“In traveling, the beginning is always the hardest. it always feels like a struggle. you’re tired. things are weird. days are wasted on logistics. everything feels so different its scary. sometimes it doesn’t feel worth it. but it is! it gets easier, you meet your temporary traveler crew going through the same things, you start to relax. those differences start to feel comfortable. and the weirdness is exciting. you got this Robin. take a deep breath, celebrate life, and enjoy the moment! We’ll all be here when you get back, unchanged and ready for your stories. love you!”
It was a note from my friend and honorary little sister who had practiced medicine in Africa for a year. It was also exactly what I needed to hear. I may have been on the upside of sorting out the pickpocket and bank fiasco but I was also exhausted and still recovering both mentally and physically, especially from my epic case of food poisoning. Oh the food poisoning…
On that fateful night that it had happened, after the getting sick and severe pain finally managed to stop at 3 AM, I was somehow in the front of the “hotel” at 7 AM for the taxi that was to take me to the airport. My impromptu date who had so much potential the night before was nowhere to be seen then or ever again. As much as I hoped he hadn’t also ended up with such bad food poisoning, it would have been a relief when thinking about the alternative possibliy being that another person was targeting me. Something I doubted to be the case but after the couple in Phi Phi, it was hard to keep the paranoia out.
Shaking and sweating my way through the airport and onto the plane before it started to turn from the sweats to freezing cold, I don’t remember the flight. What I do remember is my friend Laura, a red-headed French woman with laid back energy and a kind heart who I had been campmates with at Burning Man the previous year. Coming up from behind me with a teasing comment about how big my suitcase was, I spun around to a big smile and my first sighting of the beautifully deigned orange dress she had picked up during her time in India, where she was coming from, and that was about to become her uniform for our time together. Giving her a big hug, it was great to finally have a traveling companion. Great but also a test of my patience in that I was finally admitting to myself how difficult and high-maintenance I can be and how it’s only getting worse as I get older and more used to being alone. Going to have to put in some real effort there…
Heading to our first place in Chiang Mai, we were greeted by a hyper, kind, opinionated and impatient Thai man named Thor who was about my age, always had a big smile on his face and eager to hurriedly try to describe the city while opinioniatedly showing us on a map where to go and what to do. All laughing together bout it, his drawn-by-hand maps could have easily been mistaken for that of a five year old and, as far as feedback went in regard to things we already had in mind, he argued with Laura about places she wanted to go along with whether or not they were open even after being informed that the friend giving her recommendations had just spent a few months there. Meanwhile I still felt awful, super weak and need to lay down. Something that didn’t appear to dawn on either of them and I didn’t think to make a point of. No rest for the wicked I suppose.
Showing us our room across the street, our faces dropped as it became apparent that the way the listing had shown in Airbnb wasn’t exactly true to form. It was a basic concrete block with a couple mattresses on the floor, a lamp table and no air conditioning. Bummed for the lack of what had looked to be a peaceful lounging area outside, we were still thankful for our little balcony, cleanliness and shower. Laura being more positive about it than I, as always.
Walking to the market for dinner after getting settled in, we made a little froggie friend Laura named Cowie after almost trampling. Stopping after that to check out some different places for her to stay after I left, the first hostel looked OK enough minus the American host working there who added to the already too intense day with his aggressive and overbearing sense of humor that no doubt added to the less-than-stellar reputation of Americans by yelling out “BOOKED” while flipping through the calendar pages of their schedule. I responded with a sarcastic sense of humor while Laura in her continuously laid back, polite and sweet temperament just took it in stride. Needless to say, BOOKED is what we did but only to get out of there.
After high-tailing it back out to our quest of finding the night’s street market, we finally made and where both surprised to notice that most of the food was fried as well as there being much fewer vegitarian choices (for Laura) and options that didn’t include fatty port or chicken (for me). Seafood and vegetarian dishes were what we both expected to predominantly see, and what would have worked just fine, but ended up presenting a very small amount of what we were looking at. Laura, being a picky and non-stop eater in addition to being a vegetarian, was not happy. Well, as not happy as she gets. In other words, me on my best day.
After a giggle about one a friend constantly teasing her about it being a good thing she’s nice in regard to others having toleration for her eating habits, we finally found a bite. Picking at my chicken katu, I joked about how amazed I was that she was eating her way around the world on this year sabbatical from social work one picky morsel at a time. With the food poisoning that had only passed less than 24 hours before once again being forgotten, L pushed me to eat more and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t. Also why I was drinking such a massive amount of water. A little aggrivating to hear but were also starting to remind me just how much a sense of time disappears in travel as does the ability to take it too easy.
Finishing at the food market, we Later stopped at a piano bar Thor had recommended close to our place. He got a win in that we liked it but it was too crowded to find a seat so decided to head back for bed (thank God) and head come back earlier the next night when we could grab seats. That was, until plans changed the next day when a French tantra master I hd been IMing with on Tinder invited us out.
