I have been in Thailand over a month and in that time I have traveled both alone and with friends. Both experiences have pros and cons and I would recommend trying both to determine which best fits your personality and needs. I am going to start by talking about my experiences traveling alone – and by alone I mean going to places by myself vs. traveling alone to meet up with friends.
I live near Bangkok and have spent many hours traveling around the city and surrounding regions. There area is filled with a variety of must-see attractions, such as ancient temples, beautiful palaces, and vibrant street life. Sometimes, other people aren’t available to travel with me. I believe it would be shame to not sightsee simply because of that, especially since the city can be easy to get around and people are friendly and helpful.
For example, one weekend I traveled into the city to visit Wat Pho by myself because no one was able to come down that weekend. Visiting this remarkable temple, which houses the stunning Reclining Buddha (pictured here) was a great experience, and being alone didn’t deter me from enjoying myself. It was actually rather nice because I was able to leave and head out when I wanted, spend as much or as little time at the site as I wanted, and make spur-of-the-moment decisions about what I wanted or didn’t want to see. In fact, being by myself led to another adventure that day. After seeing Wat Pho I walked around the area and came across a little outdoor market and some water taxis. These, I learned, would take me from Wat Pho to Wat Arun – another temple I had wanted to see. Not being constrained by the needs or schedules of others made the decision to visit Wat Arun an easy one, and I had a great time seeing both temples in one day.
For me, one downside of traveling alone is the need to ask strangers to take my photo. While selfies are nice, they don’t always capture the interesting aspects of a tourist site. Asking someone to do this isn’t terribly difficult in Thailand, as the people are generally kind and helpful, but if you are shy or have difficulty getting your point across, it can be awkward. Another downside is, quite frankly, that you are alone. There is no one else to offer advice, provide directions, or speak the language. When I travel alone, I need to rely on myself to get from point A to point B. At first, this was daunting, but it has become easier. Over the past few weeks I have learned to travel around the Bangkok district without getting hopelessly lost. I am now confident in my ability to find key locations, call taxis, and get myself around without too many issues. Sometimes it can be hard to get back to my home from another area, but it does become easier each time I try.
Another travel opportunity came during the American Thanksgiving holiday. I flew to Chiang Rai – a city in northern Thailand – to celebrate with friends that I met through OEG. This was an occasion when I was grateful to be traveling with other people because when we arrived we learned that our Airbnb was located two hours from the city, and not in Chiang Rai as we had all believed. Having others to share this burden made the experience much more enjoyable. Realizing we needed to stay in the city, we began walking through the streets of Chiang Rai, towing our luggage, on the hunt to find a place to stay. After the 4th hostel did not have enough room, we found one down a slightly creepy alley that fit all of us. Despite the initial vibe, this hostel was great: it was perfectly situated in the city and even had hammocks to relax in. After much struggle, made bearable because we were all in it together, we had a roof over our heads for the weekend. Now we were ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, which we did with great Indian food! Not ‘traditional’ but delicious.
Our takeaway from the weekend, besides some very memorable experiences and strengthened friendships, was the reinforcement of the Thai saying, “Mai Pen Rai.” It’s difficult to translate, but it basically means, ‘don’t worry, be happy’ – as in, a situation may seem difficult, but you shouldn’t stress out too much because it will all work out in the end. In this instance, we embraced the saying. No one panicked about the Airbnb situation, because we were all together and could figure out a new plan. Traveling with these new friends was great because I had people to go to the temples with, to eat with, and to talk about our schools and the experiences we are having.
My last major travel trip, so far, has been to Pattaya to go scuba diving. For this one I traveled with someone the whole time. I met a friend at one of the many bus stations in Bangkok and together we navigated the bus station and hopped on a bus to Pattaya. It was nice traveling with another person because I had someone to talk with, get lost with, and work with on checking itineraries, schedules and maps. We were fortunate and ran into no travel issues on our way down to Pattaya or back to Bangkok. We were there to go scuba diving so the dive shops picked us up in the morning and dropped us back off in the evenings at our hostel. As we were diving we didn’t have much flexibility on what to do when we got back to the hostel because most of the tourist attractions were closed by then and diving makes you hungry. One thing that is hard to do when traveling with others is deciding on a place to eat, or even what type of food to eat. With hungry divers it is not any easier, but after a bit we were able to find a place that we all enjoyed.
The benefit of traveling alone is the flexibility it allows. You do not have to take into account anyone else’s plans, budget, or opinions as you can decide what you, and only you, wish to do. You can get a little lonely, but it is easy to start conversations and make friends. I have made friends at every hostel I have stayed at. However, traveling with friends has benefits, too. There is always someone to do things with, to talk to, and to help deal with issues that can pop up (usually trying to find your way somewhere…it’s easier than you imagine to get lost). Another person may also encourage you to visit a site or try an experience you may not have done on your own, which can be a great benefit.
If no one is able to travel with me every weekend than I know that I am okay because I have gained experience with the language, the foods and the various forms of transportation. Plus, it is easy to make friends. I can now get myself around much of Bangkok, which gives me confidence about traveling to other cities, so I believe I will have the opportunity to see everything I want. Thailand and Southeast Asia have a lot to offer and I want to see it all – with people or without.
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