Overstaying at The Overstay
If you’re expecting a rundown of sights to see and pretty pictures of Bangkok, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
I made the decision to stay in Bangkok for another week because I’ve been feeling travel fatigue. What started out as excitement to explore another part of the world turned into a tireless routine of figuring out how to get to my next destination and what I should be doing to make the most of it.
A question I’ve been asking myself since before I started this trip was what is the purpose of traveling? Traveling means different things to different people, and after reaching Bali, I started feeling like I was just going through the motions. I wasn’t ready to go home yet. But I needed a break.
I stayed at The Overstay for a couple days during my first time in Bangkok at the recommendation of a friend I had met in Yogyakarta. The Overstay is an artist commune, a place for people from all walks of life to gather away from the commercialization of Khao San Road and the rest of Bangkok. Its location in Pinklao/Thonburi is away from tourism and the trains, so unless you’re keen on walking or taking the bus, you may view it as inconvenient.
No worries, most people staying at The Overstay aren’t in Bangkok to sightsee anyway.
It’s a hangout spot for EFL teachers, backpackers, musicians, and painters. Run and staffed by a Thai family along with a handful of foreigners, you’ll find yourself surrounded by good people.
Here are a few I met:
The Least Filipino Filipina
We met at the bar on her last night there and shared an instant connection. She’s from Canada, and I’m from the US, and we both had just traveled in the Philippines by ourselves for the first time. Until that moment, I hadn’t been able to articulate how being in the Philippines had truly impacted me.
When you live your life trying to prove that you’re American (or in her case, Canadian), you question and perhaps suppress certain attributes about yourself that people may find strange. Like eating rice with every meal. Or being loud and overly expressive. And then you go to the Philippines and everything makes sense.
There’s a spiritual factor to it too. An unspoken sense of acceptance and belonging. Centuries of struggle and assimilation. A country with so much soul, conquered by the western world but happy to be alive and happy to embrace any change that comes towards them. Valuing positivity despite hardship.
Ako ay Pilipino. And I’m so glad I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Also, that Filipino charm. It’s real.
The Girl From Hanoi
I think the thing that kept us from knowing each other better is the fact that our temperaments are so alike. Outgoing and warm when we need to be, private but open, but boy do we need that time to ourselves.
Of everyone I met, I respect her the most and I hope she finds her way. She’s so talented, insightful, and strong, and she will be amazing wherever she ends up.
The Mysterious Italian
Kind of a loner, doesn’t drink. He people watches, in a way that I at first found creepy, but as I got used to his presence, I found that he just wasn’t one to talk a lot. He pretty much read me like a book though, and could tell who I was actually into and when I feigned interest in things and wasn’t afraid to call me out on it. I appreciated his bluntness, and I did really like his art.
The Poker Player
My first interaction with him was asking if I could sit on the couch he was on, because it was next to the only available outlet at the bar. His response?
“I’m fucking French, of course you can’t sit here!”
There are people you meet who you never have a serious conversation with but you’re completely comfortable bullshitting with them all day. From dissing the French and Americans at the bar to fake fights at 7-11, he’s someone I know I can always playfully shove on the sidewalk and he’ll play along no questions asked.
The Thai Guy
During my first go-around at The Overstay, I was perfectly content just hanging out on my laptop, but he dragged me out to the dreaded Khao San Road, and I’m glad I went. He schooled me on Thai culture and where to find the best bargains, and he was so patient and enthusiastic about it. After thrift shopping, he ended up running into an old travel buddy from another place a year ago. We all went out for drinks, and the entire experience was the perfect blend of fun and conversation, without dragging the night out too long.
The Brit and the Russian
This was probably one of the most difficult conversations I’ve had in recent memory. The argument was whether or not racism still exists in present day, and the most controversial statement was that population control by means of genocide or elimination of a weaker subgroup would be better for the overall survival of humanity.
It was four hours of listening, rebuttal, talking about history and current events, and patience between the three of us to get through that conversation. I felt angry, but I knew that anger wouldn’t help my case. I don’t think he’s a bad person. I think we both grew up in very different worlds.
I offered him the last slice of pizza, which already had a bite in it, and he happily took it. He was someone I immediately felt comfortable around, a harmonica player and a storyteller, and a pretty kick ass dancer. We talked about traveling, music, politics, and what it meant to really travel.
On his last day there, we had lunch together and discussed the costs and benefits of working at a university. When you’re at a university, you’re surrounded by curiosity. You never stop learning. But you’re in a bubble. You’re not in a bubble when you travel (if you don’t allow yourself to be trapped in one).
How do you live a life where you continue learning as much as possible, where you can make the most positive impact?
I admire him. I hope to meet him again one day.
The Shirtless Argentinian
A guitar-playing virtuoso and master whistler, this guy surprised me. I’ve slowly been learning throughout this journey that a common language is not as important in connecting with other people as I once believed.
He only began learning English six months ago, so off the bat, he let me know it was difficult for him to understand and participate in large group conversations. But one-on-one, he talked passionately about philosophy, religion, and politics. He reads a lot and makes his living writing and performing music and theater.
We spent a lot of time walking aimlessly around the neighborhood talking about topics I haven’t even spoken to most people back at home about. A lot of it was on Google translate trying to find the right words. We watched silent foreign films, and I left Bangkok with an entire list of book and film recommendations. He may not speak English well, but the guy is smart.
Sometimes the desire to learn is really all you need to connect with other people.
I can’t forget about the person who introduced me to The Overstay in the first place. He’s one of the friendliest people I’ve met on this trip, and even though he’s gone back home by now, it’s only a matter of time before he’s back out in the world, either performing at venues around the country or traveling. I’m the type of person who laughs when I don’t know what else to do, but he’s made me genuinely laugh because of his sense of humor, and I’m so glad I met him in Indonesia.
The Hardest Thing About Traveling
At some point in every traveler’s journey, you have to say goodbye. Connections are fleeting. And as intense as some of these connections were, the chances of seeing most of them again are slim. And in reality, we all only knew each other for a few days at best. The things you share with people are deep, but at the same time, superficial. What I share with you is still authentic to who I am, but an abbreviated version, edited for time and substance.
It’s the desire to never stop learning. Because there’s always more to learn.