I’ve had the pleasure of exploring South America and the gorgeous beaches of Mexico for the past few months. Coming back to the States in the middle of winter to snow on the ground was, TBH, super depressing. The reunion with my friends was heartwarming, nonetheless, but I was feeling the itch to continue traveling almost instantly. As I was deciding on what to do with my life, I came upon this site called Workaway.info. A fellow traveler told me about it when I was exploring Belize a few months back.
Workaway is basically a social media site for hosts and travelers to post, exchange info, and potentially be “hired” for a work exchange program. The host, could be anywhere in the world, would post a description of their home/business and what sort of work they are looking to accomplish. The volunteer, anyone in the world, could also have their profile of who they are, what sort of volunteer work they want to do and which countries they want to visit. Voila, you exchange emails and hope you get a good match. The host can opt to let the worker stay on their property for x amount of days in exchange for a few hours of work per day/week. Some hosts even include meals.
The real benefit to this, besides saving a ton of money on accommodations, is getting to stay with a local host or family. Meaning, as the visitor, you get a much better sense of the host country’s culture and way of living. The worker, can offer up their skills or even potentially learn a new skill. Learn new foods to cook, learn a new language. And vice versa with the host. It’s truly a great program.
I posted my profile and a week or so later I started getting replies from hosts about coming to volunteer with them. One of them was in Bangkok, Thailand. Southeast Asia was high on my bucket list so I jumped on the chance to visit. Once all the details were worked out with the host, I packed up my house, put everything in storage, rented it out and bought a one way ticket to Bangkok four days later.
As you can imagine, I was more excited than anything, but on the very long plane ride, I began wondering, was it really a good idea to have jumped on this trip so soon and unexpectedly? Should I have done some more research, studied up on the culture, tried learning some phrases in Thai, etc.? Was it better to just go on the adventure, wing it and really explore without any preconceived notions?
Ehh, WTH! You only live once, right!
I wasn’t going to shy away from this amazing opportunity just because I was a tad unprepared. The excitement was overwhelming and I was on the most amazing natural high of my life, nothing could scare me at this point. Besides, I quickly learned that getting lost in a new city was the best way to experience it.
Thankfully, in Bangkok, lots, if not most people speak a bit of English, signs are in English and the transportation is pretty easy to find. Once I landed at the airport, there were plenty of options to get to my hostel. I took the train into town, gawked out the window and felt like a little kid, ready to jump off at the next stop and go explore.
My Workaway host was the owner of a hostel just a few blocks away from the infamous Khao San Road – the major tourist hub for backpackers. The agreement was a bunk in the staff room, free coffee, and cooking classes in exchange for working in the hostel as a receptionist for a few hours everyday. This hostel also had a small cafe so serving during dinner service was part of the routine as well.
When I wasn’t working my usual opening morning shift, I was spending my free time getting lost in the city, eating tasty street food, and seeking out all the temples. There were other workaway hosts staying in the staff dorm and one of them was a true nomad. She lived and worked on the go, and told me how much she really loved this city. We made plans to visit this temple, two hours outside the city, called Wat Bang Phra. Apparently, if you want a meaningful tattoo done by a true Buddhist monk, you must visit this temple. I’m a huge lover of tattoos.
On my second day, I studied a map of the city, in order to get my bearings. I wanted to know enough about where the major landmarks were so that if I was majorly lost, at least I’d know which general direction to walk. Once I knew which side of the river I was on and which way Khao San road was from my hostel, that’s all I needed, off I went. The first temple I went to visit was Wat Arun aka Temple of Dawn. I could see it from a distance on the other side of the Chao Phraya River.
Refusing to sit down, write out detailed directions and use a map like some tourist, I just followed my instincts and used my senses to find my way. I did take a few wrong turns, one dead end street and a few construction workers stared at me probably wondering what some backpacker is doing on this random backroad, but eventually I made it to the harbor. The ferry has different ticket prices depending on which stop(s) you choose. They have an easy diagram with pictures of the sites and the corresponding stop to use for each temple or building.
From there, all I had to do was follow the crowd to the entrance of the temple. Unfortunately, there was restoration work being done so my pictures had scaffolding in them, but it was still a beautiful temple. For a while, I sat on a bench staring up at the intricate carvings of the temple, people watching and taking it all in. Not just staring at this magnificent craftsmanship, but thinking how lucky to finally be in this city that I had dreamed about for so many years.
By the time I left and walked around some more, crossed back over the river, it was too late in the day see the other temples. They closed to visitors at 5pm. I figured I might as well see what local eateries I could find along the river, but I didn’t have much luck. The restaurants I found were all sit down places, and I was hoping for a street vendor. No matter, I made my way back towards the hostel and found a park overlooking the river.
There was a public tai chi class going on, it looked like anyone could just join in but the instructions were in Thai so I just sat and watched. It was my favorite time of day and luckily, I found a perfect spot to sit and watch the sunset. It was setting down on the opposite side of Chao Phraya with the temples in the background, too many colors to describe.
Often, I use times like these to do some reflection and to thank the powers that be for allowing me to experience such natural beauty. It all felt even more special considering I was in a foreign land, alone with my thoughts, and a ton of sites still left to take in. I could have cried from this indescribable feeling of happiness. I knew right then, my life would be forever changed on this journey. No, not my life, ME! I would be forever changed.
I had already felt a different person in so many ways the last six months, having quit my job, dropped everything in my life to travel solo, but it’s as if this time I knew it was more that. I felt it was something deeper, soul changing, if you will. I couldn’t remember a time in my life when I had ever felt this excited, fortunate, and genuinely happy.
The next few weeks became a bit of a routine, working in the mornings and sightseeing in the afternoons. Everyday was a new mini adventure, where I’d have an idea of where I was going but had no real plans, just kind of went with the flow. I tried to really live in the moment when I’d be strolling through the city, staring at these ornate and beautifully crafted buildings. Respectfully keeping my distance from those giving their prayers and watching the locals.
The food, well let’s just say visiting Asia has forever ruined eating at P.F. Chang’s for me haha. Fresh ingredients, cooked right in front of me on the street. There’s just no comparison to the Thai cuisine back home in the States. Now, I’m a Latina and I know spicy, but G.D. their food is HOT! And I LOVED it. Yes, I tried all kinds of novelty food items like scorpions on a stick, ehh, not much to say about it. My favorite fruit is mango and OMG, thai mangoes are super sweet. Pretty much ate those on a daily.
For souvenirs, you must visit Chatuchak market. Huge, gigantic, crowded – doesn’t even come close to describing this weekend market. I’ve been to some enormous street markets in Mexico and other places, but these stalls with everything you could possibly imagine are seemingly endless. It’s the ultimate shoppers dream. I took three separate trips out there and still did not manage to see every part of it. They sell food, knick knacks, clothes, artwork, livestock, textiles, and so much more. You can even get foot massages and tattoos.
Durian, people often call it the stinky fruit. Well, I tried Durian ice cream at the market for the first time and I loved it. I’d recommend trying it just once. If you have the time, also try a cooking class. They not only teach you how to make the curry paste from scratch, a very lengthy process, but they also take you to the local markets to pick out your ingredients and explain how all the veggies and spices interact. You learn more about the culture than just the cooking part.
My journey to Bangkok was originally planned to last 30 days, my host allowing me to work and stay for that time, but I just wasn’t ready to go back home. Why not keep traveling to other cities outside of Bangkok, since I’m already here? And heck, why not visit other countries around Thailand? That’s exactly what I did. My next adventure…Cambodia!