Days 240-241: “You’ve Never Met Anyone Like Us, I Promise You That”

It was super early in the morning and time for an ATV ride. I was ready and waiting in my workout clothes for the van. After picking me up, the driver pulled up to a nice resort and three fit, attractive guys walked towards us. I was suddenly aware that I was in workout clothes with a baseball hat on.

The van had two long seats facing forward and then two long seats in the back that faced each other. The driver put the guys in the back after they tried to get in the side. I turned around and smiled and one said, “We got booted to the back” in an accent. We had an hour drive to the mountains where the tour would start, so I turned around and asked if they were from Australia.

The guys told me they were from England, just outside of London. They had flown to Bangkok for two days and only arrived in Chiang Mai the day prior. They were so hungover from Bangkok, they hadn’t seen any of Chaing Mai yet because they spent the day recovering at the resort.

I asked their names: David, Harry, and Charlie. I laughed, “Are you guys in a boy band like One Direction?” They were not a boy band – they were just friends. Harry had blonde, wavy hair just above his shoulder with part of it pulled back into a ponytail. Charlie had short dark hair and a small amount of facial hair. Dave had wavy, short brown hair with volume on top and several tattoos.

Dave and Charlie worked in heating and cooling and Harry worked in golf course landscape. They were all on holiday for a couple of weeks. After two weeks, Dave and Charlie would fly back to London while Harry would continue to travel for the next month.

Harry planned to go to Vietnam after Thailand, which was my next destination. He didn’t have anything booked like I didn’t, so he could have the flexibility to move around his location and dates. In April, he would fly to London for a few days and then to the U.S. to do an eight month internship at a golf course.

Harry had travelled solo to Australia two years prior and I planned to go there after Vietnam. We talked all about Australia and he suggested places to see and things to do. I didn’t know how old the guys were, but I figured they were in their late 20s.

When we arrived at the outdoor tour agency, I found out there was a hike and rafting available too. The other group of people we picked up were only doing rafting, and the guys from England were doing the hike to a waterfall and the ATV tour. I only signed up for the ATV tour. The hike sounded great so I paid extra and joined. As I was putting my bag in a locker, Harry ran over to say goodbye and I said, “Wait for me, I’m coming on the hike too!”

It was a quick ride to the start of the hike. It was me, the three English guys, and a couple from the U.S. I wasn’t prepared to hike, so I didn’t have my backpack. Harry offered to carry my water bottle on the side of his backpack. I left my sunglasses in the locker and Charlie let me use his. We had to cross a few logs over rivers and Dave held my hand to help me across.

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The guys were so friendly and hiking without a backpack was much easier. It was beautiful outside, but getting hot. The guys hiked without shirts and I worried they’d get sunburned. They asked me if I got my jabs before coming to Thailand. Confused, I asked what jabs are. They mimicked a needle going into the side of the arm. “Oh! Vaccines!” I told them I got hepatitis A and tetanus shots and they really hurt. Harry couldn’t get in the clinic in time because you need a couple of weeks for the vaccines to take effect.

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The guys smoked cigarettes on the trail several times. I told them, “I’ve never met someone who smokes on a hike.” Harry laughed, “You’ve never met anyone like us, I promise you that!” That would be an accurate way to describe this crew. During the hike, the guys crudely talked about partying and women. Perhaps they’re younger than I thought.

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We arrived at the waterfall and got in to enjoy the cold water. While we sat on rocks, I talked with the couple from the U.S. They were from New Jersey and appeared to be in their late 20s. They both had recently quit their jobs to travel for two months before moving to Philadelphia. They didn’t have jobs lined up, but were confident they’d find them once they were settled.

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Once the hike was finished, we sat outside at small tables and ate chicken and rice. The guys told me to join their table, which was nice. Before I ate, I told the guys that I was concerned about two bug bites that I had gotten a week before while on the nine-day hiking and biking tour. I thought they were mosquito bites just below my left knee on the inside. I showed the area to the guys and they were concerned. The redness and swelling had spread to a large area and was hot. The two bites were clearly marked with dots as well.

I asked the owner if he had any allergy medicine. He looked shocked and said that he didn’t know what I was bitten by, but it definitely wasn’t a mosquito. He gave me some Claritin and some cream. Charlie gave me some Afterbite for the itch. He said his mom made him bring it. Thank you Charlie’s mom.

Harry told me that maybe we could travel together a little bit in Vietnam once the others went home. We all connected on social media so we could stay in touch.

Lunch was over and it was now time for ATV riding. We put on arm and knee pads to help protect us. First, we all had to ride a small section of very bumpy, hilly, terrible terrain so they could gauge our experience level. Once that was complete, we rode on a paved street for a little bit until we reached the mountain. The six of us followed the guide up the mountain.

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The mountain was extremely steep. The windy dirt road was filled with large cracks and ditches that were created by runoff. I was worried I would flip to the side because it was so uneven, or maybe I’d accidentally drive off the side of the mountain. But I didn’t want to be the one to hold up the group, so I kept up. Our tires kicked up the dust in huge plumes.

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We arrived at a lookout point and stopped to take in the view. It was incredible! The thick green trees covered the surrounding mountains. I was extremely happy to feel the wind and adrenaline.

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We arrived at the top, where a small village sits. The residents had electricity from solar panels on their roofs. We walked around the village and saw a very basic school and stray dogs. We also checked out a homestay, which was similar to ones I stayed in the week prior, then we headed back down the mountain.

On the way down, we passed elephants being walked by their owners and a pickup truck full of people standing in the back. They held onto the bars that surrounded the truck and I couldn’t believe the truck was attempting to climb the mountain on that road. We pulled our machines over as far as we could so they could safely pass. The people smiled, waved, and were taking pictures of us. One small child said, “So cool!” I guess we looked like professionals with all of our padding on.

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Once we reached the bottom of the mountain, we drove through a village and passed military personnel carrying large guns over their shoulders. They were there for training. We drove down some small sand dunes and got to drive in the river! Water splashed around us as our machines rushed through.

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We drove on a road following the river and saw several people bathing their elephants in the river. The sun was starting to set and we had beautiful views. We stopped to take it all in. The guide told me that most people either get to ride the village at the bottom or climb the mountain. We were able to do both because we rode fast and were all capable of handling the machines. He said, “You have a good group.” Shortly after, Charlie broke his third machine from doing too many tricks.

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Dust covered our faces – a sign of a good time. We got back and returned the ATVs. Then we boarded the van to go back to Chaing Mai. The guys talked about going to see the nightlife and I asked if I could join. They said, “The more the merrier.”

After showering and getting ready, I met the guys at a restaurant at 10:30 pm. They were just finishing dinner outside. Dave bought me a beer and we enjoyed the night air. Then we walked to the place next door. There were several bars and clubs next to each other and some had outside areas that just blended in with the street.

We got drinks and stood on the street, watching all of the party people dance under the covered section. There were a lot of tourists and “lady-boys.” The guys told me they had to be careful that a lady-boy didn’t fool them. I asked how they can tell. They pointed to one and said, “That’s a lady-boy. He’s too tall and has big boobs.” I replied, “So women are short and have small boobs?” They told me they have to look at the forearm to confirm because men have different forearms than women. Lady-boys are common in Thailand and I’ve been told that families will transition boys to girls as young as seven so they can earn money.

We walked to a reggae bar down the street that had a live band. They closed shortly after we arrived, so we walked to another club. To get there, we had to walk down a dark alleyway. I told Harry that it was ok because I carry a small pocket knife. He was surprised and told the others. I told them, “I’m a solo female traveler. Yes, I carry protection.”

The cub was crowded with tourists and played a lot of music that you’d hear in a club in the U.S. After getting drinks, we stood on the side of the dance floor. The guys kept going outside to smoke and I stayed inside. Harry assured me they wouldn’t leave me, they were just going outside to smoke and they’d be back.

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I noticed an aggressive drunk guy hitting on a couple of girls who seemed to be annoyed by him. It was so crowded that it was hard to move, so the girls couldn’t just walk away. I decided to intervene and help them out.

I wedged my way in between the guy and the girls and asked if they wanted the guy to stop hitting on them. They told me they did not want to talk to the guy, but he wouldn’t leave them alone. I used my height and blocked the guy. One of the girls was Minhee, from Korea. She thanked me for helping them and we laughed that the guy seemed confused as to what was happening. She was traveling solo to Bangkok and Phuket like I would be, so we stayed in touch to possibly meet up at a later date.

As I stood on the side of the dance floor against a half-wall to an upper platform, a very tall, young drunk guy with blonde hair kept trying to hit on me. I wasn’t interested in him and attempted to give several hints that I wasn’t. However, the guy leaned in and was in my personal space. I took a step back and said, “no.” I motioned to Charlie nearby and he said, “You only live once. You’re traveling.” I told him I wasn’t interested.

Then the guy leaned in and tried to kiss me. I backed up, but I hit the wall and couldn’t back up any further. It was too crowded to move to my right and the guy kept leaning in. I quickly turned my head and he kissed my ear with his wet mouth. I reached and grabbed Charlie’s shirt for help. Charlie pushed the guy away and I was able to get away.

A little bit later, I was people-watching and a tall German guy started talking to me. He was friendly, smart, and funny. He pointed to a really tall guy and said, “My friend over there really likes you. He saw you push that guy away and said you must have a personality. He’s really shy. You gotta make a move. He likes you a lot.” I explained to the guy that I briefly talked to his friend, but he stopped talking and ended up several feet away, talking to other people. He convinced me to talk to his friend again. Eventually I made my way towards him, but shortly after I somehow got pulled away.

Harry found me and apologized for being gone so long. They ran into a guy from their hometown outside smoking and lost track of time. Eventually the club closed, so I walked out with Harry, Dave, and Charlie.

As we walked down a dark alley, there weren’t many people around because it was past 2:00 am. We heard some people getting closer behind us and Harry quietly said, “You still have that knife? Maybe get it ready just in case.” We made it just fine and ended up on a main street near the river. We saw two girls and two guys talking by the river and we joined them.

The girls, Holly and Violet, were from London and had just met the two American guys from New York. Holly was super sweet and we talked about our travels. Violet would go back to London before Holly and she’d travel to the southern Islands solo. We agreed to stay in touch and hopefully meet up later. While she squeezed my hand, Holly said she loved my accent and wanted me to keep talking. Finally someone liked my accent!

Holly asked me if the three guys I was with were decent guys. I told her they were a little wild, but they had been sweet to me. She said, “We only started talking to them because you were with them. I figured they couldn’t be that bad if a girl was with them.” Holly and Violet were beautiful women in their late 20s and super sweet. I realized the guys from New York and my new British guy friends were all interested in the girls and fighting for their attention.

It was now just after 3:00 am and we all realized we needed to leave the street and go somewhere. The New York guys tried to convince the girls to go back to their hotel, while the British guys tried to make a case for their hotel to continue to party. The girls asked for my advice and I said I preferred the British guys. The New York guys had just insulted Violet’s hair and the girls were offended, so they decided not to go with them. Then they realized they had an elephant tour in the morning that they didn’t want to miss, so they went back to their hotel down the street.

The British guys walked to a Tuk Tuk and said, “Christy, let’s go. Come back with us.” I figured, why not? Dave sat on a tiny seat by the Tuk Tuk driver. I sat on the back seat with Charlie to my left and Harry to my right. I put my arms around them to keep them inside because Charlie kept leaning out. I had wanted to ride in a Tuk Tuk since arriving in Thailand, but hadn’t yet. The wind felt awesome in the night sky and the guys made me laugh.

