Looking at my last three or four years of travel, I’m amazed how far I’ve come as a traveler (Moscow, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Colombia, Vancouver, Mexico City, and more). I’m jealous of children that grow up traveling and can’t wait to one day tote my children around on amazing adventures. However, my mom hated travel. She needs to be tranquilized before stepping foot on a plane. My dad loves traveling, but I was never invited on “the big trips” (alpine hiking in Austria, Germany, heli-hiking in Canada). I am grateful that I was able to take a decent amount of vacations in my childhood, but to the “tamest” of places. A lot of Florida. A lot of ski trips in Colorado. One cruise. A lot of California. Even my country of choice of studying abroad (Australia) was pretty safe.
However, something changed in Australia. I hate the phrase “bit by the travel bug,” I really do. But I believe in travel bugs and they are similar to bed bugs (which I DO have experience with) and when they bite, they leave a mark (hopefully not an itchy, red one). In Australia, my friends were mostly from Europe and traveled A LOT. It blew my mind how many places they had been and I was hit by a mix of jealousy and inspiration. So, when Michelle mentioned there were great deals on flights to Bangkok, I was sold. Bought my ticket, told my loving (i.e. worrying) mother about the upcoming trip, and received a slightly un-kosher vaccine in a friend’s dining room.
After talking with Michelle about her travel plans, we decided to do our own thing while in Thailand. We would be in Thailand more or less at the same time, but wouldn’t be “together.” Hiking was something top at my list, so I arranged a two-week hiking trip through Gecko’s, a good grassroots travel tour group based in Australia. I wasn’t ready to fully dive into my first solo adventure in Thailand
sans plans, so it was comforting to have people to meet at the hostel after a wild taxi ride through Bangkok. The group was a mix from Canada, Australia, Scotland, and US and our guide was quite possible the greatest travel guide on the planet, Samart Srisoda. We learned a lot about Samart’s seven years living in a Buddhist temple as a novice monk and his kind smile and jokes kept us all motivated and sane during some hiking hell. I still laugh when I think about his habit of calling girls “spicy.”
The adventure began in Bangkok, where we boarded an overnight train to Chiang Mai. I am normally a big fan of trains, but every minute I was on that train I wanted to die. I felt sick, the bathroom was an overflowing squat toilet, and the only snack I brought was a pack of “crackers” that turned out to be freeze-dried shrimp. When we safely arrived to the hiking location, we were warned of the massive amounts of leeches past hikers had been dealing with.. horror stories of leeches climbing through layers of clothing and clinging to unsavory bits of the body. Oh, and did I mention the massive rain storms? No wonder the flights are cheaper in rainy season! I was beginning to cringe as we began the hike and saw the sign saying “Have a Good Trip.”
We hit a couple rough patches, but every day seemed to get better. The people we met, the Chang we drank at the end of the day, and views of the Chiang Mai mountains and countryside were worth it. Camping and cooking with generous Thai families was an amazing experience. We worked hard and played hard, with brief breaks from trekking to ride elephants, paddle down rivers on bamboo rafts, and tell stories around the campfires at night. The night we returned to the city, I think we were all relieved to take a shower and celebrate with unidentified fishbowls of alcohol. I had an unfortunate “slip” in a public toilet (terrifying in a squat toilet), but could only rinse my sandals off and laugh about it after having a handful of shocking experiences in Thailand already. The group took the train back to Bangkok together and all parties split. I had almost a week left in Thailand, no plans, 3 Thai phrases, and no tour guide. When asked for a recommendation, Samart said, “Spicy need beach relaxing on Krabi island. Best beach, spicy men, and rockclimbing.” Sold. I took a flight, a shaky boat, and arrived… on the wrong island, Railey. Everything turned out alright, as most things do while traveling.
I met a scientist from California and we joined forces to invest in a nice “hotel” room after encountering creepy crawlies in the hostel beds. I realized how easy it is to meet people while traveling and enjoyed my time with her and my time exploring on my own. Rockclimbing, kayaking, island-hopping, cheap manicures, and laying on the beach sipping coconut water were how I spent the rest of my days on my first solo adventure.
I learned a lot about the joys of traveling alone, Thai food, and how to handle not-so-great, yet inevitable, travel occurrences (stomach bugs, bed bugs, and stolen credit cards). Looking past the negatives, I was hooked. I would much rather deal with the consequences of getting bit by the travel bug than dealing with bed bugs (even though the former is much more costly) any day.