Happiness in Phi Phi Islands – Phuket, Thailand

Whose world is this? (The world is yours, the world is yours) // It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine; whose world is this? (It’s yours)”The World is Yours, Nas

I went from excitedly curating a trip for two (studying flight predictions, figuring out accommodations (hotels & hostels), and planning memorable excursions/experiences)  to becoming incredibly disappointed within a matter of seconds.  A single text message from my friend changed everything.  “So I have bad news.  Unfortunately….” – DAMN.   I wanted to be pissed, but I couldn’t be because her reason for backing out was legit.  She’d just completed her MBA and was plotting on leaving Corporate America for several months because she needed a much needed hiatus.   To fund this, she prepared to budget her finances and live off her company bonus.  Brief background on the bonus structure in Corporate – when you work for a firm/corporation/etc., your bonus is based on various factors – including your personal performance as well as the performance of the company.  That being said, her bonus was not what she expected (I guess her company didn’t perform as per their anticipated trajectories) so she backed out – and understandably so.  I sat there devastated.  What the hell am I going to do now?  I couldn’t possibly go alone, could I?

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I reached out to my personal travel inspo, a (melanated) woman that has been to all 7 continents, all 50 states, and 74 countries – Sonjia “Lioness”.  I’d  caught wind of Sonjia a few months prior (in April of 2014) via Instagram as I enjoyed my very first off-the-beaten-path experience at my ex beau’s house in Treasure Beach, JA.  I reached out to her privately because I was (1) AMAZED by the photos showcased on her page and (2) I was impressed that the majority of her traveling had been done alone.  Fast forward a few months – I physically met her at a travel meet up in Brooklyn and listened to her travel stories in person.  We befriended each other on Facebook and that was that. 

Reaching out to her inspiration and motivation seemed like the obvious thing to do as I felt confused and saddened.  I shot her a message and without fail, she responded with the words that I needed to hear:

Me: Lioness!  I need your fierce mama lion advice…..  Do you have any pointers for a woman looking to travel solo abroad for the very first time?  I know you’ve mentioned that a woman must be comfortable and learn to like it fast.  I’m cool with being alone – what I’m fearful of is maintaining my safety and dealing with naysayers (family & friends) telling me that I shouldn’t travel alone.  I want to hear from a (Black) woman that has traveled with friends and solo – like a BAWSE!

Sonjia: There comes a time in every person’s life (male or female) where they NEED to travel alone.  There are intrinsic benefits you gain that are more important (more so actually) than the actual travel benefits.  You need to learn that you can handle any challenge, that you can navigate a new environment, that you can go somewhere you don’t know anyone & make new friends, that you can find your way when lost, that you can communicate even when you don’t know the language, and that you can deal with whatever comes your way.  When you do that all for the first time, trust me, you will come back feeling like a BAWSE – because YOU did that!  The naysayers are ALWAYS going to exist – they aren’t going anywhere so you need to learn how to “manage” them.  Hell, I’m ___ & STILL get grief from my parents about certain things or going certain places!  You take it with a grain of salt and keep it moving, recognizing that everyone isn’t going to agree with how you live your life, but they don’t have to.  It’s YOUR life – and you have to live it the way you see fit because you and only you are responsible for your happiness in life.  Don’t let someone too afraid to go after their own dreams talk you out of going after yours – because in the end YOU will be the one left with the regrets, not them…. The question is will you live your life in fear of what could or might happen (but usually never does) or will you become the kind of person who learns to deal with whatever comes you way?  Go!  Travel!  Have fun!  See the world!  Follow your heart!  And follow your dreams!  Yes there will be some trepidation or a few fears, but nothing ever happens in life without a first time….. Now that’s my 2 cents (or $20 bucks – LOL).  I look forward to seeing pics and hearing about your adventures from SE Asia! 

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There was A LOT more to Sonjia’s message, but I only wanted to feature the portion of her message that resonated with me the most.  She put a battery in my back and changed my perspective.  I was now excited to make this trip happen WITHOUT a companion.    I continued my research and finally pulled the trigger a few weeks later – I booked a round trip ticket to Bangkok, Thailand with a layover in Dubai.    

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Bucket lists have always been my thing.  Living a “Bucket List Life” forces you to set intentional goals for your life (personally & professionally) and constantly gives you something to look forward to.    My bucket list is a part of the reason why I wound up visiting the aforementioned countries.  

