January 21st – Krabi Town

After checking out of my hotel, I went to the nearby coffee shop with a slightly optimistic frame of mind. I had tried to kill as much time as I could in my room prior by exercising and slowly packing/showering, as my check in wasn’t until 2pm in Krabi town and sometimes they can be really tight with times. I slowly sipped on my sup-par coffee and read a little of my book, using the wifi of the café to get an idea of the location of my new place in relation to the city, and it appeared to be decent. I was prepared to be in a place where tourists tended not to venture, and where I might have trouble communicating in restaurants etc., given what I had read on tripadvisor forums and similar review sites. Krabi town was around 30 minutes away from Ao Nang by taxi, so I thought I would walk to the busier area where slightly more tourists where and try flag down transport from there.

I paid for my 50 baht coffee, packed up both my backpacks, and walked down the road that didn’t feel like pedestrians where meant to be on it. There was a huge heap of rubbish piled up, that I noticed men with torches would rake through at night. There was a sign saying ‘litter here please’, which I wasn’t sure if it was meant as a bizarre instruction or not. I didn’t litter there.

It was around 11:30 on a Saturday, which I assumed would be a relatively busy period in the tourist town of Ao Nang and thoughtI would be able to get a passing tuk-tuk or taxi easily. I had forgot that I was over 30 minutes walk away from where anything was happening. I put out my hand, but the majority of tu-tuks/taxis where wither full, or didn’t stop for me. I walked further up the road each time, but the pattern seemed to continue. One or two did stop, but they quoted me prices above 500 baht, which even for southern Thailand was inflated. I was sweaty and it was raining, so I was on the verge of paying the inflated rates, when an ‘airport official limousine’ taxi pulled over, quoting me 200 baht. I realised that he was employed by the airport to take passengers to their hotels and was on his way back, via Krabi town, and this was an unofficial ride with all profits going into his back pocket. I liked his entrepreneurial/fraudulent attitude, so I tipped him 50 baht when he dropped me off.

The route the driver took didn’t particularly sell the location, unless you’re into dust and sun-bleached signs for convenience stores that are no longer open. I didn’t particularly mind, given that I was prepared for an under-stimulating experience. My hotel was particularly cheap, around £10 a night, but the quality was a lot higher than that of most on a similar budget. I was greeted by the very friendly and very camp concierge (though such a term of reference feels inappropriate in a budget guest house) who showed me to my room. It was a lot bigger than I had imagined, relatively clean, and the aircon and wifi worked. I was pleasantly surprised, and just hoped that there was somewhere nearby where I could eat and buy water. I dropped my bags, washed my face, brushed my teeth, and headed out to see if there was anything around other than dust. I was handed a map by the front desk staff, which indicated where anything worth seeing was. I had already spotted a 7 eleven about 5 minutes walk away which gave me a feeling of security, knowing that I could get supplies there if I was stranded.

I feel like the mind has a tendency to create problems to solve to keep itself distracted from dealing with the knowledge of impeding limitation of how many days we have left to live. When travelling, your problems might be concerning more basic survival, but once they are catered for the mind tends to go a little deeper and remind you of the lack of purpose to your own existence, at least on the level of the human experience. When you’re home your purpose may be your job, your family/friends/partner, your hobbies, etc. When you’re alone and all you have allocated to worry about is maintaining your survival as comfortably as possible, you can come face to face with the demonic profile of meaninglessness. In a way I wanted to work harder to find a shop to buy water, to prolong my delusion of purpose.

After walking for around 2 minutes, I got a feel for the area and was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of reggage bars, cafes, and massage parlours on the street I was staying. I hadn’t anticipated seeing hostels of many hotels, but it appeared that Krabi town did attract other travellers, just not as many as Ao Nang. It felt like it was a place where locals and tourists where in equal measure, maybe 60/40 to locals, and so there was a greater sense of authenticity and a much more relaxed, hassle-free vibe. I felt a wave of appreciation as I walked towards the river, spotting places advertising vegan food and having the sun coming down accompanied by the coastal breeze. I took some photos to send to my girlfriend – they all made the area look relatively rough, which I suppose is accurate in regards to visuals. As I walked I would plan a rough itinerary for the the coming days. As an example, I’d spot a coffee shop where I would plan to eat breakfast the next morning, or I saw a temple which I thought would be nice to visit in the afternoon when it’s a little cooler and the sun was setting.

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Krabi Town – Nicer than it looks

I wanted to make an effort to try eat at more local-appearing restaurants than typical tourist places. Partly to save money, but also to experience dishes that weren’t just catered to westerners. I found a very basic restaurant with varying colours of plastic chairs and metal tables with laminated menus on them, many of which where partially illegible as the laminate had peeled and the paper was water damaged, or sun damaged, or both. It was a muslim place and appeared to be family run. The one table occupied had who I assumed where the owners, eating together with a tv on in the background, drinking water out of metal mugs. I sat down and a lady from the table approached me, handing me a menu without making eye-contact, her head pointing towards to table she had just left, still engaged in conversation. About 10 seconds later she looked at me to gesture asking me what I would like. I asked what there was that didn’t contain meat, and she pointed at something on the menu saying “only this”, which I ordered with an iced green tea. I can’t remember what it was, but I remember enjoying it and feeling happy to be there, despite the questionable service. You learn not to expect formalities or manners in a lot of cheaper places, but are almost happy for it as at least the staff are being authentic and not being nice just because they get paid to be. I used the wifi to call my Mam, updating her on my travels. She swiftly changed to conversation to tell me something negative to do with her work or home (I think both). She had requested updates on my travels but never really seemed interested in hearing them, which I have come to both expect and accept. She has such a strong pain body that without it she is void an any identity as it’s all she has ever known. I really hope she learns authentic happiness in her lifetime.

I felt particularly relaxed for the first time since getting into Asia, and experienced a wave of optimism that was unfamiliar but welcome. As I walked around the area I sensed it was just a local town, that had catered to tourism in many ways, but also had its own existence independent of tourism. There where a few guest houses and hotels, and a few very westernised cafes, but for the most part everything was pretty similar to how it might have been if only locals spent their time there. I found a café called ‘Amazon’, which was just opposite a temple that I had already allocated a visit to for tomorrows activity. I ordered a (still strikingly) acidic coffee and sat and finished my first blog post, which I had intended to be around 1500 words or so, but ended up being 6000. I wanted to document everything I had experienced that made the days leading up to my travels feel so daunting, and ended up writing an outpouring of autobiographical psychoanalysis that seemed appropriate as justification for my state of being. The post was intensely personal and talks about things that I would struggle to open up about to some friends and family, yet I’ve put it on a public platform for anyone to view who wishes to do so. I knew that nobody really would read them anyway, but the process of writing was a positive ‘cosmic-mirror’, and helped me make sense of my thoughts, so inspired me to continue for my own means. I haven’t pushed it at all, and I have no intention of trying to – it’s just nice to write.

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Amazon Coffee – a Thai Chain

As I wrote a little girl, maybe 6 years old, kept coming over to me very shyly and staring. I wanted to feel comfortable as she was incredibly cute and endearing, but i found myself not wanting to make eye contact and hoping she would go to her parents or another table who where more apt to deal with basic human social skills. It can be very frustrating being 27 years old and unable to deal with communicating with a being so young it would be a challenge for them to not be the essence of purity. Even a smile would have sufficed, but I automatically assume I’ll come across as a creep with a open-mouthed, oversized teeth bearing smile, and my closed mouth smile just looks passive aggressive, so I just pretend to not notice and have a vibration of self-loathing resound and then settle into my psyche.

I finished my post, still surprised at the quantity of words, and then continued browsing the surrounding area. The first couple of weeks in an area so drastically different to what you’re used to gives your body a workout – it has to adapt to to the climate and sunshine, so your skin feels as though it’s expanding and swollen, constantly wet with sodium infused sweat that you can almost taste. Your skin stings, and you’re squinting a lot. It’s a kind of growing pain, but once you adapt and get a regulated to a new sleep cycle etc., then things get a little better. There where 2 markets in the small area of Krabi town, one that was definitely a result of the influx of tourism, and another that was for locals. The local market was selling vegetables and meat, and has a few food stalls with silver dishes beneath a rotating fan made of bamboo, brightly coloured plastic tables and chairs. There are similarly garish coloured baskets containing varieties of condiments such as fish sauce, or chillies in vinegar, and metal mugs filled with water and straws. Although I can rarely eat at such places, there is a high degree of satisfaction I get from seeing such curated vulgarity that Is typical of Thai eateries.

After walking around the area enough until I got the gist, I headed back to my hotel. At this early point in my trip I was still not able to sustain long periods of exposure to the sun, and my sweat was burning my skin that was still far from adjusted. I spent a little time in my hotel room, googling things in the area like recommended places to eat etc. Food was, and to some extent still is, one of the dominating factors in my interest in travel. I didn’t really get many hits, but I had spotted a few restaurants that had things I could eat so I was content. Krabi town was also noticeably cheaper than Ao Nang. Rather than save money, I figured out that I would probably be happy to just spend the same as I would have in Ao Nang on food in Krabi town, and just eat extra as a result. I acknowledged to myself that this was likely an extension of searching for something outside of myself to make me feel less empty, but it was a pretty enjoyable form of self-harm.

I noticed a place earlier called ‘May and Mark’, that was hugely westernised but had a great menu and was really nicely set up. It was filled with white backpackers or more well off looking locals, and was one of those places where you’re brought a glass of water as soon as you sit down – though given to you with a familiar eye contact-less expression of resentment that you learn to not take personally. I looked in the breakfast section for what I would eat the next morning, before picking a tofu pad see eaw as my first dinner of the evening. It arrived and was pretty small and didn’t have much flavour in comparison to other dishes I had been eating in Thailand, but the texture of the fried wide rice noodles was incredibly satisfying. It was like eating hot and sticky, but firm, marshmallows – a little like ‘moochi’, which are Asian dumpling style deserts made of glutinous rice, often stuffed with things like peanut butter or taro. It was not filling whatsoever, but it triggered my new found appreciation of stir friend dishes, that I had always neglected in favour of Thai curries.

