Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here: Month 1, Month 2, Months 3 and 4, Month 5, Month 6, Month 7, Months 8 and 9, Month 10, Month 11, Month 12, Month 13, Months 14 and 15, Month 16, and Months 17 and 18.
Southeast Asia by Instagram
Back to my backpack! That’s what this month was all about — adjusting back to life on the road.
My Southeast Asia — Part IV — journey started in Koh Tao, back where it all began. It was an emotional whirlwind, and before I knew it I was in Bangkok and Chiang Rai enjoying a taste of luxury in some indulgent hotels — thanks credit card bonus points! I struggled with balancing the intensity of my current work schedule with the joys of backpacking, and there were some bumps on the road as I eased back into long term travel, but I eventually melted into a transcendent happiness. Its the kind of peace that comes with knowing that you’re exactly where you are meant to be.
Where I’ve Been
• Eighteen days in Koh Tao
• Three days in Bangkok
• Six days in Chiang Rai
Beach bumming in Koh Tao
• Without question, the highlight of this month was returning to the fold of my little expat family on Koh Tao. I missed the crew dearly while I was away, but I also harbored anxiety that it might not be as easy as I hoped to ease back in after so long. My worries were unfounded, and I found myself welcomed with open arms. I felt very lucky to spend time especially with my friends Kat, who was leaving the island after two years there, and Freya, who left when I did last year but was also back for a visit. I just love my Koh Tao people.
• Whenever I leave Southeast Asia I say one of my biggest regrets is not taking more advantage of the cheap spa treatments. I certainly won’t have to say that this time! I jumped straight into a massage-every-three-days routine, often splurging at my favorite spa in Koh Tao. Then in Chiang Rai, I had the best massage of my life at a little hole in the wall place! I’m devastated I didn’t take the woman’s name and number for next time I’m in town. Nothing makes my day feel complete like a $6 trip to the spa.
• Readers, I’m an iPhone convert. I can’t remember how I ever traveled without some of the apps I’m using on a daily basis. But truly? Documenting my trip on Instagram has been a highlight! I love sharing what I’m up to in the moment, and getting instant feedback. Do you follow me?
• Banana shakes, chicken cashew nut, banan pancakes, massaman curry, banana milk from 711 — yes, I eat a lot of bananas, okay? Whatever, I was so overjoyed to be back with my favorite Thai foods and snacks. Technically, yes, I could get a lot of those things at home — but try paying $16 for pad thai once you’ve become accustomed to paying 60 baht.
• I had some nights out in Koh Tao that will be the kind I hope to look back upon when I’m old and wrinkly… and think, “Wow, I really lived it up.” And I probably shouldn’t say much more than that!
• Unfortunately I didn’t go on any truly mind blowing dives this round in Koh Tao, but there was something unbelievably special about watching my sister (successfully!) dive for the first time. She was a rockstar! Pride aside, it was a really fun day out on the boat and in the sunshine.
• I’m proud of the new feature I launched here on Alex in Wanderland — the first edition of which was born of a visit to my friends at the animal clinic on Koh Tao. That clinic has a really special place in my heart, and handing over a donation I know will be put to such good use really warmed my heart.
• There is nothing like a wild night out in Bangkok to really make me feel alive. ; Along with New York, it’s one of the only places in the world where I can stand there and really feel like I’m at the center of the universe. Plus, I love any city where you can be made to feel like a total grandma for heading home at five in the morning.
• I was so in love with the hotel my sister and I stayed in in Chiang Rai — and I felt like such a travel bad ass for getting us there via travel hacking and credit card points! (Post to come, I promise.) The decor was very much my style, and it was a heavenly place to hang out for three days.
• I knew I had to see the infamous White Temple while I was in Chiang Rai, but I was not looking forward to hiring an overpriced tuk tuk to bring me there and back. I was so overjoyed to find the amazing bike tour that got me sweating, brought me through the Chiang Rai countryside, — and when I messed up, showed me truly wonderful customer service.
• Often when I’m traveling I find myself having moments of happiness so pure and transcendent it feels like waking meditation. A few I don’t ever want to forget — watching the palm trees bristle at a morning yoga session, sitting quietly at a temple in Chiang Rai on my first day solo, dancing and laughing with my sister in Bangkok, swimming through a family of butterflyfish underwater.
