Day 253: Dive Certification Failure

I drove the scooter to my diving class that started promptly at 8:00 am. Birgit, our instructor, started the class by going over the questions that we had failed on the quizzes on our homework. I wasn’t aware that she could see how many times we failed and which questions we got wrong. Oops. Next, we continued with academics, learning all about the math that goes into it, the different types of oxygen, hand signals, and all of the ways you can die.

I know this is all necessary, but there are so many ways you can die when diving. Not just running out of air, but getting the bends. Initially, I was worried about sharks. After all of the academics, I didn’t even think about sharks. I only cared about all of the science that goes into breathing under several meters of ocean water and how not to die. The number one thing to remember is to “never hold your breath.”

We got an hour break before going into the pool. I went to a restaurant and got some food and then headed back down the street to the dive shop. We put shorty wetsuits on (a one piece short-sleeve shirt and shorts). It was thick and helped with the cold. We got into the shallow end of the pool and put our BCD (vest) with tanks on.

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We had to do a lot of skill tests under the water, but in the shallow end first. We put the regulators in (the piece that goes into your mouth and gives you oxygen) and got on our knees so that we were completely submerged in the water. Birgit would demonstrate a skill and we would each do it one-by-one while she watched us. She always had me go first, which was good because I didn’t have time to overthink anything.

We performed the following skills:

  • Swim in a circle for two minutes straight without touching anything to demonstrate that we could swim.
  • Use hand signals to show that we were out of air, accept the spare regulator on Birgit’s BCD, and switch regulators while still breathing and surfacing.
  • Use hand signals saying we were ok, signal that we wanted to surface, signal that we wanted to go down, etc.

There were about 24 different skills that we had to perform to show Birgit that we could do them with confidence. The hardest one for me was the mask removal. First, we had to demonstrate clearing our masks. We’d pinch the top to get some water inside the mask, than we’d breathe out forcefully through our nose while holding the top sides of our mask, allowing the water to go out the bottom.

I had two problems: 1) I have always plugged my nose when I go under water, so letting water into my mask was causing water to go up my nose. 2) I was lifting my mask up too much, so more water would just come in instead of it emptying.

Birgit assured me that if someone struggles with diving, it’s always the mask removal and clearing part. She encouraged me, was patient, and talked me through it.

I was eventually able to clear the mask, but then I had to do the mask removal. In this skill, we had to remove our mask entirely, keep it off for about three seconds, and then put it back on. It would be full of water, so we’d have to clear the mask. We had to do all of this under water. Because the chlorine would burn our eyes, Birgit said we could close them, which I did.

Once I took my mask off, it felt like water was gushing up my nose. Birgit told me that water would stop going up and it would be fine, but there was something causing me to breathe in bursts. It wasn’t natural for me to close off my nose. I am someone who only breathes through my nose when I sleep. I am not conditioned to not breathe through my nose.

After a few tries, I was able to do the mask clearing and the mask removal. However, because I had struggled with it, Birgit made me do it a few times successfully before she was satisfied. It made sense. In order to certify me, she needed to know that I could do it calmly and not panic. Doing this several times was exhausting, but I completed it.

We took a quick five minute break to use the restrooms and then were back in the pool, but this time it was in the deep end. I had to equalize my ears a few times on the way down. Then we were tasked with doing all of the same skills. They would be back-to-back, without surfacing. Once we passed this part, we’d go into the ocean the next day and do some of the skills there, including the mask removal.

In the deep end, we had to do an additional skill. It would involve taking our mask off, swimming with Birgit so she could guide us with our eyes closed to one end of the pool and back, and then putting our mask on and clearing the water. This time, Birgit had the other girls do the skill before me.

As I watched Birgit guide the other girls one-by-one, I had time to think. I was exhausted. At this point, we had been in the pool for almost five hours, I was hungry, and I was also nauseous. I didn’t take any motion sickness medicine and the motion of the water over several hours was making me feel sick.

My mind wandered, Why am I doing this? I won’t be able to have my mask off that long because water will go up my nose. I won’t be able to clear my mask. If I’m panicked in the pool, I’m going to really panic in the ocean. Do I even want to dive? Am I just doing this because it’s cheaper here and it would be cool to say I did it? Maybe I don’t even like diving. I’ve never even done a ‘try dive.’ I don’t need to do this. I should just give up.

I looked to the surface and contemplated swimming up. Then Birgit came to me and it was my turn to do the mask-removal swim. I took off my mask and almost immediately swam to the surface. Sweet Birgit tried to convince me that I was so close and to return to the bottom, but I told her I needed a break.

I sat on the side of the pool while Birgit finished the last few skills with the other girls. Once they were finished, Birgit asked what I wanted to do. I told her that I couldn’t do it and I wanted to do the “try dive” the next day instead of continuing with the class. Birgit told me that it’s natural to struggle with mask removal and that I was so close to finishing, she didn’t want to see me give up.

I felt defeated. I’ve never quit anything in my life. I was drained and I felt like a loser. Birgit convinced me to meet her from 7:00-8:00 am the next morning before class and we could finish the last few skill exercises in the deep end and if I passed, I could continue with the certification. I thought maybe I’d feel better the next day, so I agreed.

I drove back to my Airbnb, showered, and met Davina at a restaurant for dinner. I met her on Phi Phi Island a few days prior. She’s in her 40s, is from Wales, and was traveling solo. I told Davina about my diving experience, how I thought I couldn’t do it, and felt like a failure. She was so encouraging and told me that I could do it. She is certified to dive and was going to get her advanced certification while on Koh Tao.

Davina and I had a nice dinner by the water. We talked about our previous relationships and dating at our age. It’s not easy and we both had stories (more like nightmares) of trying to find a good man. Davina has kids aged 18 and 23. She talked about them and how she encouraged her daughter to be an independent, strong female. Davina was really encouraging and I’m so happy I had her there to support me and make me feel like less of a failure.

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When I got back to my Airbnb, I did the homework and tried to sleep. I had a difficult time because I knew what awaited me in the morning. I tossed and turned, hoping that I would be able to complete my dive certification.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 251-252: Koh Tao Island

I woke up in my hotel in Krabi, Thailand scratching at bug bites. I wasn’t sure where I got them, but they itched! I booked a package ferry and bus ride to Koh Tao Island from my taxi driver the previous day, so I got picked up from my hotel at 11:30 am and taken to a bus stop.

