Travel Diary by Tran Cong Duc
Many people are afraid of taking risks and stepping out of their comfort zones. So was I. I am a twenty-two year old Vietnamese graduate who was born in a small village. Most people at my age are married and even have kids. It’s a common thing in the countryside for people to get married and settle down at such young ages. Unfortunately, they seem to miss many great things in life. I almost ended up living that way.
It was not until March that I first met two members of the travel blog called Where To Now? At that time they were travelling in Vietnam and staying in Ho Chi Minh city for a couple of months. Quite by accident, I had a chance to meet Costa (one of the team members) and then to meet Natalie later on. During their stay in the city, I got to know more about them and their amazing projects which have deeply influenced and inspired me. One thing that they said has stuck in my mind until today, changed my perspective and become my life slogan. It was “Collect moments, not things.” Ever since that day thoughts of travelling to far-off destinations have flashed through my mind and this passion has been growing bigger and bigger. It took me only three months to make my dream a reality. After graduating university, I rewarded myself with a trip to Thailand. It was my first trip abroad. I had butterflies in my stomach during the last few days before my departure. I had kept thinking of the worst-case scenarios that could happen during my journey. I was so nervous that my anxiety outweighed my excitement, but things turned out to be totally different from what I had thought. At 10:30 pm, on July 2nd, I finally made it to Thailand. That day became one of the most important & memorable milestones in my life – the day that I discovered the meaning of life – the day I found my passion.
My initial impression of Thailand was unexpected and amazing. Bangkok looked absolutely stunning from the window of the plane. The electric lights covered the city with a modern and mysterious look. This magnificent view was breathtaking as the entire landscape seemed to come to life with the intricate patterns of bright lights that defined different communities across the city. After two hours on the plane, I took my first steps into Don Mueang International Airport. The effects of jet lag and the feeling of overwhelm came over me, which led me to some minor problems at the airport. I wandered aimlessly without knowing what to do next even though I had travelled by plane a few times before. It took me 10 minutes to actually simmer down. After checking out, I bought myself a sim card and got on a random taxi. I am always bad at bargaining to be honest, but I’m happy that I managed to negotiate the price with the taxi driver despite the fact that I was so exhausted.
On my way to the hotel that I had booked before, I texted Costa and Natalie and told them about my situation. We were supposed to meet each other the following day. I also texted my Vietnamese friends who had travelled to Thailand the previous day telling them that I was heading to the hotel. After that, I finally had time to enjoy an up-close view of the city through the cab window. The taxi driver carried me through many streets and alleys. I noticed that some buildings and houses looked quite familiar. They actually reminded me of Ho Chi Minh city where I am currently living. I felt like I belonged to this city already although I had just arrived half an hour earlier. Strangely, both the driver and I didn’t say a word during the way to the hotel. Both of us were busy with our own thoughts. He was focusing on driving me to the hotel safely while I was letting the colourful street lights fill my mind and heart. Thirty minutes later, we stopped at a small but lovely hotel. I paid the taxi fare, checked in and ran to my cozy bed. After changing clothes, I looked around my room one more time wondering if it was real. I couldn’t believe that I finally did it. All of the lights were turned off. I was too tired to think of setting the alarm. I immediately sank into a deep sleep.
I woke up to the next morning with a smile on my face. Like a little kid feeling excited to unpack his Christmas presents, I couldn’t wait any longer to discover the city. After a lovely breakfast at the hotel, my Vietnamese friends and I boarded the MRT and rode it out to to Chatuchak market where I was going to reunite with my dear Costa and Natalie after three months of not seeing each other. Typical travel writing always dictates that the way to understand the local culture is to walk through the local market, and to some extent that is true. Chatuchak market is known as one of the largest markets in the world. This is where you can find almost anything and everything in Thailand. The items in the market are diverse with many categories, such as electronic stuffs, cosmetics, furniture, religious items, food, pets or fruit. We spent hours walking, eating and shopping in the market until our feet got tired. The affordable price of all kinds of items here left me totally speechless. I was entirely surprised. I bought a pair of sunglasses for $1 and a watch for only $3. Some of the items are even cheaper than those in Vietnam. The way to buy items in the market is quite simple. The price is already cheap, however. You can bargain and get the price down to 75% of what they offer.
Thailand’s temples are a unique part of the capital’s heart and soul. A visit here would not be complete without seeing at least two or three of them. That’s why after having such a great time at the market, we took a cab to visit some of the most beautiful temples in Bangkok.
