Coming Back Home

back in bangkok, thailandIt’s been 18 months since I was last here. As I rode the new train into the city, I wondered what else would be different. The last time I was here the political parties were fighting. There were protests, bombings, and city-wide violence that turned one of my favorite cities into a war zone. Since my last visit, many of my friends have moved on to new destinations or returned home.

But as I listened to the people around me and looked at the faces on the train, I felt at ease. I was comfortable. I knew I was home. Though I’ve been away a long time, Bangkok and I are as close as ever.

I checked into my guesthouse, dropped my bags, and practically leapt out the door. I needed to explore. I needed to be outside—in my city. I wanted to wrap it around me like a blanket.

I had errands to run. I had food to eat. I had friends to see.

As I made my way down the main street of Sukhumvit, I marveled at the new buildings. I felt surprise at seeing that derelict buildings, after being there for more years than I can remember, had finally been torn down. Bangkok was changing.

But it still felt like home.

The sights. The sounds. The smells. The pace.

Everything was familiar.

I was practically skipping down the streets.

I moved to familiar haunts. I ate near my old house. Fried rice never tasted so good. The guy I buy movies from gave me a big hug and asked why I’d been gone so long.

“I went home,” I said.

“I’ll come back more often,” I promised. We make small talk, and he smiles, shakes my hand, and tells me not to stay away for so long again.

I move on with my day—there’s a lot to do. Walking into my old hair stylist’s, I ask how much for a cut. “150 baht,” she says. Same as last year. She remembered my face better than I remembered hers.

I feel a bit embarrassed.

“Where have you been?” she asks me. “It’s been a long time.”

It would be hard to explain my last year. I simply tell her I went home. It’s partially true.

“Oh really? You go home to work?”

“Yeah, I work on the internet, though, so I can work anywhere.”

“Why don’t you work here?” she presses.

We make small talk in a mixture of Thai and English. I’m impressed she remembers so much about me. She compliments me on how good my Thai still is, though I think she’s just being polite.

It feels good to speak Thai again, but as I stumble over my words, I know I’m rusty.

In typical fashion, she asks me if I have a girlfriend.

“No,” I say. “I’m not looking for one.”

She tells me Thailand is a perfect place to find one.

She laughs. I laugh.

As my haircut finishes, she admonishes me. “If you don’t come back more, I’ll raise the price of your haircuts. Thailand is your home.”

Later in the evening, I head to my favorite bar, Cheap Charlie’s. It’s the home of many good memories. “Sawadee Krap Satit,” I say. “I’ll have a gin and tonic.” Looking up from his CDs, the bartender smiles a big grin. He too remembers me. “Of course,” he says.

That night as I have drinks with friends, I can’t help but think that my hairdresser was right. I am home. Part of me belongs here. Like a piece in a puzzle, I fit perfectly. There’s nothing unfamiliar about Bangkok and every part of it feels normal to me. It always pulls me back.

We may not remain in a place forever, but sometimes places forever remain in us.

  1. What’s the best place for NYE in Thailand? A few friends and I are coming on the 28/29th.

    Also, assuming you are still there late december/January, would love to grab a beer…

    • matt boontham

      Amazing that people are still going to Bangkok now, in spite of the potential dangers there from the months of heavy flooding. A city of 10 million people, a great deal of which has been under more than a meter of water for months, sewage backing up into the street, garbage in that city which normally produces 8,000 tons of waste daily [u]uncollected[/u], all cooking in the 95degree plus heat, can produce some of the scariest diseases know to man. Already there are reports of people infected with leptospirosis, a bacterial infection spread in water contaminated with rat urine. Google [i]Bangkok disease flooding[/i] to get even a small idea of how bad it is, and it will only get worse. Add to all that the crocodiles, king cobras, green mambas, and various poisonous vipers that all floated out of the many tourist attraction animal farms now swimming around in the water filled streets, and you have a recipe for a true nightmare holiday. As to Chiang Mai, where the flooding began, I don’t know the status of the cleanup, as the gov’t here’s not exactly forthcoming with any bad news that affects tourism, as their history with SARS, bird flu showed clearly. The last thing Thailand needs is people coming here unawares, catching some horrible disease, and bringing that contagion to other countries.

      • NomadicMatt

        That is not what Bangkok is like at all. The downtown area is quite dry and so now flooding. Neither did any of the tourist areas. It was only the other areas and near the river. I’ve seen none of what you are talking about nor have witnessed any disease. Stay away from the floods, and you stay away from the problems.

  2. Love it. I feel like this when I head back to Thailand too. I know travelling is all about adventures but it’s so nice to be somewhere familiar. Enjoy.

  3. Amanda

    Great article. Just want to say I really appreciate your blog and your insights. Some of the other travel bloggers I follow seem to have floated into this realm of only posting about sponsored trips they’ve taken with tourism boards. While those are interesting, I don’t think they’re a realistic depiction of a “regular-Joe” traveler’s experience who has to make their own way through a city or country. So thanks, and thanks for inspiring me to make a second trip back to Bangkok!


    • NomadicMatt

      Amanda, I feel the same way about other travel blogs too. It’s somewhat disheartening. Glad you are coming back to Bangkok.

    • Yeah totally agree Amanda – it appears that some travel blogs are becoming as interesting as the advertorials in the travel section of the sunday papers!

      Well down Matt- you site is becoming more interesting as you do more personal posts like this. I could easily call Thailand my second home

  4. lynnette

    Hi. I’ve been to Bangkok. It’s very similar to the Philippines. Why not try to visit here? Much cheaper & almost all Filipinos speak very good English as well. Not to mention, they are also very hospitable & friendly. If you like beautiful nature with one of the world’s best white sand beaches, then this is the place for you. This place is one of best if not the best in Southeast Asia.

  5. This is how I feel about Manhattan.

    I’m excited to read this about Bangkok since I just recently decided to go to Thailand and SE Asia for my next long trip!

  6. Just stumbled across your travels… well written, a nice relaxed feel. Can’t wait for more photos, I assume they are coming. I am financially limited to travel only the western US so I will vicariously accompany you. Thanks,

  7. Haidang

    wow your last line is deep and profound

    We may not remain in a place forever, but sometimes places forever remain in us.

    love it love it love it

    it’s definitely possible to feel at home in more than 1 place- you recognize the people there and they the same to you…thats why you feel at home. but then home is also the USA. many diff. experiences + definitions. great article once again!

  8. Great piece Matt. I have several ‘homes’ so totally appreciate what you’re saying. It is always lovely to return to those homes away from home.

  9. Maddy

    I’ve used Bangkok as a base a few times now and, although it’s not HOME for me, I know where you are coming from. But, what is home? Travelling sure makes us question that…

  10. Sarah

    I just spent at least two hours devouring your travel tips. I can not wait to go on my first (real) international trip, and Thailand is calling my name. I’m not going to be able to stay for months on end, but I just know that the time I do have will be some of the best times in my life!

  11. Daniel of Oz

    Hey Matt, heading back to Bangkok in 2 weeks and wondering where your hair stylist is located. I could do with a handy recommendation for a trim 😉

    Cheers, happy travels

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