Have you ever found yourself broke abroad because your bank card stopped working or was stolen? I’ve just survived a week abroad with no money, here’s how.Read More
Have you ever found yourself with a lost or damaged bank card abroad with no money? I have, plenty of times, and it has happened again. What do I do now?Read More
Budget travel allows you to see the world on the cheap, but sometimes that extreme low budget travel breaks you. This is one of those times.Read More
I can handle a hangover, but flying hungover? That’s a different terrible beast that led to debacles and delays, and paying tons of airline fees.Read More
When you first start to travel, so many fears can pop into your head from getting robbed to missing flights to running out of money. And thanks to Hollywood horror films, hostels have been added to a list of things encouraged to fear, and for some, evoke images of kidnapping and torture.
In general, most news you see on TV around the world is bad news, and most western governments use scare tactics to keep people at home. The world is a dangerous place. That’s a silly generalization, and after hitting my 4 year travel anniversary it’s one that’s become even more laughable. But what of hostels? Those sketchy and dank places run by Slovakian mobsters? Sometimes I have conversations with friends or co-workers when I return to the United States and the topic comes up with a statement like “hostels aren’t safe, I don’t know how you do it” or “people get killed or robbed in hostels“.
I chuckle at them and shake my head.
Whatever you want to call them, hostels or guesthouses go hand in hand as a part of the travel experience for me over the past four years. They are the meeting place for new best friends. They are starting places for exciting and unexpected adventures. They can be a place where solo travelers find another solo traveler to connect with and sometimes canoodle with (take that however you want). They smell a little funky. They are places to perfect the art of cheap pasta recipes. And you will miss out on a huge part of the travel experience if you never stay in a hostel.
The debate will forever rage on whether or not to stay in hostels if you don’t have to which depends on what type of traveler and what tastes you have. But to argue if they are safe or not I will share the tale of my first time in a hostel to make my point.
All month I am revisiting many of my travel firsts from my first trip abroad to New Zealand. For my first experience of a hostel everything began quite normal, but just like something out of a movie — shit got weird. So this is one story had to be told again.
It seemed like a normal day in Auckland. I went on a birthday binge drink the night before with a new friend. Jaegermeister breath in the morning. Hangover. Rushed downstairs 5 minutes before checkout to book another night. But when I returned my room, I discovered a naked body in my bed. Lifeless.
What do you do when you find a mysterious body in your bed?
At the time I didn’t know if the person was lifeless or not. But the body wasn’t moving and didn’t seem to be breathing from what I could see. In some instances, one might panic thinking it’s a dead body. In others, one might also fist pump in silence thinking they got lucky or high five themselves. I knew for a fact that I didn’t get lucky the night before and come home with a girl
I knew for a fact that I didn’t get lucky the night before and had come home with a girl. My “it’s my birthday” line that worked so well in Vegas for smooches, failed that night on the ladies of Auckland. And the second reason was the bare ass staring back at me belonged to a dude.
I wasn’t that drunk.
Sure, one of the thoughts that raced through my head among hundreds of others was wondering if the person was dead, but I’m not a hobbyist of recreating Hollywood horror movies, and I can’t imagine someone being able to drag a body into the hostel room unnoticed.
I was simply confused.
Planking was a big fad around that time, yet I don’t think naked planking had caught on in 2011. Maybe it was a prank?
Then the other hostel mates saw the body.
Slowly bunk bed by bunk bed began to squeak with the other backpackers coming to life. As some stretched out and rubbed their eyes or announced their own hangover with a moan, they began to notice the situation in my bed.
I was standing in the doorway with the definition of befuddled on my face. There was a naked body slumped in my bed, half twisted and half hanging off the edge. One Irishman looked back and forth from my bed to me about 10 times before whispering, “Woot da heel is dat?”
The only reply I gave at first was an extended “uuuuuuhhhhhhh…”
As the rest of the room came to life and sat up to gawk, I looked around at them and whispered the only thing I could, “What the fuck is going on?”
The Irishman replied the only way I’d expect, “Oim nawt drunk enoof for dis shite in da mornin“.
I wasn’t either.
Where did the body come from?
As I stood there, I tried to trace back over the whole morning to figure it out and hundreds of scenarios popped in and out of my head within seconds.
Flashback sequence commence…
That morning when I woke up to the scream of my alarm and saw it was just 5 minute before I had to check out. I know for a fact I rolled around in a Jaegermeister induced agony at first. After finding the energy to get out of bed, I discovered my half-full water bottle near the edge of the bed. Elixir of life.
And nobody else in my bed. I rolled off the bed still wearing the outfit from the night before and waddled out of the room, squinting through one eye as I made my way downstairs. The front desk was swarming with last-minute check outs, so I shuffled outside and into the searing sunlight. The hangover was too intense to do anything that day let alone think, so I listened to my belly instead and bought the last shriveled up meat-pies in the 7-11 nearby.
I rolled off the bed still wearing the outfit from the night before and waddled out of the room, squinting through one eye as I made my way downstairs. The front desk was swarming with last-minute check outs, so I shuffled outside and into the searing sunlight. The hangover was too intense to do anything that day let alone think, so I listened to my belly instead and bought the last shriveled up meat-pies in the 7-11 nearby.
When I returned to the hostel, the front desk commented on my glorious appearance with a “looks like you had an epic night mate” as they booked me for another night. Before going back to my room, I slumped down on the bottom step, lacking the energy to focus on juggling meat pies and water bottles while climbing stairs.
With the pies destroyed, I trudged upstairs and entered my room. No naked body in the bed. It was already 10am and I didn’t want to waste the day so I grabbed my toothbrush and went into the bathroom. Nothing out of the ordinary except that I found the remnants of meat pie in my beard. Yum.
Then I returned to the room.
And BAM. Naked ninja in my bed.
Cut to the Irishman waking and we’re back to “What the fuck is going on?”
Either way, I knew through my brief flashback sequence that there was no way this naked-planking-ninja-dead-body was there minutes before.
That was the only time I put my Lonely Planet guide to use.
It was time to investigate. And when I say investigate, I mean use my Lonely Planet Guide Book for the first and only time ever during my trip in New Zealand. The guidebook was the closest thing to grab so I used that to poke his leg. No response. The butt cheeks stared back unmoving.
The rest of the room watched in silence (though there was a bit of giggling from one girl) as I walked around to the side of the bed and reached out to prod the dude in the shoulder. No response. I looked back at the rest of the room and held up my hands not knowing what to do. The Irishman nodded his head forward, and I took that as the sign to wallop the guy upside the head. If he was dead it wouldn’t matter, right?
So I walloped him in the back of the head.
Lonely Planet proved useful and the moment I walloped him, he sprung upright. How he sprung upright from he twisted position he was in still baffles me (naked ninja skills I guess) but the sudden life of him scared the hell out of all of us. IT’S ALIVE!
I think I even yelled “Oh shit!”
There wasn’t much life to the guy. As he sat on my bed, his eyes twirled around in his skull. Then he flopped back down.
“Hey dude” I said, and proceeded to nudge him again with the guide-book. This time he did one of those moves where he tried to blindly swat me away. My hangover took hold, and now that I knew this naked dude was alive, I was furious he was in my bed. I hit him in the back of the head again, and again he popped upright. Eyes still twirling, but this time he mumbled something I couldn’t understand.
At that moment he came back to life.
Half-life at least. His eyes stopped twirling and he looked down at himself, realizing he was naked. He looked around the room but straight through all of us as though we didn’t exist.
“You need to get the hell out of my bed man” I said, beginning to grit my teeth.
Instead of just wandering out naked after deflowering my clean-ish hostel bed, he reached down and began to grab my clothes from my backpack.
Great, now he was trying to steal my clothes!
He had two of my shirts and a pair of my pants and I yanked them from his hands. He still didn’t seem to realize anybody else was there, but he wrapped the blanket around himself and stood up.
“Yes, take the blanket because I was going to burn it anyway” I called out, and he waddled out of the room and into the hall. Everyone in the room began to laugh, and even though I was pissed off, I could help myself either. By the time I poked my head into the hall to see if he was sleeping in it, he was gone like some naked phantom.
And that was the last I saw of him. But not the last I heard of him.
Later in the day word had spread of the naked guy in the bed, and while making some instant noodles and instant coffee in the kitchen, one of the backpackers in another room gave us his origin story.
He literally pissed off everyone in his room.
The “bloke” as they called him couldn’t hold his liquor or drugs apparently. The night before he had gone out by himself and re-appeared around 7am. At one point, close to when I was downstairs booking another night, he woke up everyone when one roommate caught him standing in the center of the room peeing all over everyone’s luggage. They did what anyone sensible would do in that situation and physically tossed him outside and locked the door.
When we compared stories, we figured out that somehow when I went to use the bathroom after booking another night, he managed to wander into the room and flop onto my bed before the door closed.
Looking back on it, it was a hilarious situation. For someone already battling hundreds of emotions as a first time traveler, I created tons of bad scenarios in my head that were usually based off of horror films. And that will make any experience seem dangerous. Go camping? Killed. Eastern Europe? Killed. Unless Liam Neeson can save me with his certain set of skills. Relaxing by a lake? Killed. Own a cat and bury it when it dies? Killed by zombie cats. Go to sleep at night and dream? Killed. Tomatoes? Killer tomatoes, you’re dead. Clowns? Killer alien clowns. Get the point? Well, I believe that last one. I hate clowns!
Get the point? Well, I believe that last one. I hate clowns!
Well, I believe that last one. I hate clowns!
Don’t let fear of the unknown or TV/movies delegate where you can travel to and not. Even when I traveled to Haiti, most warned me that I’d be killed or kidnapped because they saw it on TV and the news. Haiti is my favorite country to travel to.
Hostels can be weird, but they’ve never felt dangerous.
It’s true that my first ever hostel experience involved finding a lifeless body in my bed only for it to come back to life and waddle off. Freaking weird huh? Since then, I’ve heard stories of times when people have had drunk or drugged up idiots do things similar to that. I’ve experienced a fight in my hostel in Thailand that threatened to spiral out of control. I’ve also heard of stories where people have had their things stolen as well, but usually that’s because they decided not to take proper precautions.
Almost 99% of hostel stories I hear though are funny like my first experience, or about best friends being made.
Are hostels safe? After 4 years of travel and hundreds of hostels that I’ve stayed in, I can tell you that hostels aren’t dangerous or secret cults that will kidnap you or anything close to that.
My hostel experiences, though peppered with some weird shit like this one, has been pretty great. I’ve met friends that I’ve traveled with afterward and still keep in touch with. I’ve met hostel staff that I’m friends with to this date. I’ve even worked in a hostel, and it turned out to be a great way to save on budget. But I’ve never felt one was dangerous.
I’ve been to hostels that are incredibly dirty. I’ve been to some that outdo hotels in style. I’ve stayed at one run by an obsessive Christian who made us watch movies about Jesus. I’ve stayed at others that are run as a circus where you can learn to fire dance and juggle and tight-rope walk. Even some hold an incredibly high standard for eco-sustainability and environmental consciousness that outmatch most companies around the world. You can have a great experience or a horrible experience in some, but that is the same for most travel experiences.
You have to be responsible about staying in hostels.
Even though I’ve befriended plenty of people in hostels, there are always bad apples that you meet abroad. I’m not trying to tell you to distrust anyone, but to be blunt I’m telling you don’t be stupid. Most of it is common sense people.
- Don’t leave your passports and electronics out in the open.
- Don’t come home so wasted you don’t know where you are.
- Always lock up any valuables in the lockers most hostels have.
- If there is no locker, take a day-pack of your valuables with you.
- Going out? Ask the front desk to hold it for you.
- Read reviews about hostels before you go to make sure they are clean, in a good area, that they have locks on doors and lockers for your stuff, and that the staff isn’t sketchy.
Overall, don’t be scared to stay in a hostel. They are pretty fun places made for budget backpackers to meet and make friends. And who knows, maybe you’ll have a funny story to tell like the case of the naked planker.
SIDE NOTE: When I originally told this story on my old blog, the hostel that this happened at thought it was so funny that they sent me on a tour around New Zealand to write for them. Bless that naked ninja.
What was your first experience in a hostel like? Have a funny hostel story as well?
[dropcap]BAM![/dropcap] Dead. It happened that quick. Well, at least it can happen that quick. Today I was nearly run over by a car. Had I been riding my bike just a little faster and had I not braked last minute, I could have been roadkill. After my heart stopped racing and I regained my composure, I began to think about what that meant. And it seems like I’ve learned some life lessons by almost dying today.
I’m guilty of getting caught up in the everyday grind of things when not backpacking through some exotic countries outside of the United States. Though my goal is always the same thing — to save up money for traveling, the daily grind becomes a normal cycle. Working, commuting, dining out, morning coffees, nightly drinks. You get the point.
Even after I moved to Australia a few months back so I could work abroad and save up more money for my next big trip, it’s become somewhat of a stale affair. Don’t get me wrong, Melbourne is a phenomenal city to live in and there are always exciting things to do — but it’s still a major city that I am working in to save money. I’m having a fun time living in a new city and exploring the uniqueness that is Melbourne. But I’m still waiting tables instead of hiking mountains. I did ask for this though. After somehow surviving the Rickshaw Run madness, and after getting so ill in India that I lost 20lbs, I needed a place to recover my body and bank account.
That doesn’t mean living life to the fullest has to stop when you settle down for a few months from adventuring.
You never should stop living each day to the fullest. As I will tell you, something bad can happen in a flash.
I was biking to one of the 5 days of work per week. It was just a normal day like any other has been while living in Melbourne. I woke up and ate breakfast. I took the familiar bike path along the Yarra, admiring a single beautiful black swan that was coasting along with the current. Maybe that was some sort of omen. Everything was as it had been lately. Normal. I came to the freeway crossing and had the green bicycle telling me it was safe to cross, and I biked across to the island in the middle. As I was crossing the median, the bike crossing light began to blink red. But I was midway across already, biking off the median when the light began to blink.
And that is when I was nearly run over.
Just as I was about to hit the 4th lane of the freeway and onto the other side, I noticed all the other cars coming to a slow stop since they obviously had a red light, but not one car. Since I make it a point to be aware of my surroundings, I noticed that one car not slowing down. I thought he would, but he was still going fast, and just as I was hitting the fourth lane I braked and slid. He zipped past me, not even slowing down, straight through a red light which would have been a wreck had there been cars crossing as well. When he sped past me and I braked last minute, the car was less than a foot away from my front bike tire. I could feel the wind on my face.
