Saturday, July 6, 2013

Alone in Thailand

I have five days alone in Thailand before Andy arrives...

No one really knows what to make of me, a woman traveling alone. All the other foreign tourists travel in couples, so Thais and foreigners alike look at me quizzically and wonder about the location of my male counterpart. 

This also means that I have no one to talk to. Other than "sawatdeeka" (hello), "ghee baht" (how much), and "kai geow" (omelet -- a girl's gotta order breakfast!), I speak no Thai well duh, and other than "hello how are you?" and "where are you going?" most Thais don't speak much English. 

But I'm figuring things out slowly slowly. The first 48 hours were ROUGH -- everything went wrong hotel- and transportation-wise. Signs are only in Thai script, so figuring things out means I have to ask people, but the aforementioned language barrier leaves a lot of margin for error. I won't bore you with the details because clearly I lived, but I definitely cried on a bus and in the street a couple times...the traveler's game of figure-it-out is far less fun when you're playing it alone.

Days 1-2

I spent the first night in Bangkok (a scary and lost mess), but by noon the next day I was situated in Ayuttiyah, ready to see some ruins! I rented a bike to explore the ancient kingdom, which is a relatively fun activity to do alone.

Ayuttiyah is about an hour from Bangkok and used to be the capital of Thailand way back in the 1400s before it was conquered by the Burmese, and some 300,000 people lived there (I think).

So what do I do with myself? I wander around seeing what there is to be seen, I am all over email and whatsapp (talk to me please!), and I read -- in restaurants, coffee shops, next to ruins, in parks, in my room -- everywhere.

Food-wise it's been interesting. I've experimented with street food (various meats on a stick), which is delicious with the spicy sauce. And coconut ice cream everywhere! Served in half a coconut with peanuts and slivers of fresh coconut YUM. I've also been rocking the street-side noodle shops. I smile, point to things, and they hand me a bowl of deliciousness.

Day 3: Camping in Erawan National Park

Well now I'm either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. I've decided to camp, alone, in Erawan Falls National Park. It's a legit national park with a legit campsite -- bathrooms, a caretaker, tents already set up and gear ready to rent -- so it's not like I'm roughing it in the wilderness solo. It's just me in my tent on the riverbank of the River Kwai.. 

I arrived here around 3 pm and immediately hiked up to explore the falls. Erawan is a series of seven waterfalls, each one possibly more beautiful than the last. There's a dirt trail and steps connecting them all, which I walked up through clouds of flitting colorful butterflies. Am I a Disney princess in the enchanted forest? MAYBE!

In each waterfall's pool there are hundreds of little fish that nibble on your toes. It sounds cool, but actually totally creeps me out. Some of the fish are pretty big (like a foot long!) and being nibbled alive to death is not my way to go of choice. 


Day 3 (evening)

I made Thai friends! Around 5:30 I was strolling around the park and ran into a Thai couple who are also camping. The woman speaks a little English and invited me to join them for dinner, "You are alone?!? I have food! You come!" My normal reaction to this sort of situation would be to politely decline with some excuse, but a) not enough shared language to politely make excuses, and b) I hadn't sat down and spoken with someone for days and dinner with a smiling Thai couple sounded quite nice!

A couple hours later we sat down on their picnic blanket overlooking the river for amazing shabu-shabu (aka hot pot). I learned that their first date was at Erawan Falls three years ago (oh jeez I think I just crashed their anniversary), she's 34 and he's 38 and they live in Bangkok. She told me that they were SO surprised to learn that I was here by myself. When they checked in, they asked the caretaker if there were any other campers and he said, "Just one! A woman! I have never seen this before!" and she couldn't believe it either. 

I'm not going to lie friends, the fact that they were so concerned about me being alone had got me concerned about me being alone...their tent is an easy shout away tonight but tomorrow they go back to Bangkok and I very well may be the only camper here. I am not afraid, I am not afraid, I am not afraid...


Day 4: Erawan Falls 

Happy to report I survived the night. I've spent the day making my way up and down the seven tiers of Erawa Falls, exploring and rock-scrambling like a 10-year-old in Tahoe. I started early (around 8:30 am) to beat the tourists, because the main benefit of camping in the park is that the first busload doesn't arrive until 10 am

Cold water, hot sun, a bathing suit, and a huge pile of rocks and this girl is happy! I amused myself with the falls ALL day. 

Day 6:
As I was going to sleep on my second night of camping (and fifth and last night alone!), two mangey looking dogs started prowling and growling around my tent, totally freaking me out.

There was one other camper, a man I'd seen but not met, who pitches his tent about 100 feet from mine. I couldn't decide if he would be my ally against these potentially rabid dogs, or the enemy himself...what type of person camps alone? What if he's crazy and tries to murder me in my sleep??? (Over-active imagination much?)

Despite my protestations, the dogs settled for the night just beyond the edge of my tarp, and completely freaked out when the man walked past. #Win. Guard dogs.

I won't claim to have slept well -- every abnormal stick snap jolted me to terrified wakefulness -- but when I saw my two dogs slumbering peacefully on my doorstep I could go back to sleep, assuming that if they're cool with whatever that was, then I'm cool with it too.

And that, my friends, ends my alone adventures. I guess I'm proud of myself...but mostly I never want to have to do it again.