Since I left home last June on my Great Escape, I’ve been doing (very delayed!) monthly roundups. As this blog 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. I also like to remind myself of moments, incidents and random thoughts that never made it onto the blog! You can read my previous roundups here, here, here, here, and here.
This was the month of visitors- both family and friends. When my month 6 recap left off we were just settling back into Thailand after seven weeks of travel around Cambodia and Vietnam. We didn’t have much time to unwind though, because soon after my family and a rotating cast of friends would be arriving for the holidays! I wanted to show them as much as possible in the relatively short times they each had (about ten days each), which led to this being my most documented month in existence (I’m guessing there is a post for almost every day of the month!) So prepare for an epic roundup…
Where I’ve Been
Basically, I spent the month in Bangkok and the Samui Archipeligo- Koh Tao, Koh Samui, and Koh Pha Ngan. But just to give you a taste of how mad it truly was, here’s a nightly breakdown-
• A week in Koh Tao, prepping for holidapalooza!
• 3 nights in Bangkok with Olivia and my parents
• 5 nights in Koh Tao with Olivia and my parents and Steffi and Anton
• 3 nights in Koh Samui with Olivia and my parents and Steffi and Anton
• 1 night in Koh Pha Ngan (New Year’s Eve!) with Olivia and Steffi and Anton and Zoe and Tom
• 5 nights in Koh Tao with Olivia and Zoe and Tom
• 3 nights in Bangkok with Olivia and Zoe and Tom….
• and back to Koh Tao!
• I will never forget the moment in the Bangkok airport when I approached the pre-arranged meeting spot with my mom and sister and saw the back of their heads, staring at the arrivals board. I was so, so overwhelmed with excitement at having them right in my favorite country. The amazingness of having so many people I love in the place I love really hit me right then.
• After months of travel I hadn’t tasted luxury in a long time. So when we checked into our hotel in Bangkok and I saw the unbelievable pool for which we had booked the room… let’s just say I was in heaven. It’s always nice to have a little taste of the good life!
• The actual holidays were blissful. I was worried I’d feel detached spending the holidays away from home. Rather than try to force our usual holiday traditions in a totally foreign environment we embraced the destination and spent Christmas Eve on a family ziplining adventure, which resulted in one of my all-time favorite family photos. Christmas Eve night was one of the most wild nights out I’ve seen on Koh Tao… I loved every minute of it but paid for it on Christmas day. I did get the best present of all times, though, in the form of my friends Steffi and Anton arriving on an early morning ferry! In the end I was right, despite the Santa hats and the greedy gift exchange I felt none of that ethereal “holiday-ness” that makes this part of the year so special at home. I did miss it somewhat, but I got a pretty kickass tropical vacation in it’s place. Fair trade.
• Showing my family and friends around the island that I love so deeply was a big deal for me. I showed them my favorite viewpoint, brought them to my favorite beach and to Koh Nang Yuan and even circumnavigated the island with them on a longtail trip. A highlight of the highlights was taking my friends scuba diving for the first time. Their reactions were everything I could have hoped for! Unfortunately this part of the month was tainted by some serious regrets you will read about below…
• Like Bangkok, Koh Samui was a vacation from a vacation. I got to stay in a fancy resort, go on a nice tour of Ang Thong Marine Park, and ham it up at the ice bar. Again, there was a highlight of the highlight-setting off traditional Thai lanterns on the beach on my parents’ last night in Thailand. I made a wish as my lantern disappeared in the sky, and I haven’t forgotten it.
• New Year’s Eve was a night I will never forget. One of the highlights of my entire year. At midnight, as the fireworks seemed to stretch on for eternity and felt the energy of a thousand travelers from around the world come together on one beach and I looked around and saw so many faces of people I love- well, let’s just say it was a true This Is Your Life Alex Baackes moment. Very surreal and wonderful.
• Back in Bangkok I discovered what is now my favorite aspect of this unbelievable city- the markets. There was the nighttime flower market, the amazing Chatuchak bazaar, and the hipster Vespa Market. I’m not really a retail girl but I was dying inside with happiness at each of these places!
• I also had another fun discovery- Bangkok is a hidden gem of an oasis for ocean lovers! I finally visited the seemingly-Pixar-inspired aquarium and also stumbled upon a virtually unknown seashell museum.
• Having everyone in Thailand for the holidays was bliss- bliss with a side of self-imposed anxiety. When I got back to Koh Tao after all the madness, Mark and I had a night in just sitting on our balcony and watching DVDs, quietly toasting to having survived the holidays. I felt renewed and refreshed from seeing family and friends from home, and excited about getting back to my routine. It was a peaceful moment.
• Saying my four rounds of goodbyes was painful because as I watched each person or group disappear in a cab I had no idea when I would see them again. This is the sacrifice of a nomadic life, but it doesn’t make it easier.
• I don’t know if it’s a lowlight now that I can actually laugh about it, but my God- it was NOT funny at the time. Forgetting my passport on the wrong island and almost missing my flight to miss my parents… it truly was my biggest “doh!” moment in all of my travels and I spent hours shaking in fear, picturing my mom and sister waiting at the airport and me never arriving. Awful at the time, okay in the end.
• I basically already outlined the lowlights of this month in my Travel Regrets post, one that I wrote with tears in my eyes! Since I wrote that, I’m basically over the hotel thing and the over-scheduling thing, but I still have a heavy heart when I think about the weather. Thailand is a different place when the sun is shining and it brings me deep sadness to think my guests didn’t get to see it in that light.
• Well, this should be fresh in your minds since I just wrote about it: I was wrongfully evicted in the middle of high season so that my landlord could get more money for our place. Then he stole our security deposit. It was a bad situation, it was bad timing, and it shook me to my core. This was in the running for lowlight of my year.
I thought my budget would fare pretty well this month, because um….. my parents were in town and this was a family trip so I guessed they would treat me to meals and things. HA HA. I mean they did and that helped balance things a bit but I spent a ton on travel, going out, and living the high life much more that I do on an average laid back month on the island. Obviously that makes sense when I think about it… friends coming to town for 10 days are going to do and see and spend more than someone living there for months on end would do in the same time period. The Full Moon party in particular was a pretty big expense. Still, I have to remind myself that compared to the spending bonanza that is a holiday season at home I fared pretty well.
On the other hand, I doubled my advertising income from the previous month. This was a major milestone period for me in terms of making a significant amount of money through this blog and being able to offset a fairly big portion of my expenses.
What followed Holidaypalooza was two months of expat-island-loving bliss. We only left the island once, for less than 12 hours, in order to do a visa run. So um, expect a much shorter next roundup!
As always, I’m so grateful to have you all along for this journey. It means the world to me!