What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done? I don’t mean taking a different route on your way home from work, but one which makes your heart flutter beneath your chest and sends the adrenaline pumping through your body; now that’s the kind of adventure I’m talking about.
(If you have travelled alone, I’d love to hear your story in the comments section.)
So where did it all start? I was in my last year of my Creative Writing degree, sat in my room piled beneath books after books, with my dog sleeping on my lap. I was planning essays, as in the next month I had five in one week, which amounted to over 30,000 words. Although I was organised and well planned, I felt like I was treading water against a tremendous tide, like the majority of third year university students – but it would all be worth it in the end, was the motto that I assured myself with.
Scrolling through social media, Facebook to be exact, I found a post that I had come across many times before saying ‘Camp Thailand’ with the promotional picture of an elephant. But, it was different this time that I viewed it. I thought ‘wow how amazing would that be, to visit a different part of the world, see elephants, teach children, I want to do that. I will do that’ I had travelled with people before, so I wasn’t entirely new to travelling, but the thought of Thailand was a dream of mine – being an avid animal/culture lover.
So I looked into it on the company’s website, researched, watched videos. I tried to weigh up the pros and cons but the main positive of just visiting Thailand was enough for me to ensure that I would pursue one of my dreams. I kept looking into this, whenever I had a spare moment away from studying. I mentioned it to my relatives, who were a bit apprehensive before, but when I assured them that I was would be meeting people there from Camp Thailand, with reps and that I would be studying for the TEFL qualification, they thought it would be a good opportunity.
I asked some of my friends to come with me, but none could at that time. So there was the question of: would I be okay to travel alone? I think of myself as very independent, and although I do like to socialise, I don’t mind spending time alone – it’s all about balance. I contemplated and I must admit I was a bit scared about the idea of travelling alone to somewhere quite far away. But, I thought when would I get this opportunity again? What a great life experience this would be! I might actually learn a few things about myself…
I started off by completing the form online, as it’s a TEFL qualification they needed to make sure that we were suitable to teach. The waiting begun and a few days later I was accepted – it was official. There was no going back now!
The next few weeks I was balancing my essays as a priority, then as a ‘treat’ I would go do some more of my Camp Thailand preparation. I needed to do my DBS, ID, CV with photo and injections – there was lots to do. This was probably the busiest time in my entire life.
I handed in my last ever essays on the 28th April 2017, and it was a relief. I immediately caught up on my sleep and was later refreshed. It was an odd feeling to not have essays looming over my head, and I immediately didn’t know what to do with myself. But, then I remembered – Camp Thailand!
I only had a few days to get together the last minute bits. I had to print of my itinerary, ensure I had the correct paperwork, get my ID together, a travel bag. Camp Thailand provided a list of what we needed to buy – some examples included ‘mosquito spray, fleece, raincoat, torch, alarm clock, black trousers for teaching, sun cream and many more. Although I had been getting little bits every now and then, me and my mum went to Decathlon to get a backpack (all of which were far too heavy, I could barely hold them without anything inside), but we got the raincoat, fleece etc all for a very reasonable price.
I ended up ordering my backpack online 65L as it was much more suitable in size and was black – personally I didn’t want an overly bright coloured one.
There was a group chat set up on Facebook with around 20 of us and a handful of reps. We spoke briefly on here and asked for advice before we went.
I started travelling on the 16th May, my granddad and my mum came with me. I was flying from Heathrow, so it was quite a journey! We parked up, I put the backpack on my back which was so heavy, but I was hoping that it would be easier to hold as the journey went on. We had breakfast together in Costa which was nice, but I was somehow eager to get on the flight. They walked me over to boarding; we hugged and said our goodbyes. It was only when I made the final wave and went through that the travelling alone begun to dawn on me.
I went through security fine. I sat and had breakfast in the corner. This was probably the only time that I felt a bit of a loner. There were families, couples and friends chatting together. I didn’t get any absurd looks, but I connected to the Wi-Fi to update my friends/family. I did notice there was one person alone a few seats along from me, who had a much smaller bag and looked like he was embracing being alone – so it reminded me to do the same.
I flew with Qatar, who I highly recommend. I had unlimited drinks and so much food, that at times I couldn’t eat it all. I had loads of space and truly felt like royalty. My row was empty, so I even had extra room. I watched so many films, one of them was Shrek 3 (which was the only one I hadn’t seen) and another one called Percy Jackson – I am young at heart.
