Aside from the wave of humidity and eau de dog excrement, one of the first sensations I had in Thailand was a feeling of surrendering control. As my van sped out of the airport and into a highway of zig-zagging, neon pink taxis, there was nothing I could do but go along for the ride.
In the month and half I’ve been here, Thailand has given me countless lessons in letting go.
You have no control over what you’ll get for dinner when you point to a picture of soup on a street stall and hope it’s chicken. (It was pork, but the dumplings were delicious!) You have no control over your cab driver deciding to act out a scene from Fast & Furious 6 as you squeeze your eyes closed and try to remember the word for “slow down.” And you have no control when the main road to the Sky Train floods to “let’s build an ark” proportions and you spend an hour literally floating in traffic.
A lot of my lessons in giving up control have come from getting lost. Bangkok’s maze of small winding streets and addresses with countless slashes make it nearly impossible to find what you’re looking for the first time. But whether I’m wandering around a street in Bangkok for an hour, hoping to find a good coffee shop, or speeding into the darkness on a rickety ferry, hoping it will take me to the right pier, a lot of the most thrilling and challenging experiences I’ve had have happened in these uncomfortable moments.
Some of these uncontrollable situations can be frustrating, and even scary. I don’t like not knowing whether the dog down the street will let me walk by or chase me down an alley. And it’s frustrating to run to the nearest bathroom, deeply regretting that curry that seemed so wonderful a few hours ago, to find a squat toilet.
But overall, this has been pretty liberating for a girl who has mapped out most of her life in moleskin planners and post-it notes. When you don’t speak the language or fully understand the culture, you’re forced to throw your hands in the air, veer from your original plan, and say, “So what?” You would drive yourself crazy with worry if you didn’t. I’m choosing to shrug my shoulders, let the experience soak in, and even laugh at things I would have panicked about in the U.S. Maybe that’s a product of Thai culture, travel in general, or both; either way, I’m liking it. It’s best to take a nod from the Thai way of life and simply go with the flow– even if that means patiently listening to water rush down the street as my cab stalls in traffic.