First impressions of Thailand

Thailand‘Miss Stephanie, Miss Stephanie. Border time. Get off!’.

I woke up from my deep sleep, still tired from the 5am wake up call. Dazed I made my way to the back of the mini bus and heaved my heavy backpack on to my shoulders.

The border was swarming with people selling strong smelling food and drinks in plastic bags, thick smoke filled the air with a cloying scent. I looked around at the various signs dotted around. ‘Penalty of death for drugs’ etc; I felt a pang of panic that someone had slipped something in my bag when I was asleep but I realised that it was highly unlikely.

I got the coveted Thai stamp in my passport and struggled to find my white minibus in the swarms of badly parked white minibuses at the other side. I needn’t have worried because my driver recognised me, after all I was the only lady falang on his bus.

I got a seat at the front of the bus, feeling pleased because I thought it would mean more leg room. As the bus rolled through suburban Thai streets the bus gradually started to fill up and I shared the three front seats with three Thai women. They were only tiny though which made me feel self conscious of my Western bulk.

I was engrossed reading ‘The Beach’ on my kindle when I felt a tap from the guy sat behind. ‘It’s weird isn’t it? The writing looks like hieroglyphics. Don’t worry you will get used to it’. I shared that I had travelled to Sri Lanka and that their writing was also in symbols. The guy told me that this was his third time to Thailand and that he spoke moderate Thai. He couldn’t have been more than twenty years old. I felt embarrassed at being such a travel rookie and gazed out of the window for the remainder of the journey.

The floor seemed dry and arid and there was a food stall every couple of feet. A few cows roamed the streets freely, drivers of the many scooters seemed unperturbed. What shocked me the most was large pick up trucks with a roof and benches that sat up to 14 people in the back. ‘What are they?’ I asked the guy. ‘Oh they are songthaews, they have them all over Thailand. You will be getting very accustomed to them in the coming weeks’. I tried to hide the horror in my eyes. They didn’t look safe at all, there must be a safer alternative?

A songtheaw in all of it’s dangerous glory.

The mini bus stopped in an extremely busy place. ‘Miss Stephanie, off now!’ I looked around and couldn’t see the train station anywhere. I told the guy that I paid to get to the train station and his nice demeanor vanished. ‘Train station down street, you get off now, I very busy. Now!!!’. Not wanting to make a scene I got off, heaved my backpack on to my shoulders and set off in the direction of the station.

10 minutes later I reached the station and ordered a sleeper train to Bangkok where I was going to celebrate Songkran with a fellow travel blogger. ‘Next train at 6, here is your ticket, next please’, the ticket guy said. ‘But its 1pm! There must be a train before that? ‘No, that’s only train, next please’.

By now I was feeling quite wound up. When I read about Thailand I heard it was the land of smiles. This seemed to be the land of moodiness. I found a place to store my bag at the station and I felt a weight literally lifted off the shoulders. The helpful assistant even helped me with my bag and smiled at me!

I decided to make the best of a bad situation. I was stuck in Hat Yai for 5 hours so decided to have a look in the shops. I decided to treat myself to a McDonald’s for the first time in two months and ordered a ‘tuna pie’ as a little treat. It was a mix between a dessert and a savoury pie, quite peculiar.

I spent a good hour people watching and I started to understand why they call it the land of smiles. Most Thais seemed very merry, without a care in the world.

My back was akeing so when I heard the cry of ‘You wan massaaage?’ I knew I hat to try one. I had read a lot about Thai massages but noting prepared me for it. I was ushered in to a small room upstairs and sat on a foam mattress on the floor. The lady had the smallest handbag known to mankind, to this day I still wonder what she had inside it.

What came next was basically torture, every joint in my body was cracked. The lady would not relent until she heard that satisfying pop and she would swing me around until she heard it. She stood on my back too with was peculiar and did a kind of assisted forward roll. At the end I paid my 200baht and literally felt no pain in my entire body! It was a miracle!

I was at that moment when I started to love Thailand. A place where no day is the same. Despite the rocky start Thailand became one of my favorite countries in the world and I spent 3.5 months of my trip there!

 

Have you ever travelled to Thailand? What were your first impressions?