When we arrived at their hotel resort, they asked the front desk for beer and to my surprise, the staff brought cans of beer to their room. They played music while Charlie danced in a green silk robe and his underwear. Then Harry was in his underwear dancing around. The guys kept going to the balcony to smoke while I relaxed.

Dave and I talked about our past relationships. He asked how old I was because he noticed I said I had been married for ten years. I told him my age and asked how old they all were. He was 25, Charlie was 24, and Harry was 23. Wow, I felt old. I thought, “Is this inappropriate that I’m hanging out with these guys?” Then I realized men hang out with younger women all the time. Why can’t I do the same?

At some point in the early morning, the guys were all outside on the balcony smoking and I fell asleep. I woke up from the cold breeze coming inside and saw they were all asleep. Harry was next to me, Charlie was in a twin bed, and Dave was outside sleeping on chairs that he arranged so his legs were propped up. I thought it was nice they let me sleep, even though there wasn’t space.

I woke up again when their alarm went off. They had a flight to catch that morning to Phuket and I knew they needed to pack and leave soon. I had a splitting headache, so I said goodbye and left. We agreed to stay in touch and meet up on the islands in the south if we were there at the same time.

I got back to my Airbnb and crashed after taking some Excedrin. I missed a bike tour I signed up for, but I preferred to sleep. When I finally woke up, I did laundry and got some food, but spent most of the day recovering. I had a blast with my new British friends. They were fun, wild, funny, and were sweet to me. Every once in awhile, I like to enjoy a night where I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I had wanted to see the nightlife in Thailand, but didn’t want to be by myself. I was happy to have them to explore with. Harry was correct – I’ve never met anybody like them.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 239: Elephants in Thailand

I signed up for an elephant tour a couple of hours outside of Chaing Mai. I was instructed to meet at a nearby hotel that morning for a pickup because I was staying at an Airbnb. Apple maps did me wrong and I wandered through an alleyway working up a sweat in the 92 °F heat (with 42% humidity). I pulled my hair back, turned around, and eventually found the hotel.

As I waited for my ride, I reflected on the prices in Thailand. Things seemed to be priced inconsistently. For example, I was paying $20 a night for a studio apartment Airbnb, but the elephant tour cost $47. An ATV tour that I was signed up for the following day cost $114. Yet, I could buy a small plate of delicious cooked noodles on the street for $0.60. Coffee drinks seemed to universally be overpriced, mostly costing $2.50-$3.00.

Finally, the van arrived to take me to the elephant sanctuary. The other tourists were Chinese and German, so I couldn’t understand anything they were saying. The driver, the guy behind me, and one kid next to me coughed incessantly. I tried my best to hide away from them because I did not want to get sick in Thailand.

I chose this elephant sanctuary because they don’t offer rides. My understanding is that the places that offer rides treat the animals poorly. This sanctuary does its best to treat the animals well while also giving visitors the opportunity to get up close and personal with the elephants.

On the drive there, the driver told us about the elephants in Thailand.

  • There are 4,000 domestic elephants and 3,000 wild elephants.
  • In the early 2000s, there were companies that had elephants playing basketball and football, but they’ve stopped that now.
  • Elephants eat every half hour to every hour, so they require a lot of food.
  • Asian elephants are smaller than the African elephants.

We arrived at the sanctuary and it was organized chaos. Tourists piled out of several vans and were told which group they’d be apart of. We were all instructed to change our clothes into the scrubs with bright prints that they provided. They said it helped the elephants to remain calm if everyone was wearing the same outfit and one they were used to seeing.

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After putting on the unflattering clothing, my group of 20 or so headed to the first group of elephants. There were tourists from China, Australia, Israel, Spain, and Germany, but no other Americans.

The tour guide demonstrated how to feed the elephants. We were each given a small cloth bag that hung on our shoulder and contained sticks of thick bamboo. There were a few elephants and the guide showed us how to hold the small stick out with our hand so the elephant could grab it with his trunk.

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I was a little nervous because elephants are very large animals and once they see the bamboo, they come over pretty quickly. I put my hand out with the stick and an elephant grabbed it with its trunk and chomped loudly while looking for more. We had a lot of sticks in our pouches, so I gathered with about five people as we took turns feeding one of the elephants. It was so much fun to be that close! I patted the side of the elephant and felt the rough, hairy skin. I was still nervous to get too close.

Once our sticks were gone, we walked over to a cart with long branches of bamboo. We stuck each piece out and let the elephant grab it, take off the leafy parts, and drop the parts they didn’t like.

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After that, we walked over to a section with tables. We mashed together wet food into balls and were able to stick it directly on the tongue. The elephants seemed to really like those. Once those were gone, the elephants got into a small pond, laid down, and let us brush them and pour water over them. Elephants don’t sweat, so they need a reprieve from the Thai heat. We all got into the pond with them and covered the elephants with water as they relaxed.

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I thoroughly enjoyed feeding and bathing the elephants. They are gentle giants who have sweet souls. It was time to say goodbye to our new friends and change out of our uniforms. Once dressed again, we met in an outdoor covered patio for some fruit refreshments.

I sat next to two young couples – one from Spain and one from Israel. The couple from Spain was beautiful and looked like they were out of a magazine. The woman had lots of makeup and fake eyelashes, which looked out of place at the elephant sanctuary.

I talked with the couple from Israel for a little bit – Reny and Mark. When I said I was from the U.S., Reny pointed out that our presidents were good friends and she was glad the U.S. is supportive of Israel. I asked her what it was like living in Israel and told her that I have a friend who has family from Israel, but she grew up in the U.S. She recently moved to Israel a couple years ago. Reny said, “Yes, a lot of people have a love-hate relationship with Israel. They leave and come back.”

Reny described life as being difficult in Israel at times because it can be violent and sometimes they have terrorist attacks. The green line is where Palestinians and Jews live because they both believe it is their land. Reny lives in a small city near the green line between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I told her my friend lived in Tel Aviv and while rolling her eyes, she said, “It’s the trendiest and hippest city there.”

Reny and I talked about the oil and gas in the area. She said, “We believe the U.S. doesn’t like when it’s loud in the Middle East because gas prices go up. When it’s quiet, gas is cheap.” Reny was upset at their recent hike in electricity costs, which increased by 10%.

I was really enjoying getting to know Reny better. We talked about travels and hiking, and she told me about a hiking trail in Israel that goes from the north to the south and takes two months to hike. We couldn’t finish our conversation because we were all called to get on to our busses, and she was in a different bus.

It was a good day. I was able to meet elephants and meet new people. One of the nice things about traveling solo is that people are more willing to talk to me because I’m not already involved in a conversation with the person I came with. I loved that I was meeting people from all over the world. Even though I was in Thailand, I was learning about countries like Taiwan and Israel from fellow travelers.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 235-236: Joy

It was our final full day of the REI Adventures tour in Thailand. The morning was warm with a cool breeze. Seven of us walked to a nearby village (Nicole, Cathy, Terri, Kristen, Christian, and Neil). We passed a school and continued walking down the dirt road.

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We arrived at the very small village and locals were there to greet us. Several of the women started to put out their hand-made goods in hopes that we’d buy some. As they set up, we walked around the village.

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I was shocked at how basic each house was. Built with thin bamboo walls and floors, the houses were a foot off the ground to withstand flooding. One woman was washing things in a bowl. The village was similar to ones we had stayed in – no plumbing.

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A few of the homes were abandoned. Stray dogs roamed through the streets. We each bought a couple of small items, mostly to help support the villagers. They were so friendly, with big smiles on their faces. Neil walked over to me and gave me a threaded bracket, “You can put this on your backpack to help identify it. I got one for you, Nicole, and myself – the three solo travelers.” It was such a sweet gesture and the bracelet still adorns my backpack.

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As we walked back to our eco lodge, I thought about how grateful I am that we have running water, plumbing, and electricity in the U.S. Even if I end up in a small apartment again one day, I will be grateful for four walls and these amenities. Many people around the world live without them.

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The cooking class was held under the pavilion at the ecolodge. I paired up with Nicole and Cathy. The chef taught us how to cook several meals with fresh food. I’m not the best cook, so I was happy to have Nicole and Cathy. Each meal was delicious and surprisingly easy to prepare.

After the class, we loaded into the vans to drive back to Chaing Mai. I fell asleep during the drive, but after an hour, I was woken by the sudden urge to use the toilet. After attempting (unsuccessfully) to communicate with the driver about stopping to use the restroom, I held it until we arrived at the temple. I made him stop at the entrance where I saw a restroom and literally ran to it.

The temple was beautiful and laden with lots of gold. There was an option to have a conversation with a monk. It’s an opportunity to learn about Buddhism, and for the monks to practice their English. Our group walked around and then boarded the van to head to another temple.

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One van went back to the hotel instead. There were elephant statues around the second temple and it was huge. We walked around outside and learned about some of the history and restoration efforts before going back to the hotel. There was also a sleeping Buddha, which is the second largest in the world (the biggest is in Bangkok).

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After showering for our final farewell dinner, Nicole and I went to the pool and enjoyed some happy-hour drinks. Then we all boarded the vans again for dinner on a riverboat.

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Our group was the only one on the boat. Servers took our drink orders and brought out food before we started to cruise down the river. It was a beautiful night  and a perfect way to end the trip.

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We all had so much fun telling stories about the trip, drinking wine, and telling each other what our plans were for the following days once the trip was complete. We even had karaoke. Scott and Steve sang some songs, which provided great entertainment. Clark gave a beautiful speech, thanking Tri for providing a great tour and giving him our pooled tips as a thank-you.

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My birthday was the next day, so they all sang Happy Birthday to me. It’s funny how 15 complete strangers can spend nine days together. Eating meals together, sleeping in the same room, hiking, biking, and experiencing a new culture together. I think it’s inevitable that people will have moments of not agreeing. I’m sure there are moments that I annoyed people. But in that moment on the riverboat, all I felt was joy.

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Each person had something to contribute and a life story of their own. I loved getting to know each of them. As we drank and listened to karaoke, I could feel tears welling in my eyes and thought, “What a beautiful thing. All of us are forever a part of each other’s story.” I am happy to have gotten to know them and to have spent my first week in Thailand with them. I hope to have made life-long friends during that trip.

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Once diner was finished, we said goodbye to Mimi and Lisa because they had a very early morning flight and would miss breakfast. Mimi is a firecracker, full of life and opinions. She was always very encouraging of my travels and I appreciated her support. Lisa had stories of adventures she’s been on – one where she passed out on a bike trail in Europe and was helicoptered to a hospital! We said our goodbyes and wished each other well.

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It was also time to say goodbye to Tri, our guide. He was a nice guy, taught us a lot, and did a good job handling our different personality types. He worked extremely hard to make sure we were all comfortable, well fed, and safe. He also threw in jokes at random times, keeping us on our toes.

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One of the vans went to the night market. Tien, Nicole, Neil, Scott, Andrea and I all walked around together, enjoying the booths and nightlife. I bought a few items that I thought were small enough to fit in my bag. When we returned, we said goodbye to Neil because he’d leave very early for a flight as well.

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I was sad to say goodbye to Neil. He had told me about his wife who had passed away many years ago and his son. He was retired and had a sense of adventure that I admired. He also had a peaceful, calming, sweet spirit. He was always so genuine and I loved talking with him.