Once on the sidewalk, I paused and took a deep breath. So much was racing through my head, but I couldn’t be late to work. So I kept on cycling. For the entire day I was frazzled, and I couldn’t stop thinking about that close call. I finished the day, went back home, slept, and went back to work the next day.
But I haven’t been able to kick that feeling. I had a near death experience in a major city that is known to be quite safe, and caters to bicyclist. And though I’ve always been one to express how anything can happen to you at any moment in whatever city in the world, sometimes a close call like this brings it back up.
It makes you realize that you haven’t been taking advantage of life.
That’s why I’m sharing this today, because everyone should know that it isn’t out there in the big and bad and mysterious world that something bad can happen to you — it can be in a city at home while inside your “comfort zone“.
Yes, I have gotten sick a few times while traveling, like in India recently, or when I got a stomach infection during Songkran in Thailand. There has been occasions where I felt as though I would die on some of the sketchier modes of transport in countries like riding in the insane charter buses in India. Usually though, I feel a sense of safety and calm while traveling, because I am more aware and alert and on my feet. But also, I’m actually doing things — not just lulled into a repetition like a “safe” and “normal” life does to you.
Everybody told me not to go to Haiti, that Haiti was a dangerous place and I would be killed or kidnapped. After that first trip to Haiti, and shattering all preconceived notions of Haiti while there, I am adamant to tell everyone how much I loved it. And, to make a point, I felt more safe in Haiti then I do walking around at night in Washington DC. That was just the first real realization I’ve had of many that living what some think to be a safe life, thinking that traveling through the world might be inherently more dangerous than working in a cubicle, is completely wrong. Once I thought I would be robbed in Thailand only to come to find out they just wanted to help me.
Traveling is no more dangerous than living that idea of a normal life.
This is why, no matter what situation you are in or whatever it is you may be doing; be it working in a cubicle at home or scuba diving in Italy, walking the dog or driving a rickshaw across India — make sure you are doing what you want to do at that very moment. Make sure you aren’t thinking about tomorrow or a week from now or 5 years from now or that retirement in 20 years. Because we never know what tomorrow will bring or if there will even be a tomorrow. We have to stop living in tomorrowland and start living in the now, and even if you have to work that “normal” job for the moment, make sure there is a purpose behind it driven by your dreams and what makes you happy.
I’ve realized that I was getting too invested in this routine again, and I was lulled into not embracing every second of everyday, so I am going to try daily again to be focusing on my passions and the now. Though I need the waiter job at the moment to save up for future travel plans, that doesn’t mean I can’t be doing something amazing everyday. And more importantly, I can be living everyday instead of existing.
Need some inspiration? Check these posts out!
10 Most Inspirational Life Quotes over my Travel Photos
Everybody needs a little kick in the mojo sometimes. A jolt of energy to get life shocked back into. A dose of pure inspiration from the voices and the pens of travelers, philosophers, dreamers, and doers. Hell, sometimes you just need someone to slap you and shout, “Get off your ass and chase your dreams fool!”Get Inspired Here!
Death: My Travel Inspiration
Your life can change in an instant.
Sometimes that phrase is difficult to grasp since we get caught up in our daily lives and don’t realize when things pass us by — for example: life. But just like a lightbulb, it can burn out without a hint of notice, leaving the faintest remnant of that light clinging on to the last minutes of what once was before fizzing out forever.Get Inspired Here!
An easy day on the water relaxing and scuba diving they said. And it was, until that part I nearly died. Maybe that is a little overblown for the sake of drama, but when you are meters deep below the surface with lead weights strapped to you starting to fall unconscious, you might freak out as well. Everything began and ended fine, because I wouldn’t be writing to you today and showing you this gnarly video if I was dead, but there was an in between bit that I thought I was doomed.Read More
It was a strange feeling sitting atop the jagged rocks in Great Falls National Park — fighting for breath after running and jumping and climbing through the Billy Goat Trail. I was beside one of my best friends and we had just scaled a rock face 20 meters high. We were exhausted. Sprawled out and catching our breaths, we looked out over the river below; at some points it was rabid, frothing and surging through the gorge, and others it was calm and flowing gently. The water from millions of years ago in the ice age had carved its path through solid rock, little by little. Now it was following a path, sometimes calm and other times ferocious, that it had created against an otherwise opposing element.
A path it had created little by little.
I sat there thinking about all that I had done the past 8 months abroad, all of the places I had seen, all of the amazing people I had met, and all of the experiences I had. Also on my mind was the path that led to my unplanned return to the United States. My mind rewound through it all during that short rest.
Two days ago I had arrived back in Maryland after taking a 15-hour long bus ride from Toronto.
A week before, I had taken a flight from Munich to Madrid where I stayed overnight, and then flew Madrid to London, and London to Toronto over the course of 24-hours.
Two weeks before, I had taken a train from Rome to Munich where I spent my last week in Europe where I had decided to ultimately return.
A month before, I was just beginning to travel around Italy.
Two months before Italy, I had arrived in Europe after being forced to make the decision to leave Thailand just as I was about to begin teaching English.
And it was a little more than 8 months from this very date that I had taken a 7-day train journey across the United States, DC to Los Angeles, and flown out to Thailand to teach English.
Somehow it seemed so long ago, yet at the same time still raw in my mind. Not nostalgia, because it wasn’t a stinging pain that hit me thinking about an adventure coming to an end.
So why is it that I’ve found myself back in the United States?
There were many things that contributed to my early return: a lot of cause and effect that factored in, a lot of missteps on the road and mistakes made, and many things that I hadn’t planned for that I should have.
The main reason comes down to money. I had almost completely run out of money after returning to Italy for the second time.
When I first left Thailand I had a vague idea of what I would do next, and even less of an idea of what to expect in Europe. I wasn’t headed back to Thailand any time soon, and though I thought about teaching English in another Southeast Asian country, I had a friend’s wedding to attend in two weeks in Slovakia. I figured I’d find a cheap place in Europe to lay low, somewhere in Eastern Europe that wouldn’t rock my dwindling budget that was causing me a slight bit of angst. I knew nothing at all about Europe in terms of travel; it was a new and unknown place and one I had dreamed about seeing as a little boy.
Sometimes the world steers you in different directions, ones completely opposite than what you had planned. It turned out that the cheapest last-minute flight into Europe from Thailand was Rome. Sure, Rome wasn’t the main destination in Europe I was headed for, and it damn well wouldn’t be the cheapest, but excitement filled me. I was veering off from my original plan and leaving Southeast Asia and I didn’t know what would happen next. Italy was always the country I wanted to visit the most. I would go to Italy.
(Teacher Ryan in Thailand)
When I arrived in Rome, I immediately began on the wrong foot.
As is my normal travel behavior, I didn’t plan a single bit for Europe. I would just roll with it and figure it out as I went along. Immediately I was gobbled up by the new surroundings and spat out. The first few hours were filled with self-induced misery as I wandered lost about lost in the Eternal City since I hadn’t pre-booked a hostel, my electronics were dead, and I had no clue where to look for accommodation. Oh, and that I had lost my adapter in route from Thailand to Italy. So, besides nobody around the city knowing where a hostel was, I couldn’t charge my electronics to search for one.
Then the shock of the Euro slapped me.
You cannot compare Italy to Thailand at all. Just don’t. Well, maybe with the insane drivers and the bum-guns on toilets, but price wise it is drastically different. Right away I could see my wallet weeping as the cheapest hostel I could find was 30 Euro a night. That cheap flight to Rome would be outweighed by the prices to stay there. I kept trying to tell myself that I shouldn’t compare prices, but I couldn’t help but think about how I was paying $3 USD a night in Thailand. Even trying to eat cheap I was spending well over 50 Euro a day with hostel and food.
I was freaking out a little.
But I told myself it would be fine. I’d enjoy being in the city I always dreamed about visiting, and in a week I’d head over to Slovakia and spend much less. And I did. I visited the ancient Roman sights, explored the Colosseum, and wandered the city for hours in the day.
Except I left Thailand with $2,000 left which was my budget for 4 more months at least, but within a week in Rome I spent nearly a quarter of that in accommodation and food.
Instead of heading directly to Slovakia, I took a flight to Prague and met up with a friend from the US who had been traveling with me in Thailand. We hung out and explored Prague for around a week until heading to Slovakia after enjoying the gloriously cheap food, beer, and accommodation in Prague.
(exploring the Colosseum of Rome, and super giddy)
Fast travel makes a slow traveler panic.
At least, it makes me freak out a bit when I didn’t know what to do next, and I’m one to usually call myself chill about most situations. But, I’m usually quite the slow traveler. Spending months on end in another country is what I like to do, and it isn’t often I bounce around from country to country every week. And after going from Rome, to Prague, and then to Bratislava, I could feel a slight anxiousness settling in. I was pin-balling from one country to the next without a plan, and that turned out to be more expensive in doing so. I had no clue what to do, and I was watching my budget sink from a comfortable $2,000 to below $1,000. When we arrived in Bratislava, we were both shocked at how expensive the country was. Hostels were on average 20 Euro, and food was comparable to Italy in price. Both of us were low on money, and had to think of how to last it out until the wedding.
We went to Hungary for a few days since I had found a few hostels that were advertised for 6 Euro a night. A bus ticket to Budapest and sleeping in those hostels, and then busing back, would be cheaper than staying in Bratislava. But when we arrived in Budapest, these cheap hotels seemed mythical. They didn’t exist. The only ones we could find wanted 20 Euro, so we were again in the same predicament.
In a predicament, but still in Europe, and still exploring as much as our broke asses could.
This is when the bread eating began.
We did eventually find one of those cheap hostels in Budapest, but they are so hidden and usually tucked into an apartment complex with no sign that it was only within the last few days we discovered one. They do exist! But it was too late. We both had been eating cheap rolls of bread and only drinking water since we both couldn’t afford much else. Though my friend had already planned on returning to the US after the wedding, I was hoping to keep the adventure going afterwards and find a place to base myself to keep traveling.
Though staying in Europe or continuing traveling was fast becoming unlikely.
I was getting extremely low on funds and I didn’t even have a ticket back to the US even if I did run out of money. I attended the wedding, and went back to Prague since it had been the cheapest destination I had visited in that part of Europe to come up with some sort of emergency plan to keep going.
(one of the “signs” for the hostels, painted on the ground where we didn’t look)
There was a back-up plan. Though not a great one.
Just before leaving Thailand, I had announced that I was brought on by a popular travel booking company to be a content writer. It was, and still is, a sweet gig with a high pay-per-word rate and a promise of a long-term writing contract. I assumed that this would be the ticket to traveling long-term around Europe and offer me a bit of padding while I figured things out. Well, I had fully banked on this, but it would turn out to be a bad gamble. Not bad at all because of the company, but because I was relying on a job that was just starting, and if you are a freelance contractor, you know it doesn’t happen quickly. And I had naively thought it’d be instant return.
Since they are a major travel company, I hadn’t realized I would need to be added to a payroll and file taxes in the US, which means payout wouldn’t be as soon as I wanted
*I still write for them and love it, and it was silly of me at the time to think I could just hope for them to pay me a huge amount after only a couple of weeks on board.*
What was I to do when faced with no money left?
While I was in Rome the first time, I had attended a few Walks of Italy tours around the city where I had met a guide who was setting up her own travel blog tour in Italy, and she had invited me to attend one in June. I promised her that I would attend, it seemed like an amazing opportunity to explore more of Italy. Yet, here I was in Prague, broke, and I had to figure out a way back to Rome while only having around $200 left. Once on the trip, most of the expenses would be included, so I gambled again. I told myself that if I could make it to Rome and get on this trip, I should have my paycheck by then. And after, I could decide better how to make my next move.
I used $175 of my remaining budget for a flight to Rome, and used my last bit of money to book a hostel. For a day and half my only food was a sole banana.
Finally I could eat again.
For that week and half before returning to Rome, I had been living on bread rolls and ketchup (for flavor) and stayed cooped up in hostels since I had no money. I had already explored every inch of Prague and most parts of Rome that I could walk to, so I just waited it out until the blog trip. I couldn’t even afford a coffee so I could go to a café and write. And cafés are my creative zones. To be honest, I felt a bit trapped leading up to it. But the day came where I linked up with the group of other bloggers to kickstart our gnarly #ThisIsYourTime blog tour of Umbria and Ponza. I was stoked. If I had to leave Italy without actually exploring other parts of the country, I would have been super bummed.
To say I gorged might be an understatement. We were in red wine country and I drank my weight in wine from vineyards like Fontanaro Farms and stuffed myself full of pasta and meats. Sometimes people would comment with something around the lines of, “Wow, you must love to eat!” and my response would be to smirk through my bulging cheeks and declare, “You never know when you’ll be living on bread and ketchup!”
South of Rome we visited Ponza Island where Prosecco flowed like water and I ate some of the most delicious seafood of my life. I was again in the company of amazing people, tasting the flavors of a country and of the sea, and sleeping in comfort knowing I had a bed for the night.
(cheesing in Ponza, and happy to have food again!)
Of course it wouldn’t last. It couldn’t last.
The blog tour had been an amazing 10 days, and during that time my worries had faded and I was enjoying the experiences to the fullest. What else should you do in that case of course? I had to soak it up baby! But once it was over, I was back in the same position. I had no money and I was in Rome, the most expensive place I had traveled thus far. Linnea, our amazing blog tour guide and now a person I am happy to call friend, had a boyfriend on the tour that was equally an amazing person. Knowing my situation, he offered me to stay in a tiny loft above a theatre he owned in the heart of Rome. It would save me from finding a quiet alleyway to sleep every night, and would give me time and a bit less pressure off my shoulders to figure out my next move.
Again I was eating bread and ketchup to save the bit of cash I had. Some family sent a bit of money at random to which, they may not have known, helped me eat for the day. And allowed it to not be just bread once or twice a day.
(my little theater window)
This was the moment where I began to think that I might have to return back to the United States.
However much I wanted to try to keep traveling, and however much I stubbornly didn’t want to return earlier than I had intended, I had to consider my position. I had little to no money and no income at the moment. Living on a tight budget is not at all a difficult thing for me. Though I love eating the dishes of all the countries I visit and exploring, I also have no problem surviving on instant noodles and toast and exploring. But when you have no budget at all, when you are completely bottomed out, and you know that bread roll is what you’ll eat for the day because you can’t afford something else, it saps a lot of the fun out of the experience.
