After a few days of hiking in Thailand, we were about to start the biking portion of the tour. The hotel breakfast was sparse and served instant coffee. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, the 15 of us were fitted for our bicycles.
We left the hotel, and we were soon riding through rice fields. I was so excited about this part because I had seen pictures online of previous tours riding bikes through the fields, and it looked so beautiful and unique. Just like with hiking, I fell to the back of the pack. This time, Neil was often with me. We were in awe of our surroundings and liked to stop and take pictures. Sak, one of the guides, was in the back with us.
I loved the symmetry of the squares that bordered sections of the fields. The bright green neon blades of baby rice looked so delicate in the still water. I couldn’t believe how tedious it must be to plant and harvest the rice by hand. Occasionally, we saw workers in the field who would wave and smile.
I was grateful that I brought some padded bike shorts as we pedaled along the bumpy dirt roads. The bikes had suspension, which also helped with bumps and potholes. The sun was brightly shining. Riding the bike gave us a nice breeze. After the rice fields, we rode through a forest to kayak on a lake.
It was close to lunchtime, and it would take an hour and a half to paddle to a floating restaurant. My roommate Nicole and I shared a kayak, and I sat in the back. I was so thrilled because my first REI Adventures trip was to Norway for hiking and kayaking. We kayaked through the fjords for five days, which was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The kayak was the “sit on top” type, and there wasn’t much room for my long legs, so my paddle kept hitting my knees. I had to lift my paddle higher to avoid this, which let in more water than usual from the paddle.
Nicole and I were cruising along in the front. Slowly, it was getting harder and harder to paddle. We started to lose our balance and would tip too far to one side. It freaked me out, and I’d overcompensate by going too far the other way. I was confused. What was causing our sudden imbalance?
Just over halfway to the restaurant, I noticed the water bottle between my legs was floating in water inside the kayak. Concerned, I tried scooping the water out, but it didn’t seem to subside at all. The rolling of my water bottle made it worse, shifting the weight in the kayak. I told Nicole about the water, but she couldn’t see it because she was in front of me. I put my hand behind me and realized that section was full of water too.
A few people noticed something was wrong and paddled towards us. All of a sudden, a slight wave created a huge imbalance. I warned Nicole, “We’re going to flip.” And then we did.
Our kayak overturned, throwing us into the lake. We both quickly grabbed the upside-down kayak. The ones who paddled towards us were quickly there to assist us. Tri, our guide, jumped into the lake to help. He flipped the kayak back over, but it was still not empty of water.
I was embarrassed and confused as to what happened. I have been kayaking many times in much rougher waters and have never flipped. Cathy said she noticed water was filling up in the back a while before. Was I too heavy and sinking the kayak?
Tri looked all over the kayak and found that the plug on the bottom that is designed to drain any excess water that gets inside was broken, so water kept getting inside. He let us use his kayak so we could continue to the restaurant and he rode in a boat that was nearby.
It was difficult getting back into the kayak in the middle of a lake, but several others in our group held the kayak steady. I went in the front this time and had more legroom, enabling me to paddle lower and get less water inside.
I felt awful because Nicole was exhausted. When our kayak was sinking with excess water, we had to paddle extra hard. I was trying to get water out while she continued to paddle, so her arms were fatigued.
The sun dried us off a little bit, but thankfully we had swimsuits on under our clothes. When we got on to the restaurant’s platform, people were talking about our fiasco and wondering what happened. I tried to just brush it off as an adventure. But then I heard that Tri did not have his cell phone in a waterproof bag when he jumped in to help us. It wasn’t working and we were worried it was ruined. I felt awful and responsible. Thankfully, days later, it suddenly started working again!
The floating restaurant had a trampoline and a blow-up slide attached that ended in the water. Christian, Kristen, and Mimi walked along the foam pads and played on the trampoline for a while. I decided I wanted to try the slide, but nobody was there any longer. We had time before lunch was served, so I decided to go for it.
Kristen came to assist me with the floating foam pads. I have terrible balance and didn’t think I could make it to the slide by walking across the pads. Instead, I swam over, and she helped pull me up to the mat. They had learned the hard way that the slide needed water. We filled up a bottle from the lake, and once I climbed the stairs, Kristen handed me the bottle. I poured it down the slide and slid into the lake. It was a blast! I loved it so much, I went down two more times. A few others cheered me on, but they didn’t want to get wet.
