I am a total chicken when it comes to three things: bugs, snakes and being late. Maybe it has something to do with being a control freak and the fact that all of these things can catapult you out of your comfort zone and into the stratosphere of “horrible things that can happen,” a special haven for people with overactive imaginations and a tendency to panic.
What better place to confront your anxiety monsters than Thailand?
It all started with trusting the alarm clock on my phone. In retrospect, my phone probably was probably in some nearby time zone, maybe India. In retrospect, setting an alarm at 2 am after over 24 hours of traveling was like drunk driving. But at the time, it seemed perfectly normal that when it went off, I got dressed and went to breakfast even though I could barely make out the skyline.
At the restaurant, a few sleepy strangers were drowning their jetlag in miso soup and coffee. As the rising sun turned the skyscrapers a warm shade of amber, I had the presence of mind to ask a waiter what time it was and discovered that it was 6.30 am. At this point, my choices were infinite coffee, an infinity pool on the 10th floor, a nap or a walk in the park.
An hour in the Lumphini Park in the heart of Bangkok was a gift from my time zone-challenged alarm clock. Before it got too hot, locals were practicing tai chi and yoga on its green expanses, and what looked like social clubs were gathering around picnic tables. A packed food court featured roasted ducks, little plastic bags with soup-like substances, and all sorts of fruit, including what looked like pink golf balls with green hair.
What at first I took for a log in the pond turned out to be a Monitor lizard, and then another one, and then one sitting in a tree right next to me, and one poking its head out from a water pipe. It seemed like the only two people who took notice of them was me and the guy who shot this video:
Which brings me to a question of snakes. As our group made its way among the bungalows of a resort at Railay Beach, until recently one of the most expensive ones in Thailand, I couldn’t help but scan the tropical forest for wildlife. And there it was – green, thin and dead in a water feature.
“Oh, it’s just a viper,” informed us the director of marketing.
“Is it venomous?”
“Yes, but it’s pretty rare.”
Obviously, not rare enough. For the next hour, as we inspected luxurious accommodations for perfect honeymoons all I could think about was what snakes are not rare here, and exactly how not rare. But then we were at a beach that where it was sinful not to go in the water, and my anxiety temporarily shifted to the question of bathing without a bathing suit, which I had managed to leave at the hotel.
Bugs can take many forms. In Africa, I was so preoccupied with not getting bitten that I turned out bedroom into a gas chamber every night. Our nephew Allen did get bitten by a spider on the very last day when he walked across a lawn in his sandals without socks. Five meters of green grass was all it took. On the plane ride home, his foot began to change in shape and color, and my imagination was going into overdrive with CSI-style pictures.
Some of my most favorite bugs are bacteria that live in food and can turn your body into a microbrewery of new forms of life. Cue in Thai
street markets, where curries of all kinds are prepared in giant aluminum dishes, unknown meat is waiting in 95-degree heat to be roasted on skewers, and roasted ducks take the place of rotisserie chickens.
My guide Jintana asked if I wanted to try any of these goodies. I said I was happy taking photos. She offered to pay. I still said no. She began to talk to a vendor roasting bananas and bought three little rectangulars made of green banana leafs stapled at the ends. Tamales Thai style. I pretended I didn’t notice. We walked into an air-conditioned café for a cup of coffee, and she placed them in the middle of the table. I was already living through the repercussions on a 15-hour flight home. She took one and began to unwrap the leaf. Curiosity got the better of me and I followed suit to discover inside sweet, sticky, uber-delicious rice, way better than my emergency Cliffhanger power bar.
And I didn’t die. And didn’t even get sick. Not until a taco salad at LAX.