“There’s a smell,” the man seated next to me explains as we circle the airspace above Bangkok. “I can’t describe it … but … it’s this smell. It’s distinct. It’s Thailand.”
I smile at him, weary from traveling for 24 hours and not looking forward to an overnight at the airport.
“Ah,” I remark half-heartedly. “I’ve never been.”
“Well, you will know when you step off the plane, it’s unmistakeable.”
When we step off the plane a few minutes later, it’s hard to get a whiff of anything as we move slowly from the jetway into the massive airport. But, when I step outside, it hits miss.
It’s overpowering, really. A mix of diesel, incense, the lingering pungent smell of fires. And, it’s intoxicating in an odd way.
Standing there, as bright pink taxis drop their fares and line up to return to the city with a new explorer in tow, that smell gives way to excitement. An unmistakable feeling that anything can happen.
Of course, that first trip to Thailand changed my entire course of life. It introduced me to Lek Chailert and Save Elephant Foundation, and it opened my eyes to the realities of elephant tourism. That first deep breath of Thailand air filled me … and never left.
Even after being gone for 10 months, I know the smell. There are times I long for that familiar scent. It’s comforting. It’s muggy nights listening to geckos, sitting outside with friends into the wee hours of the morning swapping life stories. It’s watching the elephants roam freely at Elephant Nature Park. It’s love. It’s grief. It’s life.It’s home. All in one breath.
Since I left Thailand, I’ve struggled. I’ve struggled with starting over, not once, but twice. I’ve struggled with visas. With adjusting to new customs far different from the Thai customs I’d become used to. I’ve battled culture shock. I’ve questioned the path I’m on and the path I want for my future. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve grown. And yet, I’m still me. And, Thailand still holds this whimsical, romantic, jungle presence in my every moment.
In two days, I’m going back. It’s the longest I’ve been gone from a place I have called home … ever. This trip is a mix of business and pleasure, and I’m fine combining the two. Particularly since the business portion encompasses spending time with some of my closest friends in the world, and the pleasure part rounds that out even more.
There is such a joy bubbling in me, knowing I will soon be home. Knowing I will see my friends, walk familiar streets, create new memories as the person I am today. I cannot wait to step into the Thai night (because I arrive in the middle of the night), feel that humid air on my face and take a deep breath in, inhaling Thailand into my blood once again.