• Long story short: On my Cathay Pacific flight to Bangkok, a flight attendant was playing bumper cars with the drink cart and dumped a can of soda on my laptop. It seemed okay for about 48 hours, but then more or less stopped working once I was good and stranded on an island with not a Mac store in sight. It was a nightmare on all fronts — trying to get my work done, dealing with Cathay Pacific’s customer service, figuring out how I was going to replace my special-ordered laptop from across the world. As soon as I got to Bangkok I took it to a repair place to try to get something I could fax to Cathay for their records. Despite a serious language barrier a tech whisked my laptop away and reappeared an hour later with all but the cosmetic damaged (cracked keypad for one) magically repaired. “I clean it inside,” was the only explanation he could offer for how he took my computer from a heap of metal back to a decently-functioning machine. I’m sure the incident shortened the life of my laptop but as my trip far extends Cathay Pacific’s claim period, they certainly aren’t going to be held accountable for anything. At the moment, I’m just glad that it seems like it will hold out till I get home. Guess it’s time to start saving for the biggest purchase of my life…
• Unfortunately I will remember look back on this particular New Year’s Eve and remember the blow out fight I had with my sister. We sure make some cute videos, but don’t let that fool you — we have an oft-tumultuous sister relationship like so many siblings do. In retrospect, I love her dearly and I really enjoyed our time together in Bangkok and Chiang Rai, but I wish I hadn’t brought her to Koh Tao. It’s too special and delicate of a place for me, and I needed some time alone to process my return. She has a lot of fantastic qualities but overwhelming emotional sensitivity isn’t one of them, and it led to a lot of conflict I really didn’t need while I was there. And that even led to guilt on my part for even thinking those thoughts, because she’s my baby sister after all. I’m treading delicate ground by putting this in writing, but hey — these roundups are about brutal honesty with both you and with myself.
• On that note, and as I’ve said before, my return to Koh Tao was a rollercoaster that started with a bout of anxiety that I had a hard time shaking. With so many memories, I shouldn’t have been surprised by that reaction — but after months of feeling in peak mental condition, without a hint of anxiety of depression, it was devastating to wake up in the mornings with that familiar rock of dread in my chest. Luckily I’ve built an arsenal of ways to tackle it — a post about which is in the works.
• Such a minor thing, but I was so mad at myself for messing up my bus ticket and cutting my bike tour in Chiang Rai short. Such a rookie mistake, and it cost me part of the tour that was one of my highlights of the month! Argh. Must. Be. More. Thoughtful.
• This month was an extremely intense one for me, work-wise. I once heard another blogger say that the best thing about this lifestyle is you get to travel for work, but the worst thing about this lifestyle is you have to work while you travel. You guys get to read about the fun stuff but often for each day of doing an activity there are three spent glued to my laptop. On one hand, that income is what fuels this crazy ride I’m on, and I’m so grateful. But on the other, I had a few crisis-of-confidence moments where I wondered what the point of even being in Thailand was if I’m just going to log ten hours per day of computer time. Eventually, a friend gave me some great advice — “Alex, you’ve put in the time here — stop trying to be a tourist and just enjoy living somewhere fantastic.” She was right. Even in a week spent doing nothing but working, I still get to take cheap massage breaks in the morning, and go out and eat delicious Thai food by night, and on my days off — I get to be in Thailand! So right now, I’m trying to look at it that way. Any other digital nomads out there have some advice for me?
I started tracking my budget using Trail Wallet, with the intent that I could write really in depth budget breakdown posts and get more specific in my round ups. But you know what? No one is ever going to lay eyes on that data, because it is humiliating.
What can I say? I was easing back in — and that required a lot of splurging! Big nights out, daily sessions at either the gym, muay thai, or yoga, fancy cocktails, and those frequent spa visit do tend to add up. What can I say? Sorry for living? If it makes you feel any better (it certainly makes me feel better,) I did end the month in a 100 baht ($3) a night hotel room.
Luckily, I made bank this month by taking on tons of freelance work and really giving advertising my all. In the end, I was able to turn a profit — by the end of January, I had more money in my bank account than I had left with!
This was one of the most successful months I’ve ever had, fitness-wise! I worked out 18 days out of the month, and I loved it — thanks to a great new open-air yoga studio and my favorite old Muay Thai gym, as well as posh hotel gyms when I splurged on accommodation with my sister.
On the other hand, I drank and partied quite a bit this month and also indulged quite at my favorite Koh Tao restaurants. Whoops.
From Chiang Rai I continued on to explore Northern Thailand, hitting up Chiang Mai, Pai, Mae Hong Son and Sukhothai. I love me some Thailand!
Readers, it wouldn’t be the same without you. I can’t thank you enough for coming along for the ride! And I’d love to hear from you — what posts are you loving, and which are leaving you yawning? Is there something you’d like to see more of on Alex in Wanderland? Can’t wait to hear your thoughts.