First impressions of Asia

After months of jabs, saving all (*most) our pennies and too many goodbyes to count, finally we were off on our adventure. It was an amazing feeling actually being allowed to feel excited without having to worry about what was left to check off on the latest to do list (of which there were at least twenty).

In the weeks leading up to our departure it felt like all people were saying was how excited we must be and to be honest, we just didn’t have the time. If I ever managed to actually sit down and think about the journey ahead, sure I felt a great buzz but that was quickly replaced by a sense of guilt at what I hadn’t sorted out already. In typical style, we were packing and cleaning the shoebox (our tiny flat) until the last minute and only really breathed a sigh of relief once we were through the international terminal gates- after a stressful shuffle of weight in our packs I might add.

Once on board our plane, we were swiftly rewarded with a symphony of screaming babies (I counted three), a woman who insisted on tilting her chair back until she was in my lap and an elderly gent whose snores could rival the dulcet tones of a volcano erupting. Oh the joys of economy. Still, nothing could taint the feeling of being totally there in that moment, knowing that we were at the beginning of a life changing event.

After a brief stopover in Singapore airport which consisted of several travelator rides and not a lot else, we were on board the next flight to Koh Samui. This leg of the journey only took a couple of hours and before we knew it we had touched down in our new home for the next week.

I’ve been thinking about how to describe my first impression of Thailand and the best analogy I can come up with is that it is like being wrapped in a warm, brightly coloured blanket that is so old it has acquired a comforting, albeit strange smell that you can’t quite put your finger on. I like it. I like it a lot.

The thing I searched for most when I was backpacking in Europe was a sense of being somewhere really different. Unfortunately I never really found somewhere like that, but Asia, this feels different. The heady smell is intoxicating and I still can’t get over that feeling of the muggy air breathing heavily on me every time I step out of the cool relief of air conditioned spaces. This is particularly incredible and somehow really comforting in the black of night.

So far Thailand has been a sensual overload. Blink and you’ll miss something incredible as even the most banal things are fascinating to us kiwis. Take for example, the power cables here. Back home these are kept tidy or out of sight where possible. Here, they are clumped together enmasse, similar to spaghetti lacking in olive oil, and rather than being out of reach, they dangle down dangerously close to roads and sidewalks, buzzing and clicking away.

The smells of Koh Samui are equally as impressionable as the sights. Not always pleasant mind you but they all help to remind me that I’m in a different world. Strolling down Chaweng beach you are likely to encounter the stench of sewerage closely followed by BBQ meat quickly replaced by tangy spice and then when nothing else is left to smell there is always an underlying sweetness that lingers in your nostrils. Sniffing is a cultural education in this place.

It also pays to smile, smile, smile. The guide books will tell you to do this in order to help you get the best bargains but I think it’s worth doing just for the fantastic reception you’ll receive from any Thai person who catches your eye. Sure, they may just be smiling back because to them you look like a walking money bag, but still, there is nothing quite like a big toothy grin from one of the locals.

As I mentioned before, it is these observations that, as small and insignificant as they might seem, are what I’ve been searching for in a travel experience. The haphazard power cables represent to me the attitude of people here. More specifically, they just don’t worry as much as we do. It’s fantastic. I’m hoping that some of the laidback Thai attitude rubs off on me soon but for now I’m still dousing myself in insect repellent and stocking up on sanitiser before I leave the house.

On the other hand, there are the experiences that the people of Thailand want you to have as a tourist. More on this and what it’s been like seeing the country through resort tinted glasses, next time.

Until then, Sawatdee!

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