After enjoying some fried rice at a stand and talking with a guy from France, I got on the bus. It took a few hours to get across the peninsula, where the bus dropped us off at the ferry terminal. When I boarded the ferry, they just stacked suitcases and bags in the front of the inside room.

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I spent some time inside writing for my blog and then I wandered to the top to watch the water. We stopped at two other islands (Koh Samui and Koh PhaNgan) before arriving in Koh Tao. Each island was beautiful and I enjoyed watching the sunset on the water.

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By the time we arrived on Koh Tao, it was dark outside and a cool 86 °F. Getting my bags was a challenge because everyone was trying to find theirs in the chaotic stacks. I got a taxi, which was pretty expensive for Thailand ($13 USD), but they don’t have many cars on the island. We drove just over a mile and arrived at my Airbnb.

I was renting a room from a family. I walked into the downstairs portion and was greeted by a pregnant woman sitting at a desk. Although she didn’t speak much English, the woman directed me outside and up two flights of stairs to my room. Her husband carried my bags and told me that his wife could do my laundry for $6.50 USD. It would take 24 hours because they line-dry clothes. It sounded pretty good to me, so I gave him my dirty clothes.

The family rented out a couple of other  rooms, but I felt like I hit the jackpot. I was on the top floor with incredible views of the island because the house was situated on a hill.

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I walked down the hill to the first restaurant that I saw, which was Italian. It was romantic and the other patrons consisted of couples and groups of girls. This island was not a party island like Phi Phi. I sat alone and ate delicious tuna fish. After I ate, I stopped at a market and bought some bottled water. I huffed and puffed as I carried the six, 1-liter bottles up to my Airbnb.

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The next day, the Airbnb host told me that his brother rents motorbikes next door at his shop. Since I was staying with them, they would rent one to me for four days for only $700 baht ($23 USD). I could park the motorbike in the small dirt section in front of their building and the building next door where they (and several construction workers) were doing renovations.

The brother got me a bike and showed me the basics. He also didn’t speak much English, so it was a challenge. The shop is on the side of a steep hill and the night before I heard a girl crash her motorbike across the street while trying to drive up the entrance to her nice hotel. I ran outside when I heard the noise and saw her boyfriend helping her get up and move the bike. I had to sign a form saying that if I wrecked the bike, I’d have to pay a lot of money.

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I rode a scooter in Italy five years prior, but that’s about it. I loved riding that scooter though and even thought about buying one. I was confident I could drive the scooter, but I wasn’t so confident that I could make it up the steep hill. As I pulled away, I kept stopping, hitting the breaks, and putting my feet back down on the ground because I felt like I was going to fall to the side. You need to put your feet up and onto the bike platform once you start driving for obvious reasons. The problem was that I had to turn the throttle hard to get enough power to go up the hill, which scared me.

The poor owner looked worried as I kept pausing to put my feet back on the ground. My Airbnb hosts and some of the construction men were watching me and the pressure was on. My hosts were encouraging me, saying I could do it. Finally, I gave it enough power, lifted my feet, and took off up the hill. I made it to the top and then the road went back down the other side of the island. It was so beautiful! I was thrilled to be on a motorbike and thought it would be a perfect way for me to get around.

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There was a crazy steep, small dirt path leading up a hill. I paused, unsure if I could go up it. A couple drove down the path and said it would be fine. Then a woman came driving up, past me, and drove up the path. Shortly after, she came back saying it turned into too much dirt and wasn’t suitable for the scooters. As I was waiting to see if she would come back, the owner of the bike came riding up. He wanted to check on me and make sure I was ok. I thought it was nice, but I knew he was also likely concerned about his bike.

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I went back down the hill past my Airbnb and into town. There were a lot more motorbikes and cars, so I drove slowly. Driving on the left wasn’t very hard because the lanes were basic. I drove all around the island and then saw a lookout point with a bar at the top. I pulled over and parked by all of the other scooters. A blonde American girl in her early 20s was getting back to her dirt bike and we chatted. I told her that I was impressed that she was on an actual dirt bike. She said she grew up in the country and was used to them. Then she asked me what I had to leave with the bike rental company. I told her nothing, I just gave them money for the rental. The girl looked worried, saying they took her passport and asked for a $5,000 baht deposit. Once they saw that she had $5,000 baht, they asked for $8,000 baht ($260 USD).

The girl, clearly concerned, looked at her boyfriend when I told her that I didn’t leave a passport or a deposit. However, I explained that I rented from the brother of my Airbnb hosts, so he gave me a deal. It’s one of the nice things about staying in Airbnb’s with locals – they help you out. I told the girl where my place was and warned her because I read online that it’s a common thing they do. They hold your passport and won’t give it back unless you pay a crazy amount of money. Don’t ever give up your passport.

The girl and her boyfriend drove off and I climbed some rock-steps to the top of the lookout point. It was breathtaking! From that spot, I could see two different beaches, one on each side of me. The land jetted out, so the beaches were in coves below me. There was hardly anybody there either. I ordered a watermelon frozen drink and sat down on a mat. It was 83 °F with a real feel of 94 °F and the breeze felt good.

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After my drink, I got back on the bike and ended up at a hotel on the beach. I passed two guys playing pool and asked for a table. It was 2:30 pm and there wasn’t anybody there! I know I often eat at strange times, but I couldn’t believe how empty it was. I ate some food while sitting at the best table right off the water. It was crazy. In Hawaii, places would be much more crowded, and Thailand was a fraction of the cost you’d pay in Hawaii. It was just as beautiful as Hawaii too.

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After I ate, I drove to the dive shop, Roctopus Dive, where I would start my three and a half  day diving certification class. I was getting Open Water 20 certified, which would allow me to dive up to 20 meters anywhere in the world.

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I arrived at the shop to start the orientation. At the last minute, a guy walked in and signed up for the class. Roctopus Dive only trains in groups of four or less and this guy now made five. I was impressed that, at the last minute, the company found another instructor and separated us.

I was in a group with two other girls from Germany. One girl was only 18 years old and the other was 22. They weren’t traveling together though. The 18-year-old was traveling with a friend who was getting her advanced certification, so she thought she would get Open Water 20 certified while she was there. We also had a third girl with us from Germany who was working on her Dive Master certification, so she was in training.

Our instructor was Birgit. She appeared to be in her mid-20s, had long wavy blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and was from Estonia. She was very beautiful and had an athletic build to her short frame. Because everyone except for me was a non-native English speaker, she spoke with a very distinct pronunciation. Birgit had been teaching dive certification for two years and loved it. From the time she was young, she called herself a mermaid.

