My Five week ‘Gap year’
Exactly a year ago my best friend and I embarked upon an adventure travelling to three countries to explore and sightsee in Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan. Neither of us had done the whole ‘gap year’ thing after college so we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to make our own one in these five weeks we were going to Asia. The memories we made were unforgettable, and the time we had will always be a fond memory I can look on. A year later, I thought would make a good time to look back on what it was like, travel memories and maybe a few things I learnt throughout.
I’ll post separately about each place we went to so here is ..
Destination #1 – Thailand, Bangkok
Being scared to death on tuk-tuks as some of the drivers were rather reckless and potentially unaware of the break pedal – to get around Bangkok, we attempted taxis, boats and tuk-tuks, which entailed the negotiation of cost each time we went anywhere, making for an already interesting start to each time we set off. At this point I would like to state that we were very much ‘first time’ travellers, not at all experts. This post is not going to be about tips and tricks, but maybe more learnt lessons and general memories I want to share.
Being thoroughly scammed the first day we went out – the tourist trade is huge in the city and this leaves room for falling into traps of being conned as it was obvious we weren’t locals. We ended up having an eventful first day with going on a tourist boat trip, being worth far more than the locals boat to the river market we thought we were on, then getting a ‘city tour’ which also turned out to be a scam as they took us round to strange and seemingly random places, none of which were actual sights we aimed to see. I definitely find it amusing looking back, and on the bright side the boat trip we took along the river was actually really interesting.
The Grand Palace – Absolutely unbelievable, stunning beyond belief and photos won’t do it justice are the only phrases I can describe this place to be. It’s no wonder people queue for even hours to see this palace, it was something further than picturesque and is an obvious must do. The architecture, detail and sheer beauty of the palace is definitely worth it.
Eating crêpes after dinner every night – yep, thats right, we found a man selling chocolate crepes on one of the streets near our hotel and yes, out of all the incredible cuisine available in Thailand, we opted for chocolate crepes, (yeah I know, I know!).
That one Thai Starbucks – with random food finds, there was a Starbucks very near us too. It wasn’t half bad actually!
Adjusting to the heat – It was very hot as it was June when we first arrived and it got some getting used to as being from the U.K, the weather we’re used to, isn’t exactly all sunshine and warmth.
Chatuchak Weekend market – This was one of the best days in Bangkok, as two avid shoppers in a market with a maze of stalls selling clothes and accessories and materials and textiles, we were able to spent a good long while there. Although I did personally regret not spending more at the market, my negotiation skills had got pretty good by the end of the day, a skill very worthwhile in a place like Bangkok.
Learning to love seafood – Before the trip, it was pretty much a running joke between me and just about everyone in my life that I was a ridiculously fussy eater who never tried anything new and ate about 4 types of food. One specific thing that I really never ate before this trip was seafood and in the countries we went to, this definitely changed and some of my best food memories turned out to be some of the seafood I ate.
Thoughts I had and Lessons I Learnt
In the heat and temperature in Bangkok, it was definitely much appreciated that there was a pool in our accommodation, something I didn’t anticipate would make a difference in the evenings or spare time we had.
After four days, we’d concluded that four days was enough. Although I had already gathered a great start to memories in this city, I didn’t feel like a much longer stay was necessary and I was excited to be going to the next destination.
It was interesting to see the reaction of people towards me and my friend as my ethnicity is Chinese, there was a difference between the way I was able to move around more or less uninterrupted in comparison to my friend who is white. The way people treated her was automatically that she was tourist and she was the first person people would try and talk to if we walked along the street whereas there was a time when I went out exploring by myself one afternoon and I got no one immediately approaching me and my assumption is that where I look asian, I was probably mistaken for being a thai local. This was an interesting observation that we both made and wondered if this was going to be the tone set for the rest of the trip travelling to the other Asian countries.
Sometimes if you don’t look like a local you will stand out. This was also something that applied to us in regards to being women who were travelling and I think it’s important to realise that as women, experiences such as travelling is going to be a different experience than if we weren’t women. It’s something to recognise and a good note to say: just stay safe wherever you’re going in the world. I’m not saying Bangkok or any of the places we went were actually dangerous places or anything at all like that but this note is an overall general something to keep in mind.
It was extremely eye opening to see the vast difference in wealth between various places we went. Upon arrival it was clear to see that bangkok wasn’t a place of large wealth and that many people who lived there unfortunately didn’t have much at all. These living standards were similar to what I’d seen when I went on a school trip to Gambia. Being taken out of a first world, privileged lifestyle to a place where that isn’t the norm, is always going to drive home the importance of gratitude for the luck I’ve had in life. This was a clear reminder that whatever student financial struggles I think I have, that is absolutely not the same as living below the poverty line, and I am extremely fortunate to live the life I do. This is a good read if you’re interested in knowing more.
All in all, this was a colourful, funny, brilliant start to our experiences yet to come.
Next stop… Singapore!