Whelp, this is it. My time in Southeast Asia has come to a bittersweet close. I’m viewing everything as my “last” and can feel my anxiety setting in at the thought of readjusting back home. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see my family and friends, but doing so means I have to leave behind the family and friends I’ve made this past year.
Just as the thought of living in Thailand had scared me then, the prospect of returning home is equally terrifying now. Thailand has become my comfort zone. I had a job that I loved, my own place, and means to travel wherever and whenever. I adapted to the culture and fashion and even picked up on the Thai language to hold basic conversations. I can hop on the back of a motorbike to speed down a highway, eat with a spoon glued to my right hand and instinctively say “oi!” when startled.
Unfortunately, the fact that Thailand has become my comfort zone is exactly why I have to leave. I don’t want to get stuck in a rut and I am ready to grow and prepare for a new challenge/adventure. Plus, I want to look back on Thailand and remember it as a place that I wished I had stayed longer in (as opposed to wishing that I could hightail it out of here).
Unlike when leaving the States though, I know that there’s only the slimmest chance that I’ll ever call Thailand my home again. It’s going to be a rough goodbye. I’m afraid that I’ll go home and the past year will suddenly become dream-like to me. That what I’ve learned and the people I’ve met will slowly drift from my mind.
Don’t worry, I’ll spare you from more of my internal conflicts for the moment and turn to a lighter topic- Part 2 of my after school travels!
For this trip, I meet up with Jessica, Marie, Cicely, and Cristin to travel through Northern Vietnam. We had 3 destinations: Hanoi, Sapa, and Halong Bay. Afterwards, we would part ways and I would celebrate the Thai water festival- Songkran- in Bangkok.
PART I- VIETNAM
The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is a trendy city with a surprising European flare. If not for the super crowded streets and vendors, I would have never guessed that I was in Asia. The cool 70 degree temperatures were also a pleasant respite from the 100 degrees + temperatures in Thailand right now.
Most of our time in Hanoi was dedicated towards taking in the sights, getting manicures and pedicures, and eating an indecent amount of food at cute cafes and restaurants.
The Note Coffee also had amazing egg coffee, which is a popular drink in Vietnam. Instead of using dairy, beaten egg white foam is poured into the coffee, creating a drink worthy of seconds (or thirds… maybe fourths). I’m definitely experimenting and replicating this drink when I get home!
Since we knew that our Vietnam trip would require a lot of traveling, we used our time in Hanoi to chill. A few of the places we did visit though were Train Street and the Hanoi Bridge. Another shout out to Cristin for her amazing pictures!
The day before leaving Hanoi, I was able to meet up with Sophia, one of the friends I had made in Pai. Turns out, both of our travel plans were overlapping in Hanoi! We had a few hours to catch up while doing laps around one of the city’s lakes.
That night, we boarded an overnight train to take us to destination #2- Sapa
Words really cannot be used to describe Sapa. With green rolling hills and valleys, rice fields stretch as far as the eye can see. In the crisp air, you feel a complete sense of serenity and you’re forced to think about how small you and your problems really are in the grand scheme of things.
My friends and I booked a trek through a company called Sapa Sisters to navigate this dazzling landscape. Our trip was for 2 days and 1 night at a homestay.
Unfortunately, I was a little unprepared for how cold this trek would be. Living in Thailand, I have little need for long sleeves and pants. And my light-as-a-feather green rain jacket was not designed to hold heat whatsoever. Right from the first step of the trek, I was already shivering with chattering teeth.
Luckily (I think?) my friends and I had selected the harder trail to complete. Meaning that after the first 10 minutes, I was too busy watching my footing to pay attention to the cold.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- going down an incline is always harder than going up for me. And the fact that those perfect rice field edges from a distance were not so perfect and very muddy up close only made the trek more challenging as slips were more likely to occur.
Fortunately, some women from the village nearby “happened to be” walking by us and would grab our hands to keep us steady as we navigated the paths.
The woman who stayed by my side the whole time was named Kuh. Kuh was the oldest person with us, but had a steel grip that kept me from slipping every time. Thank goodness for Kuh.
I’ll spare you the details from the morning trek. All you need to know is that it was tiring, but enjoyable. We were all starving by lunch time.
Before lunch though, my friends and I found out why our village ladies were so keen to follow us all morning. Turns out, they wanted us to by things from them at lunch! I gladly bought some souvenirs from Kuh, but soon after my purchases, I was flooded by older ladies and little girls demanding that I buy something from them too.
It took quite awhile to get the girls to move away from our table.
For the afternoon trek, we decided to take the easier route, which took us right through the village. Our guide, Mao, even took us to visit her family shop where I got to interact with this little guy:
Mao told us that even though her village is located in Vietnam, her people have their own language and traditions that they follow. For instance, the women are the ones who are out and about and working while the men stay home to watch the kids and cook!
After our village tour, we arrived at our homestay:
We spent the rest of the night making friends with our fellow house guests while huddling close to the fireplace for warmth.
