Sunday, October 21, 2012

Thailand: Great Expectations

Overall, Thailand has been an exercise in expectation management.

Even the week before I left, I refused to think about it much.

"Are you going to Krabi?" Mark asked, flipping through my requisite guidebook. I'd barely cracked the spine, even though it had been purchased a month before.

"I don't know, I'll figure it out when I get there," I muttered stubbornly. Although I'd booked accommodation in Tokyo and Bangkok, I was happy to leave the rest to be determined. My work schedule hadn't allowed for much rumination on my trip, let alone any intensive planning. "I really don't want to talk about it."

And I didn't. I didn't want to talk about it or to think about it. I didn't want to enter into this vacation with any set of expectations. I simply wanted to go to the beach and to write words for myself and to have some time off work. ("You're not going to be able to not work," teased Jonathan in the weeks leading up to my departure. He was right, in more ways than I want to admit.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Flashpacking in Thailand

What original thought can I begin to write about this place--Thailand, the last hackeyened vacation destination on the backpacker hit list? It's all been done before we were here. We're directly on the beaten path.

Against our better judgement, we even stayed on Khaosan Road in Bangkok. (Unlike Tokyo, it was exactly what I had envisioned. "I have a feeling I'm going to hate exactly 83 per cent of people that we meet here," I said to Mike, as we navigated with our bags through the throngs towards our hostel.)

So instead, there's this: a realization.

I am no longer, by definition, a backpacker. I'm hesitant to refer to myself as a "flashpacker," partially because I don't think my bank account balance matches that description. However, the choices that I've made on this trip so far are reflective of how I'm slowly beginning to change my approach to travel.

As I write this, I'm flying to Koh Samui on Bangkok Airways. Yes, you read that right--flying. When our initial plan to take the train to Chumphon fell through because it was fully booked, I was tempted to brave the 12-hour overnight bus journey for $15. But it only took Mike about two seconds to convince me that was a terrible idea and that the extra $110 for the one-hour plane ride directly to the islands was a worthwhile investment. So far, we've eschewed public transit and tuk-tuks in favour of taxis. (Except in Tokyo, where we learned to love the massively confusing subway system.)  

Likewise, I don't think I'll give up on hostels in the near future--they're too dear to my heart and my capacity to withstand the shadiest of conditions is a point of pride. But this afternoon we're checking into a hotel that costs $50 a night and has an infinity pool. (!) It's a far cry from the squats and $3/night rooms that Helka and I frequented on my first backpacking trip nearly 10 years ago.

The one thing that hasn't changed? I'm still willing to go into debt for this; for this one thing that makes me feel whole again. Because regardless if whether I'm flying or hitchhiking, it's still the journey that counts.
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