I, my parents, and my elder brother, Abhishek, started our journey to Thailand from Indira Gandhi International Airport at New Delhi. As our Cathay Pacific flight was to leave on September 19 at 0330 hours, we reached the airport by a private taxi by around 0030 hours. We stood at the airline check-in counter and waited for our turn. At the time of check-in we were politely informed about the delay in our flight by over 3 hours. With heavy hearts and thinking this was a bad omen, we checked in our luggage, and I got my first international flight boarding pass. We then went to the immigration counters, and I was thrilled to get the first stamp on my passport. Once the immigration formality was over, my father told us that we were now outside the territorial jurisdiction of India. It evoked a mixed and sad feeling in me to be leaving my beloved country, even though it was only temporarily.
I spent the next few hours wandering all over the airport, window shopping for duty-free goodies and other things. It was such an amazing sight – seeing and meeting fellow travelers from all over the world with people belonging to diverse countries, speaking different languages, wearing varied costumes, and belonging to different cultures, all under one roof. After getting tired, I massaged my feet in the automatic foot massager and fell asleep within my seat at the airport.
My mother woke me up in the morning and told me that boarding had been announced. I stood in the queue and was happy to be finally entering the Cathay Pacific aircraft. On taking my seat, I immediately began using the in-flight entertainment system and started enjoying the same. However, my joy was cut short by the in-flight announcement requesting us to vacate the flight as the aircraft needed to be fumigated against the swine flu. We finally re-entered the aircraft after about a half an hour, and I prayed for an uninterrupted flight hereafter.
After enjoying a sumptuous breakfast, our flight landed at Bangkok’s Swarnabhumi Airport at 1230 hours. As Bangkok is one hour and thirty minutes ahead of India, I moved forward my watch forward by 90 minutes to be in line with local time. The experience of using a floor escalator for the first time in my life left me dumbfounded. The experience of going through immigration, filling out a Thai language form, passport stamping, and customs clearance was a new and educational one. We were now officially in Bangkok, Thailand.
We came out of the airport and were welcomed by Thai girls in their traditional nationalistic-styled clothing. I enjoyed some wonderful new ice cream flavors at the airport arrival lounge, and we ate lunch prepared and carried by our mother.
We then began our journey to Pattaya in luxury in an air-conditioned coach along with our guide Mr. Sam and fellow travelers of the group. On the way to Pattaya, we stopped at McDonald’s and KFC restaurants for light snacks and water. The items on the menu were very different from the ones we generally see at our local outlets in India, and the taste, though different, was delicious. The roads during the journey were very clean and comfortable and offered a beautiful view of the countryside with vast greenery, large trucks, fly-overs, and markets.
The first sights of Pattaya were very beautiful. The clean beaches with blue waters, white sands, sunny beaches, crowded markets, colorful vehicles, tall buildings, boats, and street food were a totally new experience for me. We checked into the Pattaya Garden Hotel and went to our rooms. The rooms were large, air-conditioned, and had a television, as well as a well-stocked refrigerator. After having a comforting swim, we went to watch the world-famous Tiffany’s cabaret show.
The Tiffany’s show is one of the world’s most famous cabaret shows, which was watched by about 500 people who enjoyed its spectacular performances. The talent of Tiffany’s artists was undeniable, and they performed on various sets (15 different sets and backdrops), in many languages, and in numerous numbers. I especially enjoyed the artists’ beautiful performance on our very own Hindi film song, “Dola re” of Devdas. The show, with its star-studded music and dance extravaganza complete with light and sound systems, was amazing, spectacular, and touched my heart.
We walked back from the Tiffany’s show to our hotel enjoying the evening and the cool sea breeze. The roads were full of tourists who were enjoying themselves. On the way back we relished the famous Thai street food and also had ice cream at the omnipresent 7-Eleven stores.
The next morning, we woke up early and went for another swim in the hotel’s pool and enjoyed a continental buffet breakfast. At 9:00 am, our guide, Mr. Sam, took us to the Pattaya beach by bus. The beach was very neat and clean with its clear blue waters in the shining sun. Once on the beach, we wore life jackets and boarded a high-speed boat, which was to take us to Coral Island. The boat, with its powerful propellers, moved on the South China sea at such a tremendous speed that all of us were enthralled. The cool morning breeze striking my hair and cheeks made the moments unforgettable. In no time, we reached our first halt, which was a platform on the sea.
I was scared to see so many people participating in parachute gliding but still wanted to do it. My father purchased the tickets and much against my thoughts, I decided to take the plunge. I wore the life jacket and the parachute with nylon cords and shackles. The cord was tied on one end of the speed boat, and as the speed boat started its journey on the sea, it pulled me so that in no time I was in the air. It was such a terrifying moment, and I thought I was going to fall down and drown in the sea. However, after a few seconds, I actually started enjoying sailing in the air. I was on top of the world, looking down where everything appeared so tiny. The speed boat operator then played a game with me. He suddenly stopped cruising, and I yelled and cried, because I was rapidly falling towards the sea. Within a few moments, I had dropped in the sea and was fearing for my life and thinking that the sharks in the sea would attack me and eat me up. I sincerely started praying for my safety. The next moment, I found that the boat had restarted and was picking up speed. I was once again in the air and started enjoying the natural beauty. After some time, I landed back on the platform safely and in one piece. What a terrifying yet fulfilling experience it was!