Some people can do that, and I definitely have been down that road in New Zealand where I slept in my hammock above Wellington and nibbled on what I could afford because I was out of money. Even though bits of that were wonderful, like waking up in the woods everyday to the sun rising over the city, most aspects of being forced into that position weren’t pleasant.
I sat each day atop that theater looking out of my small window watching people wander around, and each night watching groups heading to go grab a drink or a bite to eat. It was an absolutely romantic scenario living above a theater in the heart of Rome, but I still felt trapped. If I wandered around and met new friends, I couldn’t do anything they would be doing around town. I couldn’t explore parts of Rome I hadn’t seen since I couldn’t afford the subway. And I couldn’t relax in a café in the city while I wrote.
Even though there was a play every night in the theater I lived in about a brothel romance with ladies in lingerie strutting around.
(why yes the theater came lingerie ladies & nightly plays about a romance in a brothel)
That’s when I decided it was my time to head back to the United States.
If I was going to explore more of Europe, I wanted to have a budget that would allow me to do even the most minimal things around the city. Some opportunities presented themselves for possible work, and working in Rome would be a dream come true, but I had already used up 2 months of my allotted time in the Schengen Zone and I would have to leave soon anyway.
Now it was time to figure out how the hell to get back to the United States. During that last week in Rome I finally received a chunk of my pay from my freelance contract, but it still wouldn’t be enough to pay for a last-minute flight back. A friend I had met while traveling in Thailand invited me to come visit them in Munich, and after realizing flights were drastically cheaper from there to the US, I said farewell to my friends in Rome and took a train to Munich.
During the week spent in Germany, I sucked up my pride and asked friends back home if they could help spare a little cash for the difference I needed for a flight. I knew that in Washington DC I had friends I could stay with and that I could have two jobs in a jiffy, so that would be the plan. Return, work my ass off again, save money, leave.
And after three flights in 24-hours and a 15-hour bus ride, I was back in Washington DC. I was somewhere I never thought I’d see myself again that soon.
But, I also had never thought I’d see myself living in Thailand or exploring Europe either.
(at the John Lennon wall in Prague)
So, was running out of money all a mistake?
Or going to Europe a mistake?
The thought of course had crossed my mind a few times. I could have planned better, or come up with one that would have allowed me to stay abroad. There are times when my thoughts about this beat me up, and that I feel bummed about returning to the US. Maybe I should have gone back to Southeast Asia to teach English. Sometimes I think “dammit, I could have saved money better here by not doing this” or “if only I would have done this than I’d still be traveling.”
Then I have to shake that bad mojo off. I left what-ifs and I-could-haves behind, they are all useless thoughts.
This is the essence of travel. This is what makes it exciting and demanding and difficult. And ultimately, why traveling is so rewarding. If it were easy and everything was laid out before you, then the soul of the adventure wouldn’t be there. Was it all for naught? Absolutely not. Are there things I would do differently? Yes.
Lessons on the road are the best lessons learned, because it is a trial by fire. They are situations you may never find yourself in at home, and whether it be figuring out how to save money for something special you want to do, or budgeting just so you can make it to the next destination. Traveling the past couple of years after leaving the United States for the first time taught me to open up my mind to the possibilities that are out there once you begin to look for, and follow your dream.
I gained knowledge and important lessons about Southeast Asia and Europe that couldn’t have been read in a book. And being quite new to travel, each lesson will make the next trip better.
(looking out over Loh Dalum Bay in Thailand)
This trip also showed me another key piece to my life.
When I began traveling just a mere 3 years ago by going to New Zealand, my heart and mind were filled with sudden possibility and inspiration. But my heart was also still filled with things that always held me back. Though that first trip was life-changing, it had also been used as an escape from something I was running from most of my life — however much I told myself I wasn’t running.
When I had to leave New Zealand after 9 months of traveling the country because I was out of money, I berated myself for failing. I had told everyone that I was going to travel for a year or two, and I snubbed my nose at my brother after he had disowned me for wanting to travel. I would prove the world and my brother and society’s demands that I was better than it all and could chase my dream. In that sense, my dream became about other people and other things, it was no longer in pursuit of my own happiness. When I returned early from New Zealand, I faked that it was no big deal, but inside I was crushed. I had felt like I failed at pursuing my dream. And worst of all, I was thinking about how I had set out to prove others wrong and failed.
By being consumed by this fear of failure, something I always struggled with growing up, it had taken the true meaning of my dream and replaced it with self-loathing. The fact that I had traveling nearly across the world, and the fact that I was the first in my family to leave the US, and the fact that I did it for 9 months — that all didn’t matter. I had failed at something I set out to do. I had failed at my dream.
As was one of the first articles to be published on this blog when I began it again last year, I shared how this exact mentality and demoralizing view of my own self drove me into a dark place, a place filled with depression and monster that I had hidden away. It was a place where self-worth did not exist, just personal demons I created and that I succumbed to. During this period, things I had never dealt with — the deaths of my parents, the feeling that I would never be good enough, and the feeling that I had failed myself — it brought me into an abyss where the choice of living or dying was the only thing left.
When I shared the affects of keeping this all hidden in far corners of my mind since I was a child, it was after a time when I had hit the lowest point in my life. My drinking had gone beyond bad. I felt worthless and ashamed. And I was also facing a possible jail sentence because I had been drunk and broken into a house, one which I thought was mine that I had simply and drunkenly locked myself out of.
After months of facing the consequences of those actions, and looking at the internal monsters for the first time that manifested, I knew I had to make that decision to live and change, or else end up dead. There was a choice to be made, a choice that could only be made by me and carried out. The day I walked from the courtroom found not guilty, I vowed to live my life for myself and do whatever possible to chase my dream. A vow I had said before when leaving for Thailand, but one I had said while still holding onto things from my past.
(standing atop a temple in Angkor Wat)
The significance of this trip was that, this time, I don’t feel like a failure.
Months before I had even began planning my trip to Thailand, I began to share personal memoirs about those struggles I had faced, and some of the most personal events from my childhood that had haunted me for years. That had led me to that dark place. By sharing the stories, it was almost like self-counseling. I finally revealed to myself the things I never could face before, and it helped me discover clarity and strength.
Sure, before I left I had told people that I wanted to travel for a year, teaching in Thailand, and then maybe moving on to explore other parts of the world. It was a rough plan, and though teaching in Thailand was a main goal of mine, everything was truly up in the air. I was just ready for another adventure. Even with my trip only lasting 8 months when I wanted to travel for a year or more, it was still 8 months abroad. I still lived for 8 months in other countries. I was able to experience multiple cultures and make friends from all over the world and share experiences and laughter with them.
I was pursuing my dream. I still am pursuing my dream. Because a dream isn’t a destination or a finish line, it is the journey of the body and mind and heart and soul in pursuit of what makes you happy. In pursuit of what you love. It is something that, if you are truly chasing, you can never fail by not reaching some peak or apex, since the glory of a dream is never-ending. You can only fail if you choose not to follow it.
And this is why returning. Though it is something I didn’t think to do this early, it wasn’t something I am going to let bring me down this time. The choice was made by myself to return, and though eating bread and ketchup everyday could have helped with that decision, I know that I will make my time back in the States another piece of the adventure. A catalyst for continuing my dream.
What comes next in the journey?
Well, I’ve come back “home” as I can say, though I know that even if I grew up in Maryland, my home is somewhere else out there. It’s in the wind and the mountains and the forests and the road and everywhere else. Fernweh, that longing for a place I’ve never been still holds on tight. So my goal (which I don’t often set goals unless relating to travel) is to work and save and travel again soon.
To be honest, I am also very excited to be back for fall in the Untied States. Autumn in the US has always been magical for me — Halloween is my favorite holiday, pumpkin flavored everything is my obsession, and the beauty of the changing leaves. And since I will be in the US for a bit, I’ve been considering going much more in-depth about travel around the US and places I’ve been. This is the perfect time to add this aspect to the blog, and maybe a perfect time to become a tourist of my own home country.
Where might I be looking to go next?
Since I had always wanted to visit Europe, the good thing about traveling there and spending two months hopping around different countries is that it gave me a sample. A tantalizing taste. Of course I want more. And it also clued me in on what to expect and what to plan for when I do save specifically to travel Europe. So that is an option, but there are many others. Each time I embark to a new countries, my mind changes and grows and evolves, and I discovers different possibilities that suddenly change my desire or course.
Maybe I’ll want to return to Southeast Asia and explore and teach in Vietnam or another country. I also will be researching what it takes to stay longer in Europe without having the 3-month cap to worry about. Also, I’ve always wanted to explore Central America and South America, and Africa. Hell, I want to see it all!
During my time back I’ll be doing exactly that: deciding where to go on the next trip. I’d like to give myself 6 months to save up, so I’ll be working hard to accomplish this. I’ve already had two interviews at previous jobs, and this month my freelance writing contract should finally have the kinks ironed out.
There is also the idea of moving to New Orleans after fall when it cools down and the festivals take over. New Orleans is one of my favorite places in the world, and I’ve been wanting to spend a few months living in that city for a while. It’ll be crazy busy and should be a great place to make some money.
All of this did, in fact, pass through my head during that brief rest in Great Falls.
Not nostalgia at all, but a pang inside my spirit of a sudden excitement — the excitement of a new adventure and continuing the chase.
We had been scrambling up fissures in the stone formations, leaping over moss-covered logs, bounding off angled boulders from one to the other, scaling sheer rock-faces, swinging from branches, and running full sprint while dodging sharp outcroppings. We were hot and tired and slightly cut up, but invigorated. We had been running free for the sake of the spirit and for the challenge. We were creating a path where no path existed. Sometimes head-on, and sometimes with caution.
We were creating our own path in that forest and in the gorge even though obstacles stood in our way. Yes, it felt strange being in Maryland again and sitting atop the high jagged rocks, but as the water below us flowed forward, and the breath came back to my lungs, and the memories raced through my mind, I knew one thing for sure — little by little I would keep carving out my own path.
Though the adventure seemed to end, it hadn’t. It never does if you don’t let it. Step by step, little by little, I will keep pushing forward.
Here is to today, and the adventure it holds wherever I find myself, and wherever you find yourselves chasing your own dream every today following.
If you also want to check out another article by a travel friend, Flora of Flora the Explorer Blog, it shows another perspective as she suddenly is returning home after traveling 3 years. Read: After two years of travel I am returning to London
There I was, frumped down on a gum-covered curb, arched backward by the gravitational pull of my now encumbering backpack, with my tech bag (which weighs a hefty amount on its own) sagging down my chest and in between my spread out legs — not much unlike a fat and floppy baby.
A bead of sweat crept slowly from beneath my fedora, one which I had purchased in Thailand as my shining new adventure hat, now bent and beaten and grimy. That bead of sweat made its way across the squished ridges of my forehead, up and over the furrowed hills of my brow, took a swift dive down the crest of my nose onto the plains of my cheek — where it seems to pause a moment, as if to admire some sort of unique feature on the landscape of my face, then decided to scurry forth into the thicket of my scraggly backpacker beard where it was lost.
When it had given that pause on my cheek, I imagine it was probably looking back over the plains and furrows and the ridges at the agony on my face under the hot Roman sun — and in its tiny sinister saltiness, it probably laughed at me.
I was utterly lost in the Eternal City after bumbling along for what seemed to be an eternity in itself, hauling about my human mobile home which nearly weighted 40 kilos, searching desperately for some place to lay my head at night, until my dragging feet and aching back begged me to stop. On my left was a sour-smelling dumpster, on my right a typical Roman patio café with Italians sipping their second or third or fifth espresso of the day, and ahead of me triple parked cars blocking most of a main road — which come to find out is just the nature of Italian drivers in the city who tend to establish a parking lot where they’d like.
All I could mutter was a pathetic, “what the fuck” under my breath as I wiped away more sweat that raced down my face before it could pause and mock my stupendous stupidity like the other. I must have been some form of impressive from the way Romans passed by me and gawked at the presence of this sad and sweaty blob slouched on the curb.
It was all chaos and madness flying at me that first few hours the moment my train had pulled into the Termini train station and I waddled off the hissing steel behemoth with the eagerness of fulfilling a childhood dream. But instead of trotting off happily with a hop in my step and confidence of where to go, the realization occurred that I had no clue where the hell I was.
People scurried about like frantic ants. Motorbikes bobbed and weaved and zipped around as if they were in a race. The homeless and the hawkers both hankered for money I didn’t have. And most of all, it dawned on me as I scampered across the cobblestone street after dodging honking cars, that a travel sin had been committed.
After spending almost 8 months in Thailand one might think chaos would be incomparable in most other countries — if you’ve experienced (and survived) the ebb and flow of Bangkok traffic on the back of a motorbike you’d think you could go forth head on into most things. But each busy city has its own unique kind of chaos, and the kind felt a few moments of arrival wasn’t Rome’s fault, it stemmed from being utterly unprepared.
The travel sin committed? Not booking a hostel before I arrived in Rome.
Not just that, but for the sake of a bigger and better whammy I did not look at a map of potential hostels preemptively, and I did not look at the layout of the city.
Sometimes you can wing it and things just work out. Other times, you’ll find yourself between a café and a smelly place like myself. It was only a few days prior that I had been forced to leave Thailand and book a last-minute flight. Rome, my childhood dream, was somehow the cheapest flight into Europe from Thailand as if the travel fates urged me to fulfill that dream. There was no way I couldn’t leap at the opportunity presenting itself. And with the arrogance of my go-with-the-flow attitude, I decided that I would arrive and see where the next adventure would take me.
Oh, how that turned out to be an amateur decision to make.
I started off downhill from the train stain with the momentum of my mass carrying me forward, stopping every so often to admire an old piazza or unique architecture. Each cross street passed seemed dedicated to businesses and pizzerias, and on occasion I would veer off course and trudge halfway through a side-street thinking I had spotted a hostel sign, only to be fooled by the mirage of a low-quality hotel sign.
This is when the chaffing began.
And so did the blisters begin to poke up their translucent and annoying heads on the bottom of my feet.
You might ask, “Why the hell didn’t you stop someone and ask them for directions?” and I will tell you, “dammit I tried!”
