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My solo travels began with a journey to Ayutthaya, a city a few hours north of Bangkok.

On the day that my friends left Bangkok and I woke up alone, I wrote this post. Reading it now is almost painful because I remember how terrified I was. That probably seems ridiculous to a lot of people and I totally get that- um, I’d been a world traveler for years at this point and spent a majority of it in Thailand. But the idea of getting out of my The Beach-style flophouse hotel room, getting on the train, and getting off of it in an unknown city suddenly seemed paralyzing.

Bangkok Train Station

But like I said in the post I wrote that day: I put one foot in front of the other, over and over again. I packed my bags. I verbally wrestled with cab drivers until one would take me to Hua Lamphong train station on the meter (50 baht versus the 200 the scammers will try to charge). I bought a ticket so cheap that I checked the destination ten times to make sure I got the right one. I boarded the train.

Thailand Train Travel

I was flustered when I bought my train ticket and hadn’t specified a class, thus I was assigned to a default third class car, which had wooden seats and no air-conditioning, but also no tourists. It was in the high 90°F range  that day but I was thrilled anyway with my seat- both because it cost 15 baht (50 cents for a 50 mile trip!) and because I felt like I was getting the true local experience.

Thailand Train Travel

Yet once the train started moving my nerves kicked in again. I have always dreamed of traveling to northern Thailand by train but I was so nervous that I wouldn’t get off at the right stop that I had almost taken a tourist mini bus costing 10x more and crushing all my romantic Paul Theroux-esque dreams of rail travel. But then I remembered mini buses made me homicidal. So anyway, every time the train slowed to a crawl I would anxiously look around for the station sign and try frantically to find it on my map. Eventually the ancient Thai woman sitting across from me gently picked up my ticket and glanced over it. She handed it back and gave me a slight nod and a wise smile, which I took as the universal gesture for “Simmer down crazy white girl, I WILL TELL YOU WHEN WE GET TO YOUR STOP.”

Thailand Train Travel

That gave me a little peace to slow down and enjoy the beautiful scenery unfolding out the window. Despite having spent so much time in Thailand I have seen embarrassingly little of it- only Bangkok and the three islands of the Samui archipelago. Big city and beaches. So this side of Thailand- the rolling fields, the small provincial towns, the water buffaloes rolling in the mud- it was all new to me.

Thailand Train Travel

For value, for local experience, and for atmosphere, there is simply no better way to travel through Thailand than by rail.

Thailand Train Travel

As we pulled up to the Ayutthaya station a magical thing happened. Not only did the woman sitting across from me gesture that my stop was coming up and the man sitting next to me help me with my bags, but the conductor came running back to our car simply to find me and to tell me that we were approaching Ayutthaya. I realized he must have noted my destination when he checked my ticket back in Bangkok, suspected that I might need some help, and two hours later remembered to come find me. These tiny gestures of kindness made me well with tears (though let’s be real- I was kind of a waterworks around the time). Of course I know this incident partly reflects the fact that in many cultures a young girl traveling by herself is treated as a crazy person who needs protection and assistance- and some people might find that insulting. But you know what? In this case I did need protection and assistance. It really made me feel like even traveling solo I wasn’t alone.

Ayutthaya Train Station

When I got off the train I was unsurprisingly greeted by tuk tuk drivers who offered to take me downtown for a tempting 60 baht, or two dollars. But I was feeling empowered by having traveled the cheapest way possible thus far I decided to continue on my frugal streak and walk despite the heat. The journey did involve a charming 4 baht water taxi ride.

Autthaya Taxi Boat

Did I mention it was steaming hot outside? By the time I made it to Naresuan Soi 2, also known as Soi Farang (basically translating to White Person Street) for its abundance of guesthouses and travel agencies, I threw my bags down into the lobby of the first hotel I found. Lucky for me it turned out to be the ultra-charming Tony’s Place where I happily paid 500 baht (about $15) for a practically boutique style room. I loved the little bathroom nook! Many people come to Ayutthaya for a day trip but with great value places like this and the über-chic Iudia, there is no reason not to spend the night in this small town.*

Tony's Resort Ayutthaya

As I sat down to eat lunch I reflected on my day and how massively my mood had improved. I was irrationally proud of myself for accomplishing the task of getting from Point A to Point B, and even more impressed that I had managed to do so for a sum total of 69 baht, or just over $2usd. I was grateful for the kindness of strangers, the adorable room I had upstairs just waiting for a nap, the fun plans I had for the next day and mostly for the human survival instinct that keeps us putting that one foot forward.