Unfortunately, I ate something that night that gave me food poisoning. Paired with the extreme cold, let’s just say it was a loooooonnnng night for me.
Whatever. Sapa and the people I met there were worth the food poisoning.
The next day, we continued our trek around the valley and through a bamboo forest. The forest required very careful footing as the previous day’s rain had created a thick layer of clay mud. Very slippery, thus calling for creative maneuvering to get around.
We also visited a waterfall where we had some time to chill and take in the sights (it’s hard to view your surroundings when on the move as you have to constantly watch your feet).
Instead of our older walking partners from the day before, this time we were joined by two young girls. And yes, we accepted their hands when they offered because those paths were slick. So in summary, I had a very old woman and very young girls helping me through the mountains all during our trek… way to represent the fitness of a person in their 20s…
Our trek ended with a visit to our guide’s family house, where we were treated to a home-cooked lunch before heading back to town. Some more pictures from our trek:
A van, train and bus ride later, we were at our final destination:
Halong Bay is Vietnam’s response to Thailand’s Khao Sok and Koh Phi Phi. The large bay is home to hundreds of tree-covered rock formations and cliffs. During periods of overcast skies, it looks like something out of a Jurassic Park movie.
Luckily, the first day of our boat cruise was sunny and beautiful. We had an upper deck area where we could just lounge and soak in the sun:
We didn’t have too many people on our party cruise, which ended up being perfect as we got to really talk to the people we were with. We made friends with 2 cousins from Bahrain and a couple from Canada.
We spent the day kayaking:
And returned to our boat to eat and then party on our upper deck.
The next morning, I woke up early to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day, so there was no sun to be seen. Still, it was pretty to look around the bay and see dozens of boats in all directions.
And like all my goodbyes lately, saying farewell to our new friends came too fast and too soon.
Marie had to head back to the mainland to catch a flight. That left Jessica, Cicely, Cristin and I to take a taxi and longtail boat ride to Cat Ba island, where our cruise company told us we would have a relaxing day on our “own private island.”
As we approached Cat Ba, we got excited to see rows of cute bungalows.
We were ready to live it up like the rich and famous!
Instead, they literally took us back behind the bungalows and next to a washing area, where we were informed that this is where our cruise company had booked us to stay.
The rest of the day was overcast, so we spent it out on tanning chairs, pretending to get tan while watching a volleyball game that Cristin partook in.
The food that night made up for the lack of sun and accommodations though- a buffet with unlimited oysters and grilled squid!
While night 1 in Halong Bay was definitely more fun, it was nice to just lay around before a big travel day. Indeed, the next day was entirely dedicated to ferrying/busing/taxiing/flying back to Bangkok. Here, I said goodbye to Jessica, Cicely, and Cristin who were leaving for Chiang Mai for Songkran.
PART 2- SONGKRAN
How to describe Songkran…
Fun beyond anything else…
The list goes on. You take your pick.
Songkran is the main reason why I have remained in Thailand past the end of my school year. I knew I could not miss out on this quirky holiday.
Songkran is Thailand’s 3-day (sometimes 5-day) water festival to celebrate the Thai New Year. Pretty much what happens is that people neglect work for 3-5 days to go out in the streets and have water gun fights and throw buckets of water at passing people and vehicles. Songkran happens at the most perfect time of year too because Thailand is at its hottest in April, with temperatures well past 100 degrees.
Weeks beforehand, places start selling Songkran shirts (typically bright Hawaiian-like shirts with pineapples and flowers on them), waterproof phone protectors, and water guns.
Chiang Mai is supposedly the best place to go as it becomes a water gun war zone, with people jumping on the back of trucks and songthaews to attack their prey. Since I am catching a flight home to the United States from Bangkok though, I decided to remain in this area for Songkran.
No worries! Bangkok goes crazy for Songkran too! The whole of Silom Road shuts down for this event and the street becomes a battle ground with large containers of water on the side for easy refill.
And Songkran definitely lived up to the hype. People of all ages and ethnicities crowded the streets and all sense of dignity was lost. Thai people, who for the past 12 months have been nothing but polite and reserved, became savages who mercilessly doused their victims. I swear, it was their way of pay back for all the idiotic things they’ve had to put up with from me this past year.
And this continues nonstop over the course of 3 days, with nights being even crazier than the day!
It is definitely in my top 5 of the most crazy things I’ve ever been a part of. I was soaked with icy water for hours and gladly returned the favor for those who shot at me.
If you ever go to Thailand, make sure you are there for Songkran!
Well, that concludes my last adventure in Thailand! In 15 minutes, I will be on my way to the airport to begin my journey back home to the United States. I am a bundle of nerves.
My time in Thailand has truly been an amazing adventure. I have no regrets. I can even look back at my “bad” moments and laugh and see how they have made me a stronger person.
I would encourage anyone who’s interested to spend some time abroad. You learn, grow, find out that you’re capable of more than you ever expected, and meet amazing people in the process.
And because I am that person, I’ll end this blog with a quote that I have found to be 100% true.
Thanks for reading! See you all soon! Sawadee ka!