I stopped half way in Doha. When I stepped off the plane it was like no airport I had ever been to before. The toilets were metal, some with holes in the floor. I was minding my own business and washed my hands in the sink. I noticed two ladies were staring at me. I was unsure why, but I smiled and carried on with what I was doing. I was then drying my hands. They came over to me and said something similar to ‘kamar, kamar’ with a smile on their face. I obviously didn’t understand but I smiled and nodded back, then proceeded with what I was doing and headed for the gate. On the way an airport worker spoke to me briefly. I am a very curious person, so I explained and asked what this means. He said it could mean ‘scarf’. Either way I don’t know what this means but the experience was unusual. There was also a huge bear in the centre of the airport, which I found amazing.
I went to the shop and brought a notepad, which they only had leather and cost me around £15.00. I began to write in the notepad about my experience so far and I knew there would be so much more to write about in there.
I got my second flight to Thailand. Upon arriving I looked a total mess. I had been travelling for nearly 15 hours and had barely any sleep. I went to the toilets and spruced myself up a little bit (well tried.) I messaged in the chat to see if any of the girls had arrived and some had and was at the ‘meeting point’. The majority of the girls were there, but there were no sign of the reps yet. They were friendly and two girls in particular were very chatty. We were all tired and waited for the reps – which came along around 1-2 hours later.
There were a few minibuses waiting and we got in. We drove to our first hostel. Immediately stepping off the minibus, it was like a sauna. I went into and had to decide what room we were in. I was with three other girls. We all stayed in one room with four single beds and had a very basic toilet/shower. We weren’t allowed to flush the toilet roll as apparently they have a reputation for exploding!… They had the ice cream rolls where you choose four toppings, it was very nice!
We went to our first restaurant, which was a local and featured a huge gold Buddha. We had one long table and we all socialised, even though we were all pretty just lagged. I had Pad Thai – which was very nice. Some of the girls had sweet and sour chicken which looked lovely too. As we were eating, one of the girls told me there was a rat. I looked over and there was the hugest rat I’d ever seen near the bin, which was close to where they were cooking food on the outside stove. I tried my first ever scorpion (which tasted likely overly toasted nuts) and tried a few of the bugs – a part of street food tradition. One of the girls pointed to the bin and I saw the hugest rat I had ever seen in my life!
We finished and later on that night we headed to the infamous Khao Sin Road. Well what can I say! It’s the craziest, busiest road that I’ve ever been too! Everyone seemed intoxicated but the atmosphere was loud and upbeat. I only had one drink of Chang – which is my favourite (I never liked beer before, but I liked the sweet taste of this one.) We travelled home in a truck, which was open at the back (something which would have been a major safety concern back home in England.)
We went to the well-known Unicorn Café! (I will write a whole separate post on this.) I will say that it was very pink, colourful and girly. The food was extra sweet and it was smaller than I imagined.
We also went to the Sky Bar, in the hangover movie. The food was amazing! I tried octopus and the deserts were amazing. The view was incredible. However, they sold shark fin, which I wasn’t pleased about.
The next day we started our journey of travelling to the Eco Resort in Chiang Mai. We headed to the train station, where we would embark on a 12 hour overnight train. We arrived and our tickets had allocated seats. They were red and looked like normal train seats, but it was a lot wider. My first impression was that it was a lot cleaner and nice than I had originally anticipated, I was expecting it to be very dim and dirty; but it was much nicer. Opposite me was a middle-aged Thai lady lying on a bed (the chairs converted to a bed) and she was laying on her back, with who I assumed to be her child. She had thick, white plaster on both of her legs with a rod separating them. They both looked deeply saddened and the mother held her tightly, not moving away from her. We had an amazing Thai rep and she told us that some of the Thai children can get into road accidents, but it was some sort of operation. We had a spare ticket and offered this to the lady, she accepted, but she didn’t move to a different bed – I assume because she didn’t want to leave her daughters side. The daughter did wake up crying several times in the night, I assume from being scared and I was empathetic towards the both of them.
We sat in the restaurant at the far end of the train to try to connect to the Wi-Fi. It would every now and then, but it was safe to say that the signal wasn’t very good at all. We got some hot food, but it was all very spicy and microwave meals. I had a chocolate frappe- which was amazing. For food I had Mikado strawberry sticks. Luckily I and my friends had cards, so we played cards games and were chatting. I still hadn’t received my third year university results, so I was checking every now and then. One of them came through and I got a 2.1 and I was pleased.
I tried to sleep on the night, but it was like sleeping on a rollercoaster! Also on the night time, the lights are always on. I was on the top bunk, so had a bright bulb a few inches from my face. I put my hoody over my face and drew the curtain. After a while I fell asleep, despite the rocking notion.
