Somehow, both of my jobs are letting me take a three-month sabbatical to go to Thailand in January 2018. I'm getting a bit old though - I'm just about to turn 35 and people keep telling me that's pretty much 40, which is pretty much middle-aged, which is pretty much dead. All the more reason to go.
So whilst I ponder if I can get away with telling every person I meet that I’m 27, I've also been reflecting on my first few trips to Thailand (and around South East Asia) and some of the silly things I did that I really shouldn't do again…
Drink things from buckets
In my experience, this meant one of two things – either you don't know what’s in the bucket, or you do and you drink it anyway.
Vodka, whiskey, Red Bull and Coke = green diarrhoea. That was a valuable lesson.
Ride an elephant
A serious one. I'm not proud of myself. It was nearly a decade ago. I was naive going into it thinking all the elephants were going to be showered with luxury in beautiful surroundings by loving hippy type people who treated them like Gods. As soon as I got there I knew that wasn't the case. The elephant was being controlled with a stick digging into its head and the poor thing was actually bleeding.
I didn't have the confidence to say I wanted to get off. Riding an elephant was meant to be a beautiful experience, everybody else seemed to love it so I just went along with it. As I said, I'm not proud of myself. I went along with these silly things just for my silly backpacker metaphorical tick box.
I'm sorry to all the elephants. I'm glad I never petted a sedated tiger.
Be a sex tourist
I’m now wondering how many times I'm going to use the phrase "I'm not proud of myself" in this post. If you're my mum or my boss then stop reading.
When you're in Patpong – the red light district in Bangkok - and the first man you see asks if you want to go to a "lady show", you should probably just say no. I often joke that my first date with my boyfriend was a ping-pong show, yet somehow were still together. It's a cultural experience, I thought. Something everyone needs to try when in Bangkok. Turns out, ping-pong balls have multiple uses and so do ribbons and razor blades.
The women looked bored. The atmosphere with seedy. There was not an ounce of respect between anyone. Some Thai girls came over and put full drinks down on our table and I knew what was going on. I started to feel an impending sense of doom, and knew that we were going to be presented with a huge bill as soon as we got up to leave. And indeed we did. We protested but there suddenly seemed to be a lot of stocky, stern-looking Thai guys surrounding us. I knew we'd have to pay it, but we didn't have enough cash on us. I wasn't sure what the safer option was – stay there with a bunch of scary Thai guys who might kidnap me (yes, I've watched too many films), or go out to the cash machine. I chose cash machine and left my boyfriend with the Thai mafia watching women pulling ribbons out of their vagina's like clowns pull handkerchiefs out of their pockets.
There was a cash machine just downstairs but it didn't seem to be working. It wasn't giving any cash out so I started to freak out as my chauffeur (the guy who was standing next to me to make sure I got the money) told me would have to go to another which was "not far." I was convinced that this was it – I was going to die. This was all part of their evil plan, to pretend the cash machine wasn't working and lead me down to an underground cellar where they chop up backpackers for being horrible sex tourists. I'd be fed to snakes or have my fingers chopped off and sent home as ransom. Again too many films, I apologise.
He actually took me to a working cash machine. I didn't get robbed, in fact he didn't even talk to me or look at me and neither did anybody else. I went back and handed over the money and suddenly there were no stocky Thai guys and we were free to go. We got straight to the taxi as my boyfriend started to tell me about the finale – razor blades. I’d paid a small fortune but missed supposedly the best party trick, though I think it’s something I’ve been able to live without seeing.
I really hoped that most of the money would go to those women with the vagina's full of ribbons and balls, but it probably didn't.
Consume anything with the word ‘happy’ before it
Happy shake. Happy pizza. Technically this wasn't in Thailand but it's still good advice for myself. I made the mistake of having a happy shake. It did not make me happy. Yes, I was aware it had drugs in it (mum, you definitely shouldn't be reading this now) but I thought it was only a bit of weed and it would just make me sleepy or giggly. It didn't actually take effect until the next day when I had to do a 6 hour bus trip through the mountains of northern Laos. I just felt wrong, that’s the only way to describe it. Just wrong. Sick and out of control and spaced out yet anxious, it was horrible. People have suggested maybe it wasn't just weed. There's a high chance they could be right (no pun intended).
That was the second worst bus trip of my life. The worst was 16 hours on the back seat of a bumpy bus in the foothills of the Himalayas. Fun.