A brief history of my travel pre-sabbatical Travels

 

blonde, beach, travel

 

 

As you may well know from my previous blog post, I never had great aspirations to travel throughout most of my life. That’s not to say that I didn’t love going on holiday and experiencing different cultures (From the safety of a package holiday…).

Spanish has always been a passion of mine, I feel so much more alive and animated when I speak Spanish. I must have gone on holiday to Spain about 14 times in my life and I love talking to local children and impressing my family by ordering our food and drink in Spanish!

It’s hard to remember every holiday to Spain, I must have been to just Benidorm at least 7 times. Package holidays may be nice but they no longer satiate my wanderlust.

So here is a brief history of my pre-sabbatical travel!

Aged 2= Lloret De Mar- Catalunia.

I was a jet setter when I was still in nappies! Although I can’t remember anything about my first trip my parent’s tell me that I used to charm the local ice cream man into giving me broken ice lollies and that I was absolutely terrified of the sea. I developed a pencent for pushing boys in to swimming pools and ate spaghetti on my third birthday.

Aged 3-8 Local holidays in the UK.

I had enough of the jet set lifestyle so we holidayed in the UK. I absolutely loved camping and roughing it and I had plenty of practice when we camped in North Wales (Betws y coed), the Isle of Skye in Scotland and other places in the UK. I was a very social side and loved Pontins and Butlins and was so lucky that I was able to get away so often.

Aged 8=Benidorm- Spain.

My second visit to Spain made me realise how much I love the sun. I loved swimming in the sea or pool and talking to other youngsters. I wore my hair in really cool tiny plaits that made every child around the pool jealous.

Aged 9=Calella- Catelonia

We travelled to Calella by coach and ferry. I remember it took 36 hours to get there but that figure may have been exaggerated over the years. It felt like we were travelling there and back for the same time that we were actually in Calella. It was a real test of my patience but I loved staring out of the coach window, admiring the changing landscape. Calella felt very ‘Spanish’ and I loved trying to communicate with local children and admiring the glamorous Spanish women at the Feria.

Aged 11-=Gran Canaria, Spain

We stayed in a hotel at the top of a hill with amazing views. The beach was rocky but I loved exploring with my sister. In hindsight the crowded bars decorated with neon bars remind me of Khao San road!

Aged 12=The Algarve, Portugal

I was astounded at Portuguese hospitality, so friendly and giving. We tried a lot of Portuguese food too which was delicious. I need to visit again sometime soon.

Aged 13= Benidorm, Spain

I went to Benidorm so many times I can’t remember how many times we went. This time was special because I gained a love of ssnorkelingbafter sailing to Peacock island and spending the day exploring the water with people from all around the world. I saw a massive moray ell which gave me a life long phobia!

Aged 14-=Lanzarote, Spain

Such a beautiful island. All of the hotels and complexes are low rise and most are painted white. I remember choosing what fish to have for dinner from a massive fish tank in the restaurant. I’ve never felt so cruel but the fish was delicious.

Aged 19=Ibiza, Spain

This was my first holiday with my ex boyfriend. I envisioned nights of dancing at the top clubs but couldn’t believe it when it was 50 euro just to get in a club! We went on a little cruise, sunbathed and explored. I had a wonderful time.

Aged 20=Salou, Spain

A short get away which included a day trip to Barcelona. I absolutely loved Las Ramblas and I’m embarrassed to say that we ate Burger King in Barcelona… Now I wouldn’t even dream of eating at Burger king when in Spain, land of delicious tapas!

Aged 21=Tenerife, Spain

We stayed in a private villa with my family and ex boyfriend. It was a lovely relaxed way of life and we ate in a delicious Italian restaurant most nights where they made us feel like family.  I went Tenerife the following year too, single .

Aged 23=Benidorm, Spain

I’m including Benidorm again because it was my first and only girly holiday with my sister. We spent the days partying in the clubs and bars and the days eating and sunbathing by the pool. Benidorm is famous for it’s strip shows and we were shocked when the stripper would just stride on to the dancefloor and start their act, sometimes trapping up so we couldn’t get away!

So there is the round up of my travel pre-sabbatical! Not mentioned was the many camping holidays and holidays to Benidorm interspersed between the others.

