying less than $7 a night to sleep there.
Later, I walked around my area of town, passing some fairly impressive temples, walked through a park equipped with fountains, gorgeous trees, elephant sculptures and an outdoor gym. I walked back and found a spot to eat, what was essentially a street car with outdoor seating. I had green beef salad and a Chang, the Thai local beer. I had two beers. I was drunk, happy and full when returning to Tu's. I walked through the house to the back where I smelled marijuana, oh how I'd missed that scent. Three men were sitting and greeted me with a smile. They offered me a seat and a smoke. Why fucking not? One was from England, one from Ireland, one from the Netherlands. They had met in India just a few weeks before and decided to keep traveling together. They were playing Tu's instruments, passing a joint, laughing about their stories. We stayed there for a couple hours and then opted for an adventure into Bangkok.
Somehow the streets were even more alive around 1030 at night than any other time that day. A huge market was set up, we were able to circumvent it to get to food, which we sampled from a few vendors. On the way back we walked through the market, a seemingly endless, overwhelming place packed toe to toe with people. I wanted out. I wanted bed. It took what felt like years to get through, we wound back around and down the alley back to Tu's. I feel asleep that night without even brushing my teeth. I crashed and awoke in the same position around 8 Monday morning, the whole day ahead and no plan in sight. I slowly got ready, in no hurry. I felt like I wanted home badly that day, I missed my love, my dogs, my bed, my shower. I loved being at Tu's and had so much fun the day before but something in me was ready to be home.
I walked in a direction I’d yet to travel in my area and found a place serving eggs. It seemed most common for the Thai to eat street car food in the morning, fried meat of all varieties, fried mystery balls. I needed something familiar. I had eggs, ham and this yummy toast with an iced latte, very different than the iced lattes at home, so sweet and delicious. It was really satisfying. And cheap! From there I walked to Loha Prasat, where I was somehow able to explore the temple all by myself, up the narrow winding stairs through each level, Buddhist scripture along the walls, reminding me of my work to overcome, my lasting flaws. Those who succumb to lust are weak. Fuck. An enlightened one transcends sexual desires. Fuck. This is really the major distraction holding me back.
A piece of Buddhist scripture that rings so true.
I feel fairly joyous, loving, happy, grateful and present most days. I've grown so much in this decade, seen myself through some heavy doubts and disbelief, yoga helping me transcend many personal issues and see clearly where I need to grow from there. But sex, that's a big one. I was humping couches at 4 years old, masturbating to fruition before I even knew what it was. I love sex, thinking about it, fantasizing, writing, studying, and obviously, doing it. It's been a big factor in my life as of late because my body clearly wants baby, I'm breathing and receiving lust everywhere I turn. In Tantra, we’re encouraged to explore this very primal side of ourselves, and in yoga we understand that what we resist persists, suppressing our desires only proves damaging. So Buddhism clearly isn't an option for me. As much a I respect the enlightened one, life is just too much fun to ignore or even move past sexual urges. I love those urges, I love feeling sensual and connecting via the sexual conduit. Similar to Jesus and other prophets, I'll take the pieces from Buddha that make sense to me, continue on my unique path with kindness and love, and I'll choose to leave the rest.
I left feeling slightly guilty and inadequate to my next destination, the Golden Mount! It's been interesting, I've sort of carried out my vow of silence I had during Kriya week in Bali. Most Thai speak maybe a couple words of English, which is no bother to me but it just means I'm quiet most of the time, continuing the theme of introspection. So I meandered up and around the large circular steps, passing iron bells, gongs, monks, forests, statues and all sorts of beauty. The Thai like their bling, there were Buddhas surrounded by smaller Buddhas and a blinding array of gems, jewels and gold. It was astounding. I walked down and around to another temple at the base, one with possibly the largest Buddha I've ever encountered, rising over 30 feet high, indoors, surrounded by more bling! More of the same around the ornate and detailed facade. Again, the discipline and faith humbles me, baffles me, I can hardly make sense of it. But I certainly appreciate it, the dedication and artistry.