We were in a small air-conditioned classroom learning “academics.” There was a lot to learn and we were assigned homework that had to be completed before the next morning. Once class was over, I drove back to my Airbnb, walked across the street to the hotel rooftop bar and ate dinner. The place only had a group of three people there and once they left, I was all alone. The view was beautiful and the music was nice.

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After dinner, I went back to my Airbnb and did the homework on my phone. We were provided an app to read through A LOT of information and we had to take (and pass) several quizzes. I was lying on the bed and kept falling asleep. There was so much information and I was struggling to retain it all. I kept failing the quiz on equipment, but it wouldn’t tell me which one I was getting wrong and would change up the questions on the next quiz. It took me a few hours to go through it all and I was exhausted.

I had never dived before, but so many people recommended Koh Tao for certification because of the cost. It cost me $350 USD and I was told it would cost three times that in a place like Australia. I figured I should take advantage of the lower price and the warm, calm water in Thailand. I had no idea what I was in for.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 250: Krabi, Thailand

I checked out of my hotel on Phi Phi Island and walked down the street to the ferry booths. I booked the 1:30 pm ferry to Krabi, which is on the mainland of Thailand. It would take two hours to get there and was scheduled to arrive at 3:30 pm. Once that was booked, I walked to a restaurant for lunch. I needed to figure out where I was going. I ultimately wanted to get to Koh Tao, another island, but it would take three hours by bus to cross the peninsula and then three hours by ferry to the island. It was too late in the day to make it and I heard good things about Krabi, so I figured I’d check it out for a day.

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I boarded the ferry, where there were lots of hungover people sleeping. I sat on the top deck on the back of the boat because I wanted to enjoy the ocean breeze and views. The ferry ride was beautiful as we passed islands and rocks in the ocean. The sun glistened off the water.

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When I arrived in Krabi, I took a Grab to my hotel. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. It had a resort feel to it with a pool and beautiful landscaping. When I arrived to my room, I was so happy! It was large, clean, and best of all, the air conditioning worked really well. I didn’t sleep well at my last hotel because the air conditioning was weak. I was going on four hours of interrupted sleep and desperately wanted to take a nap.

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Instead, I decided that I should enjoy the pool. After putting on my swimsuit, I headed to a pool chair. There were three young guys and two women in the pool. I laid out for awhile, but the sun had already set behind the tall hotel, so I decided to get in the water. As I got in the pool, the three guys got out and went back to their room. One of the women decided to go back to her room and take a shower.

The last woman in the pool approached me. She was from London and appeared to be in her late 40s. The woman told me that her family is from Goa, India and they still live there. She spent the last 11 years remodeling a flat in India as a holiday home near her family. She had recently finished it and took a trip to see the finished project. She decided to take a holiday in Thailand while she was close.

The woman kept swimming closer and closer to me and I felt like my personal space was being invaded. I found myself slowly backing up until I was against the wall. I was hoping she would notice and back off a little, but she kept getting closer and closer. She had me pinned against the wall and said, “You have very white teeth!” I laughed, “That’s funny. Someone on a tour a couple of weeks ago told me the same thing.”

The woman continued, “When you opened your mouth, I couldn’t believe how white they are!” I explained to her that maybe they stand out lately because I had a tan. Surprised, she said, “You mean you haven’t had any work done? It’s all natural?” I answered, “That’s correct. I mean, I use Crest Whitestrips every once in awhile, but that’s it.” I got out of the pool and went back to my room.

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I changed my clothes and headed out to dinner. The hotel offered an open air shuttle to the markets, so I took advantage of it. It was a blast! The air felt cooler than Phi Phi Island and Bangkok. Krabi was a medium-sized city, so it didn’t feel overwhelming.

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I wandered around the market trying different kinds of fish cakes, fried chicken, and then some pad see ew. The pad see ew booth had a few small tables, so I sat down at one. Shortly after, a couple ordered some food, but there was nowhere to sit. The owner instructed them to sit at my table, so they sat across from me.

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Alex was from Romanian and her boyfriend, Pawel, was from Poland. They were living in Poland and traveling through Thailand for three weeks on holiday. Pawel does interior work on flats. In Poland, they buy a flat with just the walls. Then the customer will go to his company and pick everything out to have it just the way they want. Then eight to twelve weeks later, it’s all done.

Pawel originally gave his employer a three month notice that he was going to take four weeks for holiday and had everything booked. Right before he left, his boss basically said he’d be fired if he didn’t come back within three weeks. They had to change their plans and lost money rebooking things, but he needed to be back in three weeks.

Alex worked in software sales, but she didn’t like it. She had a new job lined up for when she returned to Poland that would involve scheduling for project managers. They had recently sold their flat because they saw how much the market had turned and they wanted to take advantage of it.

The couple appeared to be in their mid-20s. Alex and Pawel met in college and had been dating for five years. They rented a scooter for the day and drove it all over the area. We got on the subject of ancestry and I told them that I wanted to visit Eastern Europe because I’ve never been there. I showed them my 23andme data, which shows my ancestry as Northern and Eastern European.

We enjoyed our Thai food, but they admitted they had grown a little tired of the same type of food week after week. Alex said they broke down and ate at Burger King one day. I laughed because I totally understood. After 45 minutes, they had to return their scooter. We said goodbye and I hoped to meet up with them if I ever made it to Poland.

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I missed the last shuttle back to the hotel, so I decided to walk. I walked along the riverfront and past more food stalls. Beautiful sculptures and art pieces were on display. Electrical wires randomly hung from multiple places, sometimes making me fear that I’d run into one.

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I walked through the town for a mile until I reached my hotel. I wasn’t too disappointed that I only spent half a day there because it didn’t seem like much was going on. When I got back to my hotel, I booked some things on Koh Tao, like a diving certification class and my Airbnb. I was nervous about diving, but I heard Koh Tao was the place to get certified. I looked forward to getting back to an island because the Thai Islands are magical.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 248-249: Phi Phi Island is One Big Party

I woke up still exhausted from the day before. I needed to apply online for an extended tourist visa for Australia because I planned to go there after Vietnam. I booked my airfare from Vietnam to Melbourne after I was accepted for a house and cat sit in Ballarat, an hour and a half outside of Melbourne.

All Americans need a visa to visit Australia. The standard visa allows you to stay for up to three months, is easy to fill out, and costs around $20. I wanted to stay for six months because I didn’t want to be limited in house sitting. The tourist visa allows you to stay up to 12 months, but I had to confirm over and over that I wouldn’t work or attend school while I was there.

