“To awaken quite alone
in a strange town
is one of the pleasantest
sensations in the world.”
-Freya Stark

The city from atop the hostel.

I woke up early my first day in Bangkok.  Odd considering the late night before.  Odd considering I should have been suffering from jet lag.  Odd considering I had hardly slept in the 2 days before I flew out of Michigan or on the flight.  Odd just because it’s me, and I am not a morning person.

Still, I was awake, up and ready before 10:00am Bangkok time (10:00pm Michigan time).  It may not seem that early, I know, but considering all . . . and I’m sure the unheated showers of the hostel certainly didn’t hurt in waking me up.

The first thing I had to do was make my way to the rooftop lounge the hostel had set up to see the city in the daylight.  I personally think that there is nothing more beautiful than a city skyline in the dusk.  However, seeing a brand new city in the daylight can be just as inspiring.

I had made a promise to my mother that I would make a stop to check in with the United States Embassy within my first few days in the country.  Luckily, at least within the context of the Bangkok area, it was rather close, even within walking distance.  Unfortunately, because the Bangkok area is so vast and sprawling, what looks very close on a map can actually be much farther in true distance, and the embassy was a good half hour walk.  On top of that, it was closed.

I should have figured.  It was 6 November, a Sunday, but the day of week hadn’t even crossed my mind.

Because this was during all of the flooding happening throughout Thailand, my TESOL certification course that was supposed to begin 7 November in Bangkok through ATI had been pushed back three weeks.  It was a notification that we didn’t actually receive until the day before I flew out.

Others that were in my course changed their flights to meet the new dates.  I was glad to have this extra time to essentially go anywhere in the country I wanted before being tied down to one town and school.

The pond in central Lumphini Park.

To get to the American Embassy, I had to walk through Lumphini Park, which is one of the most scenic areas in the city of Bangkok.  Grassy fields riddled with ponds, sculptures, trees, and horizon towered over by the distant city skyscrapers in all directions.  It was certainly comparable, though nowhere near the scale of, New York’s Central Park.

Of course, one of the first things I saw in the park startled me for a moment.  As I was walking through some brush to get a closer look at some faded sculptures near a small pond, a water monitor lizard began running toward the pond no more than 2 meters away from me.  I’ve seen the occasional small lizard around North America, and a few iguanas in Puerto Rico, but never anything that size.  I honestly thought it could have been a Komodo dragon for a moment.

After 30 minutes or so of taking the causal route through the park, I got to the Northeastern end, where the U.S. Embassy was supposed to be.  But, it wasn’t.  The map showed it right at the edge of Lumphini Park, but it was a good 4-5 long blocks farther north, a considerable distance for someone who doesn’t enjoy walking cities.  Fortunately, I do.

I got to the gates of the embassy, and there were no American staff manning them.  All the gate guards were Thai and spoke minimal English at best.  It took a number of tries before we got through to each other that, “yes, I am American” and, “Oh sorry, come back tomorrow, it’s closed on Sundays.”

So I continued north on that road rather than just heading back to the hostel area.  I had seen most of that last night and was in no hurry to return.  Besides, enormous city and most of the day still ahead of me.  No reason not to go forward.

It turns out that street had a number of international embassies on it, including the British, as well as a lot of upscale commercial and residential real estate all being advertised in English.

During this walk, I crossed several small canals, but eventually, one came about that had a railed concrete stairway down to walk along it.  I went down the steps to find a concrete walkway along the canal to the right and a village to the left.

A canal taxi passing by the canal-side village.

I call it a village as it is immensely and quite obviously different from anything surrounding it.  It is what I will very hesitantly call a slum.  This was a canal-side village constructed mostly of riveted aluminum paneling that could have housed upward of 100 people.  Many of them were along the walkway I was on, fishing in the canal for what was quite obviously going to be their sustenance for the day.

There were other Thais walking this path, though less conspicuously that I seemed to be, as I received looks from so many asking (in the kindest interpretation), “What is this guy doing here?”  This was one of the sole few moments in all of the country that I felt genuinely uncomfortable.  Not threatened or unsafe, but just irreconcilably out of my element.

Part Two  →