24 hours later... Welcome to Bangkok!
11:00AM I'm waiting for the jetlag to hit; it's 11pm back home in Valpo. I spent the last 24 hours traveling: 12 hours from Chicago to Doha, Qatar, a small, oil-rich country that borders Saudi Arabia. A 4 hour layover in the "Best Airport in the Middle East" (that's what all the billboards said), then another 6 hour flight to Bangkok. I got into Bangkok at 7am this morning.
Upon walking up to the gate at O'Hare for my flight to Qatar, I noticed many of the women were wearing hijabs; several of them had full burkas. I suddenly wondered if I would be drawing attention to myself as a solo female traveler waiting for a flight in Qatar, hair uncovered with pink peacock pants and gold sandals. I just had no idea what expect, and the thought of walking into Qatar's airport totally unaware made me nervous.
I took a seat at the gate and made small talk with an older woman next to me. She told me her husband works in Qatar and that she visits several times a year. Her hair was covered with a hijab. My eyes wide, I asked if I needed to find something to cover my hair once we arrived in Qatar. She smiled and said, "No, no! What you are wearing is just fine. You will see the women there are very well dressed. Only in Saudi Arabia must you cover hair." I instantly felt at ease, which was good because I also had no idea how I would have covered my hair anyways (makeshift scarf? hoodie?). Hijab crisis averted! (And she was totally right - our stopover in Qatar was easy, and the women's fashion was stylish and sharp. The airport is brand new, definitely as a lead up to Qatar serving as the host for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.)
Shortly after my conversation with her, I overheard two guys talking just behind me. One of them mentioned Bangkok. Unable to help myself and eager to make a friend, I asked "You're going to Thailand, too?" That's how I met Tasher - same age as me, from Wisconsin, and set to go to med school in the fall. He was taking 6 weeks to backpack Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. We quickly discovered that we were taking the same connecting flight from Qatar and even the same metro lines to our hostels. That's just one reason I like traveling solo - there's always plenty of opportunities to make friends.
I flew Qatar Airways and both flights were uneventful. No turbulence, decent airline meals, no delays, and friendly service. Definitely worth my $38. I slept the majority of the way there, between reading magazines and a book I bought on my iPad. I never watch movies on planes or in cars because it gives me a headache. So I almost always resort to sleeping. Some fun facts I came across in my Rough Guide to Thailand book during the flight:
- It is socially unacceptable and a criminal offence to make critical remarks about Thailand's royal family.
- The king's anthem is played before every movie in the movie theaters.
- Because the king's head is featured on all Thai currency, you should never step on a coin or banknote.
- Monks are forbidden to have any contact with women.
- The feet are the considered the most unclean body part, so it is very rude to point your feet at a sacred image or at a human.
- Thais use their left hand to wipe after using the bathroom, so they never use their left hand to pass items or to eat.
Upon arriving in Bangkok, Tasher and I went through customs before exchanging money. Then we set off to figure out Bangkok's public transportation system - the BTS Skyline Link. Luckily, all signs were translated to English, and we quickly found the station in the subway of Bangkok's airport. The metro was clean, air-conditioned, efficient, and offered great views of the sprawling city that I had just arrived in. Tasher and I split up as I got off at the Ratchthewi stop and he continued a little further on to reach his hostel.
After two minutes of walking and constantly checking the directions Bed Station Hostel had given me, I came across the hostel, tucked into a side road. I'll post a full review free after my 2 nights here, but already the atmosphere and amenities are some of the best I've experienced. I can't actually check in until 2pm (three more hours...), but I was able to stash my backpack in their luggage room, help myself to some breakfast, and perch myself on the most comfortable beanbag chair in their common area. I did head outside to check out the side streets and my surroundings, but I am definitely on the jetlag struggle bus at this point.
As for Bangkok, it seems similar to other urban, foreign major cities I've visited - scorchingly hot, with plenty of mopeds, traffic, and people. I'm excited to get my bearings and start exploring this city tomorrow.
9:23PM. The jetlag got me. I tried to fight it, but after finding the local supermarket, showering, and finally checking into my dorm room, I was done for. I slept from 2-8pm, so if my body wasn't already totally confused, it definitely is now.
Tomorrow: The temples of Wat Arun, the Golden Mountain, Wat Pho, and Wat Phra Kaeo!