With about a million emotions flowing through me and my thoughts racing a mile-a-minute, I decided to live-blog this time (lifting the suggestion from my buddy Rob), to give you the full range of ups and downs this solo female traveler went through during her first day abroad:
1am at LAX: I was dropped off about an hour ago after needing a pep-talk about not feeling stressed about this trip. Though I didn’t cry this time (I did when I moved to Asia the first time), I feel a good amount of fear of the unknown – mostly about landing in Bangkok and having no idea what to do next, coupled with fear of doing this alone.
An announcement comes over the loud speaker; it’s time to board. Thank goodness, because I’m exhausted.
6:00am in Taipei: After getting a full 10 hours of sleep on the plane (even I’m surprised – score one for Ava), I wake up to a hot breakfast and finally feel calm and ready for what’s next. I booked a window seat months ago knowing that it would be worth the 13 hours shoved in a corner just for the chance to see Taiwan again as I landed.
Almost exactly 5 years ago, as a scared 21-year-old girl who was traveling by herself for the first time, I arrived here with no idea what kind of adventure laid before me. It’s funny how life tends to come full circle.
Oddly enough, it looks different to me today than it did back in 2008. Yet, as I exit the plane, a familiar and pacifying smell greets me: humidity mixed with wet concrete, beef noodles, and the perfume of the duty-free shops in the airport.
Now, I wait at my gate in what must be a newly re-vamped terminal. It’s beautiful and lined with Gucci and Prada shops. Laying here in a reclined seat, enjoying the free wifi (I’m not even in a fancy lounge, this airport freaking rocks), and gathering my thoughts, my heart hurts a little to know that I’m only passing through what was once my home. It is becoming more and more clear to me that I’ll have to return to this beautiful island in the very near future.
11am in Bangkok: I land and start following the masses out of the terminal. I wander around a bit like a lost puppy trying to figure out if I need to purchase a visa or not. I decide to just try for immigration and find that it was the right choice. An unsmiling female agent hands my passport back to me with permission to stay for 30 days (I vow not to overstay my visa this time) and I make my way to the taxi station.
I have nothing booked, and no idea what exactly to do next. So, I ask the taxi driver to take me to Koh San Road – a place I’ve heard is a backpacker’s haven.
Though I’m a little jealous of those who get to ride in the Barbie pink taxis (mine is a boring yellow/green), I settle in my seat and happily watch out the window.
It’s nice to be in Asia again.
1pm Khao San Road: Waving off the aggressive tuk-tuk drivers, I take a right and find a cheap guesthouse at around $10 per night. Though unsettlingly reminiscent of Leonardo Di Caprio’s guest house in The Beach (you know, the one where a murder takes place) I do a quick bed bug check, find none, and decide I like the price and reserve the room for the night.
I come to realize I have no idea what people do in Bangkok and, since I left my Southeast Asia guide book in the car back in the states on my way to the airport, genius that I am, I’m not going to get any closer to finding answers.
Resolving not to let my solo-ness get to me (I told y’all before, I’m not good at being alone), I walk around Khao San Road aimlessly for a few hours hoping to find some friendly tourists in the same boat.
I’m unsuccessful as most people are either in a pair or absorbed in their phones or computers. I waffle between being OK with walking around alone and freaking out just a little. I elect to return to my guesthouse for a much-needed shower and resolve to try again in the evening, when people will be a little more liquored up and (hopefully) friendlier.
6pm Khao San Road: I surprise myself by walking up to a group of friendly-looking tourists at a pad thai vendor and ask how the food is. We get to talking and I say, “I’m traveling alone and need some friends, have room in your group?” Works like a charm. Perhaps my jet-lag has me in a state unlike my normally-shy and awkward self, but I like this new person.
I spend the rest of the night wandering around my new surroundings. Despite the occasional overly-touchy ping-pong show hecklers, I feel overwhelmed with joy at being back in Asia. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed it.
I finish the night with a Thai massage for 100 Baht (about USD$3), get invited by my new friends to tour the islands, but decide I’m simply not done with Bangkok yet.
I return to my guest house to see full-on construction carried out in the male bathroom, just down the hall from me. I stick in my ear plugs and fall asleep almost immediately. I awake with a start around 4am, almost forgetting where I am. It scares me at first, but then I feel OK about it.
It feels right to be here. I have been waiting for so long to make it happen, and now here I am.
Day two, I’m ready for you.