It must have been the end, or beginning, of the Italian lunch hour because as I stood there, wearing my best puppy face (which doesn’t work with a big beard and a sweat-drenched shirt) everybody that passed by seemed to be in a gallop as if they were late to some important meeting. With a wave or a “Ciao!” I hoped someone would pause for a moment, but nobody did. There was no escape from the high-noon sun cooking me so I trudged on, determined that something, somewhere would pop up. The road that literally carried me downward seemed to stretch on into a hazy infinity, yet I marched on.
A few times I ventured into what seemed to be a café, odd to me at the time that they called it a “bar“, in hopes of finding a place proper enough to throw off the bags and charge my phone. Except all of these “bars” I was poking into, usually by squeezing through a compact doorway, instantly went silent when I entered. The locals would stop their shopping or chewing or sipping and stare, and the staple Italian elder behind the counter, with a sudden and disapproving glance at the clumsy monstrosity strapped to my back and chest, always seemed ready to spatula me over the head and out the door.
This was a whole new jungle I was lost in, a jungle where no touristy shops were located to plead for directions and the cafés weren’t for sitting around on a laptop, but for grab-and-go quickies. Just old-school locals that gave me weird looks. Hell, I’d give myself weird looks at that point too since the twisted wedgie that had formed gave me an awkward walk. This was exactly the type of neighborhood I’d love to explore, local and not touristy, yet it wan’t the neighborhood I needed at the time to find accommodation.
Demoralized and with thoughts flooding through my head like, “fucking idiot, you should have looked up a hostel first” I sank down onto the gum-covered curb and sulked. And though the sun still cooked me, there was no way I could keep wandering. It had been at least a couple of hours for all I knew, so I plopped down.
Then, before me, I saw something shimmer across the street.
It may have been the heat mixed with the decaying food in the dumpster or that I hadn’t drank water all morning, but it appeared to me — “free Wifi here!” I hadn’t seen a single sign for Wifi around the city yet, but I knew that my laptop had a bit of a charge and possibly my iPad, so I jolted upright and swiftly made my way across the street.
Okay, who am I kidding…
It took about a minute to build up momentum to rock back and forth enough to sit up. To anyone else watching it probably looked like a turtle on its back attempting yoga for the first time. Why I didn’t unstrap it from my back and just stand up will forever be a senseless mystery. Finally upright, I squeezed through the scattered parked cars in the middle of the street over to the small panino shop which potentially held and end to my self-inflicted misery.
But alas, that would not be the end just quite yet, because of course more “excitement” had to be juiced out of the day.
An empty table with an outlet seemed to be waiting just for me to flop into, so I quickly scurried over and took it. As I rummaged through my bag, a sudden fear grasped me — I couldn’t find my European adapter. Of course the waiter approached asking for my order, and in my craze I blurted out “latté” and kept digging. Nearly emptying my entire pack onto the table of this tiny panino shop, I discovered that I must have forgotten the plug adapter in Thailand. When I pulled out my laptop, it was down to almost 15% battery left, and my iPad was at about 3%.
The waiter returned and set down a frothed glass of milk. At that moment, confused, I stopped him and asked if it was coffee. The waiter replied, “you order latté” and shook his head as if to end an argument that had never even begun and walked away. I don’t need to type out the amount of fuckity fucks that flew through my head at that moment as everything was dying and my comfort was a warm milk, so immediately I got to work trying to find hostels nearby.
Dammit man, at least give me some cookies with the milk!
My phone was charging off of my laptop, so as it suckled battery I watched the percentage on my laptop quickly tick down like a time-bomb. As the results came in for the cheapest hostels, it was something new that slapped me in the face. Europe would surely be more expensive than Thailand, though I never expected the cheapest hostel in the city to be 25 euro.
Talk about a different kinda’ culture shock.
But there was no time to waste and I booked it. The life of my laptop and iPad exhausted, so I looked up quick directions on my iPhone to the hostel, and with its measly 8% battery I hauled my packs on, chugged the latté, and went forth — milk mustache and all. Since I had been in such a panic to look up directions, I completely missed the fact that there was a blaring and obvious monument on the way the the metro station I needed to go to. And the fact that “Colosseo Metro” didn’t quite compute at that moment. I reached the bottom of that seemingly endless hill I had been barreling down all day and rounded the corner, where I paused for a moment to get my bearing.
The I noticed something in the distance.
There it was, something I had only seen in books and online, and something I had dreamed of as a little boy to see. Only, I didn’t realize it immediately. The sun was beaming down into my eyes, and below the brim of my hat I could only see the base of a stone structure in the distance. So I tipped the hat up to see what was in the distance, and gazed up and up and up.
Suddenly all of the nonsense of the day was gone: the mocking bead of sweat, the chaffing, the blisters, the wedgies, the sticky shirt, the smelly dumpster I sat by, the spatula terror, the awkward stares, the self pity of being unprepared, and even the warm cookie-less milk all disappeared from my thoughts — I was looking at the Colosseum of Rome.
I stared in awe at the ancient stone structure climbing out of the grounds ahead, and though some may not be impressed by this tourist attraction, I had waited for a very long time for that moment. Nothing could ruin it. Well, for a few seconds at least, until the hawker with some squeaky gelatinous toy shoved it my face with a “5 euro only, come on.”
Truth be told, I was still a quite bit cranky and eager to get the hostel, but before I hopped on the metro I had to get a closer look.
It was as if I was drawn to it, pushing through the throngs of hawkers — the hat guy trying to sell me a hat when I already had one, the creepy faux gladiators wanting me to take selfies with them, the guys trying to sell me silk scarves like I was some sort of hipster, the souvenir guy trying to sell me rocks that he said were pieces of the Colosseum, and even the terribly cheesy floating guy that all easily distracted tourists flocked around.
After admiring it for as long as I could stay upright, I made my way onto the metro and to my hostel. Unlike Thailand, I discovered after the hours of waddling that hostels in Rome aren’t as numerous and way less obvious than some other countries I’ve been to. In Thailand, you toss a Baht in any direction and it will hit a guesthouse. It wouldn’t be until after this ordeal that I realized hostels and guesthouses in Rome are tucked into apartment buildings with the most frustratingly discreet signs, making it nigh impossible to just stumble onto one.
And though my lack of forward thinking and planning before arriving in a completely new country with a vastly different culture sent me on a half-day long miserably mission, seeing the Colosseum made imagination into a reality — and everything else was forgotten.
Oh, and yes, I made up the word frumped =P
Have you ever had an experience like mine from not planning ahead? Tell your fail-tale below!
There is still a bad taste in my mouth. No, it isn’t from the beef on a stick which turned out to be liver that I had eaten for lunch in the market in Mae Sai this day. That bad taste in my mouth was from an experience that happened on my recent visa run in Thailand. An experience that may have very well tainted the country for me and my desire to return to teach English.
Confusion spun in my head, which eventually began to boil into anger. I was standing inside the passport control office in the great blue building — the exit gate of Thailand into Myanmar — and I was being yelled at for no reason obvious to me. The small Thai lady behind the counter had taken my passport, given a quick glance at it, and returned it to me with a stern “No”.
I had no clue why she was barring me from exiting into Myanmar which I had done numerous times before, so of course I asked why.
“Because you no leave. Go!”and she shooed me away with her hand.
So again I pressed for information, politely of course, stating that I had done this previously with no issues.
“New regulations, you no leave. Speak with my boss” she said, while waving over the next person in line. But I wasn’t going to just turn away and retreat without some clear answer as to why I couldn’t do the visa run.
“Okay, where is your boss?” I asked.
“Bangkok. You go speak to him.” she said without even looking up at me.
“What is his phone number?” I asked.
And that is when I got pissed off. After asking for the phone number to her supervisor, a different officer behind her laughed at me. The woman I had been speaking to shook head and said, “No, leave.”
I took a deep breath and a step back so I could see if there would be an issue with anyone else in the line. The next person to approach was a girl from Canada come to find out later. After she handed the same border guard her passport and the woman looked at it, she said the same thing as she did to me.
“No, cannot, new regulations.”
Obviously the girl was just as confused as I was, so she began questioning the reasoning behind this refusal as well. And she had the same luck I did. At this point, a crowd of failed attempts from foreigners trying to either cross into Myanmar or to do a visa run was gathering outside the gate. I was the only United States dude; there were also two Germans, one French, two Dominican Republic, and someone from the United Kingdom. And that Canadian girl now.
“They denied me as well” seemed to be the tune of the morning for everyone, and nobody had any information on why we couldn’t cross the border.
So with a dying phone I began scouring forums and Thailand groups on Facebook with a desperate message of something around the lines of “What the fuck is going on?!” In one group, comments began flooding in about some sort of sudden visa regulation changes that had dropped that very morning without notice.
Apparently the only information was in the form of an article posted in the newspaper, but otherwise there was no prior warning. Rumor and speculation flooded the forums, but it seemed as though visa runs (crossing the border and coming back in for an extension of time) were being axed for people with three previous Thailand stamps in their passport.
As I was giving updates to the group outside the gate, it caused even more confusion. Granted I had done 5 visa runs already, the girl who had approached after me had just flown into Thailand and had never received an exit stamp so that wouldn’t apply. Others were on their first or second stamp as well and were being denied.
Knowing that my bus was going to be leaving in the next hour and that my visa was expiring that very day, I was desperate to figure out the issue. I approached the window again behind an older Quebecois woman who was just being denied through as well. The Thai woman in the window gave her as much explanation as me, so when the woman started complaining about them not telling us more information, a male Thai guard came to the window and with a raised voice said, “No! Go! No visa runs, no visas for you!”
The Quebecois woman was pissed, and responded by saying, “I don’t want to stay anymore, I just want to leave Thailand now because of you, you are being very rude!”
Then the guard got aggressive and got within inches of her face.
“Ok. Thailand not your country. You go back to your country!” he shouted at her. I was shocked, never seeing Thai people be so adamantly rude and unhelpful.
“You wont let me leave!” she retorted, and stormed of after flashing a middle finger.
Knowing that things were getting heated and becoming angry would help nothing, I approached the window sincerely apologizing for the woman’s reaction (though slightly warranted I feel) and pleaded for them to help or explain the situation.
And they ignored me. They wouldn’t even look up at me. Most of the guards in the office were now chatting amongst each other, snickering, and occasionally glancing our way with a smirk.
“Fuck this shit” I said to myself and pushed my way back through the line and out into the gate. Everyone was still gathered outside venting about the whole situation, but it was clear this visa run wasn’t happening for anyone today.
Frustrated beyond belief, I gave up and decided to return to the bus station.
What was the reasoning for this? Why were the border guards, who are normally friendly, being so rude? What the fuck do I do about my visa expiring today?!
Even more so I was pissed at myself for not going with my friend on his border run the day prior — right before this random regulation was placed. But there was no way I could have known these shenanigans were going to take place.
The fact that I had taken the bus 5 hours there, sat at the gate for 2 hours confused, and had to return 5 hours back to Chiang Mai empty-handed added to the frustration of the day as well. I messaged my friend who was living in Thailand with me and told him everything that had happened that day.
“I’m leaving Thailand now. As soon as possible.” I told him.
“Don’t blame ya’ after that, I figured you would.”
My phone died, so I sat for the next 5 hours trying to figure out a plan of execution while fuming with anger.
I had planned on crossing over that day for an extension just until the end of the month, and then I had to leave Thailand to attend a friend’s wedding in Slovakia. I just needed of. And I wouldn’t get it.
What really did it in for me was that since they unexpectedly dropped this new regulation on a Saturday morning, the immigration office was closed until Monday. So even if I was to go get an extension, paying 1,900 baht at the immigration office, I would already owe another 1,000 baht in fines for an overstay.
It seemed to me like it was a planned slight.
Imagine hundreds of people needing to cross for their visa extension that day, just doing something that had been normal to do each month for the past few years, and then being denied. That is at least 1,000 baht per person before they can scramble over to a neighboring country to apply for a visa or apply for an extension at the immigrations office.
All that passed through my head was that, “those fuckers did this on purpose for a quick dollar.”
I can’t personally come up with any justifiable reason why they would drop a swift new regulation without warning on a weekend.
As more information surfaced later that night, it seemed as though the regulations would get even stricter. Soon, starting later that August, they would be barring flying out of the country and back in without acquiring a visa for Thailand in another country preemptively. Making it harder to stay long-term in a country many love.
I spoke to many, many travelers later that night about the slight at hand — about being screwed over last-minute. Some were in the same situation as I was. A small amount of others objected to or dismay, mostly uppity ones on forums who combated everyone’s panic and complaining with thanks and praises for a regulation that would “force out the teachers and freelancers exploiting Thailand’s loopholes“.
Older expats who had Thai wives and had been living there for 10+ years were ridiculing would-be teachers and freelancers for “living off Thailand’s easily avoided immigrant laws” — as if they didn’t fucking come to the country to exploit loopholes. How old was your wife when you found “love” for one another? How many times had you done visa runs?
I didn’t come to exploit anything, but clearly much of the older crowd making this argument had.
A country should accommodate my needs?
Some spoke of tightening regulations for entering the country as just enforcement for long-standing laws. Sure, the standard was that after 3 visa entries you would have to acquire a different type of visa. But what about those forced away while I was there that only had one? And though these regulations, in some form, may have been in place — the norm embraced by Thailand, travelers, Thai merchants, Thai companies, expats, teachers, and the like was the visa run.
Most people living in Thailand and doing visa runs are, from my experience, people who want to stay in Thailand because they love the culture and people. And they spend their money in the country. Freelancers being paid by other countries spend their money IN THAILAND. English teachers, who aren’t talking jobs from Thai people, are spending their paychecks IN THAILAND.
Sure, you might just say, “stop complaining and go the proper route to get a visa” but that isn’t why everyone was pissed. Or why I was pissed. I don’t think for one moment that a country should bend rules or accommodate rules just so I am comfortable. But when I arrived, the regular thing to do was to take visa runs until you got your work permit from a school you are teaching at, or do visa runs while exploring the country until you find a place you would like to settle. Then you can head on over to Laos and try to get a 90 day visa which takes a few days at least.
The reason everyone was pissed was because they established this new regulation without warning, without information, without explanation, and on a weekend while immigration offices were close.
It’s not only foreigners complaining…
Think travelers were the only ones complaining? The Thai apartment building owner my friend rented from saw a mass exodus of travelers who had been renting a room the following day.
“I don’t know what I’ll do…everyone is leaving. I won’t have a business.”
Sure, Thailand businesses may do okay during busy season, but we were entering the slow rainy season, one where most of these businesses are helped by spending from expats, teachers, freelancers or slow travelers staying longer.