After my recent experience in Jamaica, I decided that I wanted to start traveling in a more fulfilling way.  Resorts were cool and all, but I wanted to travel to places that would talk my breath away.   With this mindset, I began to pay more attention to travel related blogs and Instagram feeds.  I’d read about a historic site where thousands of people from all around the world gathered to partake in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful experiences known to man.  SOLD, this was exactly the kind of experience that I was looking for.  I decided that I too would be amongst those to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.   As my research on the country continued, I became more and more intrigued.  Rich African diaspora (read more here –> http://www.africaresource.com/rasta/sesostris-the-great-the-egyptian-hercules/the-khmer-hindus-of-cambodia-black-asian-history-by-oguejiofo-annu/), ancient temples, ruins, and inexpensive?  Sign me the HELL up! 

Next, I turned my focus on to Cambodia’s neighboring countries because I wanted to optimize my trip by checking out another land’s culture (since I was on that side of the world).  There were several neighboring countries to Cambodia, but I chose Thailand.  The thought of stepping foot on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, trying authentic Thai cuisine, and visiting their amazing temples caught my interest. SOLD – Thailand was added to the list. 

Finally, Dubai became the concluding part of the equation because it was an opportunity to knock off another bucket list item – to fly Emirates airlines.  I had the option to layover in either Seoul Korea or Dubai and chose the latter.  Being the thrill seeker that I am, I wanted to skydive over the Palm Islands (http://www.skydivedubai.ae/), but all dives were booked through December of that year – womp womp.   I continued my research to see what else I could do while I was in the UAE and settled on a sunset safari in the desert.  

Dubai

Striking a regal pose on a sand dune

When I arrived at JFK airport with my large backpack, small carry on, and camera I was scared SHITLESS.  While I was excited, I was also scared that things wouldn’t go as planned.  All of my preparation (I’m BIG on logistics) accounted for the basics – accommodations, transportation, and excursions, but it hadn’t prepared me for the “what ifs” because I had no idea what could possibly go wrong.  I started to panic and thought about movies that I’d seen where backpackers had their hostel rooms ransacked as thieves came in to rob them of their belongings.  Would someone steal my things while I was out gallivanting around town?   Would they take my passport and leave me stuck abroad?  To think that I was actually concerned about these things now is crazy to me, but when I stood in that airport these concerns were very real. 

Despite my concerns and nervousness, I didn’t let it deter me.  I’d come this far, I might as well follow through right?  To calm my nerves,  I started to send departure text messages to friends letting them know that I would be boarding within the hour.  In return, the text messages and phone calls poured in showering me with TONS of encouragement and love.   Before I knew it, it was time – my section was called for boarding.  

Emirates is everything great that you’ve heard – EVERYTHING.  Their economy class is comparable to Jet Blue or Delta’s first class.  Ridiculous leg room (which is key for me, being the leggy 5’7″ woman that I am), the service is stellar, and the food is DELICIOUS.  The 12 hour flight breezed by as I used the plane’s free in-flight WiFi, watched movies/TV, read, wrote, listened to music, and slept.  When I landed it hit me,  I was alone but excited.  I did it, the hardest part was flying to a away place without a companion and I did it withouth any glitches.  All of my planning was about to be tested because I was in Dubai and excited to set off on my journey.  

As previously mentioned, my time in Dubai was via a layover (7 – 8 hours or so), but I paid almost $300 to extend it overnight so that I could participate in the sunset desert safari with member of a travel group that I have since parted way from, Nomadness Travel Tribe. Several of the members were in Dubai for a short stint as they’d just returned from ZA (better known as South Africa) and were laying over like I was before heading back to the states, so it worked out perfectly.  

That evening I met half of the group at their hotel and joined them in one of the SUV’s the excursion company sent to the hotel for the start of the safari.  As I write this, I reminisce and think about the conversations in that car.  Listening to fellow solo and seasoned travelers talk about their recent experience in ZA, upcoming travel plans, and lessons learned during their travels invigorated me.  There was something about being around people that looked like me, listening to them talk about living life on their own terms while killing it personally and professionally – I was inspired. 

We made our way to the first part of the excursion – the “show” where a large falcon did different tricks at the hands of its master as guests enjoyed non-alcoholic beverages and snacks.  Next up, the part that I was MOST excited about – sand duning!  SUV’s drove up and down high mounds of sand while passengers to held on in the backseat.  The thrill was similar to that of a hayride, but way faster.  This exciting ride lasted for about 10 minutes leading into the final part of the experience – a sunset dinner featuring henna, hookah, camel riding, and a spread of different meats, teas, sweets, and traditional Arabic sides.  