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The next morning, the rest of us (except for Cathy and Terri) ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It was the same hotel we stayed at for the first two nights. Nicole suggested that we each say what our favorite part of the trip was. I enjoyed hearing everyone’s perspective. The answers ranged from biking, hiking, getting to see remote villages and rice fields, and of course meeting the people. Clark said everyone has encouraged him and he’s enjoyed hearing about all of their activities and adventures. I agree. Everyone had an impressive, adventurous spirit.

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They all wished me a happy 39th birthday. We hugged goodbye and most people headed to the airport to catch flights home or to other destinations.

I said goodbye to Nancy and Steve. They’re level-headed, outdoorsy, and kind. Steve turned on his cell service, even though he was getting charged for data, to see how far away we were from the temple when I had to suddenly use the restroom. That’s the type of people they both are. He instinctively did what he could to help me.

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Christian and Kristen are one of the cutest couples I’ve met. They support and care for each other, setting a great example of what a healthy relationship looks like. They were so much fun to hang out with and kept me company in the back of the line when hiking.

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Clark and Tien were the comedy duo. They cracked jokes at each other and made all of us laugh many times. Clark kept things light-hearted and enjoyable. He is humble and his wisdom will be cherished. Tien and I had many great conversations about life and understood each other. I was so happy they were along for the trip.

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I got teary-eyed when saying goodbye to Nicole. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate. She helped me carry my bags at times and gave me her leftover sunscreen because I lost mine. She was always thoughtful, caring, and respectful. I have so many good memories of us laughing as we fell asleep. We have a lot in common and I am honored to call her a friend.

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I put on my swimsuit and headed to the gorgeous  pool. As enticing as it looked, the water was cold! Even though it was hot and humid outside, it was hard to get used to the frigid temperature. The pool wrapped around the middle of the property past the guest rooms. It wasn’t very deep, so I just walked along and enjoyed the vegetation. Then I saw Scott and Andrea doing laps around the pool. We talked for a bit and then they continued to get a few more laps in before check-out.

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Scott and Andrea are smart, athletic, successful people. But they never bragged or made me feel bad for not being as athletic as them. They were kind and generous. They were going to check into another hotel in Chiang Mai and had hired a guide to take them on a trail run in the mountains that was more than 20 kilometers.

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I decided the water was too cold, so I sat at the swim-up bar. I was the only one there. I ordered fruit and ice cream inside of a pineapple and a drink. I was happy that I was celebrating my birthday in Thailand. I got a late check-out for the hotel and enjoyed a bubble bath before finally leaving. I hoped it would help my swollen ankles. They had been painfully swollen since I arrived in Thailand.

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My next place was an Airbnb on the other side of the city. I took a Grab (it’s like Uber) and met the owner of the studio apartment. She gave me the key and I gave her cash since Airbnb mistakenly cancelled my reservation. The apartment was great! It was newly remodeled and had everything I needed. For $23 a night, I couldn’t beat it.

I started some laundry and had to line dry my clothes on the balcony since they don’t have dryers there. I took a brief nap and then met Cathy and Terri for dinner and to explore the night market. I ordered a Grab using their app and the driver was listening to Adele in concert on a built-in tv screen monitor. He was singing along and said he loves Adele. Adele breaks international language barriers – the language of love.

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I was so happy when Cathy gave me my phone charger that I had left in my hotel room. We walked around to several shops on the narrow streets while Cathy searched for deodorant. It was hard to find one she was familiar with. Terri had re-injured a bad ankle and it was very swollen. She was struggling to walk, so we took a taxi to a restaurant.

We sat outside by the river and enjoyed the night. Terri told me about an adventure she had when hiking to base camp on Mount Everest. She was with a group on the day they got the massive earthquake of 7.8 magnitude in 2015, which destroyed most of the area. They were only about two hours from base camp and had just packed up from eating lunch. All of sudden, the earthquake struck, creating an avalanche. A guide grabbed her to try and protect her as the snow came rushing at them.

The avalanche knocked them over, but thankfully they were ok. Many people died that day at base camp and if she had been on schedule, she would have been there. I was fascinated by her story. She explained how it took days to be evacuated and when they finally were, the city below was demolished.

Cathy, Terri, and I talked about our next travel plans. They were headed to the elephant sanctuary the next day. Because it was my birthday, they got two pieces of cake and we all shared. They also paid for my dinner. I was so happy I didn’t have to spend my birthday alone. Every year, I tend to get emotional around my birthday. Maybe it’s because it’s the day before Valentine’s Day, but I tend to get sad. That day I wasn’t sad. I was happy to celebrate with friends and I was excited about my upcoming adventures.

After browsing the night market, I said goodbye to Terri and Cathy. Cathy is responsible and at times can be strict with herself. I loved when I’d see her smile and loosen up. She has a good heart and I was happy to spend time with her. Terri is full of adventure and had a lot of stories of travels around the world.

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If you’re interested in doing the REI Adventures tour, here’s a link to the one that I did. I recommend the tours because they provide all of the food, accommodations, guides, and a lot of the equipment you’ll need. REI Adventures has given me the opportunity to stay in remote places and hike on trails that I simply wouldn’t be able to do on my own.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 234: Biking in Thailand

Bike riding was on the schedule for day seven of my REI Adventures tour in Thailand. After riding bikes for more than 20 miles the day prior, my butt was sore. I put my padded bike shorts on again, which thankfully helped a lot.

After cycling up a large hill, we arrived at a Buddha statue. Tri told us about what the hands on the Buddha stand for: Stop Anger, Stop Sin, and Stop Suffering.

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The next destination was visiting a small isolated village where they host the Shambhala festival. The music festival has a reputation of heavy drug use and attracts people from all over the world. Tri told us that the Thai government looks the other way and the locals say it’s “hippies walking around like zombies.”

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We walked over to the hot tubs, which were wooden barrels filled with hot water from a nearby spring. Tri said we could put our feet inside if we liked. There were a few hippies inside the very small barrels, but their dirty dreadlocks and dirty skin made it unappealing so we all just walked away.

There was a small food cart selling ice cream and Tien bought a durian ice cream popsicle. He let people try it and after seeing a few people immediately spit it out in disgust, I decided not to try it. I smelled it and that alone was enough to make me dislike it. Durian is an extremely potent fruit. They make all sorts of things with durian flavor. However, it evokes such disgust that later I would see signs that said, “No Durian in hotel room.”

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We continued riding our bikes on the rough dirt roads. Occasionally the road was paved. Well, paved is a generous word. The amount of pot holes rivaled anything I’ve seen before. They were often deep and wide, making it an intense experience. The bike had suspension, so when the road was bumpy, I stood up to lesson the impact on my butt. I was having a blast! I felt like I was in an action-packed movie and felt really comfortable on the bike.

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We arrived at Wat Tham Chiang Dao caves. We entered the cave after climbing up several flights of stairs. It was beautiful, but extremely hot and humid. I was sweating within minutes. We stood in a huge room where two separate paths started. As the local guide gave us instructions for following them, I watched as sweat pooled on my arm in the humidity. It was so fascinating to watch pools just appear. I was so sweaty that if someone tried to grab me I would slip away no problem.

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There were hundreds of bats hovering above us. The local guides took us past a sign that warned of an intense route, which must be guided by the locals. Caves can be dangerous. You’re probably familiar with the group of kids and their coach that were trapped in a cave in 2018. That was in Thailand, but it was not this set of caves (although it wasn’t very far away). I felt safe knowing we had experienced guides.

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As we continued through the cave, we saw a giant spider on the side of a rock. It was bigger than my hand! He was just hanging out, so we casually walked by. Then the narrow section began. We had to duck down and climb through several sections.

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The caves were dark, so we wore our headlamps. Unfortunately, my battery was about dead. Thankfully, the local guides helped by shining lights for us when we needed it. It was a fun experience. Other caves I’ve been in have been cold. It was interesting that this one was so hot and humid that it felt like being in a sauna.

We got back on our bikes and continued. The group was cycling fast, so Tri added some sights for us to see. We stopped at a temple in the mountains, which had 500 steps to climb in order to arrive at the top. Along the way, there were encouraging signs:

  • We should be rooted in mindfulness with every step we take in life.
  • There’s a chance to get refreshed, once you are tired. But there’s no chance to relive your life once you are dead.

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The temple is not as well known to tourists and we almost had the place to ourselves. Monks actively use it, so we were instructed to be quiet. The view at the top was incredible! Climbing 500 steps was worth it. The architecture of the temple was well constructed. The gold against the lush green trees created a peaceful environment.

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We hiked back down and continued with our cycling back in rice fields. This is one of my favorite memories from the trip. The fields and surrounding mountains were unlike anything I’ve seen before.

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We made a brief stop at a rice prepping facility. Tri told us about the process for harvesting and separating the rice, but I couldn’t hear him over the cranking of the wooden machines. As we headed out for our final section of biking, Tri warned us about a sand patch. It would appear suddenly and he cautioned us not to slam on the breaks so our back wheel wouldn’t slide.

Sure enough, we arrived to the sand and I instinctively hit my breaks. It was just a slight slow down, but I felt my back tire skid like he warned us about. I took it easy through the rest of that section.

We arrived at our next destination: an ecolodge. The space was beautifully cared for with thoughtful touches. We walked through the grounds and Tri pointed to two cabins where two of the married couples were assigned. For the rest of the rooms, Tri showed us a building with the remaining bedrooms. By the time I took my shoes off and climbed up the outdoor stairs, the two rooms with restrooms were already taken.

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Not surprised, Nicole and I took a room that was available. Seven of us shared the two restrooms down the hall. Neil and I were quick to get to the showers before others created a list again. He tried one shower but it was broken. He jumped in the other shower and said, “Christy’s after me.” Sure enough, once people found out that one of the showers in the bedrooms only had cold water, they tried to make another list. This time, I wasn’t moving from outside that shower door.

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For dinner that evening, a huge spread of American food was served buffet-style. After a week of mostly Thai food, I was happy to have some familiar foods. I love Thai food, but I’m not used to eating rice two to three times a day. We gathered around the long picnic table under a pavilion.

Before leaving the dinner table, Tri talked about the plan for the following day, which would be our last full day of the tour. The itinerary said we had the option of going on a bike ride or taking a cooking class. Tri offered the option of taking a short bike ride and then doing a shortened cooking class after a few people asked if they could do both. He asked for hands to be raised and it quickly turned into an uncomfortable situation.

Some people suggested they do a short bike ride and a short cooking class. Others wanted a long ride and no cooking. And a few of us wanted only the cooking class. Tri said if we did the full-length cooking class, we would have the morning to walk down to a village nearby. That sounded nice to me and I didn’t want to short-change the cooking class.

Tri had made a comment and said, “Maybe we don’t do any cycling tomorrow?” while giving an awkward smile. It was the second glimpse I saw from him that he felt the group was pushing too hard.

During the hikes, the group stopped for quick breaks and to make sure everyone was together. There were a few people whose body language made it clear they were not happy with stopping. I noticed this during the biking portion too. The tour was rated as a “moderate plus,” which is a level three-four on a scale of one to five. Most tours are listed as a single number and a five is so strenuous, you need a doctor’s note to confirm you’re capable of completing the tour (think base camp on Everest). I was in the middle of the pack during the Norway trip that I took two years prior. It is also rated as a three-four.

During both hiking and biking, there were about five people who were much more fit than your average person – working out several hours a day. They never verbally said anything about the pace to me, but it was pretty clear that they wanted it to be more strenuous. Several times, Tri said, “We’re on a holiday, not a huriday.”

