Another week, another inspiring solo female travel story. For those who don’t know, Women Who Wander is a travel series I have on my blog where other bloggers can share their stories of Solo Female Travel. It’s something I personally have not done enough of but reading all these incredible stories inspires me to no end! Chloe is sharing her solo female travel adventure through South East Asia. For anyone who has ever thought South East Asia is too scary for a solo female, this is a must read!
Chloe shares travel tips, life experiences and real talk to motivate and inspire the journey of other travellers. She’s a citizen of the world, thrill seeker, vegan, nature lover and alchemist. You can follow her adventures on her blog Journey With Chloe
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Last year, I was working at a travel company in Barcelona on a one year placement. One day, I was sitting at my desk, looking at the world on Google Maps. I had caught the travel bug years ago by the way. During that year abroad, I’d already flown to other countries, gone on road trips along Costa Brava, day trips to other Spanish cities, solo hiking expeditions and snowboarding weekend trips.
But when my internship ended, I knew that I wanted to travel further. I wanted to experience something new and challenge myself even more. That’s when I decided to travel to South East Asia, namely Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong that summer. A lot of people tried to dissuade me. But I didn’t give into their fear-based doubts. I’m so glad that I chose to follow my intuition instead.
Late July 2016, I travelled for 17 hours from Belfast to Bangkok. I was exhausted. A Dutch friend of mine from Barcelona called Lyn met me at Bangkok airport. She actually worked in a 4* hotel in the city. Being the absolute babe she is, she let me crash with her in the hotel room for 6 days!
Big bad Bangkok
Safe to say, Bangkok is insane. There’s a chaotic mixture of hot sticky air, constant people, flashing lights, shouting, blaring horns, steamy street food, skyscrapers, broken pavements and tangled wires. The first time I went for a walk by myself, I couldn’t wait to get back inside. I was completely overwhelmed. I’ll admit that Bangkok isn’t for me. But I’m glad that I experienced it.
To be honest, I had no plan after Bangkok. My motto was to just “wing it”, as we say in Belfast. So I looked at a map and randomly picked Kanchanaburi. It gave me a much needed breather. While there, I cycled around the River Kwai, learnt about the town’s morbid history and rode a scooter for the very first time.
The best part was visiting Erawan National Park. On the bus journey there, I made friends with other backpackers. We climbed our way through 7 tiers of waterfalls, slid down rock slides and swam in the milky blue water full of Garra Rufa (skin eating) fish.
Again, I hadn’t planned where to go next. All I knew was that I wanted to head north. I ended up taking a bus to Nakhon Sawan. What I didn’t realise beforehand was that the next bus to Sukhothai was at 2am.
Typically, I got drunk by myself to pass the time at a street food stall (as you do). I was touched when an employee let me sit with him behind the ticket booth in the dodgy outdoor bus station. He made me coffee (which I hate but gratefully drank), allowed me to charge my phone and gave me the WiFi password.
The bus finally arrived. I got to Sukhothai at 4am with no one around… Luckily, I found a motorbike driver and whizzed through the night to a guesthouse. It took a lot of knocking on doors, but I got a bed.
After all that, I got sick for a couple days. Not going to lie, that was completely mentally draining. After I felt better, I cycled around 190 ruins in the huge Historical Park. What a phenomenal experience.
I spent an entire week in Chiang Mai. My favourite things that I did were spending a night at the Elephant Nature Park and zip-lining through a rainforest. I made a lot of lifelong friends in this magical city. Not to mention, I met the love of my life.
On my first day there, Ed and I partied together, went into a random hotel to get beer from the manager, ended up pushing each other round on bellhop carts and climbed onto the roof until the sun came up. After that night, we went to a Thai cooking class, night markets, temples and UAV rooftop bars and clubs. He left to go to Cambodia, and I went to Pai.
It took 762 turns through the mountains to get there, but it was totally worth it. I could’ve spent months in this South East Asia paradise. I stayed at a hippy guesthouse owned by the kindest local in Pai.
It was as if I’d known the people there my whole life. I drove around on scooter with them to see waterfalls, rice fields, temples and canyons. I had avocado and banana bread every single day and I loved it. I’m certain that I’ll live there someday.
Ed and I had kept in contact. We both flew to Koh Samui at the same time and booked a room together. We drove around the hilly island, bathed in waterfalls, swam in the sea and watched a tropical thunderstorm roll in from the distance while we were stuck under a shack.
Ed and I took a ferry to Koh Tao, the better island of the trio. We rode dodgy scooters and fell off too many times. We dangled our legs off the side of clifftop lookout points, snorkelled along what’s left of the coral reefs, watched fire shows and drank too much beer while watching the most beautiful orange hazy sunset.