How about all of those businesses that relied on the daily flow of packed buses full of travelers on visa runs? Those companies specifically offering visa runs are done for. Also, the shops those vans force you to stop at on visa runs rely on daily flow of backpackers for business.
I even heard about new protests in Bangkok solely about this new regulation. Whether that is true or not, I heard it from a Thai person.
Trust me, it isn’t just “freeloading” backpackers complaining if you decided to call it that, it was a vast majority of Thai people I spoke with confused and angry as well.
Again, I have no worry ever about going through the proper methods to enter and stay in a country, but the way this was executed without warning was something that will leave a mark on me, many travelers in Thailand, and Thai businesses as well.
So, was I really forced out of Thailand?
Yes and no. I was forced to make a quick decision that in no way made it plausible to stay in Thailand. I’m sure whoever “they” are would have loved for me to stay longer and pay more in fines.
I had just over two weeks left in the country before I had to leave. For me to jump over to another country like Laos and apply for a visa would take a few days in addition to costs of the application, transportation, and accommodation. I would have already been at a loss of 1,000 baht ($30 which is a lot for a backpacker) and I would be paying for a 90 day visa only to return to the country for a couple of weeks. It didn’t make sense to me.
I know that the gate I was attempting to cross through was a trading post and not actually a border crossing. From there, without being able to re-enter Thailand, you would be stuck. It is basically for good and Visa runs. But I had heard this was the story at most borders around Thailand, be it one for visa runs or not.
And the longer I stayed, the more money I’d be fined.
Why not move on to another Southeast Asian country?
According to the border guards, I had to fly out since my visa expires and the regulation restricted me from crossing by land. So, to spend $50-$100 on a last-minute flight to another country close by, then to spend $700-$800 last minute to fly to Slovakia, would be a waste of money on flights.
Instead, I decided it was just my time to leave Thailand and Southeast Asia (for now) and just take an earlier flight into Europe. My accommodation and daily living costs may be more expensive, but at this point I just wanted to get away from Thailand unfortunately. And though I had been planning to go to Slovakia, the plans changed again.
Knowing each day I stayed in Thailand would be another $15 tacked on to my fine, I took the next bus down to Bangkok to fly out the following day. I switched my plan to fly to Slovakia because I found a cheaper flight last-minute to Italy ($500) and I also had a voucher worth $250 with a flight booking company that I could use. Taking that cheaper flight to Italy, I could finally live out a childhood dream as well, and then take a budget flight for $50 to Slovakia for the wedding at a later date.
Expenses wise, it would obviously be more expensive in Italy than it would be to stay in Southeast Asia, but with the turn of events and how it played out with flights, it seemed as though the travel Gods were telling me it was finally time to visit the country I always yearned to see. Fernweh was pulling me — that longing for a place you have never been — and it was pulling me to Italy.
I had spent 6 months in Thailand setting up roots for myself to teach English after the wedding…roots that would have given me the proper visa to stay long-term, but the experience at the border and the way the new regulations were handled really pushed me away. And it is a shame. I really love Thailand. But seriously, from my local friends, Thai merchants and business owners I know, and backpackers around the Land of Smiles — someone fucked up with this.
Will I ever return?
I think there is a good possibility that I could return. After all, I never did explore much of the southern islands. But to live long-term and teach English there after this experience? Before flying out I had to pay 2,000 baht ($60) in fines to someone at the airport that had a quick chuckle after saying, “oooh, overstayed? Not good”. I can’t say for sure, but it Thailand isn’t on my radar anymore to live in.
*UPDATE* I have heard whisperings that Thailand has returned the policy back to the way it was. Still hasn’t changed how I feel about the experience.
Something felt off. Well, I felt off. But I could have never guessed what would come later, possibly in connection with the way I had felt the entire day after arriving in Chiang Mai.
And then I looked up from my sandwich in a Subway in Chiang Mai to see the glass before me shaking violently and the concrete walls of the building I was in shift back and forth.
“What the fuck?” I said with a mouthful of chicken teriyaki.
I looked up and it seemed as though the world was warping, as if I was staring into a funhouse mirror as the events played out around me.
Everyone from the top floor and base floor scurried out of the building quickly, snatching up all of their belonging in a mad panic and fleeing into the streets.
Me? I just sat there completely confused and feeling on the verge of vomiting. And once the shaking stopped, it dawned on me that I had just idiotically sat inside a building while an earthquake rattled the city.
I think the reason I hadn’t gotten up to run outside like everyone else was because of that exact feeling that I had bothering me all day. And right before the earthquake it, I felt faint and near collapse — thinking I hadn’t eaten enough that day. Thinking at the beginning it was just me.
Earlier that morning I had driven back 3 hours from the northern town of Pai, through the 762+ turns up and down the mountains without stopping. I just wanted to make it back to Chiang Mai as soon as possible.
Right as I got back I started feeling a little off. I figured I had slight jitters because I only ate a small breakfast and chugged a coffee to get the blood flowing before hitting the road. But I made sure to drink plenty of water on the return route, and even after going to the café and eating an entire sandwich…nothing changed.
All day I stood or sat slamming down keys for a post on the blog, and gradually throughout the day I felt worse. It began with just a slight drowsiness or lightheadedness. and then my arms began to tingle. I felt weak. My head slowly began to give me the feeling of the spins, and my forehead felt hot.
Eventually, it got too much to bear. I packed up all of my belongings and decided to head home for the day and lay down, hoping that feeling would subside. But it didn’t.
It was about 5 minutes before the earthquake hit that I felt on the verge of vomiting. I thought I might collapse and so I hobbled down the stairs and decided that I’d try to down some more food just to see if it helped. Then, right before everything began shaking, I felt like I’d faint. My vision became a little blurry, my dizziness took hold, and I was preparing to run to the bathroom in case I had to hurl.
And then it hit. At first I thought it was me. My shoulders tingled down to my arms and into my fingertips. I thought, “Yep, stay seated Ryan, you are going to faint”
Things started slow. The windows vibrated and the walls moved and I grabbed my head with both hands to steady myself. That’s when everybody began running outside. It worsened. The glass wobbled and bent as though it’s explode and I could literally see the building dancing before me. Yet I couldn’t get up. I was disoriented and still couldn’t get my legs under me to work. I watched as the lights shook and pictures slide.
I’m sure if I began seeing things breaking or cracking I’d be able to get the energy to run outside.
After it stopped, I could see the hundreds of Thai people massing in the streets on their phone, seemingly tweeting or lining or snapping freak outs about what just happened.
And I sat there and finished my sandwich.
Not more than 5-10 minutes after the earthquake, that intense ill feeling seemed to wash out of my body. I was still a tad bit off, but I didn’t feel nearly as bad as I did hours before.
The earthquake registered a 6.3 at its epicenter near Chiang Rai north of Chiang Mai, and seemed to crawl all across Thailand down to Bangkok and into neighboring Myanmar. As I checked Twitter, immediately the social network was flooded with tweets about it. Luckily, everyone I knew weren’t injured. Just really freaked out or confused.
Throughout the night and into the next morning, my house vibrated with aftershocks. I spoke to my roommate the next morning about how ill I felt and she mentioned the exact same symptoms, telling me that she thought it was a large thunderstorm coming that caused her to feel that way.
Maybe I have “Spidey senses” one of my close friends quipped after telling her about the incident since it seemed to dissipate after the earthquake came and went.
I’ve now been through my share of earthquakes; plenty of aftershocks in Christchurch that made it feel like I slept on a water bed, and the annual occurrences in California. Hell, I was even giving an iPad class in Washington DC at my Apple Store when one hit — of course I stood there as everyone else crawled under tables.
Even though none compared to ones that have rocked Asia before, or Christchurch in New Zealand, or caused the destruction in Haiti that I observed even 2 years after, it is still pretty nerve wrecking.
I do not like the ground feeling like Jell-O beneath me.
Have you ever been through an earthquake? Ever have symptoms like mine hours before?
The fiery red protrusion on the back of my hand pulsated and throbbed like an angry volcano on the verge of erupting through the two dark holes in its peak — I had been bitten by a bulbous and shiny and demented creepy crawly something that could only have been birthed from the darkest corner of Hell.
No, it was a sickness. A sickness that began with a hoarse cough, like a raspy old hound barking his last warning, the shaking cold sweats consumed me more than the dry Thailand heat caused; eyes yellowed and gums bright red and bloody. I felt faint, nearly hallucinogenic, and as I stood to grab a bottle of water that the dryness of my mouth craved to consume, I collapsed.
No. No, no, no. That is all wrong.
Those scenarios above are exactly that — scenarios. Creepy crawlies and things that go bump in the night and exotic deadly illnesses were the kinds of thoughts that coursed through my brain whenever I imagined something that might land me in the hospital abroad for the first time.
I did end up in the hospital though.
It wasn’t some kind of exciting and strange insect, or disease, or motorbike accident. Fear sometimes grips us and takes over our mind. Our imagination comes up with the most irrationally movie-moment-esque mishaps, illnesses, dismemberments, and deaths. This is especially true when traveling abroad. A mysterious place never explored by your feet and eyes and mind — and everything can be amped up ten fold, whether it be the good, the bad, or the ugly side.
What landed me in the hospital? Well, if you read my post covering the recent Songkran New Year celebrations in Chiang Mai, you may already have a clue. If not, it surely isn’t as elaborate as the horror movie scenarios above, but I got horribly sick during Songkran either way.
Sick and left ill and in pain and unable to eat.
Let’s get one thing clear though…obviously I am still alive since I’m writing this. No need to fret.
So what put me in the hospital? More importantly, how was a hospital experience in Thailand?
The best way to describe my feelings toward hospitals in general is with two words; fear and loathing. I hate the smell of the hospitals, the look of them, and how people are treated most of the time, I also can’t stand going because they frighten me.
Every time I’ve been sick with something and had to go to a hospital, I’m always afraid they will drop something on me with their calm monotone doctor speech like, “Mr. Brown, you do have a respiratory infection…oh yea, and the black plague. You are going to die in five minutes.”
Hospitals tend to be just like the DMV, or as I call it — purgatory. You sit there in a chair with a fountain of blood spurting out of you and all the nurse does is walk by and say, “sir, please try not to make a mess“.
Like Beetlejuice, your number never gets called.
There’s also the stress. A small version of Mr. T inside your brain punches it over and over shouting, “they gonna’ take all yo money foo!” causing you to rock back and forth holding your head and yelling “SHUT UP!”
Next thing ya know you’re in the looney bin.
Okay, some of that is a little over-exaggerated, like the nurse calling you “sir” but I digress.
So what happened to me in the Songkran Festival?
Before coming to Thailand, I’d say I had a tad bit of bad luck with injuries or illnesses. At one point, my work was calling me bubble boy because so many illnesses or injuries had hit me in a row, and majority of the time I didn’t have health care.
For me to go six months without a doctor visit (though I have picked up some antibiotics for a cold from a pharmacist) was a pretty good streak.I guess it couldn’t last forever.
The pains began after the first day of Songkran, but worsened. By the third day it was a slicing and burning sensation in my stomach. I hadn’t eaten anything in two days at that point — I had tried to but it hurt too much.
I decided to cave. I put off going to the hospital for a few days because I’m stubborn, but once the festival subsided I knew I had to.
I guess caving is better than dying!
The dreaded hospital visit
The hospital I ended up at was Chiang Mai Ram hospital, located near the north-west corner of Old Town outside of the moat. To many, It’s known as the “expensive” hospital, but at this point I knew the location and I just needed to go.
I half expected the place to be a little dirty and outdated and swarming with ill foreigners.
The inside was like all hospitals; buzzing florescent lights, neutral white walls, and the occasional gaudy floral wallpaper slapped on them so your eyes don’t drown in negative space. But, to my delight, it was surprisingly empty. Normally when you go to a hospital in the United States, it’s like you are fighting through a battle to just get noticed. Not here, I was the only person to step up to the counter.
“Hello sir, what’s wrong?”
I informed the delightful woman behind the counter of my symptoms; severe stomach pains, headache, achy joints, and weak muscles — and then she asked me to go to registration.
Once there, I had to fill out a tiny registration form, have my photo taken, and I was already on my way to the waiting area with a cue number in hand. Done in 5 minutes. All the while she was calling me “Mr. Brown” and “sir“.
In the waiting area, one with just a handful of Thai people, I sat expecting it would now be a much longer wait. Soon after I sat down, a nurse walked around passing out juice to everyone, giving me an iced juice and a hot tea…just to give us a refreshment while we wait. Hell, I wasn’t even done with my juice and the next thing I know I’m being called into the office!
The doctor, an older Thai woman who didn’t speak English well, was still able to speak clearly enough when conversing with me. She had me lay on my back on a couch and squeezed my lower abdomen. She moves fast I guess! I never knew the tickle maneuver was a way to diagnose an illness, squeezing different parts of my stomach and abdomen asking me to inform her of where it hurt. I just hoped she would stop before I either began to giggle.
After a couple of minutes, she diagnosed me.
“You have bad intestine infection. Did you go to Songkran?”
I told her I had been to the festival water fighting and I felt sick the next day.
“Oh. Songkran water bad. Very bad. Make you sick.”
That brown, murky moat water that I had been sprayed with in the eyes and mouth in during Songkran, inadvertently gulping down a gallon of it, is what caused the infection most likely.
After she prescribed me medicine, I went to the pharmacy counter inside the hospital and waited for my number.
My bill? $2,000 baht or around $60.
Okay, I’ll admit it…I don’t have travel health insurance. Why? Just as in the States, I don’t have heaps of money to drop on it. Though once I begin my English teaching job I will definitely be making that investment!
2,000 baht is my budget for 3 days, and the was four times cheaper than what I would have paid at home. It’s wild, I always hated and feared hospitals, but my experience at the hospital in Chiang Mai was fine. In and out in nearly an hour and along the way calling me “sir” and being incredibly kind.
The after effects
A few days after going to the hospital while on 3 different types of pills, an antibiotic, and an electrolyte powder to drink, I was feeling a little better. For that few days after I still couldn’t eat most solid foods. The intestine infection, which has symptoms like something I’ve had in the past in my stomach, makes it painful to eat things like breads, cheese, meats, or vegetables. Oh, and anything acidic. So basically I had to stick to eating rice soup — what I now call “gloppity gloop” after having it 7 times that week after.
