“What am I doing in this place?” was a question to enter my mind on several occasions over the last month, only equal in its regularity to “Why didn’t I come here sooner?” From the highs of seeing the awe inspiring remains of an ancient empire to the lows of being essentially stranded without a plan, I will share it all!
Regular readers will remember my trip to Istanbul two years ago, which I documented here and many of you gave me some positive feedback following those blogs. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d repeat the idea for another trip, this time a much longer one. As I also said two years ago, when I did those similar travel blogs, “…this is ostensibly a blog about creative arts, particularly music and film. But occasionally I do like to submit something a little more personal, which hopefully doesn’t drift too far from the blog’s remit”. Hopefully that still stands, and be assured, that all things creative will feature.
Back in 2014, I made the observation that “…as I was travelling on my own, I didn’t necessarily want to culture shock myself with a week in rural Peru or a sabbatical in Yemen. You’ve got to take these things in easy stages”. Yes, I can wryly laugh at that now (which, admittedly, was a sensible attitude to have for a first significant solo trip), because in 2016 I did go much further and really did aim to culture shock myself. I largely succeeded as well, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I also said that Istanbul was, “exotic and foreign enough without sending my usually high stress levels into outer space with worry about whether I was going to get by with no language or culture in common”. Again, this trip was almost going to be a deliberate attempt to push the boundaries beyond what I would have been comfortable with just two years ago.
Solo travel isn’t, as I’ve observed before, for everyone. It does require a certain level of tenacity and boldness. That isn’t to say I had those qualities in boundless supply, or didn’t make some significant mistakes on my travels, but it did make sure I got off on them in the first place.
Ok, so for one reason or another, for three weeks in July and August 2016, I ended up in Thailand and Cambodia in South East Asia; a long way from home basically, but fortunately with a plan. Sort of. What I was to discover was that having a plan isn’t the all ensuring preliminary against disaster I might have thought. When you’re in a very foreign land, with potential language and culture barriers, shit can, and often will, happen. Hopefully this series of blogs might help prepare any would be traveller to South East Asia, and hopefully we can have some laughs along the way.
My first advice would be to book your flights well in advance, if possible, in order to get them (much) cheaper. Prices apparently tend to drop nearer the time as well, but that’s not a gamble I would personally take. I left my purchases a bit too late, but you should be able to get cheaper flights than that. I booked through Qatar Airways, but I’ve been told Emirates have some good deals. Once you’re over there, things are generally quite cheap (and in comparison to some of the locals, you’ll have the money reserves of a king). Speaking as a westerner, that’s good news for a potentially cheap holiday, but those costs can rack up pretty quickly unless you’re mindful of what you’re spending. I’ll go into that in more detail later, but be assured that it is hugely affordable, but as with anywhere, it depends on how much you want to spend. You can make it as expensive as you want, in other words (or as cheap), depending on the type of holiday you want. Bear in mind that 1 Thai baht equals 22p or thereabouts, at the time of writing, and it will give you an idea of any comparative prices I might mention.
My first connecting flight took me via Doha airport, in Qatar, which is an experience in itself. Looking like the set of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century or a ‘60s Bond film (it even has a monorail), the whole modernist expression is topped off by a huge sculpture of a yellow teddy bear with a black lamp shade up its arse. Created by Urs Fischer, the sculpture was previously on display in New York and was auctioned off there, at Christies, going for $6.8m. The Qatar royal family have a vested interest in modern art, so that goes some way to explaining its inclusion at the airport, which only opened in 2013. It’s certainly an eye catching talking point, and often photographed by passing travellers. As for Doha Airport as a whole, it’s an excellent airport, and all the expected facilities are in place. However, I still have no idea of how you get out of the main hub. The crystal clear maps and signage tell you where everything is, except the exit. I did think of asking, but lethargy overtook me. I believe you could see a fair bit of Doha in the seven hours I had to wait, but I played it cautious on the way to Bangkok, considering that any risk of missing my flight wouldn’t be a smart move.
But for me it was still exciting stuff: half way to Bangkok!
Next blog title: Touch down in Bangkok! Or…”You wanna tuk tuk?” Or… I love Bangkok long time! Or “…what the hell, it’s raining and I’ve got sunburn”