I sauntered back through the streets of old Bangkok until I reached this backpackers haven, searching for a small cafe that came highly recommended on Kaosan road: Moka. To my utter disappointment and dismay, Moka was closed, so I sat at a random place for some Thai fried rice and beer, another gigantic beer I barely finished. I walked through some narrow curving streets all advertising silver on my return to Tu's. I went inside and plopped down on my floor bed to absorb my day. Later, I walked out of my quiet sanctuary and back into noisy Bangkok for some kale and crispy pork. All my healthy fruit and veggie habits had gone out the window, and my stomach was paying for it. Usually I have an iron digestive system, but you can't feed yourself whole foods, no alcohol, limited bread for 22 days and then reward yourself with fried stuff, mystery meat and beer. No body would enjoy professing that. It's delicious but not smart for my health.
I had tons of energy and didn't fall asleep until after 1, rising just before 9 am on Tuesday. I walked back to the shop from the previous day for more eggs, sugary toast and iced lattes, clearly back on the health band wagon. I decided to walk to the Grand Palace, stopping to sign up for a night bike tour that evening. The packed roads wound around to a large open grassy space where I walked until I landed at the palace entrance. I could see some familiar sites, lovely colorful temples, those unique Thai roofs we're all accustomed to seeing, some Buddhas, etc. I foolishly forgot to cover my shoulders so I paid a deposit to rent the most attractive, sherbet colored shirt I could find, paid my foreigners fee and walked into the palace. All I can say is it was overwhelming. There were tons of tourists, so much to visually take in, so much detail. I removed my shoes and walked into the main palace housing the emerald Buddha, no photos were allowed. I stood and stared, mouth agape at more bling, red and gold tall ceilings, exquisite paintings of surrounding Thailand on the walls, and then a big blinged out shrine leading to the top, roughly 25 feet high, where the beautiful green wise one sat.
I just stared at him, trying to invoke his powers through osmosis. It didn't work but I did feel quite serene being there, very inspired and amazed. I took a convoluted way back, not even sure how I made it out. I just gazed at these old artifacts, metal sculpted tokens and pieces of comfort. Holding them comforted me, I spent a few cents and bought some, a piece of Thailand to comfort me wherever I go.
I then walked to Moka, where I sat writing for hours. Moka is a charming, tiny little shop with very colorful and distinctive art work. French instrumental music plays classics like Moon River and As Time Goes By, making me feel strangely nostalgic for Italy, Europe, NYC, Chicago and home. I devoured what was literally the most delicious waffle with fresh fruit I'd ever had, along with some green matcha tea. I then had more matcha and a veggie sandwich, also delicious, felt comforting and familiar. I chatted up a sweet Austrian girl and then went back to Tu's to rest before my bike ride.
I've been yearning for friends here. It's great to travel alone, see how resourceful and capable you are, see how little it takes to make you feel comfortable and safe, but I love to share. I love to bounce life off another, so I was craving that connection, staring strangers deeply in the eyes to gauge any interest. Most were not biting, they already had friends or their own agendas. Oh well, on the bike tour perhaps. Ask the universe and you shall receive. I was the first to arrive for our night ride adventure in bangkok. Naturally, I have a relentlessly uncool need to be early. My on time is early. My late is on time. Oh well. I chatted up our guide, Piu, a young, skinny man with a wide smile and kind eyes. He spoke remarkably good English, better than any Thai I'd met thus far. I was pumped.
