The temperature in Bangkok International Airport is kept extremely cool. Goose bumps covered my arms by the time I finally pulled my luggage off the carousel. It was nearly midnight but the terminal was still alive with activity. I stood in the middle and observed for a moment. Luggage carts screeched as people wrestled them apart, then piled their suitcases on before weaving their way toward the exit. Thai men in cheap suits stood behind counters yelling, “You need hotel? You need hotel?” A loud announcement came over the intercom in what I could only assume was Thai language. Oddly, the announcement finished with the voice saying an English name. “Gibberish, gibberish, gibberish, David Smith, gibberish,” is what I heard. I really wanted to see the look on David Smith’s face at that moment. Why would anyone in their right mind read a message for a foreigner in Thai? Oh well. I had been in Thailand all of fifteen minutes and I was already fascinated.
The line at the money exchanger wasn’t as long as I imagined; now all I had to decide was how much to exchange. Two hundred dollars seemed a fair amount, so I dug out two crisp bills and handed them to the obviously overworked man behind the window. He swiftly handed back a rather large stack of Thai bills, each denomination having their own bright color. My wallet choked as I crammed in this wad of cash and fought back when I tried to close it. All squared away, I eyed the exit, took a deep breath, and began on my journey.
As the exit doors slid open, the blast of heat from the outside hit like a smack to the face, stopping me in my tracks. This was hot. Almost instantly the clothes I was wearing seemed excessive and heavy. I tried to imagine what the daytime temperature must be if it was this hot at midnight. Slowly I made my way to the taxi stand, still adjusting to the hot muggy air. Flipping through my guidebook, I chose a hotel at random as I had no real destination in mind. One of the taxi drivers signaled me over. He was a young Thai man with thick poofy hair parted to one side and was still wearing sunglasses. The sunglasses had lenses shaped likes eggs with the tops cut off. He made me think of Eric Estrada from the 1980s television show C.H.I.P.S.
“Where you go?” he said with a blank expression.
I pointed to the name of the hotel in the book. He struggled to sound out the English name as I liberated my shoulder from my overstuffed bag. This guidebook writer apparently never stopped to think that putting addresses in a language that taxi drivers can actually read might be helpful. After a couple more efforts, he handed the book back and said, “OK” and promptly threw my bag in the trunk. I climbed in the back, suspecting that he still had no clue where I wanted to go.
Inside the taxi was just like the airport – cold. It was as if Thai people believed nothing was safe from this heat and indoor conditions had to remain frigid to stop things from melting like Frosty the Snowman. Apart from the temperature, the interior was surprisingly spotless and had all kinds of eye-catching oddities. The dashboard was decorated with an assortment of little gold trinkets, the most noticeable being a tiny monk figure entombed in a glass case. An exotic flower bouquet tied closely together with string dangled from the rearview mirror, struggling to mask the smell of stale cigarettes.
Ponch and I finally got our mobile ice cube out of the airport and onto a main road heading into Bangkok. I gazed out the window at this wonderfully alien world while funky Thai music fittingly played on the radio, heightening my excitement. There was not much traffic on the road at this hour which I would soon be very thankful for. Before picking me up, Ponch must have been stuck in traffic for hours and became very frustrated, because he was intent on letting off steam by increasing our speed with each passing kilometer. My excitement quickly turned to panic as we approached 90 miles per hour. To make matters worse, I realized I hadn’t put on my seat belt and didn’t dare attempt to now – who knows how Ponch might have reacted. At 95 miles per hour, I couldn’t look out the window anymore. I put my head down and gripped the black nylon seat.
“How do you think the little man in the glass case would feel about your driving?” I wanted to scream at him. Ponch never made a peep this whole time, just sat motionless while still wearing his sunglasses. I finally decided that he was in fact a Thai Terminator with super-enhanced computer vision, and the cool temperature was necessary to keep his circuits from overheating. These thoughts brought me a little comfort.
When I gained the courage to look up, I noticed we were pulling up to a hotel. Of course it wasn’t the one I originally asked for, but at this point I didn’t care what it was – the joyride was over. Ponch asked for 500 baht, which I knew was too much even with my limited knowledge of Thai money. I handed it over without argument, partly fearful if I didn’t he might lock the doors and start driving again.
As Ponch sped away, I stood there in front of the hotel for a moment and smiled. I knew that was one of many adventures I would come upon during my time in Thailand. The whole experience of arriving and getting to the hotel wiped away the tiredness from not sleeping in 24 hours. I was ready for more. So after checking in, I had a shower and headed back out into the night.
What transpired that night, from the taxi ride on, would parallel how my life moved in a new direction after first visiting Thailand. I fell in love with Thailand almost instantly. Like the taxi, I sped into this unknown world with an insatiable thirst to learn and experience everything it had to offer. Even now, after having lived there three years, I know there is still much to learn and explore. Surprises lie behind every corner, and new adventures are as close as a taxi ride away.