I’ll spare you the details, but I will say that this was a ridiculously dope experience.  My favorite moment  was when our small group (about 10 of us) sat beneath the stars in complete darkness (the lights were turned out intentionally for about 3 mins so participants of the safari could appreciate the starry night) smoking hookah and taking it all in.  It was in that moment that I realized I would be okay; everything that I needed was inside of me.  My confidence was strengthened and I was ready to continue on alone.  

Dubai was cool and all, but it was time to get into the second leg of my trip – Bangkok, Thailand. 

Front and center for the show portion of the Sunset Desert Safari with a new friend

Thailand

Posted up outside one of the temples in the oldest districts in Thailand, Ayutthaya

I almost missed my flight to Bangkok the following morning.  Not because I was late (I’d actually arrived early), but because the airport in Dubai was SWAMPED with people!  By the time I made it to the check in counter, the agent noticed my flight and realized that I was cutting it super close.  As a courtesy, she called the gate that I was headed to to let them know that I was headed there to board.  As soon as the agent handed me my boarding pass and passport I was out!   I have never ran as fast as I did that morning with my bagsin tow.  My Senegalese twists flew in every directions as I raced through the airport in slip on sneakers (I never travel in sandals because they don’t have traction or enough arch support) towards my gate and made it a few minutes before the closed the door for boarding. 

Upon entrance to the airplane, I noticed that the aircraft was A LOT smaller and less luxurious that the plane that I flew in from New York to Dubai.  I wound up sandwiched between a lovely Aussie couple (to my right) and a large, sweaty, pink-skinned German dude (to my right) that devoured his in-flight meal like a feral animal that hadn’t eaten in days.  To make matters worse, I was unable to recline my seat back because the fucktard dude behind me kept pushing it up.  When I approached the flight attendant to change seats, I learned that the flight was booked to capacity.  Great – I had to deal with this for about 5 more hours (my flight from Dubai to Bangkok was 8 hours).   I passed the time by writing, watching movies, and mostly sleeping.    

BANGKOK & AYUTTHAYA

I damn near ran off that plane because I couldn’t wait to get away from the assholes that I’d been surrounded by for the past few hours. First, I headed over to the conversion counter to convert a few US dollars into Baht.  At the time, Uber wasn’t an international thing so I had to rely on standard taxi to transport me from the airport to my hostel.  Rule #1 – HAGGLE EVERYTHING in Thailand.  I was told to do this by my expat cousin that’d been living in the country for the past 5+ years.  Anyway where was I?  Ahhh yes – the airport.  Equipped with my bags and my baht I was ready to to see what Bangkok had to offer!  I joined the insanely long  (taxi) line with the other travelers  and waited patiently in the extreme humidity.  After about an hour, it was finally my turn to get into a cab.  I made it a point to keep an eye on the meter because I was warned that Thai (wo)men take advantage of unsuspecting foreigners every chance that they had.  As per my cousin, Thailand is the “Land of Smiles” but they’re disingenuous.  The only genuine smile you will receive is when someone is fucking you over.  Little did I know that I would discover firsthand how right he was. 

I sat back and fought off sleep as I took in the sites on that rainy night, noticing several billboards that featured pale-skinned model after pale-skinned model.  It was later that I  learned that Thai people are BIG on skin bleaching because they adhere to European standards of beauty.  The darker your skin, the less attractive you are – and vice versa, the fairer your skin the most beautiful you are considered. 

We made it to my hostel within the hour and my driver hopped out  to help me with my bags.  When I asked him the rate he stood there with the biggest smile on his face and quoted me a number almost $80 baht MORE than the number reflected on the meter.   So it began….. What this driver didn’t know was that I wasn’t as unsuspecting as I looked.  I came to Thailand knowing how to count from 1 – 20 (in Thai) and knew VARIOUS key phrases – enough to make them THINK I could understand when I was being “handled”.  I wound up telling him that I would not pay the fee that he asked, but only the fee on the meter, chucked him a deuce, and made my way  up the stairs to the check-in desk.  I checked in without any glitches and was escorted to the top floor to my room.  

My room was great!  It felt more like a hotel room than a hostel, leaving me very pleased.  I opted for a single room as opposed to shared dorm style room because it was my very first time in a hostel.  I wanted more privacy (without breaking the bank) and was incredibly happy with my decision to do so.