Then, two adorable people walked in, young, bright eyed, friendly. We said hello and from their accents I gathered they were Americans. I asked where they were from and they answered, Los Angeles. Me too! I explained with almost too much urgency and joy. They were each MBA students at UCLA. They had an earnestness to their characters, so honest, so eager, truly kind. You can never assume you know someone, especially a brand new stranger, but sometimes I feel I can perceive naughtiness, something intriguing or cheeky behind the eyes. This is precisely the quality I need in a man, at least to be sexually attracted, I need to detect a raw, primal weirdness. And with some, you detect a genuine soul, a character with integrity. Serena and Hai each had that. Perhaps they are naughty with each other. In fact, I hope they are, not that it mattered for our purposes, but mainly I felt that sincere warmth, a goodness and intelligence, what more could a lonesome stranger ask for? A few minutes after our departure time a middle aged American man and an adorable Thai woman arrived on motorcycle taxi, each a bit frazzled and feeling a little guilt over their tardiness. No matter, we strapped on our helmets and were off.
We explored the back alleys surrounding Kaosan road, Bangkok's famous backpacking Mecca, where all walks of life join in cheap hostels, food, drinks, massage and sex, not necessarily in that order. Weaving around dozens of stray dogs and cats, scooters, street food vendors and pot holes, we navigated onto some major streets, feeling that awkward adjustment in riding on the left side of the street. Those right hand turns are a bitch. We drove through the university, watching students commingle, practice for performances, laugh, study. We reached the river and practiced our skills at making tight, narrow turns, barely missing passersby. We reached the fairy and rode quickly across Chao Phraya, leaving on bike to our first temple, one of the first established in bangkok after Ayuthaya burned to the ground in the Thai war with Burma.
Piu was informative and enthusiastic, sharing an authentic knowledge and love for his country. He kept making parallels with America. We're roughly the same age as nations, each staking claim on freedom and democracy. Thailand itself means free land. The slight difference is Thailand is still very much a monarchy, with the king and queen highly coveted, protected by the government with a fervent sensitivity. The film the King and I is still banned in Thailand, there shan't be any criticism of any king, regardless if the spin is honest or even positive. So I found myself asking, inside my head of course, how free are you if your citizens are shielded from pieces of art due to what the government deems as disrespectful material? And how does this bleed into the rest of existence? There is a systematic issue with education in Thailand and so long as you control what your people can absorb, perhaps this will continue. Not my business, just an interesting observation.
We rode some more, seeing parts of Bangkok I'd never reach without guidance and two wheels. Just riding was wonderful, I'd missed my commute in Chicago, always on bike, so this gave me a great fix. We stopped by more Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques, Catholic Churches, Hindu sculptures, our guide pointing out, with pride, how the Thai people only care if you're Thai, beliefs don't matter, everyone gets along. To be fair, 96% of Thai are Buddhist, with some Hindu influences (mainly political), 3% are Muslim, 1% are Catholic, thanks to the Portuguese. We rode across a bridge back over the river to the bustling flower market. Open 24 hours a day, the best time to visit is at night, as that's when all the fresh deliveries come in. The smell is divine, by far the best Bangkok could ever smell. It's divided in two sections, one side of the street belonging to spiritual based purchases (lotuses, flowers used in making offerings) and personal (orchids, roses, tulips, all insanely cheap and vibrantly colored).
Piu bought us all beverages and snacks, random pieces of delicious pork, spicy meatballs, and possibly my favorite treat in all of Thailand, green mangos with salt, sugar, chili and Thai spices. Amazing! We left for our last stop, Wat Pho, the temple with the 46 meter long gold reclining Buddha, the first ever Thai massage school, all teachings etched in marble, yoga sculptures and exquisitely detailed architecture lit with the full moon. It was an informative and joyful experience, so glad I did it.
Attempting to pay homage to the Yogi dancer sculpture in the background.
School of Thai Massage, amazing!
That night I returned late from my bike ride to find Tu and a visiting friend, also from Thailand, smoking a joint. This pleased me to no end, that this very enlightened, 50 year old wealth of knowledge and insight enjoyed some green. He said after a long day (which for him consists of at least two hours of yoga and five hours practicing music, on top of which he runs his little business, takes excellent care of himself, those staying in his home, and his plants) he likes to just relax and have a smoke. Me too! We talked about how much healthier and more creatively stimulating marijuana is compared to the ever popular alcohol, how it helps calm the body and release the mind, sending us into a deep, quality sleep.