Waking up the next morning to once again disregarding that it probably wasn’t a good idea so soon after being so sick, we walked our way in crazy enough heat to made me dizzy to a westernized mall in order to check out a spot Thor had recommended for celebrating Songkran, Thailand’s New Year and an amazingly fun water festival. The main reason for the dates I was in Thailand.
Looking tired and feeling happy.
With both of us instantly taking a stink to the mall (not surprising for me considering I don’t like shopping or malls in general), we weren’t exactly surprised when our hunch about it being a bad recommendation showed to be true. In an effort to make the best of it, we were thankful for the air-con with me instantly collapsing into a seat as I distractedly dove back into the stressful mess with my bank account. Something that had continued to grow in issues since the pickpocket incident as my bank was flagging all movement regardless of coming in or going out of my account.
While I worked on that, it gave Laura a chance to go shopping. Something I thought would at least give me an hour or two, so was confused when she returned a few short minutes later with a bewildered look in her eyes. She looked at me in shock and upset with maybe just a touch of entertainment as the story unraveled of how, when she had gone into a store and was looking at a jacket she liked but couldn’t afford, the salesman had propositioned her in that if she really wanted it, he would give it to her if she agreed to go to dinner and then back to his place. In other words, he basically propositioned her for prostitution. In shock, she handed it back to him and had gotten back to me as fast as she could. Both of our jaws on the floor for five minutes, I saw even more of the amusement as well as anger and protectiveness when she tried to blow off the effects by stating that it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. The joys of travel.
After recovering enough composure from the disbelief and emotional processing, we walked around the mall making special note of the movie theater. Something that sounded like an air-conditioned and mental rest heaven. Pushing through, we finally found an internet library and got accommodatin for the next few days booked. Taking a deep breath as we started to head out, then in, then out after going back to get a better look at a woman L had originally thought was breathtakingly beautiful, we were having a good ‘ol time IMing with Tantra Tinder guy from the night before.
We all agreed on an 8 PM time to meet at a beer bar he recommended as a better scene than the piano bar, which sounded just fine to us. Starting out with us both being excited like teenage girls sneaking out to meet boys, our new adventure took no tie to start to sour when he made a comment about wanting to take us both back to his place to ravage later on in the evening. A comment that turned her off but agitated me. Shocker, right? A “no shit” attitude kicked from me toward L based on the responses we were giving with her no doubt misunderstanding what I was trying to do when she stopped me from making it clear that we weren’t suggesting anything sexual. Yes we were playful and open-minded, but certainly not eluding to anything beyond meeting up as new friends and letting it go from there. Smoothed it out a wee bit and the plans were still on but the mojo was gone.
Finally making it back to our place around 7 PM, an hour before we were supposed to meet Tantra Tinder dude, I was uncomfortable when L started to make comments about him meeting us at the piano bar instead of the plans we had already set oce finding out it would take us a half hour to get to us. Something I found rude and not cool to ask for so late; especially when I was expected to be the one communicating it. Realizing too late just like when I had still felt sick, I didn’t make my thoughts and suggestions for action clear. Instead, I tried to go with the flow so I didn’t bum her out and wondered if my seeing changing plans so late on someone at the expene of their effort may have just been a cultural difference. That was until the whole thing fell through (surprise, surprise) when he got frustrated and tried to insist that I pass the phone to Laura because my being American was the reason we weren’t going to tell him exactly where we were staying or let him up. She refused and he was soon blocked. We giggled about her Indian Prince (a lover she had picked up and adventured with during her time there before meeting me) and then she passed out. I, however, couldn’t sleep thanks to my insomnia, stomach still not being quite right and the noise from the karaoke bar across the street that was so obviously a cover for a biker bar. Thankful, at least, that Laura is a heavy sleeper who barely moves when knocked out and can easily sleep for ten hours straight, I took a sigh of relief about how good of a fit were there in regard to my not having to worry about waking her up and getting my peaceful alone time in the morning to write.
The next night we headed to a place called Zoe in Yellow that L wasn’t too far off in assessing when asking about the crowd being similar at the Full Moon Party. Lots of neon, glow-in-the-dark and childlike early-twenty somethings on holiday and in ratty beachwear doing their best to get waisted and hook up. One of my favorites to watch was a huge dude, maybe Australian, with bleached blond chicken-feather hair purposely dancing ridiculous. Another was using his crutch as a dance accessory on one of the dance floors and the whole thing had us feeling like uncomfortable outsiders until realizing that people watching was a lot more entertaining than thinking we’d fit in with this crowd. After that even the most simple details became funny. For example, how Laura was amused by the “TRAINEE” shirts staff were wearing due to that word meaning “whore” in French. getting our kicks but still not feeling it enough to stay longer than a couple hours, we left at a decent hour and had a surprisingly opposite night with sleep in that I knocked out while she couldn’t sleep at all. It didn’t stop her from being excited for the next morning, however. Neighter of us had been feeling Chiang Mai but we were about to head to a treehouse to get to in Pai.