It took me a few hours to fill out the application on my phone, cost $140 USD, and I had to attach a copy of my passport and two months’ worth of bank statements showing that I wouldn’t run out of money. Once I was finished, the confirmation said the average time to process the application was 29 days. My flight was in 35 days. Thankfully, I was approved in three days for a six-month stay.

Once that was finished, I walked to the beach. It was very hot outside: 96 °F with a real feel of 107 °F. I laid on the beach and tried to get a tan. I got into the ocean for a little bit, but my phone and room key were buried in my bag, so I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I got out of the water because it was too stressful.

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I walked around the island, seeing what else was around. The white sand beaches were beautiful and the water was clear. Unique wooden boats were lined up on the shore. As I wandered through the narrow passageways, men wheeling carts full of supplies passed me. They shouted, “beep, beep, beep!” to warn me to move. I ate some fried rice and went back to my hotel.

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After a quick shower, I walked to The Only Bar to meet Harry, Dave, and Charlie from England. I accidentally took the long way there and walked over a mile in the heat and humidity. I shortly became a sweaty mess and my shower seemed pointless.

When I arrived at the outdoor bar, I saw a small dance floor, a DJ, some tables, and a section with foam pads with backrests to sit and lay on. The whole bar looked out to the ocean and the other bars across the island. I ordered a drink and sat on the pad next to my British friends.

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Dave and Charlie came over and gave me a hug. I hadn’t seen them since Chiang Mai. Charlie danced while Dave sat next to me and talked. We caught each other up on our adventures over the last week and a half. Dave started dancing while I met some women who had been sitting with the guys.

Davina was in her 40s, had medium-length blonde curly hair, and was from Wales. She was really friendly and told me that she’s been divorced three times and has two kids who are now grown. She just packed up and left to start traveling solo.

Davina showed me tattoos on her feet. On the inside of one foot it read,”Made in Wales.” On the other foot, it read, “Not in England.” She laughed and said she got tired of people thinking that Wales was in England, not knowing that it is a separate country in The United Kingdom. Davina was proud of her Wales heritage.

A girl named Amie was also sitting on the padded area with the group. She was in here 20s, was very short and petite, had long blonde hair, and was from England. She had been living in Thailand for a year and a half. Amie lived in Phuket, about a three hour ferry ride away, with her Thai boyfriend. She had a bandage over one ear and explained that she had an ear infection. She couldn’t work with the infection, so she decided to take a mini-vacation to Phi Phi Island.

There was another girl there from England traveling solo, but I didn’t talk to her much. Davina thought it was the coolest thing that we were all solo female travelers. She said, “Cheers to female empowerment!” We sat around a circle on the pad and told stories about our travels.

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I noticed that the other customers at the bar were mostly French and German and didn’t speak English. It seemed that all of the English speakers gravitated to one another.

Davina went home to rest, but we agreed to stay in touch and maybe meet up later. Amie and I got along well. She told me that she didn’t think she’d meet any friends because she usually doesn’t get along with other women. She likes genuine people who are down to earth. We laughed and became fast friends.

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Harry had been lying on the mat while Dave and Charlie danced away. I leaned over to Harry and said, “You’re not even going to say hi to me?” He slowly turned his head and said, “I’m pretty out of it right now.” Indeed he was.

After a few hours of hanging out at the bar, I wasn’t feeling very good. I realized the bartenders filled the cups with 50% alcohol and 50% mixer. Amie and I laid there watching the ocean, feeling relaxed. She left at some point to go home, but I didn’t feel like I could walk back, so I stayed there.

I went to use the restroom and felt like I needed to throw up. I was standing at the shared outdoor sink contemplating when a French girl came up to me. She said she only speaks a little bit of Enligsh and asked if I speak French or German. I sighed, “I only speak English.” She mimicked putting her finger down her throat and told me to throw up because I’d feel better. She walked away and came back with a bottle of water, which was so sweet.

Finally after ten minutes of standing there, hoping to throw up, I put my finger down my throat. It was all liquid and I realized I hadn’t eaten dinner, just some fried rice around 4:30 pm, which was lunch and dinner. It was now around 1:00 am. I knew if I didn’t throw up, I wouldn’t make it to the boat the next day.

When I returned to the padded area, the guys were gone. I messaged them and Harry wrote me back saying that they didn’t see me, but they were tired and decided to leave. I laid back down on the foam padding with my head propped up. I needed to rest more and drink water. At 2:00 am, the bar was closing and the lights came on. I got up and wandered through the passageways. The sweet French girl saw me and helped guide me in the correct direction.

On the way back, I saw a stand selling pizza by the slice. I bought a slice and ate it as I walked back to my hotel. It wasn’t very tasty, but it was just what I needed. I felt so hungry and I really wanted the bread.

The next morning, I was supposed to meet the guys at 10:00 am for a private boat tour. I needed to extend my stay one night in order to stay another day. My hotel didn’t have my room available another night, so I had to pack up my stuff and move it to another room upstairs. I felt ok in the morning and I was happy that I threw up and ate pizza.

After switching rooms, I walked down the beach to the restaurant that the guys told me about. Harry mentioned days earlier that they had met some British girls there and they all decided to take the private boat out for the day. It only cost each of us something like $12 USD and we’d have a driver take us around the island to different spots for six hours.

I arrived at the restaurant and Dave was there with the two girls. I didn’t realize they were the two girls that the guys had been dancing with the night before. Nobody introduced us, so I thought they were just random girls at the bar.

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We were waiting for Harry and Charlie to arrive, so I had the chance to order breakfast. The boat was just off shore, but the driver needed some time to wait for the tide to come in before we could leave. I was happy to have the opportunity to eat and get some coffee.

The English girls were nice. They were in their mid-20s and were on vacation for a couple of weeks in Thailand. Laina was tall (around 5’11”), had long dark hair, and was voluptuous. She often talked about herself as being “big,” but she looked good and owned it. She had a lot of confidence and a big personality.

Stevie was slightly shorter than Laina, had medium-length brown hair, was fit, and had a sexual vibe about her. Both of the ladies often posed for pictures with “duck lips.” I felt a little out of place at first, but they ended up being really nice!

Harry and Charlie showed up and ate some breakfast. We also ordered lunch for take-away, so we had something to eat on the boat. When the tide was right, we all boarded the boat. It was a small wooden boat with wooden slats in the middle to sit on. You could also sit at the front of the bow.

