After completing my ten-day Vipassana retreat, I arrive back to Bangkok. The silence and freedom I experienced the past ten days is being shocked back to reality as the metropolitan city assaults my senses, especially the eyes and ears.. But a bigger shock was yet to come.
I celebrate my 31st birthday in Bangkok with Dev. We head to the Chinatown area of Bangkok to seek out the vegetarian food festival; almost every restaurant and street vendor goes full-on vegetarian during this period.
On the way, we visit a nearby golden wat.
We leave the wat and continue to the vegetarian festival. We are greeted by numerous yellow banners and flags as we arrive.
In the evening we succeed in finding Belgian beer; a treat after drinking watery-lagers for two months.
An we end the night at a cool jazz bar with a live band. Dev and I were impressed with the performance.
The day after my birthday, I plan on leaving Bangkok to Chiang Rai, where I will be volunteering for two weeks.
On that day, I arrive to the Mo Chit bus station in Bangkok, which is huge – it’s as busy as an airport. I go to my VIP bus stop, waiting to board. While standing and reading, I have my large backpack and small backpack adjacent to my feet. One moment I look down, and I notice my small backpack is missing.
Panic immediately sets in. I rush back to retrace my steps, hoping I accidentally left my backpack somewhere. Simultaneously, the emotion of realizing what had really happened has arisen.
Someone stole my backpack from right under my nose!
And unfortunately, I had a lot of important things in there:
- U.S. Passport
- Camera (the Canon S95, a high-end point&shoot)
- Moneybelt with $100 in cash
- A birthday card I had written for Cherry, right after ending my ten-days of silence.
I’m in panic mode, and I frantically gesture to the bus agent, explaining what had happened. He doesn’t speak English, but he understands what had happened. He calls for security. A nice man arrives, and he asks me what happened. We do a quick walk around the area to look for my bag. Not found. He tells me to get onto the bus, and in the morning, after my 12-hour bus ride, to call my bus agent and see if they find my bag.
I momentarily debate whether I should stick around, hoping my bag will be found. Or if the thief is nice, they would at least drop my US passport and birthday card around the station, being of no value to them, but high value to me. I then realize that realistically, it’s all gone. I hop onto the bus, wondering how to fix this mess.
During my twelve-hour bus ride, I’m feeling shocked at my loss, while silently reminding myself of one of the teachings from the past ten days: anichcha (pronounced “uh-nee-chuh”). Anichcha means “impermanence, constant change”. This applies to good and bad events in life. Our teacher repeated this word a lot over the ten days, and I especially remembered hearing it at the beginning of a meditation session where we had to sit completely still for an hour straight, which results in physical pain. During the moments of pain, I would attempt to understand that everything is temporary; this suffering is temporary. And now, in this moment where I lost many of my valuables, I reminded myself that this suffering is temporary. Anichcha.
Luckily, I still have my iPhone and wallet with an ATM card. I send a quick email to my family, describing what had just happened. I power down my iPhone to save battery. My iPhone charger was also in my small backpack.
The next morning at 7am, I arrive in Chiang Rai. I power up my iPhone to read reassuring emails from my family and girlfriend. Cherry reminds me that theft happens everywhere, not just in Thailand – so I shouldn’t feel like I’m in a bad place. I feel better recognizing that fact.
I get off the bus and find help from employees at a tourist booth, who speak English very well. After explaining what happened, one of the employees takes me to a police station.
As I’m sitting at a office in the police station, the employee explains the events to the police officer. The police officer writes a report, detailing what I had lost. Without my passport, this police report would become an important document for me as I continued my travels around Thailand.
After making my police report, the tourist booth employees direct me to Chiang Mai, a 3-hour bus ride. There I would find the U.S. Embassy which would be able to help me get a new passport. So I take the next available bus, a 3-hour bus ride. I’m feeling grateful how smoothly everything is being resolved. This suffering is temporary, I remind myself. I’m grateful for the assistance I received in Chiang Rai from the tourist booth employees and the police.
It was an easy process to replace my U.S. passport – the police report, along with an expired passport I fortunately had brought with me, were able to prove my identity. I received my new U.S. passport in seven days. When I received my new passport, I held it with reverence – this document held my freedom to eventually return home. How a small booklet had so much power in my life.
As for the rest of my lost items, I luckily had purchased travel insurance through WorldNomads.com for my backpacking trip. Again, my police report was essential, and I was eventually fully reimbursed for my losses, except my Macbook, which I got $500 for. The travel insurance had handsomely paid off.
After this experience, here’s what I learned:
- Always wear your money-belt, and keep your important documents in there.
- Even more important than your passport, is an ATM card. Keep two with you, in separate places for redundancy. It’s hard to get around with no cash.
- I should have kept my Macbook in my big backpack – no one ever seems to steal big backpacks, because no one wants your dirty laundry.
- Have an expired passport with you, and a photocopy of your current passport.
- Take a photo of your visa when entering the country – it would have made replacing my visa easier.
- Wear your small backpack at all times – even having it on the ground right next to me wasn’t sufficient.
- Travel insurance is a worthy investment!
I did follow most of these rules myself, but that one time I let my guard down, coincided with the time I also got robbed.
Overall, this episode was an experience of feeling vulnerable, and a test of my ability to keep calm. A memorable beginning of my 31st birthday: learning about anichcha.