Straight after leaving I went to the local market for a second dinner. I had developed a greed-induced technique for overeating, wherein you eat consecutive meals in quick succession before your stomach realises that it’s too full. I was keen to try at the places where locals where in abundance and tourists weren’t, and they had menus with items on that I hadn’t seen before. I found a Muslim food stall that fit that description perfectly, and picked the one dish that was vegan by chance, which was mixed vegetables in coconut milk with rice, for 50 baht. Though it wasn’t particularly delicious, it felt satisfying being around Muslim people wearing head dresses and in a pop up style restaurant with aged Islamic posters hanging off the wall and be reaffirmed that everything projected about the whole population of those who follow Islam from the West was contradicted by my empirical experience. I was smiled at when served, accommodated to my diet, and treat with genuine customer service on a basic human level, as opposed to the false economy fuelled approach encouraged by western models. I’d hardly see the food was made with love, but at least it was made with sincerity, which is what I was craving.

Now bloated as my technique was unable to cater to the greed of my mind, I returned back to my room, passing a few guest houses with reggae bars along the way. I never used to particularly like reggae until I went to Chiang Rai in 2015 with my cousin, who would always want to go to them and I grew to associate it with being in Thailand. I wanted to sit in one and read or write while merging into the background and contributing to the relaxed vibe of the environment, but felt like I would just appear too weird. A few people on the way back said hello and welcome to me, but weren’t trying to sell me anything. They where just nice people, which I had been acculturalised to approach with suspicion. I was keen on getting a massage at some point, so made that my goal for the following day after passing a few parlours on my way back. I had experienced what felt like my new shoes being worn in enough to not hurt so much anymore. My experiences the days prior where mainly just the adjustment period where your ankles bleed a bit and you get a few blisters, but I now was beginning to settle.

January 20th – An Internal Monologue of an Uneventful Day in Ao Nang

Despite the mosquitoes and lizards I found in my hotel room, I decided that the presence of such beings was worth the pay of of not having to go through the inconvenience of packing up all my stuff and moving to a new area for another day. It was only really ants that where reoccurring visitors at this point anyway, which I felt I could handle. I neglected to mention in the last post that after a somewhat frustrating process of delayed emails at irregular intervals to the yoga place, I had managed to secure a place on the retreat, and so booked for one more night in the guest house I had spent the previous 2 nights, before heading to Krabi town for the weekend. I had heard that Krabi town didn’t have much to offer and was more a local town, so I figured it would be an opportunity for me to get some work done, worst case scenario.

I had a lot of trouble trying to use my preloaded STA Cashcard, which I had put £5000 on to sustain my trip. It operates through mastercard, but is nowhere near as straightforward as the typical credit card procedure. It’s probably too dull to write about in detail, but after enduring ambiguous, unprofessional, and contradictory advice from multiple help line sources (with the exception of the facebook team) I managed to get it sorted and was able to book my flight to Chiang Mai for the Thursday night, following the retreat. I felt better having satisfied the overly active problem solving part of my mind with some kind of itinerary. I have never been in a situation where time is a burden because of how long, rather than how little it lasts. Maybe as a child on Christmas eve.

I spent my last day in Ao Nang mainly eating, as after you’ve seen the beach, there’s not really a load to do. I have realised through my trip that my pleasure from travel doesn’t really come from doing most of the things that draw in tourism, such as island hopping, diving, elephant riding (though that’s automatically written off from my itinerary given the reported cruelty). My enjoyment comes from adopting an almost anthropological perspective of travel – observing behaviours, demeanours, mannerisms, environmental interactions, dialects etc. Observing a culture of bacteria in a petri dish through a microscope with a lens formed from another culture that lives a bit further away. I want to see beautiful beaches and mountains and all that, but I also want to taste ingredients that are novel, contemplate alternative perspectives on lifestyle, and communicate with local people in a way that is pure and authentic despite language barriers, such as laughing or expressions of gratitude. Not in a customer service kind of way, but in a pure, human way. It was rare to experience in somewhere so typically tourist orientated, but that makes it more special when it happens (it didn’t happen on this day).

My day must have been relatively uneventful as I can’t remember a great deal of what happened, other than going to a coffee shop in the morning and spending some time researching places to go to for when I’m in India. I was (and while writing this on the 11th of February, still am) keen to cut my trip short for reasons of both finance and resistance to uncertainty. As I’m sure to have mentioned, few cafés’ in Asia seem to have soy milk other than chains, and I have come to hate myself for always asking for it, but coffee is really, really bad, and often drinking it black tastes like your swilling a mouth full of copper coins. Again, it’s tolerable for the caffeine effects, which I am somewhat reliant on to relax, ironically. I think it’s because it allows my synapses to fire quicker and put my anxieties into greater perspective, thus subduing them. When it wears off I’m back to feeling worried. And dehydrated. The second cup is never as good as the first. You’re just chasing the dragon.

I walked around Ao Nang a little more, revisiting areas I had been the day before. I got the gist. Tour operators, restaurants, suit shops, street vendors etc. In retrospect (after arriving in the Philippines) I have come to appreciate a little bit of tourist tack – it settles the nerves and gives you a little security that you’re somewhere you’re safe to be. I did appear to adopt a somewhat tourist attitude, in that I was keen to a buy a knock-off fjallraven bag. I had been worried about my 15l backpack being over-stuffed and potentially braking the zip, however it has a detachable daypack which I was using to bring my notebook etc. around with me. I figured that if I just attached the daypack to the backpack then I could transfer a few items and ease the tension on my zips, meaning I needed a new bag to transport my valuables. The Fjallraven bag seemed a good idea, as although I wasn’t too keen on it (I feel almost de-mascualinated by it’s tiny size) I thought I could give it to Magda, my girlfriend, when I return home. I felt bad that I had no room to bring back gifts, so this was a two birds one stone situation.

Krabi rains a lot, and it gets pretty uncomfortable when you’re hot enough to be sweating but some old sweat has cooled down and acted as an adhesive for your hair to your forehead, while simultaneously getting rained on quite torrentially. I wore a black poncho over myself and my bag, but it seemed to trap the heat, making for an all-round unhygienic experience. I suppose that’s typical of tropical environments. I walked back to my hotel, feeling a little purposeless, but I knew that I would have felt that back home aswell, and one of the reasons I was travelling was to confront these things and get past them. I tried to not attend to it with any detail.

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Around 25 minutes away  from where i was staying

When I think of being back home I am filled with misery at the thought of walking around the city centre of Sunderland. It’s a terrible place to live and has nothing to offer anybody, other than family if they happen to be there. I had used my studying period at the uni there in the past as a search for purpose, and then working and freelancing after that. While planning my trip, I used the logistics of the trip as my distraction from fundamental dissatisfaction. I always try to create my own phenomena to find purpose, the way we all often do through TV or work-related drama. It’s like we’re killing time by distracting ourselves until we die, and distracting ourselves from thinking about the fact we’re going to die. Being where I was and living the way I was did give me an opportunity for new, novel distractions, but also retracted my go-to devices I would used to feel something. This was what I was experiencing.

I moped around in my room for a while, relentlessly googling the passing thoughts of the neurosis of my mind. In anapansati meditation you attend to your breath only, and when thought’s arise (which they always do) you observe them rather than engage in them, coming back to the breath. I was basically looking into all of the thoughts that would likely have come up if I where to traditionally meditate, such as ‘Is Krabi dangerous’, ‘Are mosquitoes in Ao Nang carrying malaria’, ‘vegan food Krabi’ etc. My internet search history would probably provide a very useful indicator of my personality type to a psychologist. I spent a little longer worrying that I would be getting out of shape due to my drastic change in exercise routine, and then opted to shower and face the poorly lit, horror-film-set-style walk to the restaurant I was at the previous night with the forced sentimental acoustic music.

I made the walk, still with my guard up somewhat as a natural response to the environment, and sat on the one table in the restaurant that was free. It had been raining, and the seating was a little wet in areas that hadn’t been protected by the umbrella and had dishes on the table, but I was ok with that. I realised I wasn’t actually that hungry, and had made the journey for maintaining sanity as opposed to for nutrition or pleasure. I also realised my over analysis of every action towards myself. I’ve learned I’m naturally really judgemental. I don’t see it as negative, or positive, but I’m aware that I do make assumptions in regards to the behaviours, actions, and demeanours of others, but mostly myself. I don’t seem to attribute positive or negative to the traits I judge of others, but rather try contemplate the source (e.g. defensiveness as a result of being attacked in the past). For myself, I tend to be a little harsher even when I understand the source. Over-eating was a habit set in the past for comfort, and my mental disorder regarding body shape was a result of that. Still, I’ll often find myself looking in the mirror from various angles tensing my arms or lifting my t-shirt and squeezing the areas of my torso where there is fat. My over judgemental mind was a result of being scared – ‘how can I evaluate all situations to ensure I survive as comfortably as possible?’. This does allow me to have increased compassion for others as a I can relate to their behaviour and trace back the sources, but when it comes to judging myself, I can be a bit of a dick.

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Vegan junk food!

I was in the restaurant now, and felt that in sitting down I had already committed to ordering food. I do really love Thai food, as I’ve mentioned a lot, and often find myself justifying eating a lot by reminding myself that my diet will only be this way for a limited time while I’m in Thailand. I ordered tofu fried in holy basil and rice and a soda water, and read as I waited for the food. When you’re eating alone going to a restaurant is a very different experience than going for a meal with somebody else. The prospects of 3 courses in one place seems silly, as the time between each item of food isn’t occupied by conversation. I would have liked to speak to somebody, but similarly I do have a tendency to prefer to be alone. Social interaction with strangers can make me judge myself even more harshly as I often say stupid things through my nerves, so I try just avoid it. Soon after eating I paid and left, a little bloated but satisfied by the food quality.