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As we rode around the island, I noticed Stevie and Dave were pretty much an item. They often sat together and had a lot of physical contact. Everyone opened some beers that they brought and I couldn’t stomach the thought of more alcohol, so I stuck with water.

The island was incredible! We rode past rock formations and into small alcoves. It looked like something from a movie. The water was a beautiful light turquoise. The driver would stop at a spot and we’d jump into the water, swim to a beach, or snorkel around. We were often the only ones in the little alcoves. At one spot, colorful fish swam next to our boat. I jumped into the water and snorkeled around them.

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We continued driving around the island. Some spots had other boats from larger tour companies. Since our boat was small and we had a personal driver, we were able to go to hidden, secluded areas. At one spot, I swam to shore with Laina. We enjoyed playing with the sand because it was so soft. It didn’t feel like sand, it felt more like powder.

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 I got to know Laina better and I told her that I had been married for ten years, but I was divorced. We had a nice conversation about relationships as we swam back to the boat. She had such a strong self-confidence, I wanted to learn from her. I wasn’t feeling very good because I was getting sea sick. I took some Dramamine to help, but I should have taken it before we got on the boat. I was trying hard not to feel nauseous.

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Halfway through the day, I noticed that my gel nail polish from the manicure I got a few days earlier was peeling off. I said, “Wow, the salt water is destroying my nail polish.” Harry rolled his eyes and said, “That’s such a bird thing to say.” Confused, I asked what he was talking about. He explained that it’s an expression meaning “it’s such a woman thing to say.”

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We continued in the boat and the sun reflected off of the water as it started to set. We pulled into a medium-sized beach where other boats and tourists were enjoying the area. We stayed at this beach longer, so I got my towel and laid out. I dozed off because the Dramamine made me sleepy. After that beach, we drove back to the main part of the island.

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As we got off the boat, Harry said we should make sure to grab all of our trash so the driver doesn’t have to clean up after us. He started collecting trash and handing bags for people to take with them. Harry always bragged that he was not a nice guy – he was a heartbreaker and a womanizer. I said to him, “You always say you’re not a nice guy, but your actions show you are actually a nice guy.” I hope that as Harry gets older, he realizes that being a nice guy is actually an asset. Being a jerk and a womanizer might work while you’re young, but it won’t work as you get older. The Harry I knew was actually a considerate guy who cared and I wanted him to embrace that.

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I walked back to my hotel and showered. Then I met the crew for dinner at a nice outdoor restaurant. Harry really wanted to pick his own fish from a market and this restaurant let you pick your fish from a display of seafood and then they cook it for you. It was a beautiful night and we enjoyed wine. Harry commented that my hair looked more blonde. It tends to get lighter in the sun and a full day on the ocean did lighten it up a bit.

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The six of us had a delightful dinner with sand under our feet. The food was good, but the company was better. Laina and Stevie told us about their life in England and how they’ve been friends for a long time. They’ve had lots of wild adventures and they often go on beach holidays.

After dinner, we walked to an outdoor bar that had lounge cushions on the sand. We got drinks while loud music pumped around us. I told Harry not to fall asleep again (he fell asleep at the bar the night before). We danced around and then I sat on a cushion. I watched people walk by on the beach, dance on sand at our bar and bars next to us, and couples enjoying each other’s company.

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Phi Phi island is definitely a party island. It felt like a place where French and Germans got to escape their winter. Sort of like Cancun for Americans on spring break. I was enjoying the night, but the cushion was so comfortable that I fell asleep! When I woke up and we left the bar, Harry pointed out that I was the one who fell asleep this time. He said, “Typical American. Tell others not to do it and then do it yourself.” Oops.

We all walked back to the hotel where the guys were staying. Their room had three twin beds and a balcony. Harry had to turn back because he accidentally left his shoes at the bar. When we arrived at the hotel, Stevie sat on Dave’s bed and Liana sat on Charlie’s bed. I sat on the bed that was left, Harry’s bed. When Harry arrived, he told me I would need to “relocate,” so he could have his bed. I got up from his bed and stood around while he laid down.

It hurt my feelings because I just wanted a place to sit down. The other guys didn’t tell the girls to move. I tried to ignore it as Harry started to fall asleep. The rest of us drank, ate snacks, and danced around. Laina asked me how old I was and I told her that I just turned 39. She was surprised and said she thought I was maybe 32 because I said I had been married for ten years.

Dave asked me if I wanted a can of jack and coke and I hesitated. I felt bad taking a drink that I didn’t pay for and I wasn’t sure how late I wanted to stay up, which resulted in me being unable to make up my mind. He ended up giving me one and said, “Sometimes you’re really awkward, you know?”

I couldn’t get that comment out of my head. I sat there feeling rejected. I am awkward sometimes. Maybe it was a cultural difference between us because I wasn’t from England. Or maybe I’m just awkward. I tried hard to ignore it, but that combined with Harry telling me to relocate made me feel depressed. I was standing on the balcony with Laina, Stevie, and Dave. In an exaggerated tone, I made a comment to Dave that I didn’t want to be awkward. He immediately said he was joking.

I fought back tears and told him I know sometimes I’m awkward. He explained that he said that because sometimes I don’t accept things from them. I said I’m not used to it because I’m usually the one offering things to people. He felt bad and tried hard to reassure me that we were friends and he was just joking. It was British humor. I knew Dave was a nice guy, but I felt sensitive to the remark.

I finally left just before 6:00 am and walked 15 minutes back to my hotel to get a few hours of sleep. Tears fell down my cheeks as I wondered if I’d be alone forever. Maybe nobody wants to date me because I’m too weird. I was feeling over-emotional and overly sensitive.

Overall, it was a fun day and a fun night. I got to know Laina and Stevie, and we all had a great time together. I’m really happy that I had fun people to hang out with during my time on the island. Going to a party island alone was intimidating. Having friends on the island allowed me to experience the island as it should be. I wouldn’t have been able to go on that boat alone and going to bars alone is not very fun. I will always remember my time on Phi Phi Island as a great time with great friends.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 244-246: City Living

Miley, my Airbnb host, gave me a ride to the Sky Train which would take me to the Siam Center, a mall in Bangkok. Miley was tall, had red circular glasses, and a confident stature. She appeared to be in her late 20s and was in charge of the Airbnbs in her family home. I got in the front seat of her car and turned around to meet her family.

Miley’s mother and grandmother were in the back, so we said hello to each other. Then they said something in Thai, which I couldn’t understand. I looked at Miley for help and she said, “They think you’re very brave to be traveling alone. They think it’s great.” I smiled, “Oh, well tell them I said thank you!”