Tony's Place Ayutthaya

That afternoon I blogged away in air-conditioned bliss before taking a walk around sleepy Ayutthaya town, getting a massage and turning in early as I had big plans the next day to explore the temples that Ayutthaya is famous for. As I fell asleep I remembered a quote that reader Brittany sent to me, which resounded so deeply.

“Courage doesn’t always roar.
Sometimes courage is the quiet voice
at the end of the day saying,
“I will try again tomorrow.”
– Mary Anne Radmacher

Temples of Ayutthaya

* Sadly no, neither of these places have paid me to sing their praises. I just fell in love with Tony’s Place and drooled on my computer when looking at Iudia.

  • I am so proud of you!!!!!!!!!! You are so brave darling! And I love that picture of you gazing out of the train, gorgeous!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Macau: Day 4 (Part 1)

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      Thanks Andi! I learned a lot about the art of the self portrait on this trip 🙂

  • Emma
    June 15 2012

    This brings back so many memories of Thailand!

    I totally get what you mean about not knowing where to get off, I still get that now every time I take a new bus or train route (despite speaking Spanish & having lived in Argentina for 4 years!)

    Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures in Ayutthaya!

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one with train anxiety! It happens to me even in the US, but I suppose its just more pressing in a foreign land! And there are two exciting Ayutthaya posts to come 🙂

  • Kathryn
    June 15 2012

    Damn it Alex! How many times are you going to turn on MY waterworks????

    I want to find those three kind Thais and give them a hug for taking care of brave/scared Alex.

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      I hope someday I can return the favor to a confused frantic person getting lost around NY 🙂

  • Gram
    June 15 2012

    ditto, Kathryn

  • It’s really amazing how the little things we take for granted at home (like being able to get from point A to point B) suddenly feel like HUGE triumphs when we’re in a foreign place. I remember when I traveled around Europe, every time I stepped off a train at my intended destination, or navigated the streets using a map to find my hostel or a local attraction, it felt like I was conquering the world! I think these accomplishments are all the stronger when we’re traveling alone, but how nice for those strangers to help you along the way!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..The Best World Communication Device Ever?

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      So true Steph! In a way its nice to be able to get a boost from something so simple. Using public transit, not getting lost…. I wish I felt so accomplished when I completed these tasks at home!

  • Hannah
    June 15 2012

    Wow, this was so beautiful Alex – what a powerful and emotional post. You are such an amazing woman, and your strength and dignity is so inspiring. It’s no wonder your journey was blessed with such helpful people along the way; they could see what a special person they were sharing the journey with 🙂
    Hannah recently posted..What dreams may come

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      Hannah, what a lovely comment as always. I appreciate your support and your kind words!

  • EM @ Cubicle Throwdown
    June 15 2012

    I loved your description of your train ride – just because you are traveling solo doesn’t mean you are alone. The first trip I did by myself I was terrified of the same things you were (and I had planned it to be solo!) but I found the same kindness in strangers as you did, especially in countries where I clearly didn’t speak the language and was in need of a little help here and there. I try to do the same here in Vancouver when I see tourists who are looking lost on the Skytrain or downtown….a smile and a point in the right direction can make someone’s day!

    Good for you for keeping one foot in front of the other, and if you can take on Thai taxi drivers as a solo blond female, you now know you can do anything 🙂
    EM @ Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..If something should go wrong.

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      I love that you try to pay it forward when back in Vancouver… I try to do so as well when I’m somewhere that feels like home. The kindness of strangers is one of the most inspiring things about travel!