I contemplated trying to get a taxi to my place, but as I was to learn the following day, it’s not easy sourcing transport from where I was. After a paced and anxious walk I arrived back in my room, which hadn’t been cleaned and still had a bin full of used toilet from the previous 2 nights. That made me uneasy, but there was no public bin outside and I felt weird carrying a plastic 7 Eleven bag full of 48-hour old shitty toilet paper into town, so I just left it.  I knew that tomorrow I was going to Krabi town, which I was unsure about, but looking forward to seeing. It was only 2 nights, after all. I don’t remember how I spent the remainder of the night, but as I’ve been writing this blog I’ve come to learn a lot more about how my mind seems to function (or at least I’ve psychoanalysed myself thoroughly with no real qualification to do so), so I can assume I probably felt sad, then happy, then ok, then went to sleep.

January 19th -Meandering for Meaning

As often is the case here in Thailand, I woke up feeling restored and optimistic again. I guess your mind gets into some sort of state during deep sleep that shuts down the mechanism for worrying about things like mosquitoes, cockroaches, and lizards (the lizard I saw in the bathroom the day before thankfully never reappeared). I left my ground floor room to get some water from the family mart store nearby (there was only 1 floor anyway) and passed the guest house owner who greeted me politely. Every time I left the room he would ask me if I wanted a lift on the motorbike to town, but I always declined when it was light (and in this case it unnecessary). There was a coffee shop that had some words in English advertised, so I stopped there on my way back from the shop.

I had a reply from the yoga place I had e-mailed, with a quote for 11, 900 baht for a 3 night 4 day ‘yoga and healing’ retreat, taking place the following Monday. Today was Thursday and I only had 2 nights booked where I was, so If I was to go to the retreat then I had to work some stuff out. As mentioned in an older post, coffee in Thailand can often be pretty vile and more like a caffeinated gravy, but here it was quite good. It was called ‘good coffee’, so I suppose anything below mildly pleasant would be false advertising. I drank as I worked out finances and plans in my previously unwritten-in note book and the sun came in through the gaps of the outside shaded area. Mornings in Thailand feel very optimistic to me. I tend to prefer mornings to any other time at home too – they are full of unrealised potential for things to happen with the only concrete certainty being that in a few hours the day will end (I suppose the same perspective can be applied to life in general, and if adopted might ease a lot of anxiety). In Thailand that possibility of anything happening is more novel. Mornings feel good.

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Mildly pleasant coffee and pretend plants

With the help of the caffeine I figured out a rough itinerary for the time I would be spending in Krabi. If I where to go to the Yoga retreat then I would leave on Thursday for the 20:05 flight to Chiang Mai, a region in Northern Thailand that I’m particularly fond of. If I didn’t go, then I would leave on Sunday, which was the most immediate cheapest option. I realised that my desire for being OK with uncertainty was a worthy one to have, but also planning to the level that I was was just good practice. Spontaneity is often romanticised in books and films, but nobody ever talks about how much money they could be wasting by paying for premium last minute transport options, or having to resort to paying the cost of 3 nights in a 3* hotel for 1 night in a family room in a 1* hostel because it was 11pm and there where no other options when turning up late at night, ultimately cutting the trip shorter. There’s a balance to get right I learned. I still wasn’t doing it, but I acknowledged that often depictions of the ‘free-spirited backpacker’ are often tainted with a little bit of bullshit.

I finished my drink, feeling a sense of accomplishment after finding some form of what I now considered ‘reasonable resolution’ with my itinerary. After doing some exercise and showering, I headed out towards the beach – again declining the polite offer of a lift. Although the beach which was around 10 minutes away from where I was did seem nicer than the beach that was more central, it did appear to offer less to do. I wanted to be in nature, so this was a good location, but I also wanted to eat and this wasn’t as easy in the area that I was. I learned the night prior that I’d start to see some action in another 25 minutes or so.

As you get into the centre of Ao Nang, it becomes clear that there has been a significant influence of tourism on how the town has developed. There are multiple similarities to typical European holiday destinations such as Majorca or Benidorm, in that signs of advertise ‘Pizza, Burgers, Chips, Chicken Nuggets’ typically more than they do Thai food. Stalls and shops that sell t-shirts and vests with the same slogans and designs, and also double up as guesthouses, travel agents, or both. There is a significantly larger Muslim population in Krabi than I had seen in any other area of Thailand, and so street food vendors often wear head scarves and serve ‘roti’ – a pancake-like bread snack, with sweet toppings like banana or Nutella. They smell delicious, but unfortunately their sweet recipe contains egg (the savoury ones served with Indian curry are different it seems). When you get to the most central part of town the beach is taken over by hotels. Anywhere with water attracts money, and so international chains like ‘Holiday Inn’ and “IBIS’ can be found dotted around the most premium areas, while the prices of the less luxurious guest houses are inflated around 50 percent of what they would normally be. Southern Thailand in general is more expensive than the north, but in Krabi (particularly Ao Nang) it’s very noticeable.

The day in general was pretty uneventful but relaxed. I found a place to get a tofu massaman curry (my favourite curry; massaman translates as ‘Muslim’ as the spices used are typically from the more western regions of Asia) which I assumed would be a good place to have it considering the religion of the area. It was around £2 cheaper than what you would expect to pay in the UK, so not really cheap, but certainly better quality.

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Tofu Massaman, Roti, and Jasmine Rice

After I finished, paid, and continued walking, I noticed that there where so many people who looked distinguishable and strikingly attractive of both genders. I also noticed that very few people really paid me any attention – not as in approached me, but looked at me for any reason other than not to bump into. As I had mentioned in a previous post, in the past I would have found some level of devastation in my lack of noticeability, but I noticed that I was quite happy to not have anybody find me interesting. During my youth I had made it difficult to not be noticed with excessive tattoos and piercings and weird haircuts. Around 8 or 9 months ago I shaved my dreadlocks and ever since have just had hair – no style, no products, just hair. My body is average, verging on athletic but not impressively so. My face is maybe 6/10 at best, and I have a beard and have done for years, but now they are out of fashion. I was wearing clothes based on what was most accessible from my partially zipped-up backpack – it was an outfit chosen by chance. When I had been on trend image wise and had an on purpose haircut, I would get attention. There was something quite liberating about going from justifying my worth by the attention of others, to genuinely only being bothered enough to notice that I no longer was receiving any attention. Sometimes fading into the background is just what you need.

I made my way back along the beach, and sat down to read for a period. I lasted about 7 or 8 minutes in the direct sun, and when the beam of sweat fell down onto my page from the side of my forehead, I figured out it was probably time to leave. It was uncomfortable, and I questioned how people where willing to sacrifice their comfort to sit on a beach reading until they tanned, then I remembered that I very often really dislike working out but do it everyday, operating on the same level as the tanners. It got to around 4 o’clock, which Is when the feeling of uneasiness that I commented on previously is most prevalent. I think it’s because it’s the least certain part of the day in may ways. It isn’t day, and it feels too late to count as afternoon, but it not’s quite evening either. Possible targets you had set for the day are now under more scrutiny, by what feels like a manual vice grasping possibility, being slowly turned minute by minute by the militant hands of time. The grip was getting tight. I went back to my room.

While in there I wrote a little, and e-mailed the yoga place explaining my potential itinerary to leave for Chiang Mai on Thursday. It took them a little while to reply I learned, which I kind of regarded as a good thing as you don’t want to think of your yoga as teacher as somebody who in symbiosis with their phone, but it was also a little frustration for my answer-requiring monkey mind. I was also keen to book my flights to Chiang Mai, and the later you leave it the higher the prices tend to get, so that was playing an effect also. After spending some time in my hotel room during that period of the day where I feel most uneasy, I was keen to head back out to get some food and see more of the area. My hotel room wasn’t terrible but it was certainly not luxurious either, so the prospect of spending so much of my time there was daunting.

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Ao Nang Beach, around 3pm.

It has occurred to me since this point that even if I was to have spent the night inside, that’s ok, as I had no schedule. When you’re on holiday you want to see and do as much as you can as you only have maybe 7 days and you’ve been saving for it for ages and looking forward to it to get you through the misery of the 9-5. When you travel (which I only have really learned retrospectively) you are sort of just sampling an alternative lifestyle that you could have if you lived in the area (especially if you’re doing some kind of work along the way). You aren’t so bothered if one night of the week you just stay in and write, as you’re going to be in the area for some time, or until you get bored.  That’s how it works when you are ‘living’ somewhere, it’s not all just explosively exciting recreational activity, it’s just life with all its contrasts taking place further away from the place you had been used to living in (if only very temporarily). I hadn’t thought of It this way at this point, so I headed back out.

The walk from my hotel to where any activity was taking place was quite scary, but in a good way. Thailand doesn’t really feel threatening for the most part, as in you aren’t concerned that people will mug you or be violent, but a dimly lit quiet road has some semiotic associations that you can struggle to shake off regardless. The novelty of the of the sounds at night doesn’t wear off, but rather matures so that it’s not necessarily as surprising anymore, but met with different waves of appreciation. The sound of animals, insects and electricity wires creates a really wild soundtrack to your walk, and you feel like you’re walking along the centre point, step by step of where ying meets yang, and at any moment you could fall into the wild chaos of nature and get bitten by a dengue fever infested mosquito or rabid dog, or you could walk far enough to get to a 7 eleven and buy everything you need for a comfortable existence. Regions where the city meets nature really remind you of the importance of maintaining balance – don’t fall into either pit! It isn’t easy to get out.