Thailand’s temples – known as wats – are literally everywhere. Over 90 percent of Thailand’s population is Buddhist. Therefore, temples play a vital role in everyday life for Thai people. People go to the temples in order to pray to the Buddha for things such as good health, good fortune and wealth, and to seek advice from monks. Apart of being of great spiritual and social importance, Thai temples are among the most striking, impressive structures to be found. We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting some of the best known ones. We walked from one temple to another with excitement. We talked and laughed along the way. I couldn’t count how many times my jaw dropped every time I saw a beautiful Buddha statue or a breathtaking structure. When the sun was almost ready to say goodbye to the earth, we sat in a lovely coffee shop near the Chao Praya River to take a rest and enjoy the sunset. After that Costa, Natalie, Razvan (Costa’s friend) and I headed to their hotel while my Vietnamese friends went back to theirs. There was a swimming pool on the rooftop of Costa’s hotel where we had amazing time swimming, drinking and watching the city from the distance in the evening.
At around 8pm, we paid a visit to Nana Plaza, one of the biggest red light districts in Bangkok. That was unexpected because that place had not been on my list, but I’m happy that I made it there. Even though there were some awkward moments when I felt slightly embarrassed to see the ladyboys performing, it was still such an interesting and memorable experience. These performances are an iconic part of the nightlife in Bangkok.
The next morning, my Vietnamese friends Hanh and Sao and I decided to take the skytrain to go around the city. One of the amazing things I love in Bangkok is the transit system. It is an example of the good infrastructure and great services. When it comes to infrastructure development, Thailand has done very well compared with some other Southeast Asian neighbours. The Skytrain and the underground transit system we call the MRT are making the daily commutes of hundreds of thousands of Bangkok residents much less stressful.
On our way we stopped by Siam Square to go shopping. Siam Square is a shopping and entertainment area in the Siam area of Bangkok, Thailand. The area connects to other shopping centres and links to the other shopping districts by the sky bridge, such as Siam Center/Siam Discovery Center, MBK Center, Siam Square One, Siam Paragon, Ratchaprasong shopping district and Sukhumvit Road. Siam Paragon stands out with a display of 50 international fashion brands, sports equipment, and cosmetics. You can also find some famous brands here such as Hermes, and domestic goods are available at various prices.
We spent the entire afternoon exploring the city by walking. The great things about walking while you’re travelling is that you can go off the beaten path and discover some hidden places that not everyone knows. In the evening, I had an amazing dinner with Costa, Natalie and Razvan in a lovely French restaurant. That was the first time I tried a French dish and it tasted awesome. After the meal, we visited a couple of bars where I witnessed my first ping pong show ever. The show might be too much for some people. But it is a part of Thai culture, something you must see if you want to know more about the nightlife in Bangkok.
Due to my working schedule, I could only spend three days in Thailand. Therefore, on the third day I tried to be more productive. I had decided to visit either the floating market or The Grand Palace in the morning but it didn’t happen. I guess I had drunk a lot the previous day and woke up late at noon. After having a big lunch in a fancy restaurant, I changed my plan and headed to Costa’s hotel to meet them one last time before I flying back to Vietnam the next morning. At their place, I tried Pad Thai, a stir-fried rice noodle dish, for the first time and it was really tasty. In the evening I took a tuk tuk to China Town. It was extremely fun to ride in a tuk tuk and it felt quite adventurous as well.
I’ve always wanted to try a special Chinese dish called stinky tofu, and I spent two hours in China Town looking for the dish but I didn’t find any place that sold it. It wasn’t my lucky day, but I wasn’t too bothered because the great variety of street food in China Town made up for it. As a food lover, I love the vibe there; always lively and so happening with lots of good food around. I tried a lot of things, but my top three have to be Mango Sticky Rice (one of the best foods I’ve ever tried), ginger soup with Tao Huey (Soya Beancurd) and freshly squeezed Pomegranate Juice. I finished my last night in Bangkok by taking a taxi to the hotel and going to bed at midnight. The next early morning I went to the airport and flew back to Ho Chi Minh city. But it was not a goodbye. It was a see you later because I will definitely go back in the near future.
The whole trip has a significant meaning to me. That was without a doubt an absolutely memorable experience in my life. Thank you Where To Now? team for inspiring me, being so nice to me and treating me like their brother during the time I was in Thailand. For those who are afraid of travelling abroad. I know money is a vital part of the travel game. That’s why when it comes to going overseas, people usually think about extravagant trips that could cost an arm and a leg.
So to most people, travelling is a waste of time and money. But in my opinion, money is earn-able. A lack of money is not always a valid excuse for not travelling. In fact, clear travel goals are great motivation to earn more money. Remember, you only live once, so don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and do something different!