  • Diane
    June 15 2012

    Alex, do you have a post on Thai massages? I couldn’t find anything specifically about that in a search. Just curious if you can really get an hour massage on Thai beaches for US$15. I’m not a massage obsessive or anything, but every now and then in the US, I’d do a spa day. Here in France, I can’t seem to find a place near where I live that does a deep tissue! Ahhh!! There could be worse things though. Anyway, loved the post. Love your attitude.
    Diane recently posted..French language: What I do when I don’t understand French

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      Diane sadly I don’t have a specific post on Thai Massages except in my drafts folder! (I used to take part in a self-made holiday called Thai Massage Mondays and wanted to write a post by the same name!) In Koh Tao massages were around 300 baht an hour, which is $9usd! It really truly is that cheap! Get one as often as possible, you’ll regret every missed opportunity later 🙂

  • Sam
    June 15 2012

    Haha yet again you make me giggle and inspired all in one post. You have such a gift with words lady! Mini buses are the WORST I agree – I had three Thai guys playing three different songs outloud all the way to Malaysia. Hell. Hell. Hell if I ever saw it. xx
    Sam recently posted..// C O R P O R A T E

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      Thank you sweet girl! Trying to inject some humor when things are a little dark around here 🙂

  • Earthdrifter
    June 15 2012

    Just over two bucks to get from doorstep to doorstep. Excellent! Great value on the hotel room too.
    Earthdrifter recently posted..Peruvian Cuisine

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      I was shocked by what a good deal my entire trip to Ayutthaya was! It’s a great value destination.

  • Dad
    June 16 2012

    This post is a good testimony to your maturing as a young adult. You were alone in a foreign place, coming off a relationship change and yet you had an uplifting, renewal of faith in human beings learning experience. I enjoy hearing about your frugal streak and that you can be alone and yet not be lonely. Taking care of yourself by getting a massage and taking a nap and thinking ahead to the next day. Love you. Dad

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      I learned that frugal streak from mom and dad!

  • Krista C.
    June 16 2012

    What a day to start your solo travels! It sounds fabulous and the photos are lovely. I know the proud and competent feelings solo travel can bring, and I’m happy that you also get to experience it<3

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      Thank you so much Krista 🙂 That feeling of pride is certainly something special…

  • Elle
    June 16 2012

    Solo travel takes serious guts. I’m glad that everything worked out in your favor 🙂
    Elle recently posted..5 Worst Things That Have Happened to Me While Travelling

    • Alex
      June 16 2012

      Thanks Elle! There’s many more solo travel posts to come 🙂

  • Emily in Chile
    June 17 2012

    Solo travel is scary! I could totally relate to all of this, including the part where you felt ridiculous because you’ve been traveling forever and should be a seasoned pro by now. It made me smile that people on the train were so friendly – really, those are the experiences that make travel worthwhile.
    Emily in Chile recently posted..Saturday in Santiago: Chang Thai Restaurant

    • Alex
      June 19 2012

      Thanks for reading, Emily! Glad to hear someone relates to this, as it sometimes feels like a major step back to be a nervous traveler again. Oh well, at least I’m still some kind of traveler 😛

  • Spencer Spellman
    June 24 2012

    Dig so much of this. The honesty, the story of the train ride, the photos. Well done. Makes me all the more want to get to Thailand. True story: I have yet to step foot in Asia!
    Spencer Spellman recently posted..Discovering the Biodiversity of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula

    • Alex
      June 25 2012

      Well of course I am a bit biased, but I love Asia! Its such a rich destination to travel in. Makes a mundane story, perhaps one of a train ride for example, so full of imagery 🙂

  • Linda
    March 20 2014

    Hi Alex.
    May I know how you get from Ayutthaya to Bangkok? Is it with the same train (time)?

    • Alex
      March 21 2014

      Hey Linda! Yes you can travel between Ayutthaya and Bangkok by train, or by bus. The trains leave very frequently but I don’t know the exact schedule. Good luck!

  • Inanna
    May 15 2015

    Hey Alex,

    I’m planning on spending 3 weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia with a friend this summer and then go to Bangkok and keep traveling by myself. I couldn’t be more nervous or afraid but it’s something I really want to do. This post really encouraged me!! I’ve been looking through your Thailand posts since yesterday evening and now I can’t wait to leave. Thank you so much for all the great inspiration and tipps !!
    I know this could easily be the best time of my life, all I need is a little more courage and self confidence!!

    • Alex
      May 16 2015

      You can do it, Inanna 🙂 I promise, give yourself a day or two alone on the road and you’ll never want to leave. Solo travel is rewarding, fun, and so freeing! Enjoy your independence!

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