We arrived early in the morning. At 7 o’clock the guard woke us up. I quickly ran to the bathroom to brush my teeth. We walked out of the train station and our open tin truck was waiting. We drove for a while but we finally arrived at the Eco Resort. It was beautiful. It was surrounded by forest and it was spacious, with a huge pool. I was excited to be here. I kind of felt we had earned it as well after the adventurous few days. We had to sort out our room and I had one with two of my friends. Our room was nice. The beds were huge and wooden, and the air con worked a treat. There was a slight hole in the wall and a line of ants trudging along, but I suppose that’s understandable being in a forest – and I’m not the squeamish type.
The next day we went bamboo rafting, which was over an hour away. We arrived and it was very rural and built with local amenities. The humidity of Thailand doesn’t get easier. The floor was made from flimsy bamboo. The toilets had a toilet (no seat) and a bucket of water with a bowl inside. Apparently you needed to use the bowl of water to flush the toilet yourself manually. We queued waiting our turn. The stream looking beautiful, but the bamboo looked delicate. One of the reps said she went on it before and it went through a rapid whirlpool, a tree hit someone in the face, then they fell off. This installed a bit of precaution within me, as I was wearing glasses, so couldn’t afford to be hit in the face. Across the other side of the stream, I noticed an elephant chomping away on leaves from a tree. ‘Wow, that’s amazing’ I said, as it was the first time I had seen an elephant in the wild. My friend pointed out about it being held captive. I had a look at its leg and noticed a thick metal clasp around its foot. This deeply saddened me and it insinuated the corruption and exposed the negative side of Thailand, as the rules towards elephants is very relaxed, which is why some people can still treat elephants so poorly. Despite this its tail was wagging and it made me think that wild animals should remain wild.
On the bamboo raft, there were dragonflies skimming across the stream, all vibrant, vivid colours. It was so scenic and peaceful. There were small Thai children playing and laughing in the stream – you wouldn’t have thought they had a care in the world. As we were delving into the unknown, I couldn’t help but panic at the thought of going through a whirlpool, whilst balanced on bamboo. Our guide was a young man in his twenties and was nice. He let us take turns steering the bamboo raft. I had a turn and it was actually really difficult and took a lot of upper body strength and balance – both that I lack in. You had to get the stick and prod it to the bottom, feel for some stones and push with all your force to propel the raft forward. After a few minutes, it hit a rock and a whirlpool at the same time; sending me flying forward onto my knees. I was laughing, as were everyone else, but it secretly hurt. As we carried on, there were houses built on the mountain edges and huge families gathered together – it looked amazing. Shortly later we saw a dog at the side of the stream. We wolf whistled to get the dogs attention. To our surprise, the dog ran over and jumped onto the bamboo raft! The dog was so friendly and wanted to be stroked – it was about the same size as a husky. The guide and we tried to get the dog of for his safety, but he wouldn’t. We were just about to hit a rapid whirlpool and I was so worried the dog would fall off. I gripped onto the boat and once we were in steady waters, I looked back to see that the dog was still holding on! We went to the side of the stream and the dog managed to get him off. It made me think of how much I missed my dog back home and the dog watched as we drifted away. The staff prepared us a traditional Thai lunch, which was very nice. They brought it over on huge bowls, as it is part of their culture to share meals. We went into the stream after and had inflatables to relax on. I brought a picture, which was in a handmade frame; it was very beautiful and cheap.
On one of the evenings I and my friends were chilling in our room. We saw online that there had been an attack in Manchester at the Arianna Grande concert. As Thailand is 7 hours ahead of the UK we heard it before everyone else and everyone in the UK was asleep so we couldn’t tell them. We were deeply saddened but also deeply worried that this was happening whilst we were away. There were also a few other attacks whilst we were in Thailand – in which we were saddened for the victims but also for our safety. #onelasttime
The next few days we began our teaching for our TEFL qualification. We were in kindergarten and a primary school. One of the kindergartens wasn’t too poor, but the classes were very big, there were also a lot more boys than girls. The other kindergarten was very poor. It was small and had a smaller amount of children, but was on the bigger side for how small it was. They had a baby room as well. This was quite noisy as the children would cry. One girl took a liking to me and wanted to be cuddled, she was so sweet. The primary school was quite wealthy in comparison and we taught a range of age’s maths and English. Before the lessons we constructed lesson plans, to ensure we had an educated and organised lessons, with back up plans in case we wanted to change anything.
We went to a temple tour. We had bikes so that we could ride around. They were the most beautiful temples I had ever seen. One was huge and looked like platinum gold. My bike was faulty, so it was a workout. I and my friend went to a temple right at the back, which had loads of stairs to get to the top, but the view was outstanding.
Later on that evening we did Thai boxing. This was fun. I have a brown belt in karate, so I didn’t think it was much different. At the start a teenage girl done a three minute showcase of her boxing, followed by an older boy – which was very interesting.
