During the weeks that led up to this journey, every day would pass in similar fashion. My dreams would be distrubed by the unavoidable pitch of my alarm at 8:00am and I would reach for the post-it note sticking to my bedside table, featuring a list of things that I needed to accomplish in that day. Constructing this the previous night had become a staple part of my bedtime ritual, and this would be the first thing I’d address as I wipe the sleep from my swollen eyes. My days would be fleeting, a messy rush and a failed mission as four or five things would be added to the next days list before bed, and new ‘must do’s’ would be grumpily made note of.
November 23rd was very different. There were no more lists, no more notes to reach for. No more time to prepare and no more time to worry. Every day leading to this one had a plan and a strategy, but as my sleepy fingers trailed over the snooze button on my all-to-familiar 8:00am alarm, my stomach was met with something very unfamiliar. Nerves. Panic. Anxiety. How much hadn’t I done? How many failed ‘to-do’s’ would come back to haunt me after this day? There wasn’t much time to dwell on it - it was time to pack. 23kg. 19kg. 12kg. I strike out the unnessessary items I once deemed essential one by one as I aim for the lightest possible backpack. Still full to the brim, but 12kg will do.
Dad makes it to mine early and again, the reality of the situation dawns on me a little bit all over again, but that’s nothing compared to how I felt saying my goodbyes at the gate. Mum and Dad are in tears. Luke is smiling at me, for me, excited for what he knows I’m soon to experience. I hug Mum and she says “If anything happens, if anything happens to you, if you get hurt you come straight back home to me!” This cuts through me. It does all over again as I write it down. I felt myself shiver, and I feel my eyes squeeze back any tears - I don’t want to show my parents the slightest trace of fear. Then there’s Dad, so overcome with sudden emotion I can’t make out his muffled words as he buried his face into my sweater. I feel a wave of emotion rush through me once more. My eyes squeeze shut again. One more hug. One more glance. One more look over my shoulder as I head inside alone. Solo. That’s me from now on and for the foreseeable future. My hands tremble slightly and my eyes are damp as this wave follows me around the corner, but I stop. Inhale. Look up from my feet to straight ahead. And then there is a new wave, one filled with confidence, positivity and excitement. One that is screaming for adventure, knowledge and life. I take my first couple steps with this new wave to make sure it fits. It does.
Fast forward from the twenty minute run through the enormous Dubai airport to my final call, to the seat-belt sign flickering on, followed by an announcement from the captain. Time to land. The twelve-hour journey is over and now I face the challenge of navigating through Thailand’s infamous capital. Passport control and baggage claim take mere minutes and I’m out in the Bangkok air, it’s thirty degrees and humid as hell. I head back inside and hop on the city link to the center, my eyes are met by every new person who arrives through the doors nearest to me. They’ve seen thousands of me, I’m sure, but a smile is still met by a smile and that’s always a good omen. I see trickles of rain appear on the windows. Before I can finish my negotions with the Gods, the sky opens and unleashes a thunderstorm that would have Londoners scrambling like ants. Thunder, lighting and the thundering drum of rain against the steel barrel we speed into the city in. Jacket on. Raincover on. The locals laugh at me as they pull out their umbrella’s, all too prepared.
I reach my stop and laugh to myself as I head out into the unforgiving conditions that arrived to greet me. I follow my map from memory for ten minutes with my head down before realising it was the opposite direction. Twenty minutes back and my shoes, shorts and front-pack are drenched. My face is soaking, it’s still 30 degrees. I turn a corner and there it is. Bed Station Hostel, the only light on the corner of the street and I follow it. I feel like Colin from Love Actually as I burst into the door and pull off my hood. Just swap the snow for rain and the horny american girls for frat guys. I’m shown my room and 15 minutes later, I’ve showered, unpacked and am ordering my first beer. I sit down at a table full of backpackers, but no one turns their head so I simply listen to shared stories of travel and sex, for now that’s fine with me. Eventually, I get talking to a guy from Croatia. Then a girl from US and a guy from London who’s lived in Thailand for five years. Then some locals. Then some Germans. Before I know it, drinking games are in full flow and we’re heading to Khao San road – the amazing, trashy, glorious, alcohol-ridden elite home of the drunk backpacker. There is no better place to start, so it seems.
I wake up at 1:30pm, sleepy, groggy and filling in the blanks. This isn’t my usual style, to waste a day of travel and of exploring so I drag myself to the showers, and eventually out of the front door. The hostel is a complete contrast of the night before, maybe I wasn’t the only one having a much-needed recovery sleep. I head straight to the famous Bangkok temples to start, Wat Phom and Wat Arun, but it begins to rain again. With the temples covered in grey and my head still banging from the night before, I can’t help but feel a bit deflated. I take refuge in a nice looking restauarant close by to have my first meal of the day, Pad Thai it is. The food is great, but as a stare out to the stormy streets with a sore head and tired eyes, I feel loneliness creep in. These are the days travel companions are essential. Raincoat back on I trudge out once more, telling myself that the first days are always like this and that it’s nothing to go by. And I was right, I head home and have shower number two, getting into my comfiest clothes ready to relax and plan my trip to Chiang Mai for the following day when I see a familiar face. A german girl I met the night before called Laura. She was very sweet, reading to me from her Bangkok travel guide as I sat next to her and opened my laptop, which closed just as quickly at the mention of a rooftop bar. She was going with two other German guys and a girl, and now me.
I head back to my room to change clothes and we set on our way. Benjamin, Laura, Hannes, Suzie and Me. They were nice, probably the nicest people I’d met so far. I asked questions and learnt about them, who they were and what they did and the places they’ve been, one by one. Then we reached Cloud47, the rooftop bar on the 47th floor that opens up to incredible views of the whole city, its towering skyscrapers sinking down into brightly coloured steets. We ordered our Chang’s and enjoyed the atmopshere of the rooftop, all well aware of the gem we had stumbled on. After we’d finally had our fill of the mesmirising views, we head to a market for some food, passing down countless offers for ping-pong shows as we went. Food down, goodnights said, I crept into my bed at 1:30am. I felt like I’d made my first friends and things were taking shape. I felt good. I felt excited for the next day and all I wanted was for sleep to disappear and to wake up to a sunny sky instead of grey.
My alarm went off at 9:00am and I felt the rays of the sun squeezing through the gaps of the blinds. Sun.