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Again, I will spare you the details of my time in Bangkok (for the sake of keeping this post as concise as possible), but I will share some of the great times and not so great times:

  • Great Times – Linking up with another solo traveler and new friend to explore the Ayutthaya District, going on solo excursions where I walked into some of the world’s most notable holy temples, staying in my hostel, enjoying authentically delicious Thai cuisine while sitting in a random alley with other solo travelers from different parts of the world (Canada, India, and Germany to be exact), posing for pictures with Thai and other Asians that had never seen a Black woman in the flesh, navigating the Bangkok train system (which is incredibly clean and rider friendly), getting a massage, and riding in tuk tuks around town.   
  • Not so Great Times – Getting robbed for $400  baht during the expensive ass Elephant Trekking excursion that I paid for, riding on the back of an elephant that clearly looked miserable and sad because it was probably mistreated (I felt like SHIT after I finished this ride because I felt that I somehow contributed to this harmful misuse of these incredible animals), posing with a heavily drugged tiger (again, I felt like crap during and after the experience because I realized the tiger was heavily drugged with strong tranquilizers), and being videotaped/photographed (without my permission) and gawked like I was an alien by Thai and other Asians.  After awhile I became used to the ogling, but initially I hated it.

All and all, Bangkok & Ayutthaya was a fun experience, but I was ready to leave.  I wanted to travel to an area of the country where the water was a turquoise blue hue, the air was less smoggy and humid (Bangkok humidity makes New York humidity look like a walk in the park), and the streets weren’t as dirty.   It was time to get just what I wanted.  I followed carefully followed my cousin’s instructions and set off on a bus ride from Bangkok to his neck of the woods, Hua Hin.  

HUA HIN

Hua Hin, Thailand is a few hours south of Bangkok, a lot less humid, and way more upscale.  As a point of reference,  the King and Queen of Thailand reside there, the rich or upper echelon of Asia (i.e. Singapore) vacation here, and the air quality is of higher quality. 

My cousin K (who’d been living there for several years as an expat, teaching ESL to grade school children) had made arrangements for me to stay at his buddy’s place (a house converted into a bar with WiFi equipped and air-conditioned rooms for rent on the top floor), as his studio was too small to accommodate me during the length of my trip. 

I stepped foot into the room and that I was supposed to make home for the next few days and immediately knew that I would NOT be able to say there.  I picked up the dirty comforter (with my thumb and middle finger) that covered the bed and was greeted by a bare, dirty blue mattress. Oh HELL NAW.  That mattress looked like it had herpes, chlamydia, AIDS, and syphilis.  There was no way in hell that I was going to stay there.  As if the mattress wasn’t bad, I looked around and noticed a gigantic cockroach crawling across the floor.  That was the final sign that I needed – within seconds I was making rooming plans for the duration of my time in that area of Thailand.

I immediately went to Facebook to put out a “bat signal”, asking fellow travel group members (in Hua Hin) to help.  Staying somewhere in the area – near nightlife, clean and safe were my only requirements.  To my pleasant surprise someone answered within minutes!  A lovely sista from the Midwest (who I affectionately refer to as “D”) not only informed me that she would allow me to stay with her, but that she would come and pick me up ASAP!  Perfect.  See what I mean?  Even when things go wrong, things quickly turn around for your benefit.  I phoned K and told him that I was leaving that STD room or rent to head up the road to nicer accommodations.   He understood my reasons for wanting to leave and laughed hysterically while informing me that the room I was supposed to rent was often used to turn tricks in – umm, good looking out fam?  Sigh – gotta love family.  We made plans to link up later so we could hit the town so that I could see what the Hua Hin nightlife looked like.  

As soon as I met D I knew that I’d made a new life-long friend.  She had that warm, genuine, trustworthy energy that you seldom come across nowadays.  I lunged out and hugged her tightly because she saved me from the heauxs!  I thanks K’s friend for the room and followed D (she rode ahead on her bike while I rode with my two bags on a small trolley) to her luxury apartment on Soi 97. 

Talk about a breath of fresh air!  The grounds were immaculate, lovely (a fountain in the lobby surrounded by bountiful vegetation and flowers) and guarded by a friendly doorman.  Things were definitely on the up and up.  Her (studio) apartment was quaint, but large enough for us to comfortably co-habitate for a few days.  Besides, I had no plans to be cramped up in the space anyway – except when showering and sleeping. 