The next stop was on a platform in the middle of sea just near the Coral Islands. People on this platform were enjoying scuba diving along with professional divers. I also wanted to explore the depths of the sea and be among the fish and marine vegetation. Though I was slightly anxious, I decided to undertake this scary activity as well. I put on the gloves and a glass mask with oxygen supply and went in the sea along with a professional diver escorting me. The sea was about 5 meters deep, and the view was unimaginable. I could see large numbers of fish in all sizes, shapes, and colors. I fed some food to the fish and even touched a few of them. The fish also touched me all over the body, and I felt a strange tickling sensation. The rich vegetation and marine life left be dumbfounded. We walked on the sea floor for some time. A video shoot of our underwater adventure was also taken by the divers, which they gave to us in the form of a CD. We came out of the sea after about 25 minutes. The experience was completely new and adventurous.
We finally reached the Coral Island after traveling on the speed boat. After alighting from the boat, I realized that the sand was very white, the sea water was crystal clear, and I could see fish in the water. We took some rest in the tents and enjoyed boiled corn along with coconut water, which was very tasty. Changing into our swimming costumes, we went for a swim in the clean, cool comforting waters. I was amazed to see that my body could actually float in the sea water without any difficulty, and I realized that the salinity of sea water was high and may be similar to the salt content of the Dead Sea, which allowed me to float freely. I also did a round of water skiing on the sea and enjoyed it thoroughly.
The journey back to the shore took about 30 minutes and was rather uneventful. Once ashore we had lunch at an Indian restaurant, which was very delicious.
After lunch, we did some shopping at the local floating market and bought many handicrafts and mementos. The entire market is situated around water and can be reached by way of wooden bridges. Journeying around the market is also possible in boats. I fed bananas and other fruits to a baby elephant at the market, and in the evening, we went out in the markets and explored the various goodies, which were on offer including gems and jewelery, clothes, and leather items. It was an altogether new experience for me to be going around and shopping in a floating market.
The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and started on our journey to the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok, in an air-conditined bus. After about two hours, we reached Bangkok. It is a lovely city, distinctly modern and westernized, with tall buildings, good roads, sky trains, fly-overs, and very polite and disciplined people. Major tourist attractions include glittering Buddhist temples, palaces, canal and river scenes, rich cuisine, classical dance extravaganzas, and numerous shopping centers. Before checking in to our hotel, we visited the world-famous Buddhist temple, Wat Trimit. The large standing gold statue of Lord Buddha inspired religious feelings in me. We were told that the statue is made of solid gold and weighed 5.5 tons. The temple was very huge and a large number of Thai people were worshipping for the good health and speedy recovery of their king who was not keeping well.
At Bangkok, we checked in at the Hotel White Orchid, which was situated in the busy marketplace of Chinatown. It was a good, comfortable hotel but lacked a swimming pool. After taking a rest, we went out and shopped at the MVK Mall and came back to the hotel in the evening. At the mall, we had snacks again at McDonald’s, as well as KFC. The mall had a lot of gold jewelery shops, clothes, leather goods, and electronics. A large number of Indians were also shopping at the mall. At night we went out and tasted the ethnic Chinese food being sold by the roadside. Though tasty it was not the same as the Chinese food available in India.
The next morning, we started our journey to Safari World by a private air-conditioned van, after first enjoying a buffet breakfast at the hotel. The entry to Safari World was very inspiring, and there was a large number of three-dimensional replicas of various wild animals like giraffes, elephants, and zebras to welcomie us.
The park is spread over a large area with animals housed in various enclosures. In between and all throughout the day, various animal shows are organized. In Safari World, we saw many kinds of different birds, tigers, polar bear, crocodiles, elephants, and sea lions, to name a few. We also saw beautiful performances by various animals during the 20-30 minute shows by sea lions, chimpanzees, elephants, and dolphins. I really loved the dolphin show, as well as the elephant show. The shows evoked enthusiastic clapping from the audience, especially a large number of smartly-dressed school children from Bangkok. I remembered my beloved country, India, when I realized that Hindi film songs sung by Mr. Himmesh Reshamiya were playing in the background at the venue.
The most thrilling moment of the entire trip was the time when my parents, brother, and I held a 5-foot tiger cub in our laps and fed him milk. His body was so soft, while he was also ferocious looking with his sharp teeth and claws. He looked extremely dangerous. Though initially terrified, I could handle him without much problem. I also held another young tiger cub, which was very cuddly and hardly 1.5 feet in length. It was all so very exciting, and something I will never forget.
Many school children and I fed bananas to tall giraffes by climbing on a platform. Though I had fed cows, buffaloes, dogs, and elephants, feeding so many tall giraffes was something entirely new to me.
In the evening, we went on a wild safari at a protected national park in air-conditioned buses. In the park, we saw lions, tigers, rhinoceros, various types of deer, giraffe, zebra, bear, birds, and many other animals. We could see the animals in their natural habitat away from captivity. It was so very interesting to see these ferocious animals roaming about freely in the wild without any fear.
We returned back to the hotel after a memorable day spent amongst the wild animals, taking pictures, feeding tiger cubs and giraffes, and seeing the acrobatic activities of dolphins.
The next morning we went to see the largest statue of a reclining Buddha at the Wat Po temple. The statue was marvelous, and the environment in the temple was very peaceful and quiet. Large numbers of tourists and devotees from across the world were visiting the temple. The tourists were also putting a large number of small coins in many vessels kept in the temple.
After returning to the hotel, we had lunch and started our return journey to the Bangkok airport. At the airport, we did some shopping at the Duty-Free shops and killed time enjoying the large, clean, and imposing airport. We took the Cathay Pacific flight from Bangkok to New Delhi, and fortunately the flight was on time. The flight arrived at New Delhi as scheduled, and we reached our sweet home after clearing immigration and customs.
Though happy to be home, I would always remember my maiden journey abroad among very hospitable, friendly, and polite people. I learned about the culture of Thai people and their foods, currency, environment, cleanliness, occupations, natural beauty, wildlife, water sports, and marine life. I will never forget my thoroughly enjoyable trip to Thailand.