And to think all of that came from a little fun during the Songkran festivities in Chiang Mai. Next time I’ll make sure to get some goggles at least.
Hospital Info for Chiang Mai
Note: Make sure to bring your Passport, they will need this to process you.
Chiang Mai Ram – 8 Bunrueang Rit RdMueang, Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai, Thailand (north west corner of the moat)
Have you ever been sick or hospitalized abroad?
Have you ever heard of Songkran? If not, you’re missing out. Songkran is the biggest water gun battle in the world — imagine World War III but with squirt guns and ice-cold buckets of H2O.
If you have partaken in this end-all-be-all New Year celebration or have seen evidence of this epicness, you know exactly what it entails.
If it was so damn awesome, how could one grow annoyed by Songkran in the country of smiles under the 100° heat of the sun? Depends solely on the outcome of the battle, and your patience after the first day or two of it.
For me, Songkran in Chiang Mai began as a childlike love. In the end, I was more keen to loathe it. And I couldn’t stand going outside to sneak around the streets for food.
Just to make it clear; I did not, at all, dislike the underlying celebration of Thailand’s New Year.
The beauty of Songkran is the massive celebration of the end of Thailand’s dry season where water flies wild and Thai people bless the entire population by splashing water on you. Also, obviously, it has become a freakin’ massive party with throngs of foreigners running amuck. Myself included.
Where did I decide to take part in this water battle to end all water battles? Chiang Mai, the epicenter of Thailand’s Songkran celebration.
So how is it that I, someone who had been giddy at the prospect of living a childhood delight of water gun fights in summer, except on a city-wide scale, actually dislike it in the end?
Well, there are aspects of both sides I liked and didn’t like, but it was a cumulation of misfortunes in the end that brought down my battle morale.
Let’s start from the beginning…
My good pal Zach and I knew that we wanted to be in Chiang Mai for the Songkran festival, but last-minute took off to Bangkok for a Thirty Seconds to Mars concert an faced an approaching visa run.
To keep a grueling mis-adventure short, we took a bus to Cambodia to get stamped, checked out Angkor Wat, and then came back. What we didn’t know was that flying from Siem Reap would be about 10 times the price than to cross overland, so we were forced to take a bus back to Bangkok, and a late night bus from there to Chiang Mai.
Within that three-day span, the total time spent on buses would be over 36 hours, with a combined 6 vans and 4 buses in the mix.
By the time we reached Chiang Mai on the day before the Songkran festival began, we were well beyond exhaustion. But alas, we were still stoked to prepare for battle and jump right in.
Even though some splashing had already taken place on the 12th (rumblings that it was mainly farangatangs or douche foreigners) the real celebration is held from the 13th-15th. So we basically slipped into a coma the night before to get our energy back for the next day.
And so the madness began.
Songkran Day 1: Arm Up!
Zach and I took to the streets as the battle cries were already ringing through the hot stagnate air, the sound of dubstep pounding loud in the distance were the war drums of the day. We were unarmed in the beginning, searching for a way to make it to a stand to purchase a worthy weapon of water, but as we made it to the moat near Chiang Mai Gate, we could already see chaos had engulfed the city.
Quite obviously, there was a slaughter of water everywhere. People running and shooting at others. Trucks filled with water barrels and manned by feindish Thai bucket-chuckers hurled water with insane accuracy. Whether you were on foot, or in a car, or on a motorbike, you were targets.
Especially if you were dry…
And being that we had come into the fray unscathed and unarmed, we were now in the crosshairs of everyone. Drenched in 2.5 seconds flat to the smiles from those who walked up and casually dumped a bucket of ice-cold water on our heads — inducting us into the battle.
With now rocket-like nipples from the shock of the cold and an eagerness to join in, we snagged our weapons; The Super Shooter 5000, and began our own mercenary-esque water gun mission.
We winded our way through the street wrought with H20 destruction and every step along the way engaged in skirmishes with foreigner and Thai alike. Though, warning to would be future Songkraners, watch those cute little Thai kids — their fun smiles are evil smirks as the lure you in close just to shoot ice water colder than the arctic in your face.
Finally we arrived at the main battleground — Thapae Gate at the east end of Old Town and a place that was now a sea of saturated, drunk, foamy, raving madmen and madwomen.
The shock of how absurdly wild the gate was had yet taken hold before we rushed in to join the battle, spraying everyone along the way who crossed our paths.
This — this was my childhood dream!
That was when I encountered my first annoyance.
As Zach and I squeezed our way though the raving crowd beneath a high stage spewing foam and the fire hoses showing down on us, some Thai people began rubbing my face and arms with this white paste. This paste come to find out, is normally talc powder mixed in buckets and wiped on people as a blessing, but this white paste was no blessing at all.
They touched my face out of nowhere with this paste, completely throwing me off in a “what the fuck?” kind of way, but I figured it was something of a ritual for this celebration and Buddhist holiday. As we made our way into the open street battling along the way, I began suddenly wondering why my back, arms, and forehead were burning. And since nearly everyone targets faces with super shooters like mine, the white paste began dripping near my eyes.
It felt like sulfuric acid.
My eyes were on fire and it burned worse than accidentally brushing your manhood with icy-hot after pulling a groin. Been there, done that. Okay, maybe not THAT painful, but up there. I was rushing to wash off my face, and at the same time my arms and back felt as though I had searing sunburn.
(just a random example, maybe hers was talc?)
Turns out, instead of the normal talc powder, some company was trucking around throwing out bottles of “cooling shock” menthol powder that people were smearing on everyone. And also began sneaking it into the barrels of water to shoot.
It felt like a big practical joke. Why not stick to the classic non-burning talc powder?!
Though it was annoyance, it was just a small one. After that I made sure to avoid that shit every time a smiling Thai with a bucket came to rub me down with that white molten lava.
Now that my eyes were working again, it was back to the gnarly water battle and cause some ruckus.
Shortly after arriving, we met up with Hannah and Adam of Getting Stamped and Amy of Throwing the Bowlines blogs and formed our A-team. One side of this street faced off against the other side of the street in skirmishes, and trucks crept through hurling gallons upon us.
Oh, and the swat team showed up with guns.
We had battled all morning, so we all agreed it was beer O’clock and we all deserved an ice-cold Chang. We went over to one of the few places selling beer nearby and that is when we ran into another annoyance.
Before I knew it I was under the soaked and dirty arm of a great big Maori dude who was raving about some drunk nonsense. While I had been buying my beers, it seems the rest of the group had been drawn into a conversation with the rowdy herd of rugby players. A few Maori, a few Aussie, and a few Samoan. Even though I was excited to blurt out I everything I loved about New Zealand, I was also weary of the big raging bro type as well. Seriously, all they talked about was Wrestling and insulted each other.
Soon we found ourselves in a fierce and sloppy game of flip cup with everyone, pouring pitchers and slamming cups. Funny thing is, it wasn’t the people from the U.S.A. that were pumping fists and yelling “Murica!” but the group of rugby players strange enough. Actually not strange.
Since we were playing flip cup amongst the chaos of Songkran, it was an often occurrence that someone would be spraying water at us, which inevitably ended up in the beers we were drinking. And drinking. And drinking.
After a few games and a few pitchers of Chang spiked with moat water, the “bros” were getting quite rowdy, a tad pushy, and a bit confrontational, so we decided it was time to exit the scene.
The sun had begun setting and clouds gobbled up the last bit of daylight, and since we were still in sopping wet clothes, the shivers took hold. It got freezing. At one point I glanced to Hannah and she had blue lips and looked as if she would freeze solid in her place.
As we waddled back to their place to dry off, people were still battling in the darkness and drenching us with buckets. We all tried desperately to dodge it, but inevitably we took more ice-cold buckets to the face adding to our cold misery.
Tired, but all agreeing that it was one of the best festivals we had been to.
Finally in the comfort and protection of an apartment, we all relaxed and dried off a bit, decided that dinner and drinks we in store for the capstone of the first day.
Songkran Day 2: Defeated.
I woke the next morning with what I could only assume was a hangover since the A Team had all gone out for a bit of drinking after drying off that night. Knowing that we had drunk more beer throughout the day before than water, and that I drank some whiskey after said beer (breaking the liquor before beer rule), I figured that could be the only cause.
Well, little did I know that wasn’t why my stomach felt so wretched and painful.
I was reluctant to get out and into the water war again but my buddy Zach dragged me along, even with my abdomen having an uncomfortable pain and slight burning sensation. I had forgotten my gun at the flip cup table the day before, so I zombie walked to a stand to buy another, all the while with a hand on my stomach.
(not feeling well)
Already I could feel my attitude was changing. I was not in the mood to frolic about spraying water and getting soaked, but more-so to stay in bed all day. We went back to Thapae Gate where we fought the day before, and just as then, it was madness.
This time we stayed closer to the refill stations because I wasn’t feeling so mobile. Also so we could have unlimited ammo. But, looking into the refill stations, I realized that all of the water everybody had been spraying around was this brown murky liquid pumped from the moat.
Though it was seriously nasty looking, not many seemed to care, and everyone went on with their battle business full on fury.
Some even were scooping up the stagnant and dirty ankle high water into buckets or sucking it up into their guns and hitting people in the faces with it.
Myself included as victim of a street water bucket.
And though it was hilarious running around and shooting water guns at people, the amount of times I was sprayed full blast with dirty water into my eyes and mouth eventually took its toll.
It didn’t take long for Zach and I to lose each other in the chaos, but it was time for me to raise the white flag and quit for the day.
Except that wouldn’t be easy at all.
I was at the east end of the Old Town, which meant to get to my house behind the airport I would have to walk through the entire Old Town to the west side. That wouldn’t have been bad, but I was cutting straight through more hostile territory, and sure enough I’d get soaked.
And soaked I got. It was cloudy again so I was shivering and my mood had turned to grumpy and my stomach was killing me and every time I was shot or splashed, I wanted to yell. Mainly, I just gave the death stare.
When I finally reached the other side of the square, I saw the road was at a complete standstill in traffic like it was a parking lot. I managed to find a songthaew (truck taxi) nearby going up the street I needed to and hopped in. When I asked him to take me to “Wat Pong Noi” he repeated it and nodded his head to assure me he knew. Which he didn’t.
This happens quite often in fact and isn’t a big problem ever normally, but when we arrived at the completely wrong place and I told him where i actually needed to go, he upped the price 100 baht. Even though we were 75% of the way there and away from the celebration. I thought, “Fuck it” to myself and just wanted to get home.
That’s when the real pain hit.
That entire night at home the pain in my stomach grew from just uncomfortable, to occasional shooting pains. For the rest of the day I dared not move, just sleeping on and off hoping it would be gone by morning.
Songkran Day 3: The End is Near
The pit in my stomach was bottomless, but I had no appetite at all. I hadn’t eaten anything other than a ham and cheese toasty the morning before, but at that moment I didn’t even think I could stomach anything.
The headache was beating in my head. I had body aches and it hurt to move. My eyes hurt if I closed them too tight. I was going to the bathroom every 30 minutes (sorry, but details are details).
That day we were supposed to meet up at Hannah and Adams place for her birthday celebration, and though I struggled to move, I knew I wanted to at least say hi. Getting there would obviously be the most trying part I thought, but luckily my new roommate allowed me to borrow her mountain bike into town.
After biking down the freeway and nearly running into a car door after a guy decided to get out of his vehicle without looking, I made it to their apartment moderately dry. It was cloudy that day luckily which made the bike ride in my weakened state a little better. But I could feel myself internally cursing every time someone attempted to soak me.
We relaxed a bit and I couldn’t help but gobble up the marvelous looking ice cream cake she had at her birthday which caused me even more pain. Soon the A Team was aching to go outside for a fight on the last day of Songkran after a few jello shots.
Me? No desire to at all. But I did tag along because I wanted to help Hannah have a good birthday.
Immediately I regretted going outside. It was still cloudy and now even more people were out in force, guns loaded. We walked down a seemingly small Soi which then became a busy party street and no sooner did I mumble “fuck my life” did I get 3 ice-cold buckets of water on me.
“I should just steal a baby and walk around with it, they wouldn’t splash a baby!”
Along the way to avoid getting sprayed, I faked entering into cafés as a maneuver around the bucketeers along the road. When we came to Maya mall where there was supposed to be a concert going on, it more looked like a scene out of the movie Waterworld. Speakers blaring and thumping, fire hoses spraying, and people battling it out in close quarters.
Looked like one helluva party, and I didn’t want any part of it.
“I’ve gotta’ get some food in me” I told the group, and parted ways to find something to eat. Even eating white rice pained me, so I decided to go grab my bike and retreat back to my house.
I avoided everyone at all costs. Down back alleys and small streets I walked down, often hitting dead ends. When a group of people armed to the teeth would be marching down a side alley that I was on, I’d retreat and pretend to be looking for something in my bag around the corner.
I managed to make it to the bike dry and hurried on my way, dipping, diving, and dodging crowds and taking back roads all the way home. And I only managed to get a splash on the leg.
Feeling weak and having cutting pains across my stomach, I decided I’d go to the hospital and get checked out the next day.
The Songkran Sickness
The way to the hospital the next day was completely dry which I was so very happy about. After seeing the doctor and her doing a standard tickle the tummy procedure, she deemed that I had an intestinal infection.
“Oooh, Songkran water very dirty. Moat water bad. Very bad.”
“Ahh” I said.
After the stomach problems had lasted a couple of days I figured it was from chugging the water being tossed around since we were hit in the face so much. I had even heard rumors from other Thais that there were articles written about how bad the moat water was this year. But all the while it was used, and it made me terribly sick.
2000 baht later, I’m on three types of pills and I cannot eat solid foods for 3-5 days. Numerous people on my Facebook commented on their own experiences getting sick or knowing others that had — from stomach issues, pink eye, fevers, etc.
From Love to Loathe?
I can say a few things that are true. Yes, I was utterly annoyed by the festival by day three. I had gotten very sick from the water battle. Some things that were small annoyances were amplified by me being ill.
But did I actually get sick and tired of Songkran?
While I wrote about this epic festival and looking back on it, I realize that I didn’t really dislike it, I just had a bad personal misfortunes that compiled and one BIG one which caused me to not enjoy the rest of it.
More likely, I got sick and tired from it, not of it, and that made me hate everything at that point. But there is no way I could hate a water gun battle. Especially celebrating with people like Thai people who love to have a damn good time! I can truly say it was one of the craziest New Year celebrations I’ve ever been a part of, and that it was one wild party. Everyone should experience this unique cultural celebration in Thailand.