I walked with my guard up for some time, until I reached a café that I only ever recognised at night. It was mainly the music that made it recognisable to me – very downbeat acoustic music – Damien Rice and Daughter etc. Nowhere else in Thailand seemed to play that sort of stuff. The restaurant was outside and had a very wooden feel to it – all the chairs and benches where covered in cushions and surrounded by plants. There was a large table with an American family seated next to me and talking as if they had drunk just enough alcohol to no longer realise their volume, but not loud enough to be offensive. Through my compulsory eavesdropping of their conversation, I realised that I had started to become aware of American stereotypes more accurately from my few days being around them, the same way that I do British stereotypes.  I became aware of my positive prejudice towards American people, feeling that their lives where just ‘better’ in some way or another. When you hear an American person say something that implies ordinary intelligence it somehow comes across as intellectual. Maybe it’s annunciation. In Sunderland, where I’m from, everybody slurs words into each other like they are drunk (and quite often they are), so the reverse effect happens – intelligent sentences sound forced and not authentic. I realised that when the American guy used the word ‘significantly’ that he wasn’t speaking in a particularly high-brow way, he was just talking as normal.

The family seemed to follow the rhetoric of the mam and dad being fairly conservative but not to the point where it was dangerous, and this was their first time in Thailand. It made sense that they would opt for a more tourist orientated are given the way they spoke about how they lived back home with jobs in offices and buying new cars etc. They where with their son and daughter who seemed a similar age to each other – somewhere in their early twenties maybe as they discussed ‘graduating college’, friends they all knew, and gave each other a hard time for their love lives. Not many American people tend to come to the north of the UK (understandably so) so my only prolonged exposure had been through films or podcasts, but through my various forms of eavesdropping in airports, restaurants, busses and cafes, I realised that I was learning as much about American culture as I was about Thai. I felt that the cultural difference between British and Americans was in it’s own way as significant as that of the difference between the Thai and the British, it just appeared less so because of the shared language. I’m not sure if the conclusion that could be drawn is that we’re all pretty much the same (on a cultural level – I certainly believe that on a spiritual level we are the same), or if despite sharing a language, we’re very different. I didn’t bother pondering this thought for too long.

I ordered some stir-fried tofu with holy basil and some rice, and a soda water. I recently thought I’d allow myself a diet coke despite its toxicity, and was reminded that it actually tastes horrible, it’s just nice to have something cold and fizzy. Soda water is just that and nothing else. Every other soft drink in Thailand is really laced with sugar, so your options are pretty limited to start with. The familiar slightly moody music continued, and I recognised songs playing that in the past had made me feel weird. Although I enjoyed some of them, I had grown to associate particular tracks with a time period in my life when I was listening to them and wasn’t particularly happy. An example is ‘Daughter’ – I can’t remember the song name, but I liked it but found that I couldn’t listen to it as it just took me back to a post-breakup headspace where I felt really, really, lost. Listening to it now did give me a sense of emptiness, but not in the same way. I appreciated the music but it felt like now that I had got over what I previously associated with the track, it lacked authenticity. It was like the restaurant had selected music to try portray a particular mood and ambience, but to me it just felt forced. I liked it though – I didn’t have to avoid those tracks any longer, even if they did no longer seem real.

I ate my food, which was enjoyable, however my standards of food have shot right up with all the high quality competition so it sort of felt average. In Asia in general you don’t feel pressure to leave a restaurant once you’ve finished eating – if anything you have a hard job trying to get a bill or pay. You don’t tend to ask for it, but rather go up to a counter and pay, and you could be waiting some time before you are acknowledged. I don’t think it’s rudeness or anything of such a nature, I think they just tend to be more laid back than we are in the West when it comes to certain areas. I began my journey home, using my phone torch to guide the way, looking over my shoulder in ingrained paranoia that was likely especially unnecessary in the area I was it seemed.

I felt sad when I got back. I was noticing my surroundings and seeing what information they reflected back at me, and it was upsetting to think that even though on paper I had a nice day I still didn’t feel good. I was on a beautiful beach with a tropical climate and eating my favourite food, and I didn’t feel quite right. I really missed Magda and I was tired. I think that was the significant driver of the negative state – I had fallen back into searching for meaning in something outside of myself in a matter of days of acknowledging it is an impossible methodology for the results I wanted. It doesn’t happen overnight, but you do feel better in the morning, most of the time.

January 18th – Ao Nang, Krabi

After my difficulty in sleeping, I was reluctant to get up for my 7am alarm, but I had a flight to catch later in the morning, and I was to be taken to the airport in a minivan that I booked the previous day for 150 baht (around £3.60).

I snoozed for a few minutes as I attempted to reply to the watsapp messages from Magda she had sent me at some point in the 7 hours in advance that I had in Thailand. After showering and dragging my backpack down the steep and narrow stair case of BB House, I checked out and waited for my pickup.

I can’t specifically remember what time I was due to be picked up, but it was 10 minutes after that when the lady at the front desk of BB House took my piece of paper from me to call the van driver and ask where he was. I knew that in Thailand time keeping was somewhat looser than in the West, so I wasn’t overly concerned about the lateness until around 15 minutes in to waiting, when I started to feel a little anxious. The van showed up, and the driver came in the guest house in a rush – as if I wasn’t looking him in the eye and there where a few people in the hotel reception then he would assume that I wasn’t there and would have just left to save time.

The full capacity of the van was 11 or so, and he assured that every seat was full. Transfer services like that tend to be comparable to a London Underground tube, where you are in such close proximity to another human being that apologies for physical contact are already assumed and if you do say ‘sorry’, it’s a bit annoying. The journey took around 1 hour with traffic in Bangkok being the way that it is. Airports in Asia are different to other countries in my experience – in that when you arrive you go through some form of baggage check, that appears more of a tradition than a precaution. People had 1 litre bottles of water going through, as well as e-cigarettes (which apparently the Thai government made illegal as they where impacting on cigarette sales, which affects Thai economy). I checked in quite painlessly, and when I went through security the second time I didn’t bother removing my laptop from my bag like I would have back home. Nobody said anything, so I figured I’ll try my luck with every time.

There’s a unique tension in departure lounges. Everybody is referring to the screens quite frequently to check that no changes have been made since their check in (there often are). If an announcement is made in Thai and people start moving, the air fills with a mist of anxiety with turning their heads like dogs that have heard the word ‘walk’, trying to figure out if the changes are applicable to them. People have time to kill more often, but can’t really focus on a book or anything requiring attention so they will often spend that time attempting to connect to the wifi, contemplating an overpriced coffee or snack depending on the length of the journey, pacing around the their gate, or starting to form a misinformed que over an hour before boarding. This journey had several people exhibiting such archetypical airport behaviours. I had opted to sort out an email related to a freelance job, while still holding some of the airport anxiety symptoms mentioned.

The flight was quick and easy, around 45 minutes to 1 hour in Krabi airport. I was seated in an emergency exit, which meant I had to put my luggage in the overhead locker. I was paranoid that my laptop might get damaged up there, but realised there wasn’t much I could do so I just went with it. I had extra leg room because of the seating which made it way more comfortable – significantly more so than my Jet Airways long haul flight. I had researched the best way to get into town from the airport – there is a minivan for 150 baht (around £3.60 or so) that takes 45 minutes to 1 hour and drops you at your hotel. I opted for that. It took a lot longer than 1 hour.

Before getting in the van I showed the driver my hotel voucher, and he seemed unsure for a moment before accepting. He signalled for me to get in by waving his hand as he nodded and said “ok”. The journey from airport to a town you’ve never been always fills you with a specific form of anxiety that is exclusive to travelling. You aren’t too sure where you will be situated, and on shared journeys can often find yourself thinking ‘oh God I really hope this isn’t my stop’ when you pull up at sketchy looking guest houses. Krabi has quite a safe vibe and feels quite laid back and suitable for families etc. You get that impression from driving from the airport – it doesn’t have the seediness that Bangkok presents. After around 30 minutes people started to be getting dropped off around the Ao Nang area (there are 2 areas in Krabi that most people stay, Ao Nang which has a beach, or Krabi town). The area really is beautiful, so much so that you struggle to feel part of it as it’s so surreal. It’s like looking at a painting made with overly saturated colours. I felt relieved that I hadn’t booked to stay somewhere grim for a week or so.

More of the others in the van where exiting, until it was just myself and another solo traveller left. I began to feel a little panicked. We where now way out of the centre it seemed, and going through side streets in more residential areas. I was almost bargaining with myself (as if I had any control) that I would be happy with a particular area that we where passing, as long as I could get out, which didn’t happen for another hour or so.

The other guy got out at his guest house, and the driver asked me to remind of the name of my place. I realised at this point that whatever exchange we had earlier that implied his knowledge of where to go was just to ensure a prompt exit from the airport. He pulled over, and google searched the hotel, ‘Al Salam KB Guest House’ to try and get a phone number for directions. It didn’t have a website, and the only reference to it online was on hotel websites (which also didn’t include a phone number). I gave him the address that I had (which I thought would have sufficed as it was in both English and Thai) but he still seemed uncertain. After a while pulled over trying various means of finding a phone number, he continued driving – somewhat frantically.

We circled around a few areas of Ao Nang for about 40 minutes, with him saying things in Thai that carried enough aggression in how they where express to make me assume they where swear words. He pulled over to a tuk-tuk driver who looked at me and looked at the address for quite some time, squinting as he did so from the 3pm sun. I exhaled audibly as I realised that It wasn’t likely I was going to find the place that I had already booked and paid for. With more momentum still, we resumed our journey, covering areas we had already visited. I have no mobile data over in Thailand, so I had requested that I could use his phone and change the settings to English so I could try find directions. He gave me his phone, but didn’t understand the English request, and I was unable to navigate in Thai, so I was of no use.  He called a few people, one of which I assume to be the airport staff (he had to return for another pick-up) as he continued driving. He got out at various tourist information boards to ask advice. He told me that nobody has heard of the place I was staying, and they know everywhere in area. This curbed my initial sense of optimism I had for the journey.