Sadly, it was time to leave Thailand. Ed flew back to England, and I continued my South East Asia trip to Vietnam. Even worse, I got food poisoning in Koh Tao. That meant I had to take a high speed ferry while clutching my stomach and tears running down my face in the bathroom for 2 hours.
I think I’m just not made for big cities. Hanoi was like Bangkok. Only there were no footpaths. None of the traffic would stop for pedestrians either. I just had to cross the road and pray to the universe that I wouldn’t be hit.
I spent the first couple days feeling sorry for myself in bed. After I stopped feeling sick, I went to a bustling Sunday night market that stretched for miles, browsed through art galleries and got a relaxing massage just to get away from the craziness. I was glad to leave Hanoi.
I found a little piece of heaven in Northern Vietnam. I could have explored the rolling curvy hills, rice paddies and waterfalls forever. Again, I met more amazing people. We scooted around windy roads in the mountains, hiked to see waterfalls, came across fields of wild cannabis and got hassled by tribal women selling clothes and jewellery.
The island off Halong Bay is made for tourists, no doubt about that. Still, that doesn’t make it any less amazing. I made lifelong friends at the hostel. We drove around the coast, jumped off our tour boat into the plastic filled sea and ran away from hysterical monkeys. We played beer pong, went kayaking, climbed up to lookout points and watched glorious sunsets.
A friend from Cat Ba came with me to Tam Coc. On the first day, we were exploring the town and found a gateway which opened up into a huge nature reserve with a temple etched into the mountainside. No one else was there. It was bliss.
There were only two other people in our hostel. We all got a tiny rowing boat along Ngo Dong and sailed through caves. Also, we drove around floating towns and climbed 540 steps to the top of a lookout point for sunset.
On the final night, four of us ate goat, drank rice wine and headed over to a bar across the street. Another group of backpackers we had seen earlier that day joined us. We all got ridiculously drunk, danced, played fuseball, pool and sprayed graffiti on the bar walls.
I said my goodbyes and got a bus the next day to Mai Chau. I wandered around the tiny town by myself, looking for a home stay. Basically you pay money to stay in someone’s house and they cook you a traditional dinner.
I wanted to find somewhere with other English speakers, since it would be my last stop in Vietnam. But I was hungover and losing the will to live. Just as I was inspecting a home stay, two guys pulled up on motorbikes. One from England and the other from Turkey.
It turned out that they were teaching English in Hanoi. And they could speak a bit of Vietnamese! We talked for a bit and they asked me if I wanted to stay in the same home stay as them. Yes puhleeeese. We stayed one night at a local man’s house, then moved to a less touristy one the next day.
The second home stay was even more incredible than the first. It had a whole open bar on the ground floor. They gave us a “hot pot” to cook which was delicious. That night, a local Vietnamese kid invited us to his birthday party in the bar downstairs with 10 of his friends. They cut a cake, but instead of eating it, they smeared it over each others faces, and ours!
We drunkenly wandered around the rice fields in the pitch black and watched hundreds of fireflies bop about under the visible galaxy of stars.
My flight would leave from Hanoi to Hong Kong in 2 days. The guys kindly gave me a lift on their motorbikes back to Hanoi. They even let me stay with them instead of paying for accommodation! Although I’d overstayed my visa by 3 days, I paid a $55 fine at the airport and got on the plane to Hong Kong.
No joke, Hong Kong felt like home. Apart from the giant cloud of smog hanging over the city, Hong Kong felt completely Westernised. I did love it though. On my first night there, I had amazing Dim Sum, and got reunited with my one true love, avocado.
I met a really interesting American guy in my hostel lounge. He spent time with Aborigines in Australia, lived all over and was now a freelance musician and yoga teacher in Shanghai. Even more interesting, he read my birth chart which I didn’t even know existed.
Then we got the ferry over to Victoria Harbour to admire the skyline of Hong Kong. We walked through the Garden of Life to Temple Street market, ate mooncake (must try) and visited different parks.
My solo trip to South East Asia
There were countless times when I questioned my decisions, thought I was going to die in a bus and said too many painful goodbyes. I walked, swam, climbed, kayaked, ziplined, laughed and cried my way to the end.
It’s true, my trip didn’t always go smoothly. But I wouldn’t change a thing. The indescribable experiences I had opened my mind. The kindness I received from strangers opened my heart. Sometimes I wish I could gather all the amazing people I met on this trip in one place and live with them there forever.
If you’re wondering what happened with the love of my life, Ed, well… He flew over from England to Northern Ireland to see me a couple months after I got back home. We continued to fly back and forth to see each other. I spent Christmas with his family. He came to mine for New Years. We’ve been to 6 different countries together since then, and we’re going to Australia together in November for one year. Who knows after that. But one thing is certain, my days of solo travel are not over yet!”
Finally, If you are interested in writing for Women Who Wander, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to share your stories
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