I know full well that if I was 100% healthy, the small annoyances mentioned that piled up wouldn’t have bugged me one bit.
But this water warrior went down early in the fight, and being sick did not allow me to truly love it.
I really don’t know how some survive the 3-5 days of celebration really. This was the biggest party I had ever seen and I was out by day 1. It’s like Thais have a super human Songkran gene.
Or just a lot of M150.
Some things to remember for Songkran
- Being prepared with goggles or glasses to prevent water getting in my eyes.
- Not drinking beer that had water accidentally gunned into it.
- Not viking roaring when I shoot so I don’t get water in my mouth.
- Avoid the moat.
- Get much more proper rest before and during.
[x_alert heading=”SIDE NOTE:” type=”warning”]Songkran isn’t solely a water gun battle and party. There is a lot of cultural importance to the festival; parading important Monks images to be blessed by all, washing away the “dirt” from the past year and praying for good fortune, inviting the rainy season and fresh crops, and more. Unfortunately, it has become in the larger cities just one big Spring Break like party (with partial clothes on) and I’m bummed I didn’t get a chance to see the calmer and more culture based side.[/x_alert]
HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED SONGKRAN? Would you Want to if Not?
There I was…staring at the gray lint from the inside of my pocket with a peppering of beach sand, a beer bottle cap, and twenty New Zealand dollars in my palm — my bank account had a dismal twenty-six U.S. dollars in it. Reality came over me like a mule hind-kicking me in the gonads, I had completely run out of money in a foreign country and my travel noob ass was just realizing it.
Or that time I came back into my hostel room to find the bare bottom of a man grinning vertically at me from my own bed like a cheeky peekaboo from beneath the blankets.
Or that time I time I found myself unknowingly sleeping in a run-down whorehouse on the east coast of the United States that was owned by a one-legged, one-eyed, toothless prostitute pirate ironically named lefty (he was missing he left arm, cruel nickname…)
Or singing karaoke, Living on a Prayer obviously, in a whorehouse in Maui Hawaii naively thinking it was an actual karaoke bar.
Or when I found myself and the film crew on the cusp of a knife fight at a Haitian whorehouse in Cap-Haitian when all we wanted was a hotel room.
Or selling my pride to become a freelance camel jockey.
Or my first run in with police in Thailand. Oh yeah, and the second run in with the police in Thailand.
How about the epic (failed) attempt to last-minute hitchhike from the north island of New Zealand to Christchurch on the south island…
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention…how about that time I was a stripper on a cruise ship? Is that an eye-brow I saw perk up?
These my friends are just the tip of the nipple when it comes to the mis-adventures I’ve found myself in while traveling — sometimes these epic fail-tales have evolved from poor planning, being a once amateur travel, careless frolicking and meandering without checking my budget or surroundings, or just the three haggard bitch-fates wanting to take a piss on my string of fate for a good cackle.
Whatever the reason for ending up in these situations or the end result, I have survived to re-tell these absolutely whacky and 100% true stories with you for the sole purpose to laugh at my misfortunes. And hopefully learn from them.
Ah, forget learning a lesson, just come have a laugh with my as I recount the stories and laugh with you — even though at the time I may have been fearing for my life or cursing myself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Since the month of April begins with a day dedicated to fools, this entire month I will be re-visiting all of my past or recent mis-adventures where I was the fool.
Are you ready for this? These stories will be no-holds barred — no titillating, tantalizing, or terrifying details held back.
So make sure to stay tuned to this blog. Grab a coffee or beer or…if you must…a health shake, make sure to grab a diaper as well because you may tinkle a bit from laughter , and prepare the cold shower for after. Maybe even a smoke.
It’s gonna’ get dicey this month…
There was a fight at my hostel tonight in Pai, Thailand.
An older Scotsman (45ish) who has been staying at the hostel for the past 6 months has grown a kind of “I run this place” ego over every other traveler and backpacker, as well as grown a disdain for humankind — which usually seeps out after a few glasses of whiskey. He always loftily tells tales, true or tall tales, about such things as being let off by police for having the highest ranking shaman of a country come to his rescue, or sleeping in caves for weeks in the wild when he feels such immense hatred for people, or other things like being so well-known that even the FBI questioned him because they thought he was an agent of some sort.
Well, the past couple of nights his disdain for people who are “utterly disrespectful of the universe and disgraces to humankind” has been oozing out each time he stumbled about the great campfire — once usually made for communal seating and sharing stories and drinks, but of late empty and quieter than the crickets in the bush.
One night, a chap walked up behind him and slung an arm over his shoulder in a friendly gesture and the guy proceeds to shove him off, tell him to “fuck off and leave the hostel” lest he “fuck him up” and slapped him in the face. The other guy seemed to be quite the pacifist and apologized for what I observed to be no wrong. And if it was me in his shoes getting slapped, well, I don’t go looking for trouble, but if it slaps me in the face you can be damn sure there will be trouble.
Either way, later that night the higher than human kind man with the whiskey dragon breath stumbled about at 4:00am shouting out into the night sky, “I’ll fucking kill all you mother fuckers. You are disgusting. A disgrace! All of you!”
In the morning, my friend who is traveling with him saw the whiskey breathed hollering higher than human man who came and sat with him at the coffee table. Both ordered coffee and my friend made small talk as he was completely unknowing of the latest events. My friend had asked, “Did you hear that crazy person screaming and shouting outside last night? Something about killing people and stuff”
The man sipped his coffee and grumble, “If I would have heard some ignorant piece of shit shouting that late at night outside, I would have walked out and kicked his ass. People have no respect.”
Seems as though the man had no clue it was him. Ironic how he became the piece of shit in his own mind and never even knew it…
Well, tonight as the lot of us watched Game of Thrones season 1 on the upstairs balcony (season 4 is coming, we HAVE to recap…) everything seemed to be a chill night.
Until the shouting began.
All we heard was commotion — some ruckus of shouting we couldn’t understand. but as we ran over the opposite railing to peer down to the origin, we saw higher than human kind whiskey breathed hollering ironic man with his dukes up toward a much younger and larger backpacker.
Other backpackers scattered away from the fire, and another guy who had probably almost fought him in that instance as well, was dragged away from the scene.
Though I couldn’t hear, it seemed that words and threats were made by the older guy, while the backpacker who probably did nothing to rightfully offend him, stood his ground. It was on the cusp of a fireside brawl until the owner of the hostel, one who has allowed this man the courtesy to stay long-term, forced him back to his bungalow.
“Saw that coming…it was just a matter of time…” A girl said out loud to the group as we walked back to watch Game of Thrones.
It was just a matter of time. Not a matter of time that some young backpacker would purposely pick a fight, because nobody has, but a matter of time until this guy who perpetually gulped down bottles of whiskey per night and spoke about how everyone is driving the world to shit, picked a fight with someone.
And if he is allowed to stay, he will no doubt pick many more fights and may have the brawl he’s been itching for…but it probably won’t end up good for him.
All in all, this man who holds the world to blame for destroying it, who complains about the lack of respect, and who states just how disgusting we are through whiskey breath and wobbly steps — is a perfect picture of the monsters that he sees through blurry eyes.
There was a point somewhere between hour 8 and hour 10 that a small insanity took hold of me. Or at least it seemed so.
A fourteen hour bus from Bangkok to Phuket would normally be manageable. If surviving a 99 hour train journey across the United States was possible, surely this would be a walk in some metaphorical park.
Bangkok to Chiang Mai had already been done, a trip about 12 hours, except there were factors that kept my already zany brain from falling down the rabbit hole.
Somebody to talk to. A book to read. Technology to scour.
All of these which I did not have this time when I disembarked Bangkok on a packed bus.
The journey would begin with one misadventure, but it wouldn’t be the end of it.
Because I am still a noob when it comes to 24 hour time, I received a ticket that read 18:00 and idiotically thought that meant 8:00pm. I was tired, that is my excuse. In a panic I rushed to the counter and stated that I had asked for an 8:00pm ticket and was given the wrong one (which is actually what I asked for) and after some talking, they kindle issued me a new ticket.
After boarding and claiming my seat, I decided to just close my eyes and sleep through the night since I had no other entertainment at hand, and my leather journal was not inspiring me to write since they turned off the lights.
At dawns annoying light my eyes peeled open like a bandaid tearing off skin. Though contortionist might seem like a talent or hobby given how many unconventional places I’ve discovered I can sleep, the body never gets used to unfolding itself from pretzel-like state.
The sunrise ignited the rolling hills and small mountain tops. Morning mist hung over the thin pencil like trees had tufts of leaves at their tops like truffula trees out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Finally out of the concrete jungle and into a real jungle. And it was clear I had no clue where the hell we were.
The bus bumbled and barreled like a drunk Brit down rocky roads that snaked through the lush pencil trees and palms.
With my American ignorance ruling the thought process, I half expected to see thatched roofs and bamboo houses abound. Maybe it was hope and not expectation.
Instead, the buildings that did spring up in breaks of the greenery were still very much city like. All concrete and steel besides the occasional wooden structures darkened by time, rot, and moss.
Even those were luxurious mansions compared to what you might come across in West Virginia.
And though I was winding through thick jungle, there was still advertising everywhere.
We were halted at one of the numerous military checkpoints along the journey and a soldier was standing at attention beneath one such advertisement. It was a billboard of a sexy Thai woman (but you never know here) which seemed to be selling feminine products.
At one point during the brief inspection, the soldier glanced over his shoulder and seemed to give her a one over as if checking her out. Or maybe checking to see if she was impressed by his soldier-like stature.
Partnering with the military for advertising? Someone somewhere is something of a genius. Why doesn’t the United States do this to fund our own? Viagra ads slapped on war ships with the slogan, “Get that cannon firing again!” or Trojan ads on tanks with, “Sorry Clint, sometimes a magnum isn’t big enough. Pull out the Abrams tank condom”
Payment to me for these ideas is fully expected if used.
After the scenery became repetitively beautiful I turned my search for amusement to the inside of the bus were sunlight danced off the bobbing heads of other passengers.
The seats were numbered like a prison transport. I was number 19, though I plopped my bag in number 20 so I would have it all to myself.
Number 24, dressed head to toe in military garb, blasted Celine Dion aloud on his phone. I wondered if he would give up his man card If I were to ask, or would it be lost in translation?
Number 17 was boring. Directly in front of me. Never changed position of his or her head. I was aching for something like a nose pick from ’em. Nothing. Just that fine black Asian hair bobbing to the jolts of the bus.
I wondered if number 6 would ever stop snoring, and if I licked a gummy bear and tossed it, maybe I could get it stuck to their face. That’ll stop the snoring for sure.
A stench of fart crept up my nose and I wondered if it could be number 14 in front or perhaps number 30 in the back. Maybe it was even number 17! Sneaky.
It seems as though number 21 and 22 were choco-haulics with chocolaty treats strewn over both of their seats. The thing is, I never saw number 22 there. Number 21, watch out for the diabetes! I bet his favorite movie is “Chocolat“. Such a good movie!
Pen break for tinkle time.
Damn, every word in my journal should probably not be translated onto the blog. Number 24 can have his man card back for my use of the word “tinkle”.
We pulled into another depot with just a long building made of wood and clad with rusted corrugated metal to establish any presence of life there.
A Thai kid in a yellow jersey stood outside with a flat soccer ball held in his teeth stared at the bus like a lost pup. Kids do the darnedest things these days — I blame it on television. Probably Scooby Doo.
For hours after we did that meander word that writers use when they don’t know how to describe the act of passing through an area. We meandered along as the sun-baked my face through the window. Of course I had to pick the seat with no curtain. Palm leaves slapped against the bus while meandering along and I thought to myself, “someone oughta’ trim those. Who’s in charge of park and maintenance out here — we need to have a chat.”
A truck crept by us and to my utter childish delight, a giant marshmallow man, like the one from Ghost Busters, adorned the roof. Oh how amusing little things are on a long bus journey.
By the way — if you were wondering, number 17 with the bobbing head of fine Asian hair turned out to be a man. The great bus mystery solved.
The jungle opened up to reveal a large town ringed by low trees and surrounded by mountains. Mounds of dirt with a freshly dug ditch lined the main road we rolled through on, lined with cobble stone sidewalks, with Thai workers laying into the ground concrete sewage pipes.
The road was actually the nicest I’ve seen in all of Thailand; smooth and newly paved asphalt led us through the dust and dirt that had been kicked up from the enormous amount of construction happening — making it feel as though we passed through an old west town in the United States. The buildings with clay tile rooftops and arched windows cemented this feeling even more of a town that seemed to belong in San Diego.
After leaving that progressive and clean southwest town in the middle of Thailand, we were back and bumbling through the jungle. Pinocchio Restaurant flashed by my window in a clearing of trees followed by a sudden moment of confusion. You think America invades everything? Italy has Pinocchio Restaurants in the heart of the Thai jungle.
Further down the road another moment of confusion slapped me in the face; I spotted a Toys R’ Us at one of the middle-of-nowhere bus stops. It had to be legit because it had the backward “R” and all. The store was nothing more than a half collapsed metal shack, and I thought to myself how far down on hard times they have fallen since beanie babies, razor scooters, and Pokémon.
We pushed further south, now edging closer and closer to the coast. Khao Lak was the next town we passed through, and by the time I realized we were there, we were already left it behind us. From what I saw I liked. Green hills lush with trees climbed high all around the town which was situated between the base and the water. Just one row of buildings; all small and colorful shops or hostels on either side of the street completed it, and there was barely a soul around the clean streets.
The bus slowly crawled up a steep hill, gears grinding on a newly paved road leaving Khao Lak behind. I hoped I would make it back someday before it loses that peace and quite; new roads always bring new noise and nonsense.
Farm land sprung up as the mountains fell to become hills and the trees shrunk in size — and finally those thatched roof houses sprung up to my delight. Buildings made of bamboo with black molded thatch from the moist south. Fields of newly sprouted vegetables in perfectly parallel fields. And bush sculptures? The bush sculptures were freakin’ random.
Massive swaths of farmland were covered in those truffula trees; though now they weren’t popping their tufts of leaves above the palms, but were aligned in to give an illusion of endless corridors of them. Corridors of trees that eventually hypnotized me into a deep sleep.
A small Thai woman poked me in the arm and sprung me from my slumber.