He showed me some amazing yoga therapy skills I can do myself, and that I can pass to my students. We did some mudra work, he marveled at how open my hips are, which made me feel good considering the work I need to do around my heart, and he then administered some oils that I breathed in while receiving more Thai massage and energy work. It was tougher this time around but still immensely therapeutic. I went to bed at nearly 2 am and rose at 530 for my tour to Ayuthaya, the former capital of Thailand, to explore its ancient ruins and temples.
I was sluggish and near cranky that whole day. I usually don't dig group tours, there's so much you're obligated to, so little freedom. That is something I've realized over my years of travel, I despise planning every second and I prefer tours that provide transport and any necessary tickets or tools but that's it. Having merely napped the night before made the rainy ride to Ayuthaya particularly irritating. Luckily, I met an Aussie woman named Amanda and we got on like a house in fire. She'd just returned from an island where she did an intense food cleanse along with yoga and meditation. This was her first foray into yoga and she was such an impassioned believer. I love to geek out over yoga, with any and everyone, so both of our energies were lifted until we arrived at our first location.
I honestly can't even remember the name but King Rama the 6th, I believe, built this little sanctuary for himself and fancy foreigners like our president and European diplomats. Many of the structures were built with the influence of European architecture, juxtaposed with Thai temples and Buddhist relics. The most painful part was our sweet as can be guide, whose English was barely understandable, went on and on and on. I, of course, expect to learn on a historical tour, but there's only so much information the brain can absorb before it's exhausted and gives up. Mine was tired so I nodded off early on.
Having the freedom to peruse on our own was nice, we captured photos of the floating temple, paid our respects to Buddha and all the bling, and were able to take in the history at our own pace, in a manner we could comprehend. The best part of the day was the Ayuthaya ancient ruins, what remained after a once thriving, dominant city was burned to the ground by their then enemies, Burma. Witnessing what stayed strong, like the perfect Buddha head placed inside a woven tree trunk, a near flawless Buddha statue, rows of Buddha amputees (the sculptures, not actual amputees, to be clear), and other random structures allowed the mind to fill in stories where gaps left off. Very early on into the morning I got hungry. Food is major for me, as I assume it is for most, but I tend to experience bouts of hanger if I'm left without sustenance. Coupled with my tired state left me in a fairly cranky state. My fellow cohorts felt it too, they were growing impatient with the mandatory, long winded, impossible to understand stories. Many of us purchased coconuts and random liquids to placate our hunger, but that just made me have to pee a lot, which is never fun in Thailand. Who knows where the next lavatory will be or what condition it'll be in?
Despite these challenges we carried on and saw the oldest Buddha, quite beautiful, and one of the largest reclining Buddhas in Thailand. It looks like Burt Reynolds posing for a calendar, all the reclining Buddhas make me laugh, I know they're not meant to be funny or sexy, but they're a weird combo of both for me. Why is he laying like that? I don't see that image and feel his enlightenment, I see bedroom eyes and someone who just had a great orgasm and he's reflecting on his experience. I know that says more about my psychology than anything else, but nonetheless, that's what I see. We finally got to the boat, ate a strange meal that was only satisfying because of my level of hunger, and then we cruised for about an hour back to bangkok. Loved the ruins, everything else was meh.
I got back to Tu's and wanted to crash but I had dinner set up with a friend of a friend who I'd met once while living in Sicily. I was actually pumped to go to a different part of town and have conversations with people! Out of a strange form of laziness I have, I opted to walk the 5.5 kilometers, rather than take three busses and a train. Walking just made more sense. And I'm glad I did. I walked past so many interesting sights and people, including a mile stretch along a railroad track where Cambodian and Laos refugees lived. It was bizarre. After I got back on a main road and walked under busy overpasses and cross streets, suddenly I was surrounded by skyscrapers, major shopping, a different place entirely, all in the same city. I was able to find our meeting place easily and naturally I arrived about 25 minutes early, so I walked around this mall, shopping is huge in Bangkok, it baffles me but it was air conditioned. Then I people watched at the train station while I waited for Tim.