Miley dropped me off at the Sky Train station and gave me instructions for how to use it. I climbed a few flights of stairs, bought a ticket at the ticket booth, and followed the ticket booth operator’s instructions on where to stand to get the correct train to the mall.

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The Sky Train is an elevated metro system and provides some amazing views of the city. I wanted to ride it and I read online that the malls in Bangkok are something special to see. It made sense to take the train to the mall. It wasn’t very crowded, it was new and clean, and it reminded me of England. In Thailand, they drive on the left, say “mind the gap” when getting on and off the train, and “mind your hands.” In Chiang Mai, a local told me they had a strong presence from England decades ago, so they have replicated a lot of the Brittish culture.

The Siam Center was huge! I first started to look around the outside covered area and found a small shop selling a “pancake cup,” which is a cup of mini-pancakes, strawberries, and cream. I ate a cup while enjoying the small air conditioned section. I continued walking and noticed shops had very narrow stores with glass doors. The doors allowed for air conditioning and they only had to cool off a very small section. What it created, however, were small store booths that looked like little jail cells.

I continued walking around, but the heat and humidity were making me uncomfortable. I found a restaurant with air conditioning and ordered a chicken with egg. After that, I went to the main indoor section, Siam Paragon. The multilevel glass windows made it look regal and expensive.

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I used the toilet and it included a container of disinfectant that you could use to wipe your seat. Bathrooms (or toilets as they say) are very inconsistent in Thailand. Most are run down, or only have squat toilets, don’t have toilet paper and instead have a spray nozzle attached for you to use to wash yourself, and no soap. But there are also high-end places like this mall where the toilets are fancy – they included toilet paper and the spray nozzle, soap, and were incredibly clean. This bathroom was cleaner and nicer than most bathrooms in the U.S.

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I continued walking around and couldn’t believe how amazing this mall was! The floors shined from the marble, sculptures hung from the ceiling, and I could look up and see seven stories! Most stores were priced similar to an average store in the mall in the U.S. There were also high-end stores like Chanel, Bvlgari, Cartier, and Rolex.

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This mall had everything you needed: furniture stores, hair salons, investments banks, a bowling alley, a boxing gym, a movie theater, a food court, lounges, and car dealerships with actual cars inside! I watched as children in school uniforms worked on homework in the food court and it appeared people spent many hours there.

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I was exhausted from walking around so much and even though there was air conditioning, I was still a little warm. I read online that the movie theater there is a “must see,” so I headed to the very top floor and found it. I talked with the girl at the counter because I was confused about the theatre options. She talked me into the higher-end theater that came with a small ice cream, a latte, a small bottle of water, and a lounge recliner seat. It cost $32 USD, which I thought was a lot, but I wanted some down time.

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I walked into the VIP lounge and was treated like royalty. While they got my ice cream, latte, water, and the popcorn that I ordered for $5 USD, I went to use the toilet. It was the most fancy toilet I’ve ever seen! I had my own little room that was covered in marble. The toilet lid opened itself when I approached. The seat was heated, it washed me, and then flushed itself. As soon as I left my little room, which included a personal sink and cloth washcloth, a housekeeping woman immediately went in to make sure it was perfect for the next guest.

I got to my theater and it was dark, so a man walked me to my seat using a flashlight. My seat was a large double seater for couples. There were only two other people in the theatre and they were a few rows up from me.

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I watched the movie, The Favourite, about Queen Anne. The movie was in English, but it had Thai subtitles. I enjoyed the movie and the pampering was nice.

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When the movie finished it was dark outside. I walked through the mall some more and eventually left. I walked towards a rooftop bar,  checking out the shops and nightlife around me. It reminded me of New York City because of its size and high-rise buildings, but the walkways, stairs, and bridges reminded me of Las Vegas.

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There didn’t seem to be any trash cans around on the street corner like I’m used to. When I had trash from a water bottle or snack wrapper, I just put it in my purse until I could find a trash can. The strange thing is that they don’t have a lot of litter around. I also noticed another big difference than the U.S. Maybe it was just where I was walking (near a high-end mall), but I didn’t see any homeless people. I saw only one disabled man laying on the street asking for money. In the U.S., homelessness has become an epidemic for many cities.

I walked just over two miles and arrived at a rooftop bar that I found online. It provided incredible views of the majority of the city. I paid for the view in the price of the drinks ($12 USD each). I enjoyed some appetizers and cocktails while enjoying the evening. I didn’t run into many tourists, especially Americans, during most of my time in Thailand. But in touristy places like the rooftop bar, I could hear American accents.

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I took a Grab to my Airbnb and slept in the next morning. I was feeling extremely tired. I lounged around, updating my blog and creating a video. It takes much longer than you’d expect to do all of this.

I needed to eat more than a protein shake, so I wandered around my local neighborhood. On the way out, I met Miley’s mom. She didn’t speak much English, but she was really welcoming. Miley’s family always had a smile on their faces.

I ate Americanized chicken for dinner, but it was not good. As I walked around, I saw a nail salon behind the glass windows, so I stopped in. They didn’t speak English, but a customer translated and told me to come back in 20 minutes. I enjoyed some ice cream and made my way back.

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The manicure wasn’t done very well because the girl didn’t do much cuticle work. They had gel polish though, which I couldn’t find in Chiang Mai. The girl then worked on my feet while another girl and a guy just hung out talking in Thai. She saw that my big toe on my left foot was bruised under the nail and she kept asking me something in Thai. I kept telling her I don’t speak Thai.

Then the girl who was just hanging out used her phone and Google Translate. It said, “nail figure” and I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know what that meant. Then she typed “are you hurt?” I shrugged again, “I guess so.” I didn’t know where I got that bruise, but it hurt, especially when she dug under it.

As I sat there getting my nails done, I played on Facebook and saw that the girl, Tsui, who I met in Chiang Mai at the Art Museum posted a sweet message to her account about the time we spent together. Tears came to my eyes as I read it. Seeing her post made me smile and I was grateful that I had this opportunity, even though it was tiring at times.

The next morning, I took Miley’s advice and took a Grab to Nonthaburi Pier. When I arrived, I searched for the long tail boats. I read online that the boats were a really fun way to get to the island that I was going to. There were a few different men with long tail boats and one approached me. He told me it would cost $400 Baht ($13 USD) for a round trip.