We ate a fresh lunch and relaxed for a little while. To get back to our bikes, we took Long Boats. The small, narrow boats are so close to the water that I sometimes felt the mist. It was a beautifully clear day and the boats were a lot of fun.
Once we were back at our bikes, we changed out of our swimwear and continued biking. After having a break from biking, my butt felt sore, and my knee was hurting. Once we started riding again, I warmed up a bit.
After leaving the lake, we rode on a closed-off paved street and then down a huge hill. Sak, one of the guides, was in the back with me. He’s young and enthusiastic. He said, “You look like a professional.” The day prior, he teased me when I stopped to take pictures. He would playfully say, “Let’s go!” I would respond, “I’m coming. I’m coming!” As we rode across the paved road, I asked him how to say “I’m coming! I’m coming!” in Thai. He taught me, and we repeated it dramatically over and over so I could get it just right.
After the huge hill, we were back in the rice fields. Sak told me that the bright green baby rice is there for one month, and then it’s moved to another location for another three months before it’s ready. They plant rice twice a year. I asked how much they sell it for, and he said it depends on the quality. The rain and sun play a big part. Thailand is one of the world’s biggest rice producers.
After the rice fields, we rode on a dirt road. Sak and I rode side by side, talking. I asked if he’s ever been to the U.S., and he responded, “Only in my dreams.” “What is it like in your dreams?” I asked. He laughed, “Cold.”
I explained to Sak that only about half of the U.S. gets snow. He’s never seen snow before, and curiously asked, “How do you get rid of the snow?” I explained that cities have snow plows, people shovel their driveways, and sometimes things are closed because of snow. In the end, it all melts when spring comes.
We arrived back at the hotel and Sak said, “Thank you for teaching me.” I was enjoying this newfound friendship. There were a few people in our group who wanted to ride bikes longer, so they went back out. I had been eyeing the pool and convinced Tien to choose the pool over an extended ride.
When I arrived at the pool, nobody was there. The sun had just set behind the building, and the water felt frigid. I didn’t care. The large, clear, clean pool looked so enticing! There were water features luxuriously spilling into the pool. After days of hiking and biking, I deserved some excess.
Shortly after I arrived, Nancy showed up and did some laps. As she was leaving, Tien showed up. We discovered jets on the side that felt like a back massage. We sat there talking about life.
Tien had worked hard to become a psychiatrist, and he was nervous about going into the insurance side of things. He would be starting his new job shortly after returning home. It’s always difficult to start something new and no longer be an expert.
Tien thought it was great that I was traveling for so long, and he told me about his previous adventures and desire to travel more. He has a wife and two young children at home, which makes it harder. He understood how I felt before leaving corporate America, and he was really encouraging as he supported my decision to travel long-term.
It was getting close to dinner time, so we went back to our rooms to shower. After meeting everyone in the lobby, we walked down the dark dirt road to the same restaurant we ate at the night before. We picked up the laundry that we had left, and it was all fresh and clean. The dinner was delicious as usual.
On the walk back to the hotel, I talked with Neil. He asked me what the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far in eight months of travel are. I pondered the question, “Hmmm, that’s a tough question.” After thinking about it for a while, I had a few answers.
- I don’t like doing touristy things. I usually will go to some of the major sights, but I find myself getting bored easily because, after a while, it all looks the same. I was actively working on not going to places because I’m supposed to go, but going to places I wanted to actually see. I’ve realized I prefer to do outdoor activities (like hiking), and I enjoy the local places.
- I have also learned that I enjoy doing things by myself. I never go alone to a sit-down restaurant or a movie theatre at home, but I enjoy being solitary in new cities. Why is that?
Neil was insightful as we discussed the different ways to travel. He said, “That’s always the question. What is the real Thailand?” Thailand is diverse. The mountains and villages are the real Thailand. The touristy spots are the real Thailand. The cities are the real Thailand. The islands are the real Thailand.
I went to bed, reflecting on my travels. Neil had posed a great question. There isn’t one thing I can point to as my biggest lesson. There are so many small lessons. I’ve learned things about myself, about cities and countries, and about history. I’ve enjoyed the sites, the outdoor activities, new cultures, and most of all, the people. By far, people are nice, caring, helpful, and genuine – all over the world.
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