A day earlier, Tri told a few of us that one time he had a group of very highly trained athletes who wanted to do trail running – trail running on rugged mountains sometimes covering eleven miles a day. In that group, two of the five people ended up riding in the support vehicle because they couldn’t run the mountains. Tri looked exhausted as he told the story.

One of the problems with traveling with 15 people is figuring out the right pace. On my Norway trip, we ended up with two people in our group who could not participate in many of the hikes because they were not physically capable. With this trip, we had some people who probably should have been on a level five trip. I think REI Adventures does a great job of explaining the rating, the activities involved, and what you need to do in order to be physically ready for the trip. It can be a challenge when people are either not fit enough, or are too fit for what is intended for the tour.

My roommate Nicole was extremely fit, but she never made me feel like I was slow. To get extra workouts in, she went running one day on her own when we had a bit of free time. I think that was a good solution for her to get the exercise she’s used to while still respecting the itinerary set up for the group.

In the end, it was decided that a small group would go out for a long bike ride with one of the guides, Sak. Another group would go for a short bike ride and then the full cooking class. The rest of us would walk to a small village and then participate in the full cooking class. You can’t please everyone all the time, but I think this was a good compromise.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 233: Kayaking Fiasco

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 for 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.

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img_1496I 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.

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img_1523I was grateful that I brought some padded bike shorts as we pedalled 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.

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It was close to lunch time 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.

img_1556The kayak was the “sit on top” type and there wasn’t much room for my long legs so my paddle kept hitting my knees. To avoid this, I had to lift my paddle up higher, which let in more water than usual from the paddle.

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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?

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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 leg room, 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 very tired.

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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!

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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 awhile. 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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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 new found 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 very cold. 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 our 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 are the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far in eight months of travel. 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 awhile, 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. At home, I never go alone to a sit-down restaurant or to a movie theatre, 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. People are by far nice, caring, helpful, and genuine – all over the world.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 232: Thoughtful Conversations in Thailand

The REI Adventures group enjoyed the warm sun after enjoying a delicious breakfast at our second homestay in Thailand. The property sat on top of a mountain, so we had a picturesque view of the rising sun and surrounding area.

We packed up and began to hike to our next destination. The hike was mostly downhill as we made our way through the thick vegetation. As we got closer to another small village, we saw a huge pile of garbage strewn along the side of the mountain. Surprised to see the trash in such a beautiful landscape, a few of us stopped to look at it.

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We asked one of our guides, Sak, why it was there. He said that’s where the villagers throw their trash. Once the pile begins to stack up against the side of the mountain, they burn it. One person in our group was disappointed to see that the trash was ruining the landscape.

I pointed out that we have landfills in the U.S. too, it’s just hidden from our view. The amount of trash created from the small village was likely much less than the trash we create. I think it’s easy to criticize other cultures when they don’t do things the way we do it, but I didn’t have a problem with it. They need to do something with their trash and they’re located in a remote area on a mountain. From what I could tell, the villages don’t generate that much trash because they’re mostly living off of the land.

Walking through the village, we passed homes that were drying fresh coffee beans. There was a small coffee shop there and Tri let us stop there to get a drink. I sat outside with Clark, Cathy, and Terri. After enjoying the break, we continued our hike.

I had been in the middle of a conversation with Clark when we started hiking again. He usually hiked in the front because he’s a fast hiker, but he stayed in the middle with me so that we could continue our talk. Because we were hiking slower than he’s used to, he looked in awe and said, “Wow, the trail really is beautiful isn’t it? I’m usually just looking at the ground.” I laughed, “See Clark, you need to hike slower so you can stop and smell the roses.”

Clark is a retired Principal at a middle school. He told me about how he courted his now wife. When they were young and dating, he went over to her house one day and started loading her furniture into a van and told her that she was moving in with him. He just knew that she was the one for him. It was sweet to see the joy in his face as he talked about her and the love they’ve shared for decades.

Clark moved from New York to Albuquerque, New Mexico when he retired not too long ago. He loved the outdoors and found a beautiful home with hiking trails in his backyard. There was a period of time that he purchased the unfinished home while he was still living and working in New York. He went to New Mexico from time to time to finish the work that needed to be completed to make the house livable.

Clark told me about how he’s been denied housing throughout his life because he’s black. I was saddened to hear he still experienced it when he moved to New Mexico. Neighbors often assumed he was a construction worker. Even after he’d explain he is the homeowner, they continued to treat him poorly and as if he were not someone who was a part of their neighborhood.

Clark is a smart man. He’s been successful throughout his life and is very charismatic. His siblings are all extremely accomplished and have impressive work experience. It was frustrating to hear about times they’ve experienced discrimination because of the color of their skin. I told Clark about times I’ve lived in mostly black neighborhoods and was told to “go back to Santa Monica or Seal Beach” because I’m white. Clark and I agreed that being able to talk openly about our personal experiences was part of the solution to combating racism and stereotypes.

I had several running jokes with Clark and there was never a dull moment with him. I like to picture him as the principal who kids loved, even though he can be stern when he means business. He was often a leader in our group because he has a natural ability.

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We stopped for a quick break and Clark was back to the front of the line. In the back, I talked with Kristen. We had a great conversation about infertility. Being women of childbearing age, we both have felt pressure for a pregnancy to go perfectly. One in seven couples in the U.S. will experience infertility. I have many friends who have struggled with this and it’s hard to watch their pain and suffering.

Kristen and I agreed that it shouldn’t be taboo to talk about infertility. In general, people are more open to talking about it than they used to be, but I think there is room to open the conversation. A couple who is struggling with infertility or miscarriages shouldn’t feel ashamed to talk about it. I know people who didn’t even take time off of work after going through a miscarriage. It’s not an easy conversation to have with someone, but it beats suffering in silence.

I really liked hiking that day because of the meaningful conversations I had with people. Talking with Clark and Kristen really fueled me. They had great insights and perspectives, and I felt lucky to have met them. So often, we have superficial conversations with those around us. I heard something a couple of years ago at a recruiting conference that said we are expected to leave our true selves at the door when entering our workplace in the name of being a “professional.” It’s one of the reasons I left my job. Corporations in America have become stale and lifeless. Showing your true self, your vulnerabilities, is taboo. Maybe by putting ourselves out there we can break this trend?

We arrived at a restaurant for lunch and ate outdoors again. We enjoyed coconut water straight from the coconut. We were staying in a hotel for the next two nights, so we checked in and each had our own little hut and outdoor shower. It was a beautiful resort with a pool.

We had some extra time so Tri, our guide, offered the option for us to climb up a sticky waterfall. Most of us decided to go because it was just a 20-minute van ride. It’s a tourist spot, so there were several people in bathing suits climbing up.

The waterfall had a few different levels. It is called a sticky waterfall because the sediment forms a white coating on the rocks, making it sort of sticky. Even though the rocks look slippery, there is enough traction for your feet to climb up.

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The water poured down from the waterfall, but thankfully there was a rope on the side to assist with climbing up. Some of the rocks were large, so I had to take huge steps. The green parts of moss were slippery, so we were advised to avoid them. As I climbed up, I stumbled on one of the large rocks and slipped. My left knee hit the rock and scraped it up a little. I was disappointed because my right knee had been hurting over the last few days. Now both knees were in bad shape.

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The waterfall was beautiful, unique, and refreshing. Once we finished climbing up, we headed back to the hotel for showers. We had the option of getting a Thai massage and almost everyone wanted one. The hotel called in extra masseuses, but there were only so many time slots available before dinner. The group created a list in the hotel lobby before everyone was present. Of course, when I arrived, I was left with a spot nobody else wanted. I was getting frustrated that these lists were always made to without everyone present. I paid the same amount for the trip, but somehow always got whatever was left over. I had come to expect it.

I didn’t have time to shower before my massage appointment, but thankfully the waterfall cleaned off most of the dirt from the hike. In the bathroom of my hotel room, there was a set of blue denim clothes. I figured they were to wear for the massage so I put them on. The pants were so big, however, I had to hold them up or they’d fall off my waist.

I arrived to the small hut for my massage. Two mats were on the floor under an air conditioning unit. Terri was getting her massage at the same time and she was already being worked on. The masseuse didn’t speak any English but she showed me light colored pants and a shirt for me to put on. I put them on and laid on the mat.

A Thai massage is notorious for its uniqueness. It involves a lot of stretching as the masseuse pushes and pulls your body in all sorts of directions. After ten minutes of my masseuse trying to raise my legs and realizing I was about to rip the pants she provided, she had me change back into the baggy clothes that were in my room. I could stretch better, but I had to try and make sure they didn’t fall off.

The massage was comical. The petite masseuse had to put in a lot of effort to move my body around. She laughed and looked at the other masseuse, who laughed in return. I laughed along with them because it’s just absurd how much taller I am than them. I thought, “They must think I’m a giant.” Terri occassiably looked over at me as we laughed at our various stretching positions that were often painful.

After my massage was complete, I took a shower, got dressed in non-hiking attire, and got ready for dinner. We all walked ten minutes down a dirt road to the same place we ate lunch. We were able to drop off dirty clothes for cleaning and were told they’d be ready the next evening. A few of us shared some wine and laughed at our experiences with the massage. Scott is a few inches taller than me and his masseuse laughed at him too. We are not just tall, but also inflexible, which added to the comedy.

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After dinner we walked back to the hotel. I was happy to have a bed after two nights of sleeping on a thin pad on the floor. Unfortunately, the bed was hard. I ended up finding this to be very common across Thailand. I usually prefer a firm mattress, but these all seemed extremely firm.

My roommate, Nicole, and I told stories of dating as we lay in our beds. She had been married for around 13 years and on their anniversary, her husband said he wanted a divorce. That was a cruel thing to do to somebody. Nicole and I talked about the woes of online dating. She was currently dating a guy who she called her “part-time boyfriend” because he was only around part-time. He was a pilot, so he was often out of town. He was younger than her and she enjoyed his company, but he wasn’t someone she saw herself with long term.

I told Nicole about my ex-husband and guys I had gone on dates with. We bonded over some of our similarities and talked until we started to fall asleep. I was happy that I was paired with Nicole. We had a lot of the same interests and she was easy to talk with. I enjoyed her friendship and company during the trip.

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Day 231: Hiking in Thailand

I woke up in our first Thailand homestay feeling surprisingly refreshed. I was worried that I wouldn’t sleep well since the padding was pretty thin and there were snorers in our group. I slept much better than I thought I would and I was excited for another day of hiking.

Our guides and the homeowner cooked up a huge, beautiful spread for breakfast. We ate outside on the covered picnic table. The fresh air, the rising sun, and bright blue sky created a gorgeous scene. We all got dressed, packed up our day packs, and started hiking.

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Neil and Tien

REI Adventures drove our bags to the next place so all we had to carry was our day pack. I really liked hiking to our destinations. There’s something satisfying about knowing my own two feet brought me there.

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As we walked out of the small village, Tri looked back and told us about their traditions to celebrate Chinese New Year, which involves slaughtering pigs. Mimi, being a vegetarian, got very upset and asked Tri to stop talking about it. I wanted to know about it so I asked Tri to continue. Frustrated, Mimi walked off. I don’t really understand not listening to someone explain a culture and their practices just because you don’t personally agree with it.

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We continued hiking and made it into the jungle once again. The bright green foliage surrounded us. I rotated from being in the back to being in the middle. We passed through bamboo sections and then a wheat field.

I was feeling much better that day because I was taking my salt pills when I should. The heat and humidity were high, but the breeze made it bearable. I was still a sweaty mess, but taking the pills really helped to ensure my electrolytes were balanced.