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The driver’s name was Pet and he helped me get  into the small boat without tipping over. I sat on two wooden boards in the middle, just in front of Pet. The boat was so close to the water that when we took off, water was splashing up on the sides. I didn’t get wet though and it was a really fun ride! The wind was a nice reprieve from the heat and humidity.

Pet stopped a couple of times for me to take pictures. We rode up the river, passing under a huge modern bridge, small houses that were right off the river on stilts, and statues.

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I climbed off the boat when we arrived to Ko Kret, a man-made island. Pet told me to be back there in two hours and he would pick me up. The island is still in the craziness of Bangkok and they offer a weekend market. I perused the stalls of interesting foods, occasionally buying some to try. I resisted the temptation to buy anything else. It was over 100 °F outside and walking around in the humidity made me sweat like crazy.

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After two hours, I returned to the spot Pet had dropped me off and thankfully he was there waiting. The boat ride was just as fun getting back. Once I got back, I took a Grab to another weekend market that is well known in Bangkok, the Chatuchak Weekend Market.  

The market had so many stalls that it felt a little overwhelming. Some stalls were in the sun, while others were under a shared roof. With no air conditioning, it made it difficult to spend much time there. The vendors sold everything from clothes, food, and household items to essential oils. I mostly purchased cold beverages.

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In the maze of shops, I found a tiny room with sliding glass doors with air conditioning and just enough space for five people to sit down for a massage. I paid $6.50 USD for a 45-minute foot, neck, and back massage.

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The massage was good, but the woman was really digging into my foot. Two minutes after walking away, the top of my right foot was hurting so bad that I started to limp. I forgot that a bad massage is worse than no massage.

The Sky Train was nearby, so I bought a ticket and stood in line for the Siam Center. It was taking a while for the train to arrive and then a man came by and said it was broken, but should be up soon. After 20 minutes, the station was packed. I squeezed my way inside and made it the Siam Center.

I had a coupon for a 15 minute massage that was part of the movie theater package I purchased days before. I sat in the cool, comfortable plush chair while the woman painfully massaged my neck and shoulders.

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After the massage, I walked a few blocks to the Hard Rock Cafe to buy a shot glass (I collect them). My limp was more pronounced now, making me look funny. When I arrived hot, sweaty, and limping, the woman told me that they had a happy hour special – two for one drinks. That sounded appealing, so I sat down and enjoyed mojitos and a salad. Nothing makes you look more pathetic eating alone at a restaurant than enjoying two drinks at the same time.

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After Hard Rock, I walked around for what seemed like an eternity, trying to find a Boots pharmacy. I finally found it at the bottom level of the food court of the huge mall. I asked a pharmacist for help with my toe nail. I told him that maybe it wasn’t a bruise under the nail, maybe it was a fungus. I also needed an antihistamine cream for some bug bites. The pharmacist was helpful, but it turned out it was just a huge bruise under my toenail and the antifungal cream didn’t help any.

To get back to my Airbnb, I was going to order a Grab, but there was nowhere for them to pull up. The Tuk Tuk drivers offered a ride for $20 USD and didn’t know where I was going. A Grab would cost me around $4 USD, so I kept walking.

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The busy streets were insane. At one point, I needed to cross a large intersection, but they don’t use crosswalks. I waited for five minutes with a large group of people. The cars didn’t stop. Multiple lanes of motorbikes, cars, Tuk Tuks, and busses raced by. Eventually, some people started to cross. I took advantage of their numbers and joined them. It was wild! We formed a group and slowly crossed while vehicles passed in front and behind us. The stop lights have a digital display that counts down how long until it changes colors, mostly starting from 40 seconds. That helped to know when the light was going to change.

I continued walking while attempting to find a place where a driver could pick me up. It was like the Las Vegas Strip – multiple lanes with a divider in the middle of the street. I passed “love massage” places and lots of tourists. Finally, after a mile of walking, I ordered a Grab. When the driver pulled up, it was on the opposite side of the street.

I had waited 15 minutes for him to arrive in the traffic and I knew there was no way that he could get to me. I took a deep breath and ran across the multiple lanes as fast as I could. I got to the divider and once it was clear, I ran across those lanes to my driver.

Bangkok is an exhausting city. I am glad I was able to see and experience it, but the crowds, heat, humidity, traffic, and overall insanity made me want to get out. I was headed to Phuket the next day, and I decided I needed to spend some time relaxing on the islands for the next few days.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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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 Harry’s shirt for help. Harry pushed the guy away, told him to “f*ck off,” 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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Days 237-238: Art in Paradise

After nine adventurous days of hiking and biking through the Chiang Mai Province, I was happy to sleep in. My studio apartment was comfortable and quiet. I watched Master of None on Netflix until I realized I needed food other than my protein shake.

I didn’t feel like getting dressed and going out. I just wanted to veg out and relax. I couldn’t find many food options on Apple Maps, so I decided to walk around and find something. I put some clothes on, but didn’t bother with any makeup.

The neighborhood was mostly residential and business, so I walked and walked without finding any restaurants. Finally I found a small cafe in a hotel with good reviews, so I popped inside to take a break.

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The pink and red heart decorations reminded me that it was Valentine’s Day. The place was empty. I ordered a dessert and a blended coffee drink, and sat at the counter facing out to the street. I was glad that I started the trip with a group of people and a guide who taught me about Thailand. It made me feel comfortable to venture out on my own.

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I continued walking down a main street and suddenly arrived at an outdoor market. I perused the stalls and passed restaurants, unable to decide what to eat. Across the street was a huge modern mall called Maya. It was clearly the spot to be.

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I walked into the main entrance and was amazed. A glass elevator welcomed guests and displayed several floors of shopping. I browsed the mall and noticed stores referencing the U.S. called “New York-LA” and “Portland.”

Eventually I found a restaurant that looked appetizing. It was large and modern with English menus. I ordered a pizza and savored the taste. It had been almost two weeks since I had American food and I missed it.

I took my leftover pizza and continued browsing through the mall. I was feeling a little self-conscious because I wasn’t wearing any makeup. It’s strange. When I’m in workout clothes, I don’t mind not having makeup on and I’ll go out in public all sweaty. But if I’m in regular clothes, I feel like I should have some makeup on. I continued anyway because I needed to find a new piece of luggage.

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The cheap $35 suitcase that I purchased from the market when I first arrived in Chiang Mai was horrible. It wasn’t properly designed, so when it was full it would immediately tip forward and fall over. The black plastic feet on the bottom were also coming off, making it even more ridiculous. This was a replacement suitcase after the airplane ruined my duffle bag.