He started telling me how I should have got the phone number, and then took me back to the Tuk-Tuk driver I had met earlier and told me to go with him as he needed to return to the airport. As we arrived he was sleeping in the back of his vehicle, with his legs stretched from end of the broken red leather seating area to the other, dangling his blue rubber sandals. He saw us and spoke to the van driver, requesting to see the hotel details again on my phone. He was still squinting. After asking his friends who where gathered around for about 10 minutes while I sat in the back, we headed back to the direction that I had previously been 4 or 5 times. He pulled into a one-way street before searching around on his phone again, and looking for somebody nearby to ask for directions.

At this point I had surrendered to loosing my £30 for the 2 nights in the hotel I had booked, and requested that he just took me somewhere central with plenty of options for places to stay. It’s high season in Thailand this time of year, so prices are up and options are limited, plus the area I was in was a 45-minute walk to any attraction other than the beach. He seemed relieved by my request, and turned back around. As he pulled out of the junction, I noticed a sign subtly hidden amongst road signs shrubbery for ‘Al Salam KB Guest House’. I knocked on the wall at the back of the cart, and pointed to it as he turned around. He smiled for the first time, and it seemed genuine, like he was happy to have found it for himself as well as for me.

He got out of the vehicle with me as I approached the check in. The guy on check in was sleeping in a hammock next to a computer screen with a paused youtube video on. The driver leaned in – “Sawadeekrap…!”, he said, which woke up the guest house owner who at first looked startled, before assuming a professional demeanour to welcome me. I got the impression that they must not get much business. The driver said something in Thai, in a tone that seemed suggestive that he labelled his place more thoroughly, in a light-hearted but serious sort of way. I hadn’t eaten at this point and after the journey I was pretty stressed, so uncharacteristically sharp, while still trying to be polite. The owner was a young guy with an intentional haircut that he styled with product, dressed in a red t-shirt and beige shorts. His eyes where red, which I initially assumed where because he was sleeping, but I found in my time there that they where like that all the time. I think he maybe just liked getting high.

I checked into my room, keen to drop my bags, get some water and go for some food. The room was large, and not too dirty but also not really very clean. It had a wardrobe and a fridge. There was no water in the room, but a load of mosquitoes that seemed to increase the more I looked around. I was unsure of if they carry malaria, and I’m not taking any medication for prevention, so felt uneasy. I left the room, asking if there was anywhere near that I could but some water, and if he had mosquito spray. He pointed me in the direction of a Family Mart store, about 2 minutes away, as he sprayed my room. He told me not to return for around 30 minutes, so I assumed the spray must have been decent.

I went to the shop, bought my water and a snack that I managed to find which had ingredients I could understand that where vegan. It was a taro paste filled bread bun, which felt hugely unhealthy but was enjoyable.

The beach was a 10-minute walk away, and then around 35 minutes after you start to come into contact with other people and restaurants etc. I settled on the first one that I saw that had a menu I could read and wasn’t ambiguous as to if it was a restaurant or somebody’s home (although if it was they probably would have still offered me food). I sat down with a Thai green curry and soda water which was presented well enough by Western standards for me to know that It was going to be Western prices, which it was. It was enjoyable all the same. After I finished I walked along towards the more central areas. The beach looked beautiful, and they had catered for the tourism it would bring. Ao Nang centre is a little bit like a typical European tourist destination, in that there are a lot of Western food restaurants and things for sale such as replica branded sunglasses or overpriced sun cream. Though lacking in culture somewhat, I was comforted by the accessibility after having the journey that I did, and felt a little closer to home (or at least Benidorm), which eased some of my homesickness.

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Thai Green Curry – A reminder why i keep coming back to Thailand.

It was starting to get dark, and I realised that my hotel was quite some distance away. Although the route was pretty straight forward and basically a straight line, there was very little street lights around the area I was staying, and I had to walk along a main road for 10 minutes before getting to my place. The sun setting by the beach is psychedelic; shifting tones of pinks and purples, casting silhouettes of couples, families, and friends creates filter free Instagram style imagery. It was a nice reminder of the positives of my journey after the stressful start. As I walked further out of the centre, you notice the sound of animals and insects are at a volume you would never imagine possible could come from such small beings. It’s like some form of jungle/trance/jazz music, with birds coming in and out of rhythm like high pitched trumpets in a Dizzy Gillespie track, while the crickets and cockroaches provided the tribal bass percussion. The sounds of the the electricity wires buzzing give a mechanical sense of activity to the otherwise mostly uninhabited streets.

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Sunset In Ao Nang
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My walk to the Centre (Just before stuff started to happen)
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About 30 minutes walk from my hotel.

I had noticed as I walked that although I did have a desire to eat more food, I didn’t feel obliged to ignore the fact I was full in it’s pursuit. I still hadn’t adjusted enough to my new environment to feel comfortable, and so my stomach didn’t find the prospect of a second dinner appealing (which is never usually the case). I assumed this to be because my bodies lack of comfort meant that it wasn’t willing to be overly stuffed when put in a fight or flight situation that may follow. It wasn’t certain if I was safe. Neither was I, but I would have been willing to risk. This may not be the reason I was food, and it could have just simply been because I’d eaten an hour earlier, but If I was correct then I was thankful that my gut seemed to have my back.

As the sun had set and I was walking back from the populated to unpopulated streets, I became aware that I could barely see my hands in front of me. I got out my phone torch, which I nervously utilised to navigate through the streets. I eventually got to the main road that my hotel was on with a couple of street lights, but it occurred to me that I had not had my torch then oncoming traffic would have really not been likely to see me whatsoever. The sounds I had heard previously where amplified to the point where it was uncomfortable at this point, and I was constantly feeling phantom sensations of insects on my body and legs as I walked to my room at a swift pace.

Once back I was still holding onto a sense of alienation and lack of acceptance. Although I was glad the mosquitoes didn’t seem to be there anymore, the lizard in my bathroom made me uneasy. I have learned a technique when in situations where nature has reclaimed the property that you’re a guest of – basically close the door and hope it goes away. This time it did, to my pleasant surprise. I spent the night googling what to do in the area, and trying to pan out some form of morning itinerary. I have since learned that having zero expectations (unless you have an excursion) is a good way to go about days when travelling when you have no specific intention. I had known this intellectually prior, but have recently come to utilise it in my approach. I was keen to attend some kind of yoga retreat, and found a one based in Ao Nang called, “Marina Yoga and Reiki’. They had 3 nights, 4 day retreats which involved yoga twice a day, alongside 1 session of Reiki, Sound Healing, and Ear Candling. I was aware but not overly interested in the healing aspect of it at the time, but was keen on improving my yoga, so sent an enquiry as to if there where any retreats starting Friday.

I spent the rest of the night on my laptop, which I’ve found is a good escape from travellers’ loneliness when you can get wifi pretty much everywhere and your loved ones are only a few clicks away. My anxiety around the travels came out in my relentless searching for the best prices of flights etc for my potential itinerary’s. I had decided that if Marina Yoga was full or she didn’t get back to me, then I would head to Chiang Mai on Friday. I realised that the part of my mind that needs structure also gets uneasy if it doesn’t feel like I’ve got the most of my money. I’ve always been good at saving as I tend to dislike materialism and value security. While this has its benefits, it was also impacting on my experience as I was in the place where I allowed myself to spend my savings, but worrying too much about not getting the cheapest flight that It was preventing me from enjoying it fully. It was at this point when I went through to the payment section of a flight booking that I realised my STA Travel Cash card was pretty much a con on behalf of the travel company (I’ll go into that in more detail later).

Still in jet lag mode, and with a mind filled with attempts to work stuff out and simultaneously enjoy my experience I attempted to sleep. It wasn’t really working. It was my first day of settling in to a place for over a night, and I was still resisting through fear of uncertainty. It was also the first day when despite earlier events I started to experience pleasure and insight into my own neurosis that I couldn’t have got back home. With some sense of satisfaction gained from that realisation, alongside my exhaustion, I fell asleep.

January 17th – Khao San Road, Bangkok

After my initial struggle to get to sleep, I managed to get enough hours to help slightly alter my negative frame of mind. It was probably only around 5 or 6, but it was in a bed rather than in an upright seat of a plane, so despite conditions it was still somewhat restorative. Breakfast was included with my £14 room, so after quickly washing I went to the outside reception area (around 8am) and sat on a blue plastic stool. A hotel staff member handed me a menu with 3 breakfast options – the 1 of which I could eat being continental (fruit, toast, and coffee). He wanted to charge me 100 baht (around £2.40) but I reminded him that it was included in my room, and showed him my booking receipt. He reluctantly accepted.

Thailand has a unique magic in the mornings. The air feels humid and exotic, even in the cities. Although the smells can be varied from hot oil, to raw sewage, the cocktail of odours fills me with excitement in the awareness that I’m in Thailand. It’s a comfortable familiarity, and experiencing it this morning gave me a wave of optimism. After finishing my breakfast, I confirmed that checkout was 11am, and then browsed the area for an alternative place to stay. I had made a commitment to myself that if I was to cut the trip short then I could afford nicer places to stay. After browsing a few I found many to be fully booked, or too expensive still (again, a lot seems to have changed price wise). I then remembered about a place I had stayed in the past called ‘BB House’, which I had stayed in once in 2012. I headed there.

