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The anticipation of an unseen country has a special allure for me. I had left Iraq with an intense desire to see a new country. I set 40X40 as my goal, which is to visit 40 countries by age 40.
I have heard only good things about Thailand. “It’s beautiful!”… “It’s amazing!”, or “Good to visit any time of the year.” So after six months of anticipation, Thailand became the next country on my list.
L, my travel partner, and I flew on a red-eye flight from Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. It was hard to say how I felt on the flight to Bangkok, until reality established itself upon landing. I was walking through the Suvarnabhumi Airport terminals following the signs to passport control.
I looked at the Thai writing of the words “Passport Control”. A strange feeling started to emerge inside me. The letters looked like symbols in one of those ancient caves. I couldn’t distinguish the Thai alphabets from any other Asian alphabets. In such circumstances, I should’ve felt happy traveling to a new place, but the sign made me feel uncomfortable.
After passing through passport control, I exchanged a few hundred dollars. I received thousands of Thai Baht. Suddenly, Thai currency started to confuse me with too many zeros.
We took a taxi to Kempinski hotel in downtown Bangkok. The hotel is connected to Siam Paragon Shopping Mall via a tunnel. Our room was spacious, beautifully designed, balcony overlooking the pool, and glass-wall bathroom. The rate was discounted from about $1700 to about $300 per night. It was a five-star hotel by all means. It revived my positive feeling about Bangkok.
After refreshing and settling into our routine, I went down to the concierge desk. I was welcomed with a fresh disappointment – No City Sight Seeing tour available in Bangkok. And that meant nothing to see in this city.
So, we decided to venture around the area in search of a nice place to have dinner. I found myself confused and not comfortable to eat at local restaurants. Hard Rock Café was around the corner. We walked into it. I decided to eat a Mexican chicken fajita. Any happiness I might have felt or any thought that fun was attainable in this city seemed to decline slowly.
On the second day, we decided to go and check Siam Paragon Mall and maybe have lunch. I wasn’t in the mood for shopping. Prices were high. Plus, having visited Dubai Mall, no mall in the world would excite me anymore. As for lunch, I felt uncomfortable with Thai food. We decided to eat at an Italian restaurant.
We walked the neighborhood during daylight again. We visited a nearby Buddhist temple, and then we checked the Wat Mahatat temple. At night, we took a taxi to see one of the night markets. Noticeably dirty signs of 7-11 food stores were on almost every street.
By the third day, I couldn’t understand what was “awesome” or “beautiful” in Bangkok. I was bored. At every turn, I was overwhelmed with a desire to leave this place. I was supposed to fly to Phuket, but instead I decided to leave the country altogether.
Armed with an American passport and endless options, suddenly the world became small in my mind. I had no desire to see any neighboring countries.
We were in the taxi driving back to the hotel; I turned to L and told her: “We are flying to Dubai…I cannot stay here anymore.” I didn’t need to see anything else to change my impression of Bangkok. I bought new tickets to Dubai. It wasn’t part of my plan.
Difficulties with the Thai food, boredom, sadness of having chosen the wrong country, anxiety about the cost of the trip, and the ugliness of the place caused me to have an anticipation accident with reality of travel. I was losing time from my limited holiday. And nothing excited my brain, nothing made me feel good.
My mind was primed by the adjectives described by my friends. I had built a positive impression in my brain about Bangkok. The problem was not that my friend lied to me, it just that my friends haven’t seen as many countries as I.
Bangkok did offer me a few lessons: I can live and learn from mistakes, but I will always regret inaction. And between anticipation and reality, small things matter.
What is the meaning of life if we don’t have options? A few hours later, I was sitting cross-legged having a cup of coffee enjoying free wireless-internet on an Emirates airplane. I had left paid nights at the hotel unused in a country where I didn’t even have a desire to take one picture of myself in it.
We flew to Dubai.
Although there is much more to my story than these 800+ words, my travel story to Thailand could be summarized into: I became a traveler who flew from Istanbul to Bangkok and checked into his hotel, then left to Dubai.
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