I’m so lucky I was given the opportunity to travel so much when I was younger, most friends of mine rarely went on holiday with their families, let alone multiple times a year like I did.

I learned to rough it, sometimes when we camped I would walk up a massive hill for our daily water. The bucket was our toilet and the river was our bath/beer cooler. My friends now can’t believe that I roughed it like that when I was a kid and when I was on my sabbatical because I look so polished and wear vintage clothes. I love not being what people expect me to be.

I learn’t life skills on holiday that I could never learn in school, language skills, communication skills, having the courage to try new food and develop a natural curiosity for the world. Without the life lessons I learn’t when I was younger I doubt I would have handled nursing myself through horrible Dengue fever in Thailand and coping with the crippling weakness afterwards.

The reason I didn’t travel from the ages of 23-25 was because I was single. My friends were not interested in travel and I didn’t realise that it was possible to go on holiday alone, let alone travel the world solo! I’m so glad I plucked up the courage to take a sabbatical, my quarter life crisis was the best thing that could have ever happened to me!

Travel has definitely changed and moulded me throughout the years, for the better!

Do my pre-sabbatical travels surprise you? Did you travel when you were young? Did you always want to travel or was forging a career your top priority like mine?

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on life in Betws Y Coed

 

Sometimes distance is needed to gain perspective on where your life is going. A new place means fresh eyes to see situations clearly.

I needed to get away. 

 

I’m currently at a crossroads in my life. I have a lot of decisions to make and I don’t want to make the same mistakes that I made in 2014. I had an amazing year but It wasn’t meaningful and I didn’t grow as much as I hoped.

I’m lucky to live in the North West of England, close to many beautiful areas such as North Wales, the Lakes and the peak district. Betws Y Coed in Northern Wales has a special place in my heart because I went camping there frequently as a child. It’s a place where my imagination went wild exploring nature and dreaming of fairies hidden in the glens.

It was the perfect place to reflect on my life to date and plan who I want to be in the future.

Buddha once said that the answers to everything lie within us. I decided to spend a weekend walking in the daytime and reading my travel diaries and a motivational book in the evening. A weekend with no distractions.

The drive to Betws Y Coed is one of my favorites. It’s just 20mins to the Welsh border and I love seeing the language change and the scenery get greener and greener. The drive is littered with beautiful views of castle, rolling hills, churches and the tempestuous Irish Sea.

I drove through the quaint town of Betws Y Coed, full of tourists despite being early January, and checked into my bed and breakfast.

I was soon out exploring my favorite nooks and crannies in the town, I had a cup of tea in a converted train carriage and visited St Michael’s church that was built in the 14th century! Swallow falls is a waterfall just out of town, I drove to have a look at it and felt invigorated stood in the icy splashes of the waterfall, (After I paid £1.50 for the privileged…).

swallow falls, betws y coed

falls

The woods were soon calling my name so I walked for a few hours next to the babbling river. I was alone for most of the walk and it gave me time to assimilate all of my thoughts without any outside distractions and think about who I am and what I want out of life.

The sun began to set so I made my way back to the B&B for some warming cups of tea and pre-dinner  reading. I headed to my favorite pub in Betws Y Coed for dinner, Y Stableau. I ordered the ‘Welsh burger’, local beef with Welsh rarebit topping and had a few well earned pints. All around me locals were speaking Welsh, it felt quite exotic and certainly put me in a different frame of mind.

 

After a brisk walk back it was time to get down to business. I managed to read half of my travel journals and wrote down any tips that I gained from travels or realised myself in a new journal. It’s surprising how much I forgot about and it gave me a renewed drive to live a purposeful, and true life.

The next day I was treated to a massive 4 course breakfast. I cheated and ended u just having three, fruit compote to start followed by a full Welsh breakfast and a hot toasted scone. I had another wander in the village and decided to visit a local castle. Bodelwyddan castle on my way home.

Exploring new things, revisiting old memories and learning new skills recharged me and made me eager to make 2015 my best year yet. I just need to remember to be true to myself and live the life I want, not the life others want of me.

 

 

Have you ever visited Wales? If so what do you think? Have you ever took a trip to get away from it all and think about where you are headed in life?

As always I’d love to hear your comments!