The lady behind the counter had a maternal vibe that I picked up immediately. I imagined she would really look after her grandchildren, but not let them get away with anything also. She quoted me 550 baht for a room (around £12.50 or so), which seemed reasonable, so I accepted. Check-in wasn’t until 11, so I grabbed my bags from A&A house, and headed out for a coffee. I was reminded that black coffee in Thailand does tend to be pretty disgusting, and very few places have soy or alternative-to-dairy milk. I appreciated the caffeine affect all the same. I was reading the book I mentioned previously by Marianne Cantwell and it continued to resonate with what I was aiming for. The book has exercises that requires you to examine areas in your work life that you like and dislike, highlighting how to sculpt your life around your interests. I felt good reading it, it made sense to be doing so at this time.

After my coffee I checked in at BB House, and dropped my bags in my room. I realised on my entry that my choice to stay there was in part counter-active to the purpose of my travel – to become more accepting of uncertainty. It was early in the trip, and I had enquired elsewhere, so I didn’t regard it fully as a slip up. I connected to the wifi, to see I had a message from my Thai friend, Belle, who had studied an M.A. in Illustration in Sunderland University while I had. I had told her previously that I would be heading to Bangkok, but had forgot to get in touch when I arrived. She asked how long I was in Bangkok for, which was 1 more night (I had a flight to Krabi the following day), and we arranged to meet up for dinner at 8pm once she had finished work in central Bangkok.

Khao San doesn’t offer a load to do other eat or drink during the day, but fortunately there are a load of vegetarian restaurants in what looks like a back alley, about a 5-minute walk from the main part of the street. I went to a place that also offers cooking classes, and ordered a variation on red curry that I hadn’t previously tried and was interested in. At the time of writing this ( 26th of January) it was the best meal I had in Thailand on this trip. Although I cook a lot of Thai at home, it’s almost impossible to accurately recreate some of the flavours that ingredients like fresh pea aubergine or holy basil can give to a dish. You can get these ingredients occasionally at home, but they cost more than the rest of the meal put together and are nowhere near as fresh (or I just can’t cook with them properly). I was excited for the meal, but once I had eaten it I felt a sense of sadness in that I was full and no longer had food to look forward to until 8pm.

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The best curry in Thailand i’ve eaten to date. Who knows what the restaurant was called…

This feeling reminded me that I was searching for something outside of myself for satisfaction, using food at this point as an attempt to fulfil it. Often at home I would spend my daytime looking forward to cooking something for myself and Magda on the night, to feel disappointed once I had eaten it. I would give myself ridiculously large portions (justified by my unhealthy relationship with exercise) and feel unwell after eating them. My eating large quantities is an attempt to feel some sense of satisfaction by filling myself when I feel empty of something – but that something certainly isn’t food.

I walked around the nearby streets but I didn’t feel particularly drawn to any particular place. You sweat so much in Thailand, and constantly feel unclean. Fortunately, my feelings of cleanliness and desire to always be presentable have reduced in time as I have become decreasingly concerned with my image and how I appear to others. After sometime I found myself in a Starbucks, as I wanted to relax somewhere with wifi and air-con. Their coffee may not be as bad as the other places, but it isn’t much better, so I ordered a matcha green tea soy latte. It turned out it was buy one, get one free, so I also got an iced hibiscus tea with tapioca starch balls at the bottom. Both where surprisingly enjoyable, though laced with sugar, and the price of 1 drink was the same as the price of 3 in a regular coffee shop. I sent some e-mails I had needed to take care of, and browsed flights to India (which I still haven’t booked). I noticed the café was mainly filled with locals in suits or who looked as though they where pretty well-off, which was understandable given the prices.

A couple of Thai girls sat next to me, and they where on a video call with another friend. They kept high-fiving each other every 20 – 30 seconds, which at first I found comical but then grew irritating. I was trying to imagine if the gesture possessed any authenticity to them after 25 high-fives or so, or if it had become something of a communal twitch. My irritation with people tends not be sourced on their general character, but on particular behaviours that rightly or wrongly irritate me (with the exception of the guy on the flight mentioned previously – he was awful). My annoyance, accompanied by the aircon being directed towards me for long enough to be uncomfortable, lead me to leave and head back to the hotel room at around 5pm. I’ve noticed that around 4:30 while I’m away I tend to feel sadness. This was the start of that occurrence (again, at the time of writing it hasn’t left). I’m unsure of it’s source, but it was similar when I was home. Maybe that’s why in the USA they make a tradition out of getting high at 4:20?

I wanted to do some exercise, and had loaned some resistance bands from my friend Steve who has a gym in his garage. I didn’t care about building muscle while I was away, as that wasn’t the point in my journey, but I did want to maintain what I have. It’s not much, but I feel like I’ve worked for it! Before exercising I sat on my single bed with floral sheets in BB House, and had my first toilet experience since my arrival. My stomach was still not adjusted, as was evident by the toilet bowl. I’ve had IBS for a long time, so this didn’t really concern me, plus I’d take it for the pay off of Thai food. I also learned at that point that ‘bum guns’ (a small hose by the side of the toilet) where way more effective than toilet roll alone. It seems crazy that we don’t use them in the West. It’s being commented upon plenty already by others, but we really are doing toileting incorrectly.

I connected to wifi and had a message from Belle, saying she would be early as she got out before 6:30 and traffic wasn’t bad. I was determined to do some exercise (another one of my routines that gives me anxiety if I can’t complete it and makes me feel like I’ve committed some form of crime). I loaded up a few bodyweight shoulder and tricep exercises, and attempted to do a few sets while listening to a Russell Brand podcast. I noticed my weakness, but didn’t judge it given the circumstances. Around 25 minutes in I realised I needed to leave very soon, so had a shower and washed my hair. I was pleasantly surprised that BB House had a hairdryer. I was meeting Belle by the Starbucks I had previously been to and she was keen to take me to ‘The best place for Pad Thai in Bangkok’.

I arrived, and around 2 minutes Belle showed up, shouting my name from a short distance in the slightly American sounding Thai accent that I forgot she had. Over 3 years had passed since I last saw her, and I also forgot how short she was. I’m only 5 foot 7 so not used to having lean down to talk to somebody – it felt novel. We walked down Khao san road, which is like a festival at night for 18 – 30’s. The music around the bars makes the concrete vibrate, and distorts as it merges with the music from the competitor bar next door which is at a similar volume. There are people standing outside holding boards advertising happy hour, ‘buckets’, and signs that literally say ‘we don’t ask for i.d’. Everybody there is trying to sell you something; t-shirts (which are all the same), vests, bags, shoes, purses, jewellery, suits (that’s a major one near guesthouses), scorpions on a stick, fruit shakes, pancakes, 50 baht pad thai, and occasionally offers of drugs from Tuk Tuk drivers. I attempted to ignore it all as I followed Belle down this packed street, speaking loudly so we could hear each other over everything.

We passed a bar where she had earlier spotted her school friend, who was performing in one of the bands playing in a bar. She was keen to introduce me, and brought me over to shake his hand. His mannerisms and demeanour where different to all of my other exchanges with Thai people that I’ve had, which I realised was because he was simply being genuine. I was not expecting a service from him or telling him I didn’t want a taxi; I was just talking to him as a human. It felt like the most honest communication I’ve had since getting here to date with a local person. He seemed very likeable.

As we where walking I noticed I felt very aware that I was a white male walking with a Thai girl, and felt ashamed of myself for being concerned that I might appear as the stereotype lonely guy who goes over to Thailand and essentially buys romance. I had contemplated in the past how it was a shame that many genuine couples of different ethnicities would be subject to prejudice, but now I was experiencing that I also had some capacity for it myself. I snapped out of those thoughts soon enough, as I realised that my fear of judgement wasn’t strong enough at all to actually affect my behaviour in any way.

Belle was keen to take me to the Pad Thai place, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I wasn’t really all that bothered about pad thai (my opinion has since changed, but not from this experience). I was still happy to go there however, given that it had such a good reputation and Belle was there to inform them of my particular diet. She had told me at this point that quite often in Thailand they use ‘pork oil’ as opposed to vegetable oil when frying their foods, as it is a lot cheaper. I realised that so much of the time I’m likely inadvertently eating animal products without knowledge that I am. She assured me she would check before we ate, but at this point I’d probably eaten a fair few trace remains of pigs. It was a short taxi drive away. We got in and she was mocking me for putting my seatbelt on, saying I was in Thailand now and have to travel ‘Thai style’. The ride was around 5 minutes, and as we got out the driver apparently told her that ‘it’s not as good as it used to be’. She had feared this given it’s rise in popularity in recent years. She explained how she used to go there often when in high-school, as it was situated right next to it. There was a que out the door and nothing else going on in the street, so I thought it still must be pretty good.

The que went down pretty fast, and we where seated in around 5 minutes. Under Belles recommendation I ordered the coconut water shake to drink, and she took care of my customised, no doubt seemingly pretentious Pad Thai order. She had told me soon after the waitress left that she was Burmese, which was identifiable by her accent. Apparently a lot of Thai places now employ Buremese people as their wages are lower than nationals. Our food arrived, and Belles Pad Thai looked like no other that I had seen before. It was coated in what looked like an omelette, which had to be broken into to get to the noodles. Mine looked more conventional. She talked me through the toppings on the table – fish sauce with chilli and vinegar, white pepper, ground peanuts, and something else that I don’t remember. I opted for peanuts. With the Pad Thai you get given a small plate with raw beansprouts and chives, as well as 2 wedges of limes. Apparently you eat the chives separate to the meal, which felt odd to me. It didn’t taste bad, but it also didn’t feel like it deserved a place as a solo ingredient or flavour. Though enjoyable, my dinner was overly sweetened. Belle agreed.