D felt familiar.  We wound up staying up a large portion of the night chatting and catching up like old friends that hadn’t seen in each other in years.  Hitting it off immediately , we shared stories about our respective lives back home and the experiences that lead up to Thailand.  She’d been living in Hua Hin for the past few months teaching children, taking a break from her corporate job as a CPA for a major firm back home and I was doing contract HR Generalist work for a small energy firm in Midtown Manhattan.  It was comforting to know we had a lot of shared interests; a spontaneous adventurous spirit, a love for travel, and similar familial backgrounds. 

While D left me with her apartment keys while she worked during the day so that I could come and go as I pleased.  I was amazed by how giving and generous this woman was.  She didn’t know me from a can of paint, yet she was willing to entrust me with her belongings.  Needless to say, when she proposed a spontaneous weekend trip to Phuket I readily agreed!  I cut my time short in Hua Hin (but made it a point to hand and party with my cousin) and boarded an overnight bus with to check out the scene even further south of Bangkok. 

  • Great Times  – Connecting with my cousin that I hadn’t seen in years; enjoying beach side feasts with him, bar/lounge/club hopping with him (and his friends), smoking spliffs with my cousin as we walked on the beach as it rained, going to Monkey Mountain and laughing hysterically as the audacious animals scared the crap out of me, riding around the town on a bike drunk out of mind with sandwiched between two men (one of them being my cousin), and being saved by new friend, D.
  • Not so Great Times – I have none to report because it was a great experience.  Even though my cousin secured me a wack room, it made for a funny story and forced me to secure alternate accommodation, thus meeting D and winding up in Phuket on a whim.

PHUKET

Phuket’s weather was similar to Hua Hin – very tropical and warm weather, but the beaches were WAY better.  D and I shared a lovely two full-sized bedroom in a modest hotel (I was on a budget and this trip was not planned) located around the corner from Bangla Road, the “hip strip” lined with filled with shops, bars, clubs, lounges, and other entertainment.  We barely stayed in our room so what was the point in splurging?  

  •  Great Times – Taking a chance and going to Phuket on a whim with D, touring the Phi Phi Islands, walking on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, getting drunk on Bangla Road as I bar and club hopped and , meeting up with another woman from the same travel group (the bitch that would later invite me to St. Thomas – read more about that experience here in One-Way –> (https://unicorninbk.com/one-way/) for more background) to take in a crazy AF ping pong show and bar/club hop, and watching lady boys dance and walk the strip for “Johns”,  and lounging on Patong Beach.
  • Not so Great Times – Exiting a bus (from Phuket to Hua Hin) that I had waited hours for (without a refund) because said bus was ridden with cockroaches.  D and I had to shake out all of my clothing.

We made our way back to Hua Hin in the late evening and I crashed in D’s space for one more night.  I packed my belongings in preparation of my early morning bus ride back to Bangkok’s international airport.  Thailand was BEYOND dope and exceeded all expectations that I had of the country.  From my time there, I learned that taking chances leads to opportunities that you may not ordinarily encounter if you play it safe..  This “Land of Smiles” left me with a lasting impression and thoroughly prepared me for my final and most anticipated leg of my trip – Siem Reap, Cambodia. 

Admiring the beauty of one of the ancient temples

Cambodia

I made it!  After weeks abroad, I finally made it to the “Kingdom of Wonders” and was so excited.  As I disembarked from the plane (directly off the plane stairs) I was impressed.  I was greeted by warm dry heat and palm trees.  I made made my way through the customs (purchasing an on-site visa) and outside.  I was met at the airport by my tuk tuk driver (sent from my hostel) and took in the sites and smells as I enjoyed the ride to my accommodations for the duration of my stay.  I cried tears of joy as I rode through the dirt roads ( most roads in Siem Reap were unpaved) because I was in the place of my dreams.   

As I sat in the backseat taking in the sites,  I noticed that my presence was WAY more of a “thing” than it was in Bangkok.  The amount of blank stares and glares that I received were alarming, but after my experience in Thailand I wasn’t the least bit phased.   I ignored the glares and continued to take it all in until my driver dropped me off to the hostel, informing me that he would be my driver for the duration of my stay – perfect.  

