Six months ago, I stepped onto an EVA Airlines flight by myself, with a 60 liter backpack and too many clothes.
I sat in between two strangers in the middle seat of a 16 hour flight where I didn’t sleep.
My flight landed with a thud in the 32 degree heat in the middle of Bangkok, and I wondered if it would be safe enough to take my camera out and take pictures.
I walked inside a random café in Bangkok with 2 hours of free wifi and not the slightest idea if I could even drink the ice,
I stayed awake for 30 hours straight to try and readjust myself to a time zone while I waited for my Couchsurfing host to get out of work,
And a few days later, I found myself wide eyed and perplexed from the flashing lights and ladyboys that were scattered around Khao San Road.
I took a third class Thai train with an international group of friends to an ancient town in northern Thailand, where I managed to crash my motorbike into a fence and break it,
While I simultaneously got closer to that group of people than I ever have with anyone before.
I attended TBEX and took notes about things I didn’t understand at conferences I felt didn’t pertain to my blogger goals,
And when I had enough of Bangkok I set off on an overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai, where I slept next to an insect the size of my thumb.
Less than a week later, I was craving the mountains and fresh air, so I booked a ticket to Pai.
When I stepped off of the bus and onto the gravel road,
I had the chance to take in the hazel colored mountains,
The endless amount of backpackers with colorful pants and dreadlocks,
And the aroma of spicy food.
I instantly knew I wasn’t going to leave for a while.
I got a job at a hostel as long as my “bartending skills were better than my horrendous pool skills,”
And found myself pouring gin and tonics in between shots for my country to thirsty backpackers that seemed infinitely parched.
I drove my motorbike through meandering mountain roads to hidden hot springs,
And went on hikes, some lasting over 4 hours, to waterfalls deep inside the jungle of northern Thailand.
I became a regular at a café, and became known as the hula hoop and running girl.
The time was never right to leave Pai, but when I was offered a job at a hostel in Ko Phangan, I knew I needed to take the opportunity.
I nervously boarded my AirAsia flight with shaky hands and a pounding heart to a part of Thailand I hadn’t yet seen.
I spent two weeks painting beds, cleaning rooms, and making sure backpackers were consuming expensive alcohol and attending one of the many parties on the island.
I went to half moon festival, boat party, jungle party, and the famous Full Moon Party.
I doused myself in neon paint,
Ate too many fried vegetables,
Drank too many gin and tonics,
Slept too little,
And reconnected with friends from Bangkok and Pai that made a random appearance at the hostel I worked at.
I learned how small the traveling community is,
And that everyone seems to know one another, somehow, someway.
Two weeks later, I sat on a plane to Chiang Mai, where I found a luxurious apartment for one month with a friend whom I met in Bangkok.
I went to over 75 cafes,
Drank two cappuccinos a day,
Watched the sunrise next to a Buddhist temple,
Got lost in a random town in search for a temple in a mountain,
And went hitchhiking with a wonderful Thai family,
Who also bought me lunch and showed me the kindness of strangers.
I was the only foreigner at a canyon, which wasn’t all that impressive,
And fell in love with Khao Soi, a northern Thailand cuisine.
The day before my 3 month Thai visa expired, I decided to venture across the border into Cambodia via train.
The 9 hour journey was the toughest I had ever done,
And I tried my hardest not to let that experience skew my first impression of Cambodia.
I both hated and loved the sunrise at Angkor Wat,
As the sun peaked over the ancient temple, built hundreds of years ago and only recently discovered
If you look at the grand spectrum of time.
It was an impressive and spectacular view and experience,
But the tourists shoving iPads and iPhones in my face took away from it,
And only when I removed myself from the group and found solace in another part of the crowd,
Could I really enjoy every moment.
I spent too long in Phnom Penh,
But was incredibly moved and disturbed after learning about the genocide in which this country is still recovering from.
And it was only when I stepped foot in Otres Beach
That I knew I found my home.
This home has white sand beaches,
Small Khmer shops with cheap and delicious food,
And is a paradise in itself.
Time doesn’t exist in a place
Where reality seems too far away,
Where being barefoot is more common than wearing shoes,
And no face is a stranger.
Six months is a long time when you’re looking at it from the outside,
But when you’re the one experiencing it all,
It feels like no time at all.
The past six months have been incredible and life changing. I’ve received more than I ever could have asked for, and am still learning more about myself and other people every single day.
I’ve slept in 37 different beds and 14 different hostels. I’ve watched 6 sunrises and a countless number of sunsets. I’ve ridden in four planes, 19 busses, five trains, and 17 boats.
I’ve worked for a jungle festival called Kerfuffle. I’ve worked in three different hostels. I’ve bartended. I’ve dressed in heart pajamas, polka dots, as a captain, and worn a plastic loaf of bread on my head. I’ve made three different cities my home. I’ve slept next to ants and beetles, mice and mosquitos.
I’ve forgotten what air conditioning feels like. I’ve given up sleeping on Wednesday nights in Otres Beach. I’ve painted beds, scrubbed toilets, and handed out fliers. I’ve fallen in love with the mountains and I’ve fallen in love with the ocean.
I’ve visited an abandoned casino on top of a mountain. I’ve gone hitchhiking. I’ve watched sunrises from trains, over the ocean, and across a lake next to an ancient temple.
I’ve discovered paradise. I’ve gotten strange Cambodian diseases. I’ve drank hundreds of coconuts. I’ve had three different currencies in my wallet, and have used all three of them in one day.
I’ve taught English in a hostel bathroom via Skype. I’ve ran around the beach shouting “what’s cookin’ good lookin’” to strangers to get them to come to a jungle rave.
I’ve let myself miss Chipotle and pizza more times than I want to admit. But I’ve also discovered I love curry dishes more than anything in this world. I’ve learned the true meaning of same same but different and use it too often.
I’ve learned more about America having been away from it than having lived in it. I’ve partied on boats, in the jungle, and on the beach. I’ve eaten 60 cent lunches and $12 dinners.
I’ve traveled over six hours in hopes of seeing a spectacular sunrise, only to see a wall of fog. I’ve ridden in a ferris wheel in the jungle operated by an old truck engine. I’ve gotten scammed. I’ve danced more than I ever thought I would, at hours of the day normally meant for sleeping or eating breakfast.
I’ve gone SCUBA diving. I’ve gotten rid of clothes and downsized from a 60 liter backpack to a 40 liter backpack. I’ve become part of a family. I’ve visited an island in paradise. I’ve gone days without a phone, disconnected from the world.
I’ve lost myself and I’ve found myself. I’ve learned that age is just a number, and that time is abstract. I’ve met the real life Hercules. I’ve met so many beautiful people that have touched my life in one way or another.
I’ve learned how much I truly love Thai 7 Eleven. I’ve learned that I’d rather be barefoot than wear shoes.
I’ve swam in rivers, oceans, lakes, and quarries. I’ve learned I can fall asleep anywhere, anytime. I’ve gotten a $6 ticket for not having an international motorbike license. I’ve accidentally blown past police checkpoints on my motorbike.
I’ve pushed a tuk-tuk up a hill at 10 am after a jungle rave. I’ve bartended at a friend’s bar until 9 am, singing songs I didn’t even know I knew the lyrics to.
I’ve realized it’s better to be lost in a beautiful place you love than found in a place you hate.
I’ve learned more about myself in 6 months than I ever, ever would have thought possible.
And it’s still the beginning of my journey.