We caught up on the logistical side of each others lives. She explained how she wishes she could live in the UK, but it’s basically impossible for her to as companies would have to pay significantly more to employ her over others, given visa checks that where needed etc. It put into some perspective on the positive things about British and living in the UK. We have a lot more opportunities than our Asian neighbours. I paid for our dishes and we then went to a nearby local desert place, and got a dish that I don’t remember the name of. It was a combination of pulses and tapioca starch in coconut milk. It was enjoyable and typically Asian, in that it combined ingredients we associate in the west with savoury dishes into deserts. I was pretty full after it all, but Belle was keen to get some more desert. She had made quite a journey for me, so despite being tired I went along to an ice cream chain with her.

As we left the taxi stepping over a rat that was crawling by the curb, we entered into the ice cream place. It was fully American in aesthetic. She ordered some kind of sundae, and I got an iced lemon tea. I already had a bottle of water that was wet and lukewarm in the humidity, but I didn’t want to leave her to consume alone. There’s a strange sense of shame in having something that is indiscreetly bad for you when in the company of somebody who isn’t – or perhaps there isn’t and it’s just my eating disorder mentality? Belle gave me the lowdown on malaria and other diseases I would be at risk of in Asia, and was pretty convinced that I should just go to the hospital for an anti malarial jab (apparently Thai people get this in school, very early on). I had been recommended tablets if going into affected zones, but the risk seems pretty low. I still felt a little cautious about the other list of things I needed to now consider, such as the smoke fumes from the street stall stands that I mentioned I could smell from my room (and liked) that apparently where carbon monoxide and could kill me in my sleep. It was around 11pm and I was exhausted, so we ended the night there and I went back to my room.

I was still carrying a lot of sadness that I couldn’t shake and my mind was making me unable to sleep through worrying about route options and not wanting to waste money by booking things too late etc, but I put that down in part to my jet lag, and in part to simply having the overly anxious traits that I came here to work on in the first place. I secured the windows very tightly to create a carbon monoxide free zone – never the less.

January 15th/16th -Car, Train, Flight, Bus, Flight, Flight, Taxi.

Sundays always have made me feel uneasy. I think it’s the ingrained guilt that seems to infect us from childhood, where we know that we have to do our homework and have another 5 days of school ahead. At least it’s a realistic lesson to learn early on, in accordance to working a standard Western job. As soon as I woke up and saw Magda sleeping next to me, knowing that today was the day that I left for the foreseeable future, the Sunday feeling kicked in, on steroids.

I normally try to start the day with some form of exercise. More recently it has been bodyweight based strength and conditioning as the gym I was using closed during the Christmas period. Today was different – I needed to preserve my energy. It seems ironic given that I would be seated for the majority of the day, but there’s something about travelling long-haul that makes you feel like you’ve just attempted an iron man competition in regards to exhaustion. If I exerted myself I wouldn’t be able to hold myself together. I still hadn’t packed.

My flight was at 5pm and I needed to be at the airport for 3. This was my last few hours to communicate with everybody that I loved in person, but I wasn’t able to speak normally. My sentences didn’t really make sense and my speech was monotonous. I also noticed the smell of my breath which was pungent and toxic, and probably an accurate reflection of my internal state. I went downstairs to make some tea, and said hello to my mam, who could sense my dis-ease. She has a very nervous disposition (unless she is working behind the bar, where she allows herself to play the role of somebody confident). She was very worried about me going away, however she gets anxious whenever I leave to traditional holiday destinations, so her emotional state may sometimes not be treat with the recognition needed.

I wanted to allocate some time to have some final moments with Magda, and so we sat with our tea and played a game made up by Magda and her Dad. The game was called ‘scribbles’ – one person drew a meaningless mark on some paper, and the other person makes it into something. We had started playing it a few days prior, creating monsters that the other person would attribute a silly name. I had enjoyed the safe spontaneity of it, but playing it today just felt tragic and false – like when we smile for the camera then resume our regular expression afterwards. We where both pretending we where ok, but we weren’t. Magda was better at faking it than I was, not for herself, but for me. That almost made it harder.

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One of the pages from the ‘Scribbles’ game.

I attempted to pack but I hadn’t really looked at my backpack, and I was trying to shove way more into it than It could safely hold. The packing process stressed me, and again, Magda helped and kept a cool demeanour while she demonstrated how rolling clothes saves way more space. I need to give her more credit I think; she has a lot of good ideas that I sometimes overlook. I had bought the laptop I’m writing this on so I could keep active while away. I had intended to finish up some freelance illustration work that could be done digitally, writing a journal, and potentially creating a podcast. Despite having bought it exclusively for my travels, last minute I had second thoughts on if It would be a burden having to worry about it getting damaged. This format of anxiety remained with many other minor decisions too – bringing a neck pillow for the flight, a microphone that I had bought exclusively for the podcast. It didn’t even work, but for some reason the decision to leave it was met with reluctance.

As it approached 1:30pm when I was getting picked up by my sister, who was taking me to the metro station, Magda wasn’t able to hold the space with the same positivity that she had been (not that I would have expected her to). We got into the car and I voiced my concerns to my sister, who said I would feel different once I was on the plane. A lot of people enjoy flights it seems, but for me it’s definitely the worst part. Flight’s aren’t built for comfort in economy, they are built for economy.

Magda lives nearer the airport than I do, so was on the metro with me for around 30 minutes. Our journey was tense. Not with each other, but with our mutual inability to fake a conversation that was appropriate to have in a public environment. We sat in a comfortable but sad silence. We assured each other that the silence wasn’t of a resentful nature, but we both already knew. I looked down to see my new backpack, with the handle decorated by a bracelet Magda had weaved me out of some yellow string and a lock of her hair. It was too small for my wrists, so I tied it around my bag to help identify my bag, and take at least a little part of her away with me. The bracelet was made a while ago, so her hair colour had changed about 3 times since, but it was still her hair underneath all the dye.

We where approaching Gateshead; Magda’s metro stop. We had agreed to not make a fuss about saying bye, and to try and actively pretend that it was just the same as saying goodbye any other day. We kissed and said that we loved each other, and she stepped onto the escalator as the metro pulled away. I took a few deep breaths as I had filled up and didn’t want to embarrass myself by making an emotional scene.

I had a text a few moments later. I can’t remember what it said, but I wasn’t in a position to read it fully in fear I would drop my façade of being ok. She also wrote me a note to read after she left, but I couldn’t myself to read it at this point for the same reason. A few stops later a couple in their 60’s or 70’s got on with their 2 granddaughters, and where comically posh. If somebody was to make a sketch show with a cliché conservative family, then adding these characters wouldn’t work as it would seem too forced. The lady referred to man as ‘Grandfather’, and she insisted that all 4 sat on the same 2 seats, despite the carriage being empty. They discussed the journey, as if public transport was a novel experience. Me and Magda would often see people walking by when sitting in café’s etc. and we’d make up a name, career, and favourite sandwich – for example; Danielle is 28, works in recruitment and would normally eat a BLT, but now she’s having Egg and cress because she’s ‘on a diet’. It wasn’t a game to insult others as the projections could also be positive, it was the accuracy of the archetype that was amusing to us. I wished that she could have been with me at that moment to see the definitive middle class grandparents (Charles and Mary was the name I assigned them).

I arrived at the airport. The carriage was empty as this was the terminal – not many people holiday in January.  By this point I had surrendered to it, thinking that if I couldn’t handle it I would just come home after a week. A week seemed manageable. I arrived at Newcastle airport and checked in, before heading to the departure gate of my first of 3 flights. I was boarding a British Airways flight to London, then to New Delhi, before heading to Bangkok. I started reading a book I was gifted by cousin for Christmas titled ‘Be a Free Range Human’, about escaping the 9-5 and making enough money to live happily. Everything I read seemed almost supernaturally relevant, in the same way that the title of the Bonobo album I bought the day before was ‘migration’. The first few pages are about dropping everything you are unhappy with in pursuit of self-fulfilment, and that was exactly what my aim was. It felt like this was one of many synchronicities that where to happen.

The British Airways flight was mainly occupied by those who regularly commute for work. A guy in a suit with a broadsheet newspaper asked for a seatbelt extender, which was another perfect archetype I was saddened I didn’t have Magda to witness with me. I was seated between a couple, so I offered to switch seats so they could sit together. They told me that they had intentionally booked the seats this way as he wanted legroom and she wanted a window. They both did their own thing during the 1 hour journey.

When I arrived in London I had to get a 15 minute airport bus to the terminal for my connection. I’d never been in an airport of such magnitude (maybe Dubai?). I found a pret-a-manger which I was grateful for as they had vegan food and I hadn’t really eaten much for 24 hours. I called Magda who I was relieved to hear seemed happy and comfortable in the company of her mother. She was also slightly tipsy which was an unusual occurrence for her but understandable, and she seemed to be having a nice time.

I boarded my Jet airways flight to Delhi, and fortunately was sat on the end of a row with only one other person next to me – an Indian man who seemed friendly enough but occupied more elbow space than was really polite. Again, airlines aren’t designed for comfort, and this was made apparent when you had to bass the business and first class areas filled with individual small scale living rooms, to get to your seat amongst the crying children and people who insist on standing up all the time. The flight was around 8 hours, and I wasn’t in the frame of mind to be able to enjoy the entertainment so I just tried to close my eyes until it was over, much like how I intended to get through the next 6 months.

Going through security in Delhi is crazy. You get the impression that nobody really knows or cares about what they are doing. They have separate lines for different genders that they occasionally make exceptions with without any noticeable reason. Things that would take 30 minutes take 2 hours or so, like my 3rd check through security after boarding the 2 previous flights. I suppose that’s one of the attributes of India that you have to just accept. Maybe it can have its benefits.

After my security experience I only had around 1 hour to wait. I was really keen to get some Indian food but had no rupees, as it’s illegal to take them in or out of the country. I boarded my flight to Bangkok from Delhi, and was sat next a young couple who where going through photos together on their iPad. It looked like they had a great time – it was nice to see. I’m too socially awkward to make conversation, but I would have liked to. Hopefully by the flight home I’ll have learned enough to make conversations with strangers a possibility.

