Heart of the City
Engulfed by Bangkok’s humid night air on the second floor of a balcony bar I got to thinking about technology and the myriad ways it has changed the world and the way people travel.
I’d only come back to have a look at Khao San Road out of curiosity, preferring to stay in a more mildly mannered part of Sukkhumvit these days.
Observing the smoke rise up from the street vendors food stalls and watching gap year students drunkenly stumble from one techno blasting, bucket selling venue to the next, I remembered fondly the first time I had seen this street on my first jaunt overseas.
Rapid change since the turn of the century.
Located in the heart of the city, just one kilometre from the Grand Palace, Khao San Road has always been a hub for foreigners.
It was a different type of backpacker that craved new and exciting horizons back then. Intrepid travellers congregated around small tables that spilled out into the street chatting about the magical islands to the south and the raw cool mountain villages in the North.
The Internet was in its infancy and difficult to access. You had to pay to go to a café that had super slow dial up and the most useful and comprehensive information was still located in a guidebook. To buy any sort of ticket you had to line up at an office and get a printed-paper copy.
On that first trip I did to Asia the world seemed like a bigger and far more exotic proposition.
Smoking section please
Conversing through the haze in the smoking section of a Garuda Indonesia flight via Bali to Bangkok, I asked the young Frenchman across from me where the best place to stay would be. He was laden with goods like saris and silks that he bought in Asia to be sold in Europe. Upon our arrival in the ancient steaming chaos he guided me to a very cheap room above a dark and pungent Soi.
This was how I found out about almost all the places I visited and when I arrived I would just have to walk and find a sign that said ‘Rooms’ without ever having even seen a picture or read a review about my intended destination.
Most of the preconceptions I had were from reading W.Somerset Maugham’s romanticized novels of his travels through S. E. Asia in the 1930’s.
Rumour has it that he used to travel with a porter to carry one of his trunks that was reserved exclusively for reading material.
If he was to travel in this age I think he’d really take to kindle, automated check-ins and a long weekend on another continent.
People watching in Bangkok
Sitting in my quiet little Generation X bubble I’m observing half the bar scrolling and swiping their way through life while some of the most interesting scenes and scenarios are happening all around them.
Its not just young people. Everyone is doing it.
People of every age messaging friends and contacts worldwide instantly, booking transport and accommodation from a plethora of options, posting photos of their new favourite meals, activities and sights. And of course, if they are like me, studying the maps feature for hours on end, dreaming of the next far-flung port of call. It’s a bloody dangerous proposition having an atlas in my pocket all the time.
When there wasn’t such access to photographs and stories people had to seek it out. But it seems with cheaper flights and abundant information more and more people are inspired to get out of their comfort zone and explore this world. It can have adverse effects like over tourism but can also inspire positive change in people’s attitudes.
Barriers of us verses them are broken down and quite often people return home with a much deeper sense of gratitude for the good fortune that surrounds them.
Whether you decide to publicize your travels or not, it shouldn’t influence the feeling you get from travelling.
Some of the most valuable lessons you learn can only be acquired through experience. And I often find the most fulfilling aspects of relationships are shared without words or pictures. I love the fact that I can keep in contact with friends and family with video calls but its not the same as a drunken hug is it?
Of course you’re reading this on a digital platform and I wouldn’t be able to communicate my sentiments to such a vast audience without the amazing World Wide Web and its strands that encompass the entire globe.
Inspirational ideas and messages of optimism can be broadcast from a single individual to millions of willing recipients. Jesus would have loved it.
What a time to be alive!
It truly is a magnificent time to be alive in history. The course of human evolution is being altered by our ability to instantly connect with one another and create wealth and comfort beyond imagination. Whether we use this platform for the collective good or for the destruction of the planet and ourselves remains to be seen.
So while it really is fantastic that we have access to these tools for making our lives more convenient, I think its important to put them down once in a while and take some time to smell the roses.
In our haste to publicize our every move and to connect with the rest of the world we sometimes forget about the most important person we need to connect with.
I’m going to shut down the laptop and turn off my phone. I’m going for a stroll in the forest. Maybe a walk at the beach and watch the waves come in. And rather than try to capture anything, for once I think I’m just going to sit in it and enjoy it.
Nature has a way of giving me a feeling of connectedness like no device can.
But I’ll chat to you soon from some exotic locale, hopefully with some inspirational photos and video to make you want to get out and explore. Because I have a suspicion that the influence of the digital economy is not going to decline anytime soon.