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This stage of my journey begins (for anecdotal purposes) in the queue for passport control in Bangkok, Thailand. I had planned to meet a friend who had been travelling for the previous six months. We worked together back in the UK and are pretty good mates. Though as everyone knows, they say holidays with friends are the ultimate test of friendship. And this certainly was.
It was in this queue that I started to message my friend, who had agreed to meet me at the airport and show me around Bangkok, as she'd already been there for a day or two. It quickly became clear that she wasn't coming due to a "killer hangover" but did mention that her other friend's flight had landed from India in the same airport, and that he would be travelling with us for the whole trip. Now I should mention, I had known I was coming on this part of the trip for a few months, as had my friend, and at no point did she mention in all of our plans an additional traveler...
At the best of times, I have a limited capability of handling normal social situations. The idea of meeting a stranger at an airport and then traveling with them for two weeks—well, I didn't know the protocol for that. Anyway, she passed on his phone number and I started to message him. I don't know if your ever tried to locate a stranger in an airport whilst trying to get through passport control, but it's a fine line between looking like you're desperately searching for someone and looking like you're desperately hiding various substances.
Thankfully the new rendezvous went as planned. He was the only guy with a man-bun in the area, and I was the only one left by the baggage carousel. To be honest, it was a small area and there were literally only eight people there, four of whom were flight crew and two painfully obvious honeymooners. Initial contact was awkward; I went for a high-five and he went for a hug. It also became clear that he hadn't known about me either which, though funny, did make me doubt my friend's planning abilities.
Within moments of stepping out of the building to grab a taxi, we were soaked. I had no idea how many pores my body possessed until every single one of them performed a mass liquidation at once. Bangkok was sweaty. Fabulous, and colorful, and impressive, and sweaty. This didn't really faze us though. Armed with bottles of water and safe in the knowledge that 7-11 stores, complete with air-con, outnumbered every other chain of stores in existence (they were everywhere, I don't know how?) we explored the city.
I would definitely go back to Bangkok, though maybe not with two vegetarians. The vast majority of Thai food either has meat in it or uses oyster sauce, and for a foodie like me, no problem. However I knew that eating together and spending the evenings together was a big part of this experience. So I sacrificed the good food for good company. Don't get me wrong, the veggie dishes were on the most part great. But one of my favorite things about going to new countries is trying the food, experiencing the culture the way it is, without trying to twist it into my way of doing things. So I made sure to try out a few solid dishes before we left.
We traveled quickly south to the islands best known by possibly every European aged 17-30. After and overnight bus, dumping us at a dock at 4 AM, followed by a 7 AM ferry to one of the many many islands. We arrived in England? Or at least it felt that way. It was the most bizarre week of my life. Every sign, menu, and person spoke English. The population was made up pretty solidly of 1/4 English, 1/4 German, 1/4 other European, 1/4 Thai residents (many of whom were actually Malaysian). I never went to university, but it was what I imagine freshers week was on acid. When the moped rental shop doubles as a medical surgery, you know you're in a special kind of place. But despite a brutal attempt by the tourism industry to turn it into a Party Island, it was stunningly beautiful. My favorite moments were here, walking alone though the forest, on the beach at sunrise with only the joggers for company (I know—jogging, in that heat; some people are just not human), or zipping around the mountains on a moped that, though a health and safety nightmare, was pure bliss.
Each island we visited was different, with a different economy and, for lack of a better word, vibe. But with so many islands, we were unable to even see a fraction of them before it was time to head back to Bangkok.
It was my friend's birthday when we got back, so I had booked us an Airbnb in the center of town in one of those sky-rise buildings with a pool to make your Instagram blush. Incredibly it was both affordable and pure luxury. It was the perfect way to take a breather and decompress. And because it was an apartment, even though it was a high-end one, it still meant we were closer to "the real" Bangkok. We took the brilliant BTS service around the city and the marvelous (and scary at first, but don't worry you get used to it) boat-taxis/buses got us to exactly where we wanted to go.
This was the only section of my travels that I did entirely with friends (old and very, very new) and I'm glad I did. Although my favorite moments were ones I spent alone, Thailand, or at least the parts we had a chance to catch a glimpse of, is a very social place, with experiences that are worth being shared. But for future reference, if you're sharing a bucket of vodka and orange with someone, and they've chosen to stop drinking, you are then just drinking vodka out of a bucket by yourself (I'm looking at you, Emma).