After looking at several luggage stores, I decided on a hard plastic suitcase with a one-year warranty made by American Tourister. Ironically, I had never seen that brand in America. It cost $127 USD, which I thought was a lot for Thailand. I decided to buy it because I would be traveling for many months and needed something sturdy.

Once again, I was dragging an empty suitcase down a sidewalk. There was a college next to the mall, so college students were out and about at a nighttime market. Lights hung overhead and created a romantic atmosphere. I spent the rest of the evening researching how to spend my time in Chiang Mai.

The next day, I took a Grab to Art in Paradise. It’s a 3D art museum where you can insert yourself into the pictures. At the ticket counter, the woman told me, “It’s better to come with a friend.” Yeah, well, I didn’t have any friends with me, so my only option was to go alone.

I knew it was better to go with a friend so someone could take your picture. There weren’t many people there, so I just took pictures of the murals. After I took a couple of pictures, a Chinese couple took a picture for me. It was nice of them to offer, but I didn’t want them to think they had to stay with me the whole time. There is an app that you have to use to get the pictures to turn into video. The couple showed me how to use it, communicating mostly through gestures since they didn’t speak much English.

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As I was waiting for the app to download, the couple continued to explore. All of a sudden, a girl walked up to me and asked if we could take pictures of each other. Tsui was from Taiwan, was petite, and had straight black hair pulled back into a ponytail. She didn’t speak very much English, but it was enough for us to communicate the basics.

As the app finished downloading on my phone, Tsui told me that she was traveling alone and staying in a hostel. She pulled out a binder with typed travel plans in different clear folders. She excitedly explained how lucky she was to meet me because she had made a sign, but was too shy to actually put it up. The typed sign read, “Wanted: Someone to take pictures with at Art in Paradise.”

The sign made me smile. It was perfect. We were both alone and needed someone to take pictures with. The app was working on my phone, but it wasn’t working on Tsui’s phone. We decided to use my phone so we didn’t have to keep switching phones, and I’d give her the pictures at the end.

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The art museum was really neat! Some murals came to life on the app, making it look like it was raining, or like a dinosaur was eating you. The 3D paintings were optical illusions like being on a suspension bridge.

Tsui and I spent the next hour and a half going from painting to painting. She was very good at creating a dramatic scene for her pictures. I wasn’t as good. I was mostly awkward. We laughed our way through the museum.

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Once we hit the end of the museum, we sat at the cafe so Tsui could pick the photos she wanted and transfer them to herself on Facebook Messenger. As we sat there going through the photos, Tsui showed me her binder full of her travel itinerary.

Tsui was going to be in Thailand for nine days and had only been there for two days. During her time, she was going to an elephant sanctuary and riding an ATV. I had been looking at those same tours, but didn’t have anything booked yet. Tsui was impressive with her spreadsheets mapping out her entire trip. She had obviously done a lot of research.

Tsui asked me why I came to Thailand. I told her that I had some friends who had been and they all had wonderful things to say about it. I wanted to see the jungle and it’s also inexpensive. Tsui agreed that the food was inexpensive, but the outdoor activities were not.

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As the photos transferred over the WiFi, Tsui asked if I planned to go to the white temple in Chiang Rai. Because it was a few hours away, I decided not to go. She told me she will come back and go with her boyfriend. Surprised, I asked, “Why didn’t your boyfriend come with you now?” She told me she doesn’t have a boyfriend, but one day she will. Then she’ll go to the white temple with him. Otherwise, she’ll see all of the couples taking beautiful pictures of themselves, which will make her feel so sad. She made me laugh as she described herself taking selfies while couples took “couple pictures.”

The photos were transferred, so Tsui and I parted ways. I was so happy to have met her and I loved that she was also a solo female traveler. A week later, we became Facebook friends. I was getting a pedicure at the time and I saw what she had posted on her page that day. Facebook translated it to the following:

“Before I actually was a little worried about myself. Come here don’t know how to take pictures. Originally made a companion poster. I don’t dare to take it out without being shy.

Brace to this side. I found out there was a drop-alone girl too. I went to invite her to walk with me + take pictures with each other. She’s happy to promise.

Luck to meet her. Good get along, good chat, keep laughing. Also helped me take a bunch of pictures. After the walk, we’re next to the coffee shop. She’ll pass it to me when I finish the photo. How can there be such a lucky thing?”

When I read what Tsui posted, tears came to my eyes. It was such a perfect opportunity for us to meet. We did our best to communicate and she was such a sweet and fun soul. I continued to follow her adventures, watching her zipline, ride an ATV, and go white water rafting. She has an adventurous spirit and I love her zest for life.

After the Art in Paradise museum, I decided to walk two miles to a rooftop bar I found online. The walk would give me an opportunity to see more of the city. The sidewalks are narrow with lots of potholes, making it difficult to navigate. Sometimes fluorescent lights dangle above the alleyway. It also appeared that drinking in public was legal.

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As the sun went down, I came across an outdoor sporting event. There were stands full of fans cheering on all-women teams. I don’t know what sport they were playing, but there was a net in between teams of three. The women would hit the ball with their feet or their head. It was impressive watching what they could do.

I continued to the rooftop bar, following Apple maps. It often took me through alleyways in the back of houses. Clothes were hung out to dry since they don’t have driers there. Motorbikes lined the sidewalks.

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When I arrived at the Oasis bar, there was a dark, steep stairwell leading to the rooftop. At the top there was a small bar, some couches, chairs with pillows, and string lights hanging above. There were a few people there that were all sitting alone. I sat down and ordered a snack and a drink.

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I looked around and noticed the men and women who were sitting alone were all on their phones, but only inches from another person. It was so sad that nobody was talking. We were all solo, why not have a conversation?

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There were a few couples there and one couple arrived after me. They were around 30 years old and sat near me, so I could hear their conversation. He was American and she was Canadian. They talked about life, goals, friends, and family. The guy did most of the talking and then I heard him say, “This is the best first date I’ve ever had. I’ve studied psychology and want my own practice one day. I love that it’s not surface level. I love that you feel comfortable with me.”

The couple seemed cute and were entertaining. I ordered a Grab and went back to my Airbnb. I kept forgetting that the driver’s steering wheel is on the right side of the car and they drive on the left.

I went to bed happy with how my time in Chiang Mai was turning out. Solo travel often brings new people into my life, making it more interesting. Even though I don’t speak Thai, I was able to get by. A lot of people knew some basic English. Other times, I used Google Translate. It was shaping up to be a great city to explore.

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.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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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.

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