Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What to do When Travel Goes Wrong

I left you hanging at the end of my last post. I wanted to be safely home before I told the world (particularly my family) how my trip ended. After my amazing afternoon of cooking and learning more about Thai culture, I went to meet my travel partner. He soon arrived with all of his luggage and told me that he was needed elsewhere. I was on my own with a ferry ticket and no where to stay the night. It was a full moon party week on Koh Phangan, so I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get a room for just one night. Many of the hotels will only allow bookings for a five night minimum. Since the ferry ticket was already burning a hole in my hand, and I already had to abandon a night at Ang Thong national park (ah travel, plans can change so quickly), I didn't want to throw any more money away. I said goodbye, and we went our separate ways.

On the way to Koh Phangan
But wouldn't you know, things have a way of working out. As soon as I got on the minibus that was taking me to the port, I met James. He had just escaped from a meditation retreat where he had been silent for ten days; he was glad to meet me too. We got to talking as solo travelers tend to do when they find other solo travelers, and I decided that I would follow him to Hard Road Hostel (the name seemed appropriate for my current predicament)  where he was staying in the hopes of booking a room for the night. It was a risk though because it was pretty far from the port on the other side of Koh Phangan, and if there were no rooms, I would be out of luck. But no risk, no reward, so that's what I did.

As the ferry pulled into the dark port after a very rocky ride, we were bombarded by yelling taxi drivers and many others who were vying to be the one to take the confused white people to where they wanted to go. It pays to walk a bit further out of the mess because we got a ride in a minibus to the other side of the island for about $3 each. Crisis averted. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut when it comes to who to trust. I could tell when I met James that he was a true traveler wandering around the world doing whatever catches his fancy. The same was true with his friend Julien from Germany, also a solo traveler meeting friends along the way. The lesson here is to look for like-minded allies when things go pear-shaped. I didn't know that my friend was going to leave, and if it had happened five years ago, I'm not sure what I would have done. But it happened this year, and I was more than equipped to handle a little bump in the road.

Bonus day in Koh Samui
Alas, there cannot be only one bump. Things tend to happen in threes, and so they did here as well. Feeling empowered by my bravery and solo traveling success, I headed back to Koh Samui for one more night at the Jungle Club (full review forthcoming) before heading back to Bangkok. As I was getting my backpack organized and making my plans for traveling the next day, I noticed that something was wrong with my train ticket. There was a problem, a big problem. The lady at the Bangkok train station who sold me my tickets gave me the wrong ones. These tickets were from Krabi and not Koh Samui where I currently was. A conversation with the hotel staff led me to a quick trip to the local bus station as the sun was going down. After much pointing and nodding I had a ticket to Bangkok for the following day, but I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to be getting there. All I knew was that I had to show up at 4 p.m. the next day. That meant one more day of relaxing and writing on Koh Samui. I'll take it.

The third and final glitch came from my last day in Bangkok. It's the kind of thing that you have nightmares about, or at least I have nightmares about this sort of thing. I was so excited because it was going to be my day of street food. I had arrived from my long minibus- bus- ferry- bus- taxi- metro trip early in the morning, and I was eager to get out into the city again. I wandered around for a while, bought some fried donut- type food and some watermelon and found a bench in front of a building. Just as I was about to sink my teeth into my recent purchases, I was approached by two men. One was a Thai man wearing a security uniform, and the other was a man from an unknown country in plain clothes. The second man spoke to me in English asking to see my passport. He told me that I was in a secure area and that he needed to ask me some questions. At first I thought it was just standard, but the questions kept coming and soon a photo was taken of my passport (for security purposes so they said). I started to panic. I did, however, manage to make sure that my passport never left my sight, and eventually they let me go. I walked quickly back to my hostel to regroup. Many scary thoughts swirled around in my head, and I made the decision to stay close to the hostel in case something was amiss. I also emailed a couple people at home to let them know what happened just in case. Everything was fine, and I was able to leave the country with no issues.

Here's what I learned. Even though I was very aware of my surroundings, I was more on the alert for pickpockets or people who approached me on the street. I wasn't paying close attention to the surrounding buildings or if there was more security in certain places. It's probably not the best idea to stop on the street even if there are benches. I should have found a public park or eaten my food on the go. Looking back, I was the only white person around, and it probably did look a bit suspicious for me to be sitting there. I could have been a spy?!

I don't think I have ever been on a trip where at least one thing hasn't gone wrong. The best thing to do is be flexible and have a plan B, C and maybe even D. The first two issues turned into positive experiences while the third gave me a reality check that I probably needed. And no, I 'm not sorry at all that I was alone. I would do it all again tomorrow if I could.