After backpacking by myself for three months, my final day in Asia began at 4:30 a.m.
That's the time my alarm clock went off in my hostel dorm room.
Although I'd been soundly asleep (wearing earplugs, no less), the instant my alarm begins its shrill chime, I spray awake. I immediately grab for my phone and silence the alarm before it wakes anyone else in the room.
This was a skill I had honed by sleeping in a dorm room every night for the past three months. The number of roommates always varied from hostel to hostel. Sometimes there was only one other person, which was actually more awkward. On this particular night, I was staying in a 12 person room in the Thonglor section of Bangkok.
Despite the early wake-up, I'm wired. I'm going home. I have an impending flight (well, flights) in only a few hours. Final destination? Home. Pittsburgh.
Already dressed, I slip out of the pitch-black dorm room, dragging my pre-packed bag behind me. After spending a few moments collecting myself hallway (a.k.a. the only place I can turn on the lights and make noise), I tip-toe down to the lobby.
Despite my attempt to muffle my moves, the night receptionist hears me coming, and watches me approach the desk from across the room.
"I called your cab," he confirms. "It should be here in 25 minutes."
"Thank you, that's perfect," I reply. "I'm just going to grab one last thing."
Before he can respond, I leave my suitcase in the empty lobby and sail out of the front door. Without my bag weighing me down, 25 minutes is just enough time for a final adventure.
Out the door, I cruise through the hostel's private courtyard and spill onto the city block that I had become my block in Bangkok. Well seasoned in the route, I immediately turn on my heels and continue walking.
As usual, I see no one else on the street. While Bangkok is normally pulsing at any hour, my block is residential and quiet. At this early hour, it feels like I'm breaking the seal on a stillness that had been hanging in the air for hours.
That being said... it's still Bangkok. Just around the corner, life continues to weave its way through the city. Lights. Noises. Smells. Directly in front of me, a stream of people march like ants up the stairs to a metro platform. Above them, trains whiz by, making a late night/early morning runs.
Still in a hurry, I run past the platform and join a small crowd of people waiting to cross the street. After a few seconds, the automated crosswalk signals that the coast is clear to step into the road.
This is one thing I certainly won't miss - trying to cross the street in a foreign country.
Safely across the six-lane road, my destination is nigh. Its tacky neon sign glows before me. Eager to achieve my mission, I race to the door and step inside.
It feels like I'm crashing into a wall of air-conditioning. Despite my rush, I pause momentarily, intoxicated by the cool air. The temperature has not dipped below 90 degrees the entire time I've been in Bangkok.
I pause in the doorway and scan the inside of the 7-Eleven, surveying my kingdom.
I have arrived.
Out of instinct, I retreat to the cooler box and grab at prepackaged, refrigerated sandwich from the shelf. I walk up to the register and hand over the package. Without saying a word, the employee opens it and tosses the ham & cheese sandwich onto the panini press.
While it "cooks," I give the shop a final walk through, marveling at all of the foreign snacks. As I stare at and sushi flavored chips and cookies & cream baby formula, I hear the sizzle of the American cheese melting onto the warm grill.
For backpackers in Thailand, 7-Eleven Ham & Cheese "Toasties" are rocket fuel. Whenever you're feeling tired, hungry, or poor (or all three), there's always a warm, comforting sandwich waiting at 7-Eleven. It also only costs $0.75 USD. And it tastes like home.
The transaction ends as quickly as it began. The employee hands me my sandwich in a sturdy foil envelope, and I rush back out the door.
Walking back to my hostel, I take bite of my prize. As I sink my teeth into the crunchy bread, I think of all the times I've enjoyed a sandwich like this on my trip...
Weary from an overnight bus... broke from a day of frivolous spending... lost in a strange part of Chiang Mai... hanging with new friends in Chiang Rai...searching for a bank in Bangkok.... trying to find a hostel in Pai.
A 7-Eleven Ham & Cheese Toastie was in my hand (or my belly) during all of these adventures.
By the time I make it back to the hostel, I've already finished the sandwich and disposed of the evidence.
"Until we meet again," I think to myself as my cab to the airport pulls up, and I sling my backpack over shoulder.
Click to read: The 51 Rules of Backpacking
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