For lunch, we stopped in a semi-open space. The guides quickly gathered jurassic-sized banana leaves for us to sit on. Then they handed each of us our own little fried rice wrapped inside of a beautiful banana leaf. One of the nice things about going on an REI Adventures tour is that they feed me much better than I would feed myself. On hikes, I usually just bring protein bars and packaged foods like tuna.

We had a fun time laughing and relaxing on our banana leaves. I was happy to have a break and let my muscles rest after so much climbing.

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We continued hiking through the thick trees and brush. We even walked through a fruit tree farm and were able to pick some fresh fruit and eat it as we continued to hike. Once we reached the peak of the mountain, we started our descent. Going down is much easier for me, so I was elated to get the break.

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After hiking 11 miles with significant elevation gain, we arrived at our next homestay around 4:30 pm. This time we had two showers available. While the water was still freezing, we had lights inside and the sun hadn’t gone down yet. We made a list and let the people who didn’t get a shower the night before a chance to go first. Because I was the last to arrive, I was put at the bottom of the list. Just like the night before, the water was so cold, it took my breath away!

For sleeping arrangements, two of the married couples got their own rooms in small cabins. The rest of us had to fight it out for a space in the main upstairs of the house. Because I hiked in the back, the spaces were mostly taken by the time I arrived.

I climbed up the wooden staircase on the outside of the house and went inside. There were four mattresses in a small area and around the corner, there was a small nook with a double mattress. The other five mattresses were on the balcony. Each mattress pad had a mosquito net just like the night before.

The only beds left were the double mattress in the nook, one on the balcony, and one in the inside by the door. Nicole, Christian, and Kristen also still needed a bed. It made sense to give the double mattress to Christian and Kristen. But that meant my roommate Nicole and I would be separated. We had become good friends, so I was disappointed.

I was hesitant to be on the balcony, but I was next to a couch, making it harder for me to fall off. I was outside with Mimi, Lisa, Terri, and Cathy. They tried to make me feel at home, but I was upset that Nicole and I were left with whatever beds remained.

We were told to bring our shoes inside for the night because otherwise the dogs would take them and run off. There are a lot of stray dogs in Thailand because they don’t spay and neuter, and they don’t have shelters for animals. They are often in poor condition and carry diseases, so we were instructed not to touch them. It wasn’t clear if the dogs around the property were stray dogs or the owner’s pets. We also saw cats climbing around on the roofs.

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We all took showers and changed into warmer clothes as the sun started to set. The property was beautiful and very isolated. There were benches overlooking the mountain range. As people showered, some of us sat on a bench eating some nuts and beans, getting to know each other better.

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Nicole and I joined Neil who was enjoying a large bottle of Chang beer on the picnic bench. The bottle was indeed large, but Nicole and I agreed to each get our own. Cathy and Lisa asked us if we wanted to share our beer, but we declined. We wanted the full bottle. We giggled as we started to feel the effects of the beer.

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Neil, Nicole, and I were the three solo travellers. Neil had a sweet personality and could make me laugh with the slightest comment. He was easy-going, retired, and had done a bit of traveling. The three of us were slap-happy and couldn’t stop laughing as we drank.

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Cathy told us about her son in high school and her husband. She’s very fit and works out a lot – she loves pickleball. She can be very serious and regimented at times. Her favorite quote was “No calories through beverage”, whenever someone asked if she wanted a drink. She did, however, love Thai iced tea. She let herself indulge once a day to have a sugary beverage. I kept trying to get her to have more drinks (coffee, tea, shakes, beer) and I’d say, “You’re on vacation. Enjoy it a little.” I suppose that’s why I have extra weight on me that I’m lugging around.

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For dinner, the guides and the homeowners cooked up another amazing, freshly made meal! I was enjoying all of the family-style meals because it gave us all a chance to bond, just like a family.

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After dinner was complete, a few of us watched the stars shine brightly above. It was incredible not having any light pollution around for many, many miles. It started to get a little cold outside, so we headed to bed. In the main house, I could hear one of the guides snoring so I put my earplugs in. It didn’t work too well, so I put my headphones in and played some music.

It was actually really refreshing to sleep on the balcony. The fresh air and sounds of nature were peaceful. Of course, I had to use the toilet in the middle of the night. I swear this never happens when a toilet is easily accessible. Using a headlamp, I had to put my shoes on outside, walk down the outdoor staircase, and across the yard to the toilets.

In the morning, I heard Cathy quietly sit up, turn around, and whisper, “There’s a beautiful sunrise.” I sat up, turned around, and saw the orange sun starting to make its way up to the sky. It was amazing to just sit on my mattress pad and watch it unfold. I was happy that I ended up on the balcony.

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Shortly after I woke up, I used the toilet and walked to the ledge where I could see the mountain range. Steve and Nancy were up early and taking pictures. One of the advantages of going on an REI Adventures tour is you get an opportunity to stay in homestays in remote areas. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my own.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 230: Villages in Thailand

On the third day of the REI Adventures tour, we were able to enjoy the delicious breakfast buffet at the hotel. Right after I sat down to eat, I received a notification from Airbnb that my studio apartment I had booked once the tour ended was cancelled. Confused, I logged on to see what the problem was.

I messaged the owner and let her know that my reservation was cancelled by mistake through Airbnb. The home owner and I agreed that I would just pay her cash when I arrived and she’d keep the apartment available for me. I was happy because the price for my stay in this apartment was only $23 a night.

Dealing with Airbnb and the homeowner meant I had to frantically scarf my food down and ignore my roommate, Nicole. We had to be at the vans ready to go, so I didn’t have much time. Thankfully, I was able to get it resolved and get to the vans.

We left the hotel and drove towards the mountains to visit hill tribe villages. The roads in Thailand are often bumpy and windy. I get carsick if I try to read in the car. Sometimes if my head is turned sideways looking at someone talking, I will start to get nauseous. The best place to sit for motion sickness is the first row because you get less bumps there. Unfortunately, there were several people in our group who also get motion sickness, so I sat in the back.

My roommate Nicole also gets carsick. We were in the van for a couple of hours and Nicole and I were talking to each other in the backseat. She told me about her travels and hiking various famous mountains. Her accomplishments were impressive, but she was humble. We talked for awhile, until we both needed to look out the window to attempt to alleviate the nausea. I took a dramamine in hopes that the motion sickness would subside.

When we arrived to the villages, our guide, Tri, talked to us about the general life in a village. The area we were visiting was a combination of many different tribes. They built this area to showcase a mini-village of each tribe, their customs, and their people.

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Tri stood in front of a large painting of the king of Thailand. He told us there are six main tribes in Thailand and they are mostly in the mountainous northern and western parts of the country. Generally speaking, the women work harder than men. When a family gives birth to a girl, they are very happy because she’ll bring in money from the husband. She’ll also work harder both in the fields and in the home, while the men will take opium and sleep in the fields.

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We wandered through the streets and saw several different tribes selling hand-made items. The tribespeople weren’t pushy though. They just casually stood near their booth and would tell us the price of an item if we pointed at it.

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We saw some women weaving fabrics, while others proudly displayed their products. One tribe is known for their long necks. They put rings around their neck and keep adding to it in hopes that their necks will stretch. I bought a couple of items, mostly to support their efforts.

Once we finished exploring the villages, we stopped at an outdoor market on our way to lunch and were given ten minutes to browse. There were fresh vegetables and even fried insects – beetles, crickets, you name it! I declined trying one and kept walking.

I was walking alone and a vendor asked me, “Where are you from?” I replied, “America.” He got very excited, “Oooooh! USA! Super Power!” I smiled and slowly kept walking. He continued and mentioned how tall I am and then asked, “You married?” “No”, I replied. “Ooooh, are you alone?” As I walked away, I told him I was with a group.

For lunch, we went to a restaurant that sat right off of a river where people on rafts raced through the rapids. We ate family-style, but this time the vegetarians asked Tri not to be separated because it didn’t allow them time to talk with the non-vegetarians. We each had our own plate of pad Thai, which was delicious!

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I sat next to Scott and Andrea, who are from Minnesota. Scott works as an industrial engineer and Andrea works as a physical therapist. They told us how cold Minnesota was when they left and how a huge snow storm was sweeping the area. They were happy to have escaped it.

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Once lunch was finished, we began a hike to the village where we’d stay the night. It was hot and humid. This hike would take more than three hours and involved a lot of climbing.

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The thick forest was unforgiving. The dense vegetation often brushed up against my legs. I was sweating profusely in the extraordinary humidity. When I sweat too much, I need to take salt pills so I don’t lose too much salt. About 30% of people are salty sweaters. The group was moving so fast, I was struggling to keep up. I didn’t have time to take my pills. In addition, the Dramamine made me feel tired.

I was in the back with Christian and Kristen. I felt bad and hoped I wasn’t keeping them from the rest of the group. Kristen assured me that she also likes little breaks – we were soul sisters. We would often stop for 60 seconds just to take a breather. There was another guide, Sak, in the back with us. The four of us had a fun time looking around at the Jurassic-sized leaves and learning from Sak. He told us that when bamboo dies, it sprouts a flower. Just one flower it’s entire life and only when it is about to die.

The rest of the group would stop every 20 minutes or so to let us all catch up. Those of us in the middle and the back would arrive, and within one minute, we were off again.

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I felt my heart pounding and realized I should have taken my salt pills. Once my electrolytes are out of balance, I can feel it in places like my heart.

While the hike was challenging, it was also beautiful! We were the only ones on the  trail. Finally, we arrived towards the top and were rewarded with incredible views. The sun was just starting to set and was giving off splendid rays of light.

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This fueled me to get to the homestay. As we approached the small village, I couldn’t believe people lived there. It was extremely remote, steep, and the dirt road was in terrible condition.

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Our homestay was with a local family who had a large main room filled with 15 pads to sleep on. Each thin pad had a mosquito net above it. The floor was made of thin pieces of bamboo and I was afraid I would fall through, so I stuck to walking near the main wooden beam down the middle.

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I’m sensitive to people snoring so I asked that I be on the end and not near any snorers. I brought earplugs, but the sound of snoring is usually so loud they only slightly work. I had my iPod shuttle just in case.

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It was evening and there was only one shower available. It was outside in a small concrete building that was not completely enclosed, letting the cold air inside. They don’t have electricity so we were warned the water would be cold. People made a verbal list of who would take a shower next. I was number four on the list until some of the women decided to make another list and I was bumped towards the bottom.

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The sun was quickly setting and we were desperate to get a shower in before it was dark since there wasn’t a light in there. When it was my turn, it was almost dark, so I brought my headlamp inside to see my shampoo and soap. I knew the water would be cold, but I didn’t expect it to be freezing. A thin stream of water forcefully came shooting out! I gasped for air and almost started to hyperventilate from the harsh cold. I showered as quickly as I could.

To use the toilet, there were two small rooms in the same concrete building. Because they don’t have plumbing, there is a pot full of water next to the toilet. Once you’re done using the toilet, you have to scoop the water with a bowl and dump it inside the toilet, which slowly drains it. You have to put a few bowls of water in order to get it to fully go away. Behind the toilets were pigs, which you could hear while you took care of business.

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As we all showered and drank some beers, the guides and homeowners cooked our dinner. On the rough dirt street, young children drove by on motorbikes, often 2-3 per bike. Stray dogs also roamed around and we were instructed not to touch them as many of them carry disease.

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There were a few people who didn’t get showers because they didn’t want to shower in the dark. Dinner was ready and there were a couple of dim lights hanging above the table. As we sat down to eat, Clark gave a nice speech. After a tiring day of hiking, it was nice to have some time to unwind.