“You leave now”
“This is Phuket?” I said with my slightly grumbly voice.
“Yes yes, hehehe” The woman giggled at my apparent confusion and disorientation.
I had finally made it to Phuket, with my melting mind still somewhat intact. But I still had to make it to the dock in time for my ferry, which would prove to be yet another mis-adventure.
Motorbike and taxi drivers hounded me like rabid dogs with “100 baht to town!” as I finally got of the bus and found the rest of my luggage. I waved them away with a confident “no” in Thai, “Mai krap” because I had done my research preemptively and knew that I could score a local songthaew truck for 20 baht to the ferry.
Yet, sometimes attempting to be clever can come back and bite you in the ass, or lead you the opposite direction. In this case — my destination, the ferry terminal, would elude me.
I turned on my iPhone, and with 4% battery left, looked up directions to the terminal so I could follow along and make sure I didn’t fall off course.
The songthaew, a large pink truck with two benches in the back, pulled up and I approached the driver.
“Does this go to the ferry terminal?” I asked. The driver did not roll down his window, he just waved me back as if to tell me, “Of course you idiot.”
In the back of the truck, a woman sat collecting the fare and asked where I was going. I showed her the name of the ferry terminal, she ripped a small paper ticket, and I handed over 15 baht. When I asked her again for reassurance where we were going, she smiled and nodded. And I figured she would have known a main ferry terminal in town — but turns out she didn’t have a clue.
The songthaew pulled up to a market and the ticket woman turned to me and said, “Here”
“Where is the ferry?” I asked, and she pointed to a street sign. And of course that street sign had the same name as the ferry terminal.
“No no, ferry to Koh Phi Phi” I said.
“No, no songthaew from here, you take taxi”
And I cursed in my head. I thought to be clever and take the local mode of transport, but somehow I had been taken to the opposite end of town to a market with no songthaew.
I hopped out of the truck and looked around, trying to get my bearing and find some way to get there. The ticket woman called out to a gentleman who ran over and said, “Taxi to ferry 100 baht”
Right back where I started.
I shook my head and told him it was too expensive, and began to look around for some other way.
“Okay okay, 60 baht”
“50 baht and I’ll go” I countered, figuring I wasn’t going to get much lower than that, and thankfully he agreed. At that point I just wanted to get to the ferry finally.
I don’t recall the driver’s name, but I do know that he had barely more teeth than a babe, which means that his constant smile as he drove me toward the terminal was bigger than most. We made small talk on the ride. He told me about his six children; four boys and two girls, and commented about his love for Manchester United after I told him I was from Washington D.C.
Though I’ve never known many fans of Manchester United in Washington D.C. I nodded and smiled.
Just a short ride through the busy port town and we pulled up to the terminal. He flashed one last big toothless smile and drove off.
I had survived a fourteen hour bus ride from Bangkok to Phuket with no electronics, no book, and nobody to talk to. And though, as you can tell by reading my observations jotted down in my journal, a bit of sanity was lost — I still arrived on time.
Now, I just had to survive the three-hour ferry ride which turned out to be extremely rocky. That story of passengers hurling their brains out may or may not come another time.
Have you ever had a similar long distance journal with nothing to keep you sane? Or a similar misadventure?
Welcome friends to the ongoing (mis)adventures of Ryan and his trusty chucks!
Travel is filled with blissful moments of self discovery, awe-inspiring sights, nature to behold, awesome adventures, dances of extreme emotions, budding friendships, and exposure to amazing cultures around the world.
Travel is also filed with epic fails.
Admit it, we all do quite stupid things sometimes — and other times, the fates just want to have a laugh at our expense. Here is where I leave my humility behind, and share my laughable travel moments.
“I’ve done a fair share of stupid things in my life, a couple of which should have put me in the grave. But here I am, typing away as if I had a brain.” – Craig Wilson
Let the (mis)adventures begin!
It began with a slight pitter patter, which soon turned to a stuttering putter, which became a grinding ‘grrrrrrr’, which led to a finale with a ‘KINK CLUNK’, followed by silence. We were dead in the water in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.
Sometimes, when it rains it pours. And other times it pours 90mm in an hour and shuts down an entire city! While waiting for my bus to leave Toronto, a freak storm struck the city, closing it off from the world.
Travel is filled with shitty moments where we aren’t sipping wine on a beach, but in the end it’s all apart of our journey exploring the world.
There were no other backpackers checked into the hostel and some of the others from the bus had been sitting around on the balcony. Nobody could have stolen it. Nobody except SANTA!
“Oh shit, is that bad?” I said, sitting up and eyes wide.
It began with a slight pitter patter, which soon turned to a stuttering putter, which became a grinding ‘grrrrrrr’, which led to a finale with a ‘KINK CLUNK’, followed by silence. The propeller had stopped, and we were dead in the water in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.
“Nah, we’re all good man” Vick re-assured me.
Well, we weren’t in the middle of the Caribbean Sea per-se…but as the Kapitèn Bato, or boat captain, yanked the boat engine rope over and over with no rewarding roar of an engine starting, it seemed as though we would be stranded east of Tortuga in Baie de l’Acul for an un-foreseeable future.
At least that is what my comically disastrous mind immediately started coming up with.
Scenarios involved a Gilligan’s Island-esque existence, or possibly man-eating sharks swarming our boat which didn’t exist when we were swimming in the water earlier. Or what if a freak storm were to hit! I would have no volleyball available to be my best friend…
“Actually, maybe we are fucked!” Vick said, then proceeded to laugh.
Truth be told — our rickety water taxi; built of weather-worn planks and corrugated metal roofing, had broken down off the coast of Northern Haiti and our “captain” had no tools with him.
And we had no cell reception of course.
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The day had begun as all cliché island adventures do: The sun was bright (of course it is, it’s the sun!) and the azure Caribbean water was calling us (of course it was, it’s blue…and it was freakin’ hot!)
Our motley crew; David, Vick, Mike, and I, were just coming to after a night of Prestige…the beer. There was nothing prestigious about us at that moment as we licked our dehydrated lips, grunted as we picked ourselves up off the beach chairs where we had passed out, and chugged water vigorously.
We had a meeting with the mayor of Cap-Haitian that afternoon, but chillaxing in the private beach cove called Belly Beach had been so much damn fun that we needed one last day to explore the area before leaving. We were on Haitian time anyway, and surely the Mayor was of course, so we could take our time cruising a bit.
After grabbing some of the typical finger-lickin’ grub of Haiti, fried pork and plantains, Vick was able to convince a boat taxi driver to spend the day with us taking us around the coast. Just like taxi drivers in big cities, they hate leaving their “jurisdiction”, but a few extra buckaroos is always enough to change minds.
TIme to cruise the Caribbean baby!
Sometimes the fates can be assholes, and maybe I should have taken this as a sign. It was kind of like an “Au Revoir suckers!” before we even set off.
But we didn’t expect anything to go awry as our boat slid off the beach and the engined roared up to take us out into the open waters. Actually, more like a lawn mower sounding when it turned on, but whatever!
With the wind blowing in my hair (of course the wind was blowing through my hair, we were moving!) the boat zipped out into open waters and we were finally going to get to tour the coastline.
All jokes aside, I gotta’ admit to you – The waters around Haiti’s coast are kind of mind-blowing. They really are like looking through a thick piece of glass.
Wanna’ play chicken? I think not. The cruise ship was in port near Labadee and people darted around in the distance on jetskies.
I mainly stuck to the bow of the boat marveling at the scenery while our boat driver explained a bit of the area.
Along the coast it was common to see little outcrops of ruins from clubs or resorts that once was. It looked like an utterly amazing spot to relax, but Haiti’s tourism has yet to recover.
Razor sharp rock outcroppings line the coast in many places, I’m guessing from some sort of volcanic activity?
I’m on a boat! It was crazy chill cruising around, and at that moment I was totally diggin’ the rickety boat. But that wouldn’t last of course.
Totally looks like Jurassic Park huh? We all at this very moment started singing the theme song at the same exact time.
All was fine and dandy. We were swimming in the warm waters off the coast before heading back. I mean, look how freakin’ happy Vick is…and this is his own country!
But all would stay at such gleeful levels. After diving for a bit off the boat, we all boarded and realized it was getting WAY late, and we still had a meeting to make it to!
And then it happened. Or began to…
It took our boat driver a few pulls to get it started this time. At first I didn’t think much about it, but as we continued on I kept seeing the driver fiddling with the engine.
We started cruising closer and closer to the coast because I’m guessing he knew something was wrong.
Then, with an orchestra of mechanisms failing, the engine grinded to a halt.
There wasn’t much around us at all, just some huts in the distance with smoke from cooking fires rising into the air, and far off silhouettes of boats out of yelling range.
This guy paddled up to us with an assortment of handmade souvenirs, but alas, I don’t think a small carved paddle would help us out of this one.
At this point I had nearly bitten off all of my nails. Our two other Haitian friends were completely relaxed and chatting, but I was thinking up the worst ends to this dilemma as possible.
Suddenly the driver got the engine working again, and our little boat that could began cruising again!
And again the engine failed.
Luckily for is this time the engine happened to fail close to a stone landing. Our driver let the boat drift over to the landing tied up the boat.
From the top of a hill a few Haitians called out, and the driver called back. Then a gent came strolling down the stairs and to the landing.
It’s amazing just how Haitians up and help strangers out, but as I’ve said before, it’s a quality I noticed all over Haiti.
They hoisted the engine onto the landing and the presumable owner of the house broke out his tool box. I have no clue what was done, but it seemed after a few trial-and-error experiments and the engine back up and running!
And though I was still pretty skeptical of our boat’s ability to get us back…I let out a HUGE sigh of relief.
But with sights like this would it be all that bad to get stranded here?
As much as I love a life untethered, I wasn’t ready quite yet to play Survivor Man on a random island near Haiti.
Though we didn’t make it back in time for our meeting because of that unexpected mis-adventure, getting to cruise along the coastline of Haiti was a damn good time, and is exactly one if the reasons why I fell in love with the country.
Not the breaking down part…the beauty of course…
Ever had a mishap like this one? Share your mis-adventure!
It was when I was drying my chucks with hand dryers, whilst standing barefoot on paper towels so not to step foot in the nastiness that is the basement bathroom of Toronto’s bus station, when I knew it was going to be a long freakin’ night.
Mother Nature can be a bitch sometimes, and she picked the night I was leaving on my bus back to Washington D.C. to have the mother of all mood swings.
The train station lay dormant, flooded with knee high water. The roads were shut down in parts of the city from flooding, flights were halted, and most of Toronto was consumed with blackness.
Kinda’ sounds like an ‘End of the World’ Roland Emmerich film. But no, this is what happened to Toronto in a mere 2 hours as a freak storm whirled into the city, bringing with it 90+mm of rainfall and umbrella inverting winds.
Hence why I was in the bathroom attempting to change out of my sopping wet clothing and trying not to touch the piss covered floors like hot lava we played as children. Except this was WAY more difficult.
We had been strolling around the Kensington District of Toronto to try and fill my last few hours with a neighborhood I had heard so much about. When we started toward Kensington, the sun was beaming hot, and fluffy white clouds dotted the sky. Not foreboding at all.
But soon enough after getting to Kensington and poking into few of the hippie stores, dark clouds began to creep in.
“That doesn’t look to happy” I said looking at the sky, but it wasn’t until we saw dresses blowing sideways on hangers that we decided to find shelter.
I still had a couple hours left until my bus was scheduled to leave, so as the rain drops began falling and the clouds swirled above, we ducked into a Chinese joint for quick bite. And to hopefully last out a quick shower.
But we would come to find out, this storm wasn’t just an ordinary summer thunderstorm, but a shitstorm coming to destroy all hope of me getting home on time.
“Oh looky there, the rain is sideways”
We were done and out of time, but the storm hadn’t let up, it had worsened. All cabs were taken, and the cab phone numbers were jammed, so we were going to have to hump it through the pudding rain back to the bus station.
Umbrellas were no use, the rain was flying at such an extreme angle that it soaked us completely from head to toe. After walking a block or toe and realizing that our camera and laptops were at risk of being destroyed, we sloshed through the already 6 inch deep water in the streets and hopped aboard a streetcar.
And that is when my mission impossible began. I did not choose to accept it, but I had to take it nonetheless.
7:45pm rolled around and still no bus. Tweets were flying in left and right about the #TOflood and #TOstorm, with people sharing images of the unbelievable craziness that ensued after the storm hit. It had calmed down to a drizzle now, but the aftermath was still apparent.
Even Jack and Rose couldn’t fight the Titanic sized mess.
9:00pm came and went, with still no sign of the bus. Everyone in line was fast growing impatient, and Megabus had no answers to give. I sat patiently and quietly knowing that bitching wasn’t going to get me anywhere, but I’ll tell ya, sitting on concrete for a few hours sucks!
A rep from Megabus finally strolled over and gave us bad news, news I figured was coming after seeing the photos.
“The bus is stranded on the flooded freeway and can’t go anywhere,
traffic is at a standstill. We don’t know if the bus will be canceled or not.”
And then came the uproar. People began bitching and freaking out as if it were possible to just fly over a shut down city to us. I didn’t bitch, but I was growing wearing of waiting and I just wanted to know if I had to stay or go.
“1 hour, the bus will be here in 1 hour, it’s making its way across the city”
That hour came and passed as well. At this point I was slouched over my bags, aching and tired. And no bus came. One lady who was about to lose it yelled out to the guy giving us updates.
“The bus was stuck at a closed off road, 15 minutes, it’ll be here”
And finally it did. We all eagerly piled onto the bus, relieved, but 4 hours later than we had thought. We slowly made our way through the dark city and toward the United States.
But of course the fun didn’t stop there!
Why is it that I made it to Washington D.C. At 4pm the next day?
Border Control crossing into the United States of course took their sweet time, and decided to question me for 20+ minutes because they didn’t believe who I was.
And then in Buffalo the bus driver that was supposed to switch with the Canadian one was an hour late.
And we made made two 30 minute pit stops, as well as stopping every hour because out bus driver had a small bladder.
Talk about purgatory. I thought it would never end, but it did after 5 hours of waiting and a 14hr bus ride.
How about you, have you ever had a trip from hell like that one?
(Disclaimer: most photos were taken off of Twitter posts from others)
Travel is filled with awesome experiences. But travel is also filled with bad times, mistakes, and shitty situations. But it’s all about perspective.Read More