After checking into my single occupancy room, I made my way up the two flights of stairs to my modest room.  It was  nowhere near as nice as my accommodation in Thailand, but it would do.  The only thing that mattered to me was that my quarters were safe and clean – this room met my expectations.   After showering and changing, I headed downstairs to the bar to connect with fellow travelers.  For some the thought of figuring out a way to strike up a conversation with complete strangers is hard, but for me its second nature.

  I ordered a beer and sat at a table with a book feeling the room out for a bit.  I wanted to figure out who the English speakers were, so I could make my way towards them and chat.  Within minutes, a female traveler that I’d greeted earlier in the day while checking in noticed me and invited me over to her table.  I was greeted by a bevy of friendly faces and smiles as I pulled out a chair to have a seat at the table.  I was soon surrounded by a travelers from all over the world and took turns sharing our respective travels and hometowns.  London, Dublin, Connecticut (AYE – a fellow tri-state acquaintance), California, Canada, Seattle, Germany (I swear there’s always a German in the bunch), and Australia. We came from all parts of the world, but shared commonalities – an intense desire to see the world,  partake in memorable experiences, and embrace a sense of adventure. 

The group made plans to hit the town and explore, but I passed.  Normally I’d go along (because spontaneity), but I was EXHAUSTED from my sleep deprivation in Thailand (Sidebar: I barely sleep when on vacation (unless it’s a beach getaway) because I want to optimize my time in said country by squeezing in as many experiences as possible).  I thought it was best to pass on the group excursion into town and get a few hours of sleep because I had to wake up in less than 5 hours to meet my driver at 4:00 am to make my way over to Angkor Wat.

Did I wake up on time?  Hell no.  I wound up oversleeping because I inadvertently silenced the alarm on my phone – FUCK!  What woke me up were the sounds of footsteps and voices walking past my room.   I jumped outta my bed and threw on the outfit that you see in the picture above and below while simultaneously grabbing my room key and sliding into my flip flops to leave the room.  I ran downstairs and darted outside with hopes of seeing my driver despite me being 45 minutes late.  Thank God for small favors, he was there talking to another driver and chilling.  He  agreed to wait for me, but encouraged me to hurry up so I could make it to temple in time. 

What shower?  What makeup? I ran upstairs, (this time putting on a bra), and grabbing my pre-packed backpack (complete with bottled water, snacks, wet wipes, cash, and toilet paper), and my camera then ran back downstairs.  I was back outside in less than 10 mins.   We raced to the check-in station so that I could purchase an entrance pass and ultimately to the temple.  I made it!

I followed the crowds in the darkness and planted my feet as close as I could to the center of the mob (the most ideal location to watch the sunrise) and adjusted my lens.  Within minutes dawn started to rear itself and I started snapping away.  The sun was rising and it was beautiful.  “They” weren’t lying;  the sunrise was was breathtaking.  Watching the reflection of the temple and surrounding trees appear in the shallow body of water directly in front of the temple blew my mind.  This bucket list check off felt incredible.

Once the sun rose, I explored the grounds with my camera.  After about two hours, I made my way back to the entrance to where my driver was waiting to escort me to a makeshift restaurant in the middle of nowhere.  It was here that I joined other travelers for a dining experience courtesy of the native Cambodian (wo)men that prepared a variety of food with the assistance of hot plates and fryers.   Back home I would’ve never eaten shrimp fried rice for breakfast washed down by a mango smoothie, but “when in Rome” right?  (Sidebar: All of the food that I sampled in Cambodia was delicious and fresh.  My favorite meal was the country’s national dish, amok.  Amok is a savory coconut curry based soup composed of vegetables, egg, and your choice of protein (I tried it with fish both times that I ordered it)  and is was extremely appetizing.) 

My day was off to a dope start so I wanted to keep it going.  I was presented with an option to either tour of two or three more temples (the short circuit tour) or to do the long circuit tour (which included the Ta Prohm – the temple where they filmed Tomb Raider.  I wanted to take in as much as possible so I chose the second option, which would pretty much have my out until sunset (around 8 pm). 