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After dinner, we enjoyed the stars above with the complete absence of light pollution. The village was celebrating the Chinese New Year, so the occasional firework went off. Tri told us that families will kill one of their pigs and eat it over the next three days and basically have a party the whole three days.

Once the sun fell, it got much colder. After star gazing, we all headed to bed. I put my earplugs in, but I kept waking up because I needed to use the toilet. Of course. This never happens when I’m inside of a house. But if I go camping or have the toilet outside, I suddenly have to go. I tried to ignore it because it sounded like rain was pouring down outside. I wondered if it was flooding. I didn’t want to put my glasses and shoes on and slip through the mud.

Then suddenly I realized maybe it was wind and not rain. I listened intently and realized I didn’t hear anything hitting the roof, so it must be wind rushing through the trees. I reluctantly put my glasses on, walked down the entire room following the beam with the light from my cell phone. I put my shoes on that were sitting outside by the front door steps and made my way to the toilet. Sure enough, it was extremely high winds, not rain.

I returned to my bed and went back to sleep. At 4:40 am, roosters started to crow. The sound was deafening so I tried to smash my head into my pillow. It didn’t work. I put my headphones on and played music on my iPod shuffle. We were warned about those roosters and they weren’t kidding. The roosters crowed for the next several hours. The thin bamboo walls did nothing for soundproofing.

Steve had noise cancelling headphones, but he still heard the roosters. He joked the next morning that if a company can create the ultimate soundproof headphones, their slogan should be “Strong enough to combat roosters.” I also found out the next morning that Mimi fell into Steve and Andrea when she went outside to use the toilet. Having 15 people sleep in the same room only inches apart makes for an interesting night.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 228-229: Overcoming Fears? Maybe Not…

I arrived at the hotel and met the 15 people who I would be spending the next nine days with through REI Adventures. My taxi was late getting to my previous hotel to pick me up, so I arrived about ten minutes late. Everyone was fit and standing in the lobby of the outdoor/indoor hotel. The guide, Tri, was giving the group an overview of what the week would look like. I met everyone so quickly, I couldn’t remember who came with who or anybody’s name.

The two vans would be leaving soon to take us to our first destination for the afternoon. While we briefly waited, a girl walked up to me and said, “Hi, you must be my roommate. I’m Nicole.”

We were both solo travelers and neither of us paid the $600 single supplement fee, so we were roomed together. Nicole was 44, but looked like she was in her early 30s. She had brown hair, a sweet smile, and was very athletic. She lived in Denver, Colorado and worked from home as a project manager.

It would take me two days to learn everyone’s names and remember where they were all from, but here they are!

Nancy and Steve: Married couple in their 50s who live in North Carolina

Andrea and Scott: Married couple in their 40s who live in Minnesota

Christian and Kristen: Married couple in their early 30s who live in Washington

Terri and Cathy: Two women friends in their 50s who live in California

Mimi and Lisa: Two women friends in their 50s who also live in California

Tien and Clark: Friends Tien (in his 40s) and Clark (in his early 60s) who live in New Mexico

Neil: Man in his 60s who also lives in Washington

Nicole: Woman in her 40s who lives in Colorado

We boarded the two ten-passenger vans and drove to Wat Suan Dok Temple. I sat in the front row of one of the vans, next to Cathy and Clark. We talked and got to know each other. It was clear that there were different personalities on this trip.

We arrived at the temple and had to climb up 300 steps. I was wearing mid-length jeans that made it an uncomfortable journey to the top. To get into the temple, women need to have their shoulders and knees covered. I was wearing a tank top, so I was provided a short-sleeve shirt to wear while I was inside.

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Our guide, Tri, had been leading tours for several years. He was short, had black hair, and had a huge, welcoming smile. His English was pretty good, but sometimes we struggled to understand each other.

The temple was outdoors and I was sweating in the sun. We had to take off our shoes and leave them outside. The stone floor was warm on my feet and I didn’t like walking around barefoot. We huddled around statues as Tri told us about the stories behind them. Thailand is predominantly Buddhist. I was starting to get overwhelmed after 30 minutes. It was a lot of information to take in and the heat wasn’t helping.

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The temple was full of tourists. With a group of 15, it was difficult to navigate through the crowd. At one point, I accidentally lost the group and the people behind me were now lost with me. Clark teased me because he had been following me. Oops. We eventually found the rest of the group and then headed back down the 300 steps.

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We ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant. All of our meals would be shared family-style. There were five vegetarians, so Tri asked that they sit together to make sharing easier. During lunch, I was able to talk to a few people and tell them about my travels. They were surprised to hear that I had been traveling for seven months and they enthusiastically asked me questions.

Nancy works at an REI store, which is a separate division of REI Adventures. Her khaki clothes gave her an outdoorsy look. It seemed to make sense that she’d work there. She knows a lot about the outdoors, so I’m sure she is super helpful to customers. Her husband, Steve, works as an engineer and is also into the outdoors. He struck me as responsible and smart.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel to check-in and clean up a bit. The hotel was a beautiful resort that had a lot of green trees and impeccable landscaping. It had soft, comfortable beds.

For dinner, we boarded the vans again and went to a restaurant. Because it was Chinese New Year, Tri gave us the option of going to an outdoor market to check out some festivities. Some people in the group had just flown in that morning, so they were exhausted and opted to go back to the hotel. A few of us went to the market.

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It turned out to be the market I had visited the day prior. Now that it was nighttime, it was packed! It was difficult not to get separated from the others. We watched some festivities on a stage and walked around the booths.

After walking around a little bit, we decided to go back to the hotel and get some rest. The next day would be our first hike and ziplining. I was excited for hiking, but less excited about ziplining.

We ate breakfast at the hotel, which had an incredible buffet spread, and left for our hike. We drove to a small village of wooden houses precariously built on a steep hillside on the side of a mountain and started our hike.

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Once we passed the houses, we started to climb on a trail through the forest. It was warm outside, but there was a cool breeze. I quickly fell to the back of the group. Ascending is harder for me because it’s hard to catch my breath. My slow heartbeat starts beating too fast and I need small, 30-second breaks.

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I was in the back with Christian and Kristen. They’re the young married couple from Washington (Seattle). Christian works for REI Adventures and does the planning part before people leave for the trip so they’re all prepared. He had been working there for less than a year and really liked it. He wanted to make it clear he was just on vacation and wasn’t working.

Kristen worked in admissions at a university in Seattle. She was so sweet and friendly and also wanted little breaks, so we stuck together. They are one of those couples that is really cute together because they are both kind and thoughtful.

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The trail was narrow and not very well maintained. Trees and bushes often overtook the trail. The dense forest was beautiful and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t more humid. It was “cool season” for them and being in the mountains made it much cooler than the rest of Thailand. Thailand has three seasons: Cool, Hot, and Rainy.

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We arrived at a beautiful waterfall where we took pictures and ate snacks. I took a picture with Nicole, my roommate. She was hiking at the front of the group because she’s very athletic.

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After our snack, we continued climbing. There were a few bridges, which were ladders laid down with some fences, that we had a cross. One bridge was more a swing-type bridge.

At times, the trail was steep and narrow on the side of the mountain. Tri said once during the rainy season, a guest slipped and slid down the side. She ended up being ok, but was cut up. I was grateful it wasn’t raining.

After several miles of hiking, we went to a beautiful outdoor restaurant for lunch. Most places in Thailand are outdoors, which makes for a very relaxing atmosphere.

During lunch, I talked with Tien. He’s a psychiatrist, but was going to start a new job soon working in more of the administration side of a healthcare company. He was married with two young kids. Tien had a subtle sense of humor. We talked about my travels and his job throughout lunch.

I also talked with Clark. I told him about my solo travels and some of the things I need to be aware of as a solo female. He said, “You’d be hard to kidnap.” I asked why and he replied “Because of your attitude. You don’t seem like a victim.”

After lunch, it was time for ziplining. We drove five minutes to Flight of the Gibbon. We were fitted with gear and weighed because they have weight limits. Because our group was so large, we split into two. My group had the following: Clark, Tien, Scott, Andrea, Mimi and Lisa.

Clark and I were both nervous. He’s tall and extremely fit. He does a lot of trail running behind his house in New Mexico and can be pretty hardcore with his workouts, but ziplining didn’t appeal to him very much.

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We jumped off the platform one by one. To stop, this zipline company doesn’t use brakes. The zipline in Canada that I had gone on a few months prior had a brake system. Instead, you have to raise your legs when you’re coming into the treetop platform and the guide will help stop you before you smash into the tree. I was nervous about this because on the zipline in Canada, I kept inadvertently turning around, so I always went backwards. This time I needed to make sure I didn’t turn or I wouldn’t know when to raise my feet.

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The zipline has 14 lines, which is a lot. The two other places I’ve ziplined only had six to seven lines. I zipped across, tightly holding my harness. I could not relax because I kept thinking I’d be too heavy and I’d fall. What if the safety standards haven’t been met? I tried to convince myself thousands of people do this and I’d be fine.

Once I landed on a tree platform, the guide would hook my harness onto a cable wrapped around the tree. This was necessary because the platforms were very high into the tree with very limited space for standing. The seven of us would pile on, hugging the tree as we waited for everyone to finish. A couple of times, there were still people on the tiny platform from a group in front of us. I worried there were too many people on the platforms, but at least we were clipped to the tree.

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We continued zipping through the forest, and each time I was scared. I just wanted to get done with it. The trees were beautiful, but I just couldn’t shake the fear. The local guides sometimes did crazy things like pulling on the line when someone was on it, making the person bounce. On one line, they recommended we go “Superman” style where our face would go first, facing the ground. Then we’d have to climb up a rope net. I just did the regular line instead of that contraption.

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Most people were really enjoying the adventure, even if they questioned some of the safety standards. Clark, on the other hand, was like me. I couldn’t tell if he was joking at first because he’s a big jokester, but he was just as frightened as me. Fourteen lines is a lot and it was starting to weigh on him. He knew there was no way out – we had to complete the lines. At one point, he turned to me, “I’m emotionally exhausted. I’m serious. I have nothing left to give.” I knew exactly how he felt.

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Halfway through, we came to a section where we had to rappel down from high above on the tree platform. I’ve never repelled before and having to rely on the guides lowering me down was not comforting. I knew I had no other option to get down. I sat down and tried to get myself to go through the small square hole in the platform. I told the guy to go slow and said I just want to get home alive.

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We continued on several more lines until we were finally done. The final line was to rappel down again. This time I enjoyed it. The guide lowered me slower than others, which made me feel better. Once we were done, I was relieved.

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A few months later, Scott came across an article about that zipline, Flight of the Gibbon. A 25-year-old Canadian tourist was on those same lines two months later and fell to his death. He was halfway through one of the lines when “the lock on his body harness and the main line broke.” His girlfriend watched as he fell and I can only imagine the horror they both felt. My heart breaks for them.

Reading about that accident and the history of accidents at that zipline made me incredibly grateful we were all safe. I recognize that many thousands of people have been on those lines and have not gotten injured. However, the company has had other accidents and even deaths over the years. From my own experience, I can say the safety standards were poor. Pulling on lines to make people bounce around was not safe. The company is currently shut down for an investigation. REI Adventures has discontinued using that operator and instead of zip lining, people will now meet elephants. I think that’s a great alternative and I’m happy they are always looking out for the safety of their members. I can confidently say that was my last zipline adventure!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 227: Arriving in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I arrived at the airport in Chiang Mai, Thailand around 8:00 am. I was curtly ushered towards customs. “Wrong. Walk around.” I was a little intimidated to be in a country where I did not speak the language and I tried hard to navigate the airport effectively.

