Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Five years on - my wonderful gap year revisited

Its five years this week since I headed off on my solo around the world adventure. It took me a while, but eventually at the tender age of 38 yrs I managed to have my gap year. Seven months away, packed full of new experiences and amazing challenges.

To say I was terrified about leaving is an understatement. I’d only met Tris six months previously (I booked my ticket just before we met) and saying goodbye to him, my family and friends was horrible. I cried on the flight from Manchester to Heathrow and threw up in the toilets at Heathrow Airport. But once I boarded that flight to Bangkok – I focused and I never looked back. 

Of course I missed everyone, but I was acutely aware of the privileged situation I was in. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that in reality sustained me through the lowest moments of cancer treatment three years later.

While I was away I kept a travel blog and so in a fit of nostalgia this morning I’ve been re-reading it. Written in the internet cafes and backpackers hostels of Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, LA and Canada it was where I first really discovered my love of writing.

As a tribute to my amazing adventurous self of five years ago – here are the first three travel blogs of my trip.

March 2007: One night in Bangkok! 

Never did I imagine that the last week in England would be so difficult - packing up the house, saying good bye to people, organising last minute stuff. All the time with this voice in my head saying “Six months! Bangkok! What the hell are you thinking of!” This trip which I've been planning for ever suddenly seemed like a really bad idea.

Panic was rising!

But here I am now, in an internet cafe in Bangkok, getting some welcome relief from the heat. Bloody hell - I'm here - I made it and I'm still in one piece. Actually it’s all rather good!

Some funny stories from along the way. 

When I got to Bangkok airport, all the walkways from the planes to the terminal building had 'Long live the King' written on them. “Blimey, they must really like Elvis here - thinks I”. Then I saw the pictures of the King of Thailand. “Ahh – that King!”
I’ve already melted my hot-brush and split my trousers getting into a Tuk Tuk, so standards are falling. I am however happy to report that I’m still managing to cleanse, tone and moisturise twice daily, so I'm trying hard not to let things go to pot. All I can say is, no wonder all the women in Tenko looked so rough.

I have seen at least seven lady boys - once you get your eye in they are fairly easy to spot.

Tuk tuks are top fun. I’ve tried three times now to get to the Grand Palace. I always seem to end up at some fabric warehouse or another. Still - I just say “Manchester United” and we all have a good laugh and a smile and everyones happy.

I'm off on a bus this evening to Chang Mai in northern Thailand with a new friend, where hopefully I'll do a bit of hill tribe trekking. Then it’s on to Laos. Listen to me – it’s like I've been doing this all my life.

Keep the e-mails coming - if I don't reply straight away it's because I can't always get on t'internet. Lots of love to you all, and don’t worry about me, I’m doing very well indeed.

Mastering Squat Toilets! 

Greetings from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. 

This is much more chilled than Bangkok, which was great but a very in your face.

The bus journey up here took 10 hrs. It didn’t get off to a good start when the bus driver forgot to put on the hand-break as he loaded up. There’s something rather funny about five small Thai men hanging on to a double-decker bus as it's rolling towards a nice shiny 4x4!

It was a long drive up which included several stops at service stations, where I mastered the art of the squat toilet. I was initially rather worried as normally I manage to wee on my feet when al fresco. But thankfully there have been no mishaps so far - good times :-)

I'd also like to say that my chop stick training in Tampopo in the Trafford Centre prior to coming out is paying off. I'm almost being mistaken for a local as the rest of the foreigners shovel in their food with a fork.

Do you think there is something wrong about having Thai red curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner? It's like being able to dine out at your favourite restaurant every day. Though my insides are starting to notice it - bad times :-(

I’m staying in a really nice guest house next to the market in ChiangIpod!

I’ve been visiting temples or ‘Wat's’ today. I think I'm a bit Watted out. When you get to the point where 'What Wat?' seems like a really funny joke then I think it's time to quit.

Off on a two day trek tomorrow. It promises hill tribes, rafting, elephants and more! I’ve then booked on a trip to go over to Laos. It includes a slow boat down the Mekong River. I’ve then got a few days in Luang Prabang, before flying back to Bangkok in time to start making my way south.

My mossie bites are now starting to go down and my flip flop blisters have burst (thank the Lord), so I’m toughening up into a proper backpacker!

Thanks for all your messages everyone - big smiles all round.

Hobbit feet

Bloody hell that was hard work! 

Jungle trekking – I thought I was going to die. My pre-holiday, holiday alpine training in Switzerland was completely useless. I should have had Rebecca and Claire running after me with a hairdryer each to make it even remotely comparable.

My body thinks it's a camel. I have started to retain water something chronic and now have lovely hobbit feet. You know in the magazines where they tell you to drink 2 litres of water a day and you think “never in a million years”. Well, come to Thailand and you'll do it without even noticing. I have skin like Claudia Schiffer!

My last night in Chiang Mai (pre trek) I decided to treat my hobbit feet to a Thai foot massage. Not only do I have hobbit feet, but mossie bites, flip flop blisters and what looks like the beginnings of a verruca - so it was a challenge for the chosen lucky Thai lady. 

I have to say, sitting in the night market in the centre of Chiang Mai having my legs and feet punched wasn't initially pleasant, but it turned out to be completely amazing - like someone had peeled off the soles of my feet with a can opener and pumped them full of fresh air. It was pure bliss!

Back to the trek in the Doi Khun Tan National Park. There were five French people, five American students and me. My dilemma was who to bond with? Our crazy French European friends or our 'special relationship', if not rather preppy American cousins who at least spoke the same language as me!

Our day started with a walk out to a fantastic waterfall, surrounded by the most amazing butterflies and birds. The crazy French stripped off to their skimpy’s immediately and dived straight in. The Yanks, who were oozing health, great teeth and good cheer, took a little time to make the plunge. Me - the Brit, stayed on the banks sweating and purple.

After yet another temple, we started our trek to the Karen Hill village, where we were due to stay that night. Bloody hell fire, I thought I would die. I’m afraid I didn't really fly the British flag very well. Still, I do believe I went some way towards bonding the group - getting me up the hills turned into a bit of a team building exercise.

Re hydration salts were required.

The village where we stayed was in the middle of nowhere. Our accommodation was on stilts and we were all in together on the dirtiest bedding I've seen since student days. Thank the lord I had all my injections before I came out. There were stray dogs, puppies, chickens and pigs running around as we learned magic tricks around the camp fire. 

One by one the group sloped off to bed until I was left alone with Mae, our tour guide, to do what us Brits do best, drink beer and gossip. I bought Mae beer and she gave me toilet paper. It seemed like a fair exchange.

Mae has a boyfriend in Brussels who she met when he came out to Thailand on holiday. He wants her to go out to Belgium to live with him. “What do you think I should do?” she said. After pointing out that Belgium was flat and had no jungle, we agreed that as long as she could get back if she didn't like it then she should give it a go. Good luck Mae I say!

This morning we’ve done more trekking. There have been more waterfalls, getting completely soaked on bamboo rafts and elephant riding. 

It was a hard couple of days but ones that I will remember forever. I made some new American friends who were just lovely and looked after me very well. They asked a lot of questions about the UK and generally seemed very clued up - until one of them asked if you needed to put your car on a ferry to get to Scotland. I explained that we're all joined up now, so that's my contribution to making the US more aware about the world beyond their shores.

My other random Thailand observations are:
  • I have never seen so many ugly white men with beautiful Thai girls in all my life.
  • Crossing the road in Thailand - only the foolish wait for the traffic to clear. The trick is just to step out and they all drive around you.
Times up. I’m off to Laos tomorrow – wish me luck.

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