January 18, 2014

Day 102 – Travelling alone

Before setting off for this venture, I was only too aware that I was travelling alone.  Now for some people, this is no big deal, they’ve traveled by themselves and most enjoy it.  Now whilst I’ve traveled over the years, I have never travel led alone up until this journey.  So understandably I had a hundred and one thoughts running through my mind.  I had all sorts of worries and many ‘what if’ situations, that were either far fetched or ridiculous.  Now thank god for friends and family!  They spent an endless amount of time reassuring me and advising me – without all of this I very much doubt I would have made it on the plane.

Other than my flight into Vietnam, I did not travel solo for the last three months.  Upon arriving in Saigon, I met other volunteers and we traveled together most weekends and when travelling to projects I was very often accompanied too.  Once I finished volunteering, I traveled to the north with another volunteer and then four of us traveled to Cambodia.  So all in all, I didn’t really travel alone during my time in Vietnam and Cambodia.

It was only when I finished volunteering at CESHE that I realised that I would be travelling alone and yes I was apprehensive.  I was certainly more than ready to take the step and I didn’t have a element of doubt that I wanted to go Thailand but my nerves kicked in that morning.  Now, as luck would have it, I met another volunteer whilst waiting for the bus to Bangkok and we traveled together leaving Siem Reap, headed for Bangkok.

It wasn’t until I was waiting for my bus to Chiang Mai that I was actually alone again.  It’s strange because whilst I was sat there alone, I was amongst other travelers so I wasn’t alone.  I boarded the bus, sat staring outside the window and I was happy.  I felt so free, on this open road, on this massive bus, cruising down the highway in the early hours of the morning.  I’ve always loved bus journeys and this reminded me of my endless journeys back in London.  With my music, my thoughts, on my way, amongst other travelers.

Up until now other than booking a bus ticket, I had ensured that I had a hostel/hotel booked.  Always helps knowing where you will be spending the night but on this occasion I had done no such thing. I kept thinking that I would find a internet café or get some wifi to be able to book a room but it didn’t happen.  So, there I sat on the bus, not a lot I could do about it now.  I had this gut feeling that I would ok once I got to Chiang Mai.

We arrived just before 7am in Chiang Mai, spent the last 12 hours on a sitting bus, unlike Vietnam, Thailand don’t seem to have sleeper buses!  Now, we got dropped off in the middle of nowhere and then got put into a taxi rickshaw.  Strangely enough, we got taken to a hostel, the guy that bought us over knew we wouldn’t all have a room booked and it was too early to go roaming the streets.  The hostel wasn’t half bad and there were rooms available – sorted!

With a place all sorted out, I ventured out to see the town, lonely planet guide in one hand and a map in the other, off I went.  Didn’t take me very long to find a seven eleven, there scattered all around Thailand, we should have these back home.  I talked to various travel agency’s about tours and what to do in Chiang Mai.  I got talking to one lady, who was going to temple, and invited me to join her.  It’s funny because if this had happened back home, I would have some alarm bells going off and to be honest I would be skeptical to go anywhere with someone I had just met.  But then you travel half way round the world and the idea doesn’t seem so crazy anymore.  It was such a nice gesture and with no other plans it was a great way to spend my afternoon.

I booked myself on a three day trek and my main goal was to climb the mountain.  Yes I read what the trip would consist of but I didn’t question how many hours we would be trekking or how difficult it would be.  In hindsight, this would have helped of-course.  Trekking along with any activity, really separates those who have some level of fitness and those who have next to none, like me.  It wasn’t long before I was questioning why I had even signed up to do this trek and ok I wasn’t regretting it but I sure was struggling. The other thing I didn’t quite understand was what the hurry was, I mean the sun doesn’t set until after 5 but we were being ushered along like sheep.

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one struggling and I wasn’t last! I got talking to others in the group who were also struggling and questioning how much further they could go.  Trekking is no walk in the park but for the local guides, they make it seem all so easy.  We eventually arrived at the village we were due to stay at and were showed our bamboo hut accommodation – amazing!  Some of the group had only signed up to the 2 day trek whilst the rest of us were down for 3 days.

We then all got a elephant ride, having never sat on a elephant before I was excited but at the same time I was very conscious about how elephants are treated here in Thailand.  Its not like back home, where people give more money to animal charities than to children’s charities.  Not just elephants, but how tigers are treated is also questionable.   We were able to feed the elephants and there we spotted one that was chained up to a tree.  Elephant exploitation – who cares? Who really wants to end it? Who really wants to make a difference?

One of the many elephants at the camp

One of the many elephants at the camp

Day two of the trek was all uphill and again I questioned why I signed up.  Yes, I thankfully managed it and yes I had this great sense of accomplishment but it was hard work.  I also didn’t fully appreciate that during this trek we would be carrying all out bags.  Now, as most of you have gathered, I don’t pack light and man I should have for this trek! Just in casing packing really costs you here and leaves you with nothing but a painful back!  Again, I did manage it, despite my massive bag and it felt amazing.  Once we got to the top, the view, the surrounding, breath-takingly beautiful.

One of the beautiful waterfalls we saw

One of the beautiful waterfalls we saw

Last day of trekking was all downhill and it was steep.  Going down is somewhat easier but you have to be so much more careful than going up.  There was one elderly woman who fell over at least twice and quite frankly was mis-informed about the trek.  We all tried to help but there’s only so much you can do when your climbing down on hard rock.  I managed the trek and was convinced that I would avoid water rafting as I can’t swim.  However, those in my group assured me that if I did fall in, they would swim after me.  So, I gave in and I’m happy that I did! Water rafting is nothing but good fun, yes I did get wet and yes at times the raft got stuck between the rocks but it was so much fun!  Bamboo rafting was pretty cool but harder especially as it felt like we were sinking most of the time.

The final part of the trek was to visit the Elephant poo poo paper park – no joke, this attraction is dedicated to show us how elephant poo is used to make paper.  They talk you through each process and you can buy paper pads and cards made from elephant poo! How very cool, I mean yes we have recycling back at home but nothing like this. This is really saving the planet and the trees!

Elephant poo balls, now here's something you don't see everyday!

Elephant poo balls, now here’s something you don’t see everyday!

I met some great people during this trek, many of whom were also travelling alone and what I love most is sharing travel tips. Where to go and what to see and how much it should cost.  It’s so amazing that you end up helping so many people, that you have just met and you sometimes have nothing in common other than the fact that you are all travelers.  Also, many of these people, you may never meet again yet, they all leave a mark, a memory, in your journey.  I love listening to people’s stories as much I love sharing my own experiences.

Travelling alone, not as daunting as I thought it would be, much more enjoyable than I imagined.  Every day is adventure and it’s on me to make things happen.  Okay, so I don’t always manage to read a map correctly but I manage to find places and I’m getting better.  Being alone isn’t what we fear, it’s feeling lonely.  We can feel lonely in a room full of people and not just when we’re a hundred miles from home.  Being by myself gives me the chance to enjoy my own company but also make the most of other people’s company when the opportunity arises.