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I arrived at the baggage carousel and found my bag with the two clear plastic bags draped loosely around it. The attendants in Osaka, Japan did their best to keep my items inside after the luggage handlers had ripped both zippers and the lock off of my bag. Unfortunately, my items were starting to spill out. I ended up losing my sunglasses in that debacle.

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After getting my luggage and getting through customs, I headed to a booth that sold local SIM cards. Everything is on my phone and my AT&T plan cost an extra $10 a day for international use (in addition to my $85/month bill). I would be in Thailand for 30 days, so that wouldn’t be cost effective. Instead, I opted to get a local Thai SIM card.

The two young women at the booth were busy as they swapped out SIM cards for other travelers. When it was my turn, one girl grabbed my phone and quickly went through the prompts, which were all in Thai. The SIM card was cheap – around $10 USD for 15 GB of data. They only took cash so I quickly walked over to the ATM.

I needed to get to my hotel and there was a booth offering shuttle and taxi rides. I paid the $11 USD and got into a taxi. I didn’t realize they drive on the left side of the road in Thailand. I talked with the taxi driver until he said his English was “just ok, but you talk very fast.”

I arrived at the hotel around 9:30 am and hoped to check in since I had gotten less than three hours of sleep in the last 32 hours of travel. Chiang Mai is 14 hours ahead of Los Angeles, which makes the jet lag pretty rough. I only got about four hours of sleep the night prior to leaving Los Angeles, so I was feeling incredibly sleep deprived. Since it was the Chinese New Year, all of their rooms were fully booked. The front desk informed me that I wouldn’t be able to check in until the afternoon.

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I walked to the outdoor restroom by the pool, put in my contacts, left my luggage at the front, and started walking. I decided I should get my nails done because they were in bad shape and I thought it would be much cheaper to have them done in Thailand than in the U.S.

I wandered through the narrow streets that didn’t have sidewalks. Cars and motorbikes zipped by me at rapid speeds. Following Apple Maps, I wandered through narrow alleyways, checking out the back of houses, their fences, and clothes drying on lines.

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It was a cool 68℉ with a real feel of 71℉. I finally found the nail salon, but it was closed due to the holiday. I continued to wander around and ended up at a river. The beautiful trees and flowers shimmered in the bright sunlight. I walked along the path and crossed a bridge to the city center.

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I found a coffee shop on the other side. The air was getting warmer by the minute and I was starting to regret wearing my mid-length jeans. I stopped inside, bought a cold coffee drink, and relaxed on a couch under the air conditioner. I was starting to feel tired, so I got up and continued to walk around. I found an outdoor market selling belts, souvenirs, scarfs, elephant pants, etc.

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I ended up walking to an inside part of the market. It was huge and had fresh foods. On the upper level, I found a merchant selling luggage. It was the perfect time to buy a new bag since mine was completely ruined. I debated whether or not I should continue with a duffle bag or get a suitcase. The duffle bags were small and I was afraid it wouldn’t be sturdy enough for my long-term travels. I didn’t want to lug around a suitcase, but it would be sturdier (or so I thought-spoiler alert). The suitcase was priced at $1,300 Baht, but I talked the saleswoman down to $1,100 Baht ($35 USD).

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I rolled my empty suitcase behind me as I headed back outside. It was now lunchtime and food vendors were starting to put small tables and chairs in the middle of the walkway. I picked out four pieces of sushi at one vendor and some noodles at another. Each one only cost me $0.60 USD.

I was annoyed by my suitcase as I continued walking around the market. It was getting hot outside (it was now 84℉ with a real feel of 92℉) and I was wondering where all the tourists were.

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I found another nail salon on Apple Maps that was on the way to my hotel. I walked for another 20 minutes, dragging my suitcase along with me on the sides of narrow streets, hoping a car wouldn’t hit me. I made it to the small nail salon that was attached to a hotel. I walked inside and the woman across the hall in the hotel front desk came running over. She said she could give me a mani/pedi for $14 USD, but she didn’t have gel so it would just be regular polish.

Exhausted, I agreed. She turned on the air conditioning unit when she saw how hot I was. The woman started with a pedicure and put my feet into a small shallow glass bowl. My feet are large (I wear size 12), so they didn’t quite fit. I didn’t care. I was extremely exhausted. The heat, lack of sleep, and jet lag made me fall asleep in the chair. I would occasionally wake up – startled and wondering where I was. I would look at the woman who smiled and slightly laughed. Then I’d fall right back asleep. She must have thought I was so strange, but I was exhausted enough not to care.

After my mani/pedi, I walked back to my hotel. I could now check-in and I desperately wanted to curl up in bed. I got my bags and the front desk staff looked at me funny as I carried my new suitcase upstairs. The room was huge! I thought about sitting at the enticing pool, but I feared I would burn as I snoozed. Instead, I passed out on the bed for two hours.

When I woke up, it was time for dinner. I was still exhausted and could have easily continued to sleep, but I forced myself to get up in an attempt to get acclimated to the new time zone. I found a dinner restaurant online that was just a short 10 minute walk from my hotel on the riverfront. When I arrived, they seated me outside by a pool surrounded by beanbags and tables. Beautiful string lights were hanging above, making it a perfect romantic spot for dinner.

The server didn’t speak much English, so we communicated through pointing. She put a bottle of bug spray on the table, but it was such a nice night I didn’t even need it. I ordered Pad Thai, one of my favorite foods, and enjoyed the evening.

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On my walk back to the hotel, I searched for convenient stores so I could buy some water. After a few attempts, I gave up and walked back to my hotel. I had taken off my belt during my nap and my jeans were now falling down. I took a shower and crashed hard that night.  

The following morning, I ate breakfast at the outdoor restaurant at the hotel. The waiter seemed surprised to see I was alone and since I had two vouchers for food, he kept trying to give me two meals. Great. It’s not embarrassing at all to be alone, with two meals at your table.

As I sat at my table waiting for my multiple plates of food, Facebook reminded me of a video I had shared in 2014. It was a video they had created of a montage of pictures over the years. Almost every picture involved Aaron from a life that no longer exists.

I hate wasting food, so I almost ate two full breakfasts. I went back to my room to pack my bags. I needed to get a taxi to another hotel where I’d start my REI Adventures trip. This would involve hiking and biking across northern Thailand and I couldn’t wait! There were 15 people signed up for the tour and I was excited to see who I would be spending the next nine days with.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 223-226: Overseas vs Wedding

When I arrived in Los Angeles, I picked up my rental car and drove towards my old workplace to meet a friend for happy hour. Jimmy and I used to go to happy hour at Geezers, so we met there like old times. We had a great time catching up over some drinks.

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I was staying the night at my friend Trisha’s house, but my friend Debbie had the key to my storage unit. It was late and they were in bed, so I picked up the key from Debbie’s mailbox and drove to Trisha’s house.

I’ve picked Trisha up from her house several times, but I’d never actually been inside. She has two children in grade school and they were all in bed. Her son Hunter was letting me use his bedroom while he was in Trisha’s room. Trisha left me instructions on how to get inside, which felt like a typical Airbnb for me.

I walked inside and looked for pictures on the wall so I knew it was her apartment. I was up late that night because I had to do some updates to my blog. The next morning, I drove back to Debbie’s house because I had the wrong key. After getting the key, I drove to my storage unit to get some paperwork from the sale of my house. Once I had that, I drove to Torrance to give all the documents to my tax accountant. This all reminded me just how spread out Los Angeles really is.

Once that was complete, I went to my friend Carey’s hair salon in Long Beach to get a haircut and highlights done. Then it was off to Debbie’s house for lunch. After that, I went to the bank because they did not properly add my beneficiary to my accounts. They don’t have locations in Missouri, so I needed to do it while I was in California. Having a life in multiple states 2,000 miles apart is complicated.

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After making a quick stop at Target to get some things, I headed back to Trisha’s house. We quickly got ready and drove to El Segundo to meet my friend Toni for dinner. It was great catching up and having a “girls night out.”  After swinging by REI to get a battery pack, we went to another place for drinks.

Once Trisha and I got back to her place, Trisha tried to help me fix my duffle bag. It was a new bag and I only used it as a backup bag while traveling the last six months. The baggage handlers at the airport somehow bent one of the bars on the bottom, preventing the handle from extending. I’m too tall to hold the loop on the side and it was too heavy to carry. But no matter what we tried, we couldn’t fix it.

The next morning, Trisha and I went to a restaurant for breakfast and then I drove to the airport to drop off my rental car and catch my flight to Thailand. As I drove to the airport, I realized my ex-husband was getting married that day. I had seen a few weeks earlier that my ex-sister-in-law was tagged at his fiance’s wedding shower with a hashtag of their wedding date. It was strange seeing a picture with my ex-mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law, and two sister-in-laws in a group picture with Aaron’s soon-to-be wife. I have those same pictures with them.

It was a strange feeling knowing he was getting married less than two years after our divorce. I had ended the marriage because of his lies, but it still felt strange. It felt strange because he kept telling me he didn’t want the divorce, he loved me, and had no interest in dating. And before the divorce was final, he was on Tinder dating his first match, who he was now marrying.

I reflected on the symbolism. He was getting married on the same day that I was heading overseas. He would make the same vows to her as he made to me. They would likely be blissfully happy that day, sharing their love with their family and friends – just as he did with me. I have those same pictures with him – cutting the cake, dancing, and committing to each other.

I remember on my wedding day I felt panicked. I was in the little waiting room with my dad as we waited for the wedding party to walk down the aisle under a large tree at a golf course. My dad and I would drive up on a golf cart. I remember feeling worried – was I making the right decision? I convinced myself it was just nerves. But deep down, I remember thinking, “this is forever” and feeling slightly panicked.

After the ceremony, the best man told me he watched a large vein in my forehead pound with blood during the ceremony. Nerves, I told him. We had a great day and people told me for years that it was one of the funnest times they’ve had at a wedding. It was a great day. If only it were all true. If only I had married the person I thought I was marrying.

I don’t feel jealous or envious of Aaron getting married. I’m happy he’s moved on and that he’ll be just fine. But it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s a strange feeling. It’s hard to put into words.

I don’t mean to be cynical about marriage, but I have a hard time believing people will be together forever. Vows are said with good intentions. People intend to be with the other person until “death do us part.” But the reality is more like “I promise to be with you unless you…”

I know what you’re thinking, “You have to fully commit for it to work out.” But the truth is that you cannot control your spouse and the things they will and will not do. When I hear vows now, I have a lot of hope for couples, but I also know it wouldn’t be unheard of for them to divorce and fall in love with someone else. It all seems so fleeting.

While Aaron prepared for his big day, I headed to the airport. I was happy with where my life was going. When I filed for divorce I still loved him, but I knew he wasn’t good for me. I had stood up for myself in a marriage built on lies, confronted many of my fears, followed my heart, and was living the life I believe I’m meant to live. It was poetic that I was leaving on his wedding day.

LAX is one of the world’s worst airports, but the international terminal is slightly better with better food and shopping options. It’s also less crowded.

I was flying with Japan Airlines for the first time. The plane had two seats, an aisle, four seats, an aisle, and two more seats. I got an aisle seat to the right of the plane. The girl next to me at the window looked to be in her early 20s and seemed to be with the two people in front of us. She didn’t get up to use the restroom the entire 12-hour flight to Osaka!

