It was nighttime when our plane landed. I remember the airport was unlike any I had ever seen before, with birds bustling atop the rafters inside of the strange terminal.
Foreign smells filled my nose and I yearned to stretch after the long flight, so my sister and I walked with haste past an endless horde of dread-locked Europeans towards where our 45 lb. backpacks were in baggage claim.
After 28 grueling hours on a plane from Calgary to Vancouver, Vancouver to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Bangkok, at last I stepped into the bustling streets of Thailand.
With nothing but an address on a piece of paper of where the hostel was we were to stay in, we hailed a cab outside of the airport and we were off on our 25-day adventure through this seemingly mysterious land.
We traveled in the darkness through what seemed to be slum after slum, both our hearts racing as we watched Bangkok zoom past us.
The only thing familiar about this cab ride was the sound of a familiar pop song serenading us from the radio, which amused me to find we had traveled 28 hours just to hear the same trashy music on the radio.
We were to spend six days in the heart of the Thai capital sleeping side by side in an 8 ft. by 8 ft. hostel room located a few blocks off the City’s famed Khoasan Road.
The equivalent to the Las Vegas Strip or Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, Khoasan Road is deemed the ‘Backpackers’ Ghetto’.
It is a much shorter strip located in central Bangkok – filled with bars full of young, tanned tourists and hotels with roof top swimming pools.
We opted to leaving the maps behind and spent hours exploring the city until we found something of interest. Whether it was the Bangkok Zoo full of animals in poorly kept habitats, or the Grand Palace, a set of complex buildings used by the monarchs of the country, or the Wat Phra Kaew, considered to be the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand there was never a shortage of things to see in Bangkok.
After six days I was begging my sister to leave Bangkok. With no skin left on my knees after having falling out of a ‘tuk-tuk’, a three-wheeled doorless cab, we made our way by plane to Koh Samui, a small island off the eastern coast.
From here we boarded a boat packed full of partygoers from every corner of the earth, to the famed Koh Phangan for the even more famous Full Moon Party.
For anyone ages 18 to 35, the Full Moon Party is a must-see event. Every full moon between 5,000 to 50,000 people, mostly tourists, gather on the beach for an all-night party filled with flaming jump ropes, fire breathers, two kilometers of beachside bars, and endless ‘buckets’ – tiny pails of alcohol with handles to carry them around as you drink.
The image of the full moon as it hung beside the flipped constellations of the southern hemisphere will be forever imprinted upon my mind. The moon was the closest it had been to Earth in over 100 years and I remember feeling as though I could’ve reached out and touched it. We danced until the sun came up over the hills surrounding the bay and spread light onto the 30,000 people around us.
We spent our remaining days here exploring the island, which doesn’t allow cars or trucks on its roads, using rented scooters roaming up and down the hills of the many villages.
Up next we were off to Krabi, which involved a sea sickness inducing boat to the mainland and a five-hour non air conditioned bus full of smelly back packers, not unlike ourselves at this point in the trip, until we arrived at our destination.
Here my sun-loving sister was in her glory as we spent a few days on Phra Nang Beach, perhaps one of the most beautiful white sand and crystal clear blue water beaches on our trip.
Exhausted from the Full Moon Party, we took this time to relish the local cuisine. It was here I developed my seemingly life long love affair with Pad Thai, a delicious stir-fried rice noodle dish.
From here we ventured to the Phi Phi Islands where the critically-acclaimed film, The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio was shot. The movie, filmed in the year 2000, has been said to have incited a generation of southeast Asian backpackers to visit the country.
Here we took boat tours around the six islands which make up the Phi Phi Islands, including Phi Phi Don where we were staying and Phi Phi Ley where the movie was filmed and even saw ‘the beach’ referred to in the movie.
We spent the days snorkeling and kayaking and the nights drinking Chang beer on the beach and watching the stunning sunsets over Loh Dalum Bay with our new friends from across the world.
We finished off our trip in Phuket, my least favourite destination. To me it seemed like a grungy urban sprawl filled with pushy merchants and rich elderly European men in search of young Thai wives and mistresses.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, the city is known for its immense amounts of available prostitutes and the world famous ‘lady boys’ – men who are dressed as women but often are too convincing for the untrained eye to know they are in drag.
Upon realizing where we were, we hightailed it back to Bangkok and spent the remainder of our trip shopping in the many different shopping districts.
Sick of hostel beds and shanty sleeping accommodations we spent the last of our money and sprung for an actual hotel with a legitimate shower, a door that locked, and best thing of all – air conditioning.
Hands scraped from the scooters, knees scraped from the tuk-tuk, glass in my foot from a broken bottle at the Full Moon Party, a fresh tattoo obtained in Krabi, and a third degree sun burn from Koh Phi Phi – I was a mess, but I still would’ve stayed for another month if I could have.
After another 28-hour flight, broken up by an unpleasant 20-hour layover in Japan, we arrived home with a camera full of pictures and minds full of unforgettable memories.