Get in a Tuk Tuk on Koh San Road
There is a magical place where all the backpackers stay in Bangkok called Koh San road. It's loud, busy, noisy crazy, everything you'd expect it to be. If you've seen the start of The Beach, it's like that – drunken backpackers, overpriced souvenirs, scams galore. So when a guy offers very reasonably priced tuk tuk ride to see "all the temples", trust me – you'll be lucky to see any temples. I made this mistake. First we went to a jewellery shop. Then we went to a suit shop. Then we went to a travel agent who told me I absolutely had to book every night's accommodation and tour with them because everything was full. Everything. Having spoken to many other people who've been taken on one of these tuk tuk magical mystery tours, I should probably think myself lucky. I got dropped off at the same point as I started and I paid what we arranged. Many others were dropped off miles away, not having a clue where they were, and were charged a lot more money.
I never did actually see any temples in Bangkok.
Stay in a guesthouse with mirrors on the ceiling
The first time I went to Thailand, I'd heard about the debauchery of Koh San road – the aforementioned backpacker area - and decided against it. In hindsight, sometimes it's better to be around other travellers when you're travelling alone in Asia for the first time. But I was feeling very brave after a year in Australia so I took a recommendation from a friend (cheers Dave…not) and stayed in a place which I thought might be a bit quieter. There were other foreigners staying but they were mainly expats - older men with Thai girlfriends who were screaming at them most of the time. I don't like the cliché of the screaming Thai wife, but that’s all I heard, though the men seemed to have little respect for them so that was probably why. They’d watch sport together most evenings and didn’t seem too pleased that I was hanging around trying to make conversation. It was one of those special boys clubs where they have to prove their masculinity to each other by being overly aggressive watching guys kick a ball around a field.
The room was huge and was quite lovely, though the mirror on the ceiling and the round bed were a little disconcerting. I'd emailed and arranged a rate to pay in advance, but of course I got talked into paying a lot more in the end. It was my first time in Thailand, I was terrified but pretending I wasn't. Other travellers always told me I had to barter more, but I didn't feel I could sometimes. I'd certainly be more keen to stand my ground now, but it's good to keep in mind that what you're haggling over is often very little to us - they need that money a lot more than we do.
There was one nice guy staying there, he was British and I think he felt bad for me and took me out to get pizza. It felt pathetic to go for pizza when there was so much amazing Thai food to try, but sometimes you need a few home comforts just to cope. At least I was there. It did get easier.
I didn't like Bangkok at all. I only stayed a couple of days, then made a 17 hour journey to the southern islands. I’d purchased a train/bus/boat combination ticket (not from the dodgy travel agents) which in fact meant motorbike/tuk tuk/bus/train/bus/boat/truck or something along those lines. I just got ferried on and off stuff and hoped that at some point I’d arrive near some kind of beach. When I finally got to Koh Phangan, it looked like paradise. I stayed on one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen (I can’t even remember what it was called now) in a gorgeous little blue bungalow. I made friends with a couple of cool British girls and we went to the Half Moon Party together (a rave in the jungle), which of course involved too many buckets of concoctions.
After, I went to Koh Phi Phi and met a friend of a friend - Bruce - who I'd met once before and we spent a few days together. We went to THE beach - the one with Leonardo Di Caprio (he wasn't there, but he was in The Beach) - and I ran into a huge lizard which was pretty much a dinosaur. I thought I was going to die but then I didn't. I didn't even have my camera on me so have no photographic evidence so you'll have to take my word for it.
Despite only having a short time together, I felt like Bruce and I got rather close. I wanted to travel for longer with him but I was going to Australia and had only left about 2 days in which to get down to Singapore, overland. Bruce passed away earlier this year sadly, but I'll always have fond memories of our time together. It's amazing how you can have such a connection with somebody even if you only know them for a short time. Travelling offers so many of these beautiful little connections.
Everything is an adventure and an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world, and that be at ANY age.
In January 2018, I'll be going back to the south of Thailand to focus on yoga and writing. I want to read a lot and chill out a bit – having two jobs and a constant niggle of ‘you should be writing’ has been getting tiring. But let's face it, I'm probably just going to sit on beaches take pictures and post them on Instagram to piss off everyone back in England.
I'm excited to be going to a place called The Content Castle. It's a house specifically designed for writers on Koh Samui. I'm going to be writing for them and staying for a month in what looks like a beautiful, colourful house. I've got just under three months away, 12 weeks off work. I'm excited but nervous, which is strange because I’m meant to be older, wiser, more sensible and experienced. However, sometimes I look back at my 25-year-old self and admire the resilience I had. I was stupid but resilient.
I’m mainly hoping to finish off some projects – my screenplays and novel – but I’ll be writing a few blog posts of course. I’ll probably overshare massively so if you want to hear about my bowel movements then you’ll love it. Also, if you want to be jealous of my pictures (why wouldn’t you?) I'll be posting most of them on Instagram so follow me here: @melciavucco
Thanks for reading.