I excitedly hugged Tim when he arrived and we walked to meet Emmie at their favorite Thai place in the city. That area of town was bustling, the buildings, shops and restaurants all a bit larger in scale than the tiny operations I was used to frequenting in my area of town. We walked in and Emmie greeted us warmly, I liked her immediately. We started asking non stop questions, getting to know each other better. We ordered beers and five items to share, my favorite way to eat. In the order was my first Pad Thai in Thailand, which naturally was the best I've ever had. Mmm, I'll never forget it. We were having such a great time we decided to grab more beers and continue the night at their place nearby. They live in a fairly tall skyscraper with a great balcony overlooking north and west Bangkok. They're place was modern and cozy, high tech in places, simple in others. I felt right at home. As the hours went on and the beers went down, they kindly offered up their couch to me. I was so excited, not only because I didn't have to find a way back, but also because I'd get to take a hot shower the next day, an experience I'd missed and needed desperately that week.
I slept deep and long, taking my time to shower and leave in the morning, deciding to spend my last day in Thailand walking Bangkok. I walked to Lumphini Park, Bangkok's equivalent to Central Park in NYC. I worked up a great appetite and when I arrived at the park, I opted to walk around to see if I could procure some grub there. I couldn't. There were no food vendors in sight. I meandered around lakes, gazebos, open fields of grass, monitor lizards, hundreds of people living in tents in an apparent government protest, but still, no food. I started to grow hangry. Finally, I found an exit where right outside the park gates were an endless line of street vendors. I plopped down and ate what was my favorite lunch, chicken and pork with glass noodles and vegetables, and Thai chili sauce of course. I was digging the spice there. Again, health went out the window, for less than two dollars I was fed and so satisfied.
I chose to walk back toward my neighborhood from there, having walked 5 miles already, with many more ahead, I made the decision then and there to get one more foot and leg massage before I departed. I ended up walking through Chinatown, an area of Bangkok still seeing the best economic results compared to other districts. It was bustling, for sure, but everywhere in Bangkok is alive. The smells make me miss New York City, not sure if that's a compliment to either city but it was my observation. I weaved through the streets and people, sticky with sweat per usual, and made it back to my neighborhood. I stopped by this little hostel cafe for a Thai milk tea, a favorite treat of mine, and then proceeded to have that last foot massage. It was painful at parts, possibly because my feet are nearly flat and I walk a lot, but ultimately a pleasure. Between Bali, Tu's, and Bangkok, I'd had 7 massages that month, more than my life's total. I felt spoiled, resisted feeling guilt, embraced and accepted the goodness with gratitude and a smile.
I ate one more delicious dinner and then walked to this place that had piqued my interest from day 1. It was always packed with people seemingly eating bread, I was confused and intrigued. To my utter delight it was just that! Toast with goodness on it, an apparent craze in Thailand. Bread with butter and sugar, coconut custard, chocolate, jam, you name it. I stuffed my face with toast covered in sugar and butter, cut into tiny squares and eaten with a toothpick. Simple and satisfying. I went back to Tu's, packed the remainder of my things and got ready for my 230 am wake up call. Here I sit, on my third plane, Tokyo to Los Angeles, an hour away from home. I'm most certainly different coming back than I was when I left a month ago, but who wouldn't be? That's the gift of travel, it colors your soul, affects your brain chemistry, shakes up what you know and turns it into some old pattern you knew. What I know now informs who I'll be moving forward, I can't wait for more life experiences like this. This is the life I want and see, personal exploration and adventure, seeing new things, meeting new people, hearing new languages, absorbing new cultures, so that I may forever be renewed.
My journey home over the Indian Ocean