  • Great Times:  Walking through various temples (touching everything) while taking in the rich history, walking up steep steps to get great views of surrounding grounds, meeting new people (especially meeting two older (Black) women in Cambodia with a travel group.  They beamed with pride when they learned that I was traveling so young and by myself.  It was so encouraging), visiting Angkor Wat, hitting the town with fellow solo travelers in my hostel (I missed their first invitation, but accepted their second), taking a chance and staying longer than planned (I wound up leaving my solo room and going into a dorm for two nights because I wanted to have a traditional hostel experience), getting massages, indulging in delicious Cambodian cuisine, and realizing that I quite possibly would’ve NEVER experienced any of this had I let fear overcome me and rob me of the trip of a lifetime.
  • Not so Great Times:  Wandering off while exploring and getting lost in a fucking forest.  I was already nervous, but became scared out of my fucking mind when I realized I had someone following me.  He was a young teenage boy, but he followed me in silence – who knows why?  Perhaps to lure me off to his uncle’s van and sell me of for sex-trafficking?  Who am I kidding, I’m Black, they don’t want any part of me – LMBO!  Eventually I found my bearings and made my way back to the main path that lead me out of the historic park and back to my driver. 

Cambodia was wonderful experience, so much so that I would like to visit again and for a longer period of time.  I’m sure I will make my way back to SE Asia and will visit again when I visit Vietnam (a country that’s been on my radar for a quite some time).  In this country I learned how important it is to trust your gut and to not let unexpected things (i.e. getting lost while exploring) shake your confidence.  More importantly, it was here that I learned hat traveling alone was my new favorite thing.  I didn’t meet up with any relatives or travel group members on purpose because I wanted this experience to be my own.   Being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want on your OWN TIME is extremely liberating and powerful.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not shutting down the prospect of traveling with a friend again, but I am not longer married to the idea that I have to wait for someone to join me whenever I make travel plans. 

In awe of the sunrise that I just witnessed at Angkor Wat

PHOTOGRAPHY

One of the most popular questions that I am asked is “WHO TAKES YOUR PICTURES WHEN YOU TRAVEL ALONE?”   If you want decent photos (via your phone) the easiest way to di this is by targeting couples.  The reason you want to do this is because they’re in your shoes.  Sure, they have a companion, but they want what you want – a photo of THEM together.  My pitch is super simple and sounds something like this,  “Hey, would you like me to take a picture of you together?  I’ll take one of you, you take one of me – deal?”  This works every single. time.  However, when I want a shot with my DSLR camera my approach is very different…

Asking is the easy part, selecting a skilled photographer is where things get a tad more complex.  I don’t just randomly ask anyone with ANY camera to snap a photo of me with my camera,  I look at the kind of camera that they have and observe the way they use it.  I am drawn to large lenses on a DSLR (because I like things BIG – that’s what she said), as this is usually indicative of a photographer with experience.  Next, I observe their style;  Are they crouched down?  Are they constantly changing lenses?  Are they climbing to certain vantage points for optimal shots?  If I find that they are doing all of the aforementioned things then I know they they can give me the kind of shot that I am looking to capture with little to no direction.  I tend to also look for Canon shooters because they will know how to handle my Canon DSLR and will have no problem adjusting my manual settings (if they need adjusting).  That’s it.  I let them snap away and I wind up with stellar photos.  I used this method to get the featured shot for this blog post and wound up posing for a for National Geographic photographer!  There I was on a gorgeous beach in Thailand using a wooden boat as a prop as I struck pose after pose to my satisfaction.    

EXPENSES

This trip ran me about $2500 and included all flights (round trip from JFK to Bangkok and Bangkok to Cambodia), bus transportation (one way from Bangkok to Hua Hin, round trip from Hua Hin to Phuket, one way from Hua Hin to Bangkok (international Airport) and one way from Cambodia to Bangkok (international airport), experiences (excursions, massages, shows, clubs/lounges), drinks, food, and accommodations.

I stayed in the Corporate Executive Al Khoory Hotel (https://www.hmhhotelgroup.com/) in Dubai, the Saphaipe Backpacket Hostel (http://saphaipae.com/) in Bangkok, the Hemingway’s Hotel (http://www.hemingwayshotel.com/) in Phuket, and The Siem Reap Hostel (http://www.thesiemreaphostel.com/) in Cambodia.

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My inaugural international trip exceeded all expectations that I had and left me empowered.  I beamed with pride when I returned to the states to share my experience with friends and family that either encouraged me to go and with those that encouraged me NOT to go. 

One of my favorite quotes, “What if I fall?  Oh, but my darling what if I fly?” is so fitting and real when thinking about planning your solo experience.  All of the things that you’ve been telling yourself will go wrong probably won’t.  Stop living vicariously through people and allow yourself to experience the trip of your wildest dreams.   Take a chance TODAY and start curating YOUR dream trip.  Follow your heart, take your brain with you, and most importantly…

Stay Wild,

Marissa C.