Another day we visited the orphanage (I will do a whole blog post on this.) But, this was for me, the most important day. We donated toys and clothes, and they were so happy. We made them food and I’ve never seen so much gratitude. This day made me realise how important it is to value what you have. These children slept on cardboard bunk beds, yet they still had a smile spread across their face and wanted to play. The ages ranged from 2-13 years of age.
We went to the National Elephant Sanctuary (I will do another blog on this) this was also amazing. However, I saw a different, wild side to the elephant’s nature. It was nice to see them in a wild environment, as they let the rescued elephants roam the land. They have all the food they require and more and you can tell that the workers cared about them immensely. The workers spoke good English and told us the history of each elephants. Apparently some places in Thailand, to control the elephants, especially for tourists, they put a metal hook in their ear. Not only is this grotesque, but it’s immensely inhumane. I would never participate in elephant riding or the sort, as this is what encourages this. The elephants are also likely to be psychologically affected for life, as they are very emotional creatures! The food for guests was amazing. If you are ever in Chiang Mai, I would say this is a must!
We went to the Monkey Temple (I will do a separate post on this.)
Me and my friends went to the National Park (I will do a post about this) and we went to the highest point in Chiang Mai!
When we weren’t teaching, we were relaxing by the pool. It was humid, but the water was refreshing. I got a really good tan. We also walked around Chiang Mai when we could. The amount of motorbikes I saw with at least 3/4 people on, including babies was shocking. We went to a local street food places. The Pad Thai was amazing; my friend taught me how to hold the chopsticks, so I was using this more. There was also a diner, where we had pizza (which reminded me of home.)
I rode in a Tuk Tuk, which was very scary! But we survived.
We also went to the night markets, where I wanted to buy absolutely everything.
We went to another temple, where I was blessed by a monk!
Another set of orphans swam at our hotel – and we provided them with swimming costumes, as they hadn’t been swimming properly before.
On the last day we had to travel on the night train back. We went to Hua Hin and stayed at Camp B’s hotel where the room was huge, but the pool was tiny. My friend had the double bed and me and my friend shared a flimsy bunk bed that shook every time you moved slightly. I had the bottom bunk and I couldn’t sit up either as the bed was a few inches from my face. The next day I and my two friends wanted to explore, so we borrowed some of the hotel bikes. They had baskets, so I put my water in there, I also had a backpack (filled with crisps and sun cream) to be prepared for the adventure. We rode on the road which was scary. According to our map we needed to go through a back pathway, which looked like a dirt track and had loads of bumps. As we were all riding along, we rode through a dogs den. There were around 15 dogs running towards us barking, and I’ve never been so scared. Some of them were Rottweiler’s and were huge! We rode as fast as we could and managed to escape unharmed. We went to an Italian called Bella Coco, which was the best food place I’d been to. I had bolognese pasta and it was incredible. We headed to the old beach and it was highly polluted and full of faeces. I wouldn’t recommend going here. The dogs were aggressive. After this day I saw a very feral side to the dog species.
On another day we headed to Hua Hin beach and it was breathtakingly beautiful! Pure white sand, with clear water and huge shells washed ashore. I highly recommend visiting here. There was a horse being dragged up and down to be ridden by tourists – I felt absolutely sorry for the horse in the sweltering heat and personally I think this is cruel. We went to a café shack on the beach. It was busy with locals. I ordered fish cakes – they tasted like raw chilli pate’s and I just couldn’t eat them. We walked up and down the beach and it was highly peaceful. I’d love to go back to a Thailand beach, but have more time there.
On our last day, Camp Thailand arranged a party for us! They hired out a whole hotel, and we had the whole place to ourselves. We had a chicken skewer each. There was a foam party, music and an inflatable flamingo. The drinks was expensive but it was the first ever foam party I had been to and was great fun.
We headed back for home. I said goodbye to my friends and was sad to go back home. However, I feel the journey of 3 weeks was enough time for me.
Overall this is the best experience of my life. I would recommend this to absolutely everyone, but I wouldn’t say it’s for the faint hearted. Travelling alone to the other side of the world was scary, but I learnt so much more about me than any textbook could. I had the experience of life and culture. I was tested mentally and physically, but it showed me that I am stronger than I thought. It also made me more appreciative, to enjoy my own company and to smile more. Back in the UK I don’t mind travelling or doing things alone, as I have learnt to enjoy my own company more. I am open minded and I feel more confident in making new connections. It also made me realise more about my life back home. It was also amazing exploring another culture. If you are contemplating about travelling alone, my advice would be to just do it! You have absolutely nothing to lose, but a whole lot to gain! (and I’m not talking materialistically).