During the long flight, everyone was quiet and respectful. We left around noon so I wasn’t tired. Instead, I watched free movies on the screen in front of me. I used my Bose headphones so it felt like I was in a movie theater. After a movie, I’d do some writing for my blog on my iPad mini and keyboard that I brought. Once I was tired of writing, I’d watch another movie.

When the flight attendant brought dinner, I was amazed! It was all free and delicious!

  • Chicken and mashed potatoes
  • Salad
  • Quinoa
  • Fruit
  • Noodles
  • Miso soup
  • Bread
  • Green Tea
  • Water
  • Wine
  • Ice Cream
  • Warm towel

I got up a few times to stretch and use the restroom. There were toothbrushes in there for people to take and use, which I thought was a nice touch. The flight attendants would go down the aisles from time to time selling items from a catalogue. The homemade looking signs declared, “Some unique items you can only buy here.”

I was only able to sleep for about 45 minutes on the plane. We arrived at Osaka close to 1:00 am Los Angeles time, but it was 6:00 pm there. I was astonished by the toilets! I’ve always heard that Japan has fancy, complicated toilets and they weren’t lying. I had a private stall with a whole slew of buttons. I pressed the music button and whimsical music played. I wish the U.S. would get on board with these awesome additions.

I walked around looking for a place to eat, although I wasn’t sure if I was overeating or not eating enough on the plane. It seemed like they kept serving food, but with the time change, I had no idea if I should be eating or not. A friend recommended a place there, but after searching and searching I couldn’t find it.

I had a six hour layover there and I asked the security guard about the restaurant and he told me it was located outside of security. I asked if I could just go outside of security for the shops and restaurants and come back in and he told me that I couldn’t. There were hardly any shops or restaurants in the section I was in.

I felt like I was walking around in circles as I ate some bad sushi and visited the couple of shops. Finally, I found a table ledge with computers and space for people to put a laptop. Nobody was over there. I was writing, but as the night went on, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was literally falling asleep at my keyboard.

Finally, it was time to board the plane to Bangkok, Thailand. It was a six-hour flight and I was looking forward to getting some sleep. When they scanned my ticket, a buzzer went off and they pulled me aside. My duffle bag was sitting there, wide open. They said somehow it was broken in transit. The entire lock and both zippers on top were completely broken off!

My items were almost falling out. The attendants told me they would wrap it in two big garbage bags and tape it all around. I asked that they please wrap it tightly so things don’t spill out. I was so frustrated as I boarded the plane.

I was only able to sleep for a little more than an hour. My body was completely off kilter with the time changes. I watched some movies until we arrived in Bangkok. I had a four and a half hour layover.

The airport is huge, with very long terminals. I walked for what seemed like forever to my next gate. I ate a donut and got some coffee. The time went fast and it was time to board my next flight to Chiang Mai. It would be an hour and a half flight and this is where the real adventure would begin!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 196-222: Life in Missouri

Once my pounding spinal tap headache was gone, I tried to develop a routine with writing and working out, while figuring out where I’d travel to next. The thing is, I hadn’t been back “home” at my parents house in more than 15 years. My sister, her husband, and two children (aged 11 and 14) were temporarily living in my parents’ basement while they were building a house on some land they had purchased.

My parents have one dog and one cat. I had brought my cat from Los Angeles, who needed to be sequestered for a while because she wasn’t used to being around other animals. My sister brought her three dogs with her (two that are huge). It felt like a small animal farm.

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For my whole adult life, I’ve either lived alone or I’ve lived with one other person (roommate or husband). I’ve never owned a dog. I like to pet and play with dogs, but I do not like to take care of them and I don’t like all of the problems they can create. One day in early January, my brother-in-law’s dog Maximus (a Rottweiler) walked into my room and started to eat one of the only souvenirs I’ve purchased. It was a block of wood from Whistler (my favorite city) that was locally made and said “Wild + Free.” My sister grabbed it from his mouth, but Maximus had already ruined it.

I was extremely upset. I have always valued my personal space and I felt violated. I immediately went on my laptop and started looking at new destinations. I found a hiking and biking tour in Thailand for nine days through REI Adventures. I had gone on an REI Adventures trip to Norway in 2017 and I loved it. The tours are expensive, but they include everything you need except  airfare.

I planned on going to Thailand at some point in my travels, but I was nervous because I’ve never been to Asia and I don’t speak any of the languages. I figured starting with a tour guide would help me to learn the basics and feel more comfortable traveling on my own. I hit the purchase button and waited for confirmation.

A few days later, I received an email that my space was confirmed! I had a couple of weeks to get plane tickets, figure out what I needed to bring, and book some hotels. I spent days researching things like how to get around without a car. Sometimes it felt overwhelming. Knowing I only had a few weeks left in Missouri, I tried to spend my time wisely.

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Logistics

I made a couple of trips to REI to buy some things that would be useful for the trip, like bike shorts and bike gloves. I also had to sort through my backpacks and decide which one would be best to bring.

My California license was expiring and they were requiring me to go into the Department of Motor Vehicles(DMV), the most dreaded place. The California DMV has always taken three hours. They are also notoriously rude and unhelpful. Since I was in Missouri, I couldn’t go to the California DMV, so I decided to get a Missouri license. I’ve also been using my parent’s address since I don’t currently have an address.

I went to the Missouri DMV without an appointment and only waited 20 minutes. I was called up, took a quick eye exam, gave the woman my paperwork, and five minutes later, I was out of there. Missouri may not be as exciting as California, but they are certainly more efficient!

I also needed to switch my car insurance from California to Missouri since my car would be behind while I traveled overseas. I was extremely happy when the price for insurance was half of what I was paying in California. It was so cheap, I was even able to upgrade my coverage for a very small amount.

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Doctor Appointments

My sister Amy is a holistic chiropractor who looks for the root cause of a problem. She has a practice called The Center for Natural Health and patients have seen amazing results from her. She agreed to see me a few times a week in her office, which was very generous. I was finally there long enough for her to get some work done. Amy helped me to start feeling better, so I took her out to dinner as a “thank-you.” I also got a couple more massages from the massage therapist, which were great.

The other nice thing about Missouri is the wait times at doctors’ offices. I was able to get an 8:00 am monday morning appointment at the ophthalmologist with only a week notice. My mom sees the doctor and recommended him. I was still having blurry vision and still didn’t know if I needed to follow up with a neurologist.

The doctor was in his 60s, was friendly, and I told him all about the hole in my retina in June, the fuzzy optical nerves on the scan, and the spinal tap. He turned off the lights and stared into my eyes with a magnifying glass. He confirmed that he saw the hole and the repair that my doctor in Los Angeles had done.

The doctor backed up and said, “Well, the good news is that I don’t think you need to see a neurologist. The bad news is that your eyes are much older than your stated age.” He went on to explain that I have Vitreous Detachment. The vitreous is the gel that fills the back of the eye from the retina. As we age, the gel turns to liquid and millions of fibers break and separate from the retina. The main concern when this happens is the retina will detach.

My vitreous gel has liquified, which is why I got the hole in my retina in June. Thankfully, they caught it before the retina detached and they repaired the hole. Unfortunately, my gel has rapidly turned to fluid and the millions of fiber that have detached have caused a lot of floaters. According to this site, it “usually affects people over age 50, and is very common after age 80.” I was 38 when the doctor was telling me about this.

I was upset because this has been the story of my adulthood, getting diseases that usually affect those decades older than me. It’s also led to frustration as I’ve gone to doctor after doctor because they never suspect that I could have these diseases. For example, I had two parathyroid tumors removed in 2016 after seeing doctors for seven years. Most patients who get them are over 50, and typically over 70.

I asked the doctor what I can do about the floaters. Sometimes it’s not bad and I barely notice them. Other times, I can’t stop thinking about them because I have a hard time seeing without blinking and moving my eyes a lot. The last few months at my job, I had a hard time seeing screens in meetings. The doctor told me there isn’t anything they can do and hopefully over time, they’ll settle towards the bottom or I’ll get used to them.

I was disappointed to hear this, but I was glad that I didn’t need to see a neurologist. On my way out, the doctor said, “If your retina detaches, you need to call me immediately and come in so I can repair it.” I explained to him that I was about to leave for Thailand. He said, “Well, you’ve already had the hole and it’s already liquified so you likely won’t get a detached retina.” Great.

Investment

I had been wanting to invest some of the money from the sale of my house, but hadn’t gotten around to it. I looked at houses in downtown St. Charles, Missouri because there is a cute Main Street and a University there. I thought it would be a great place to put a house on Airbnb. Plus, I had furniture for two bedrooms in my storage unit in Los Angeles. I was paying $240 per month for a small unit because everything is expensive there. This would allow me to stop paying storage fees. Plus, I’d have somewhere to live when I needed it.

To get financing, I sent in all the needed paperwork to a finance guy and within a day, I was approved. I looked a few properties, but there was hardly anything on the market for sale. It was cold and snowy outside, which means people aren’t listing their houses as often.

Before I left, I set some things up so my parents could sign for me if a property came up that I liked. My realtor and friend Trudy, my sister, and my parents have been great at looking at properties for me while I’ve been away. Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything yet.

Family and Friends

I had some time to hang out with family and friends while I was in Missouri. My sister Amy, my mom, and I watched the entire series of Game of Thrones to get ready for the new season. I was able to get some Thailand research done while watching the series and it was great watching it with them. We could talk about things we had missed when we first watched the show and theories about what we thought would happen in the future.

One day the weather was great and we went for a hike with the dogs. Taking four dogs on a hike is a challenge, let me tell you. They battle over who is at the lead. I’ll stick to being a cat owner.

One weekend we got more than a foot of snow! We drove to my sister’s land which was an empty lot and we played around in the snow. I built a snow-woman and Amy built a snowman. My dad built a huge snow fort. I helped to make snowballs so the fort was loaded for battle. It was such a fun time!

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My second cousin Kirsten, her husband, and two young daughters were headed to Nashville from Minnesota and stopped to hang out for a couple of days. Because of the snow, we all hunkered down and relaxed. It was fun getting to know them better. We don’t get to see them a lot outside of weddings and family reunions. This was a chance to spend quality time together.

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My friends Melanie and Laurie met me twice for dinner. We went to youth group together in high school. It was great to catch up without having to rush. Normally, I have such a limited time in Missouri that I don’t get a chance to see people outside of my family. They were encouraging about my upcoming travels and made me laugh as I told them about Tinder.

I went to my brother’s house one night and watched a movie with him and my nephews. I also watched my nephews who are in high school play some video games, which was entertaining for them.

Conclusion

Overall, it was a busy time in Missouri as I worked out at the gym, went to doctor appointments, got things done with my car, and saw family and friends. It was great to unload my car and get it cleaned. I felt prepared for my trip to Thailand and I could stay for 30 days without needing a visa. I planned to go to Vietnam next and stay for 30 days there as well. I wasn’t exactly sure where I’d go after that.

I packed up my duffle bag and small carry-on bag. I also had a medium sized backpack for hiking and biking. I was disappointed that I had so much luggage, but traveling for several months and needing clothes for hot and cold temperatures meant I needed it all. My medications and daily use contacts also took up a lot of space.

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I said my goodbyes and headed to the airport. I was flying to Los Angeles first for two days. I needed to give my tax accountant my documents for the tax year so she could complete them in time for filing in April. It would also give me a chance to see a couple of friends. I spent almost six weeks in Lake Saint Louis and it flew by. It was great to see people, but I was ready for my next adventure!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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