The flight was 3 and a half hours but felt way longer. There where 2 males and a female in the parallel seating to where I was, and the one on the end row was requesting new drinks, extra food, his litter to be collected etc. every few minutes. He had a tactless vulgarity seeping out his pores and was uncomfortable to be close to. The same flight seemed to have the most amount of people I had ever seen use a cabin toilet in a 3 and a half hour journey. The cabin crew where unable to come through with drinks trolleys etc. and had to hold the fake smile throughout the whole journey, with the thin veneer lifting for a moment when they made eye contact with each other in acknowledgment of the absurdity of the passengers. I felt sympathetic towards them and like i wanted to apologise on behalf of everybody else. I was ashamed to be part of the collective of the passengers on this flight. Perhaps they where normal and it was me who was perceiving them differently with my sleep deprivation and overall negative mood. I don’t think it was.

If you have any kind of dietary requirement you’ll find things generally go wrong around 40% of the time, and this was one of those times. The couple next to me where brought some kind of meal that wasn’t regular (pescetarian I think), and then everybody else was given their food. When asked if i wanted the chicken or vegetarian food, I reminded them that I had requested a vegan meal on the booking preferences. The lady told me to wait for a moment, before another came and gave me a chicken based meal with dairy based side dishes. I was too tired to complain and add to the increasing number of irritating passengers, so I just didn’t eat it. I could see the obnoxious guy to my left eyeing up my foil covered plastic soap tray filled with chicken, and was preparing for him to ask If he could eat it. When the cabin crew came around to collect the food trays, they asked if I wasn’t hungry. I explained I had requested a vegan meal, so he apologised and returned with what he claimed to be a vegan meal (but still with dairy based yoghurts and spreads on the tray). It was a curry with rice and chappati, which was actually quite enjoyable, thought I’m not convinced it was vegan.

Once we did finally arrive and got through immigration (not with ease as I had filled my arrival card in incorrectly) I approached the taxi que. I was approached buy a tanned bearded white guy who looked like he also hadn’t slept for a while, who discouraged me from getting a taxi to Khao San (where i was staying – he just knew it seemed) as the fare was inflated, and encouraged me to wait for the bus. I told him I was booked in at a place just outside of Khao san and just wanted to sleep so was willing to pay the extra for the convenience. He seemed disheartened. He explained how he had travelled from Australia to meet his parents in Hua Hin, Thailand, but due to flight delays had missed his onward bus journey. I realised that he wanted to share the cost of a twin room in Khao San and get the bus the next day, and that was why he had asked me about my plans. I got a friendly vibe from him. Had I not just arrived I may have been up for it.

I arrived at ‘A&A Guest House’ and was greeted by the standard level of low enthusiasm that you receive when you pay under £20 for a hotel. I didn’t expect more, and I knew that the same hotel elsewhere in Thailand would have been a lot cheaper, but this was Bangkok. My room had a single mattress on a freestanding bed frame, salmon pink walls, no windows, and a list of charges that would have to pay for various things being damaged as opposed to a welcome pack. The first thing I wanted to do was contact Magda and my mam to let them know I arrived safe. It was around 11pm, so 4pm in the UK. The wifi didn’t really work but I wanted to get some food anyway, so I went to nearby restaurant and ordered a thai red curry with a bottle of soda water, making use of their free wifi.

I felt such an intense sense of sadness that I hoped would have lifted by the time I arrived, accompanied by guilt given that I was able to have an experience that so many would have been truly envious of, and I wanted to be home. I was relieved to find that flights from India in April where cheaper than I anticipated, so have considered using that time to head back. When I looked at the bill I realised that I might not have the option to stay much longer anyway. Prices had gone up slightly, but the exchange rate currently makes travelling in Thailand a lot more expensive than it has been in my 2 other experiences. Before I would expect to pay around £1.50 – £2 for a meal with a non-alcoholic drink. Now it was closer to £5, £6, or £7. It’s still reasonable, but my budget wouldn’t cut it out here for the time that I had anticipated being away for. Maybe it’s brexits fault or maybe it’s trumps fault – I’m not qualified enough in politics to understand, but it seems a logical couple of groups to blame.

I headed back slightly more optimistic as I knew I could go home sooner than I thought, and I had a stomach full of curry. The food reminded me why I kept coming back. My room was grim, and I didn’t feel safe there, so I planned to spend the next morning enquiring into alternative guest houses in the area, as I had a flight to Krabi the day after. I couldn’t get to sleep – not because of the noise (Bangkok really does never seem to sleep), but because of the anxieties pulsating around my head about my next steps. As I outlined in my last post, uncertainty is not something that I handle well, but this was an opportunity to force myself to get better at it. After about 1 hour of getting up and going to the toilet, checking the door was locked, and making sure there where no cockroaches in my bed – I fell asleep.

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AA House, Bangkok
15th_aahouse_2
Looks better on agoda.com. This looks more accurate.

January 14th – The Day Before I left

leaving the UK and everybody in it on a one-way ticket to Bangkok seemed enticing 6 months ago, but in the past few months as January the 15th has been creeping up, my anxiety has followed in uncomfortable harmony. Today was not a good day. At least I couldn’t identify it as good as it was unfolding. My body seems to have a tendency to be physically retentive whenever I am anxious, and so the night of the 14th and the morning of the 15th of January I found myself with diarrhoea after months of on and off constipation, and crying into the benevolent chest of my girlfriend. Something had caused an overflow, and my purge was taking place, with the suitable beautifully sad background music of ‘migration’ by Bonobo which I had bought that morning (a very appropriate album title).

I’ve been with Magda for around 3 years, and she has been incredibly supportive with my decision to quit my job as a content editor to travel. We have complete trust with each other and although she acknowledges the difficulty of being in a temporarily long-distance relationship, she recognises the perceived benefit the trip would have on us both. When I found myself in tears being comforted by her I felt particularly invalid; primarily as a partner, as it seemed to make more sense for me to comfort Magda than vice versa, and secondarily as a traveller. What ‘traveller’ saves up all their money for over 2 years, quits their job, moves back in to their mams house for 4 months, all so they can travel, and then has second thoughts the month before they leave? It wasn’t my first time travelling as I’d been to South-East Asia twice before, and it wasn’t being alone as I’d left the country multiple times on solo adventures. It was in part missing everybody I love, but I knew that I had accounted for this and I knew that I wouldn’t be gone forever. In those moments that I had soaked the shoulder of my girlfriend’s sweatshirt with tepid breaths and salty tears, she pointed out that the reaction I was having was not just about missing home. Here’s how she was right…

I have had issues with self-value for a long time. I only really understood and identified it as an issue of such a nature when I had an experience with the psychedelic plant medicine, ‘Ayahuasca’ and was confronted with the various conditioning that had taken place from my birth through culture and up-bringing. I won’t go into the full details, but it taught me that I need to learn to be more open and drop all self-loathing as it was unjustified. It is self-loathing that has made me seemingly unable to have a good time with any typically enjoyable activity, as something inside of me feels undeserving.

I had got into the pattern (and I think I still might be in it, though to a lesser extent) of having to prove myself in various ways to feel worthy of anything. It started from childhood, with my mams protestant ‘work as an intrinsic good’ perspective being drilled into me, while she worked all day and night as a bar person, leaving my wellbeing to the incapable hands of 5 year senior sister with mental health issues manifested in her adolescence as behavioural problems. My dad wasn’t around to help out – he was also in a bar, just not the same one as my mam, and not to work but to feed his addiction, which eventually was responsible for his death. Growing up in the working class culturally deprived North-East ex-coalmining town of Sunderland in the 1990’s further elevated this idea of not being worth anything unless you where working. Recreation of any form was taboo as the time spent having fun could be time spent making some money under the illusion that if you had cash you where safe.

I had major problems with asthma growing up and was dependent on the 24 hour care of my mam, who would sleep by my side in case I had an attack – I regularly did. I was known by staff at the hospital, and I had favourite wards etc. If my name was mentioned in a&e, I was seen immediately, as the staff where aware of the severity of my condition. This dependence on my mam lead me to feeling extreme guilt for making her have to work so hard just to keep me alive. As a child you are unable to intellectualise your feelings and trace them back to source, but this idea of being inferior really did resonate.

I found that from my adolescence through to adulthood I became determined to find ways to assert my worth to myself and others. It started when I was 14 and got a tattoo. I had always been interested in art and illustration as it was comforting to me when I was in hospital beds. I could create my own worlds in my mind through my drawings and reside in the flow state that was created from it. The tattoo seemed a logical step given the significance I attributed to visuals, and so I got the astrological ‘m’ shaped Scorpio sign on my right forearm in a run-down tattoo shop with no windows in a residential area of Sunderland for £20. My Dad came with me. He didn’t approve of me getting it done but knew that I would have got it done anyway, so thought it would be a suitable bonding activity, and that his presence would make it known to the tattooist that he was consenting to the idea of permanently marking a minor (Ironically, this is the worst form of ‘i.d’ you can offer. Not that they requested to see any). The lady working at reception even asked if we where ‘going for a pint after this’, which I understood as an effort to express that she knows I’m underage but is OK with that and will play along with the whole transparent façade. We didn’t get a pint after it was done, or at least I didn’t. My dad likely did.

The tattoo attributed me with some social worth in school. I had always felt different from other children growing up; I had no interest in football, wrestling, or guns, and I’d rather sit in the house making things then socialise with anybody else my own age. I could handle the company of adults but not my peers. I felt oppressing judgement from people my own age, but not as much from adults (this never really left). I didn’t feel ‘cool’ enough or ‘fun’ enough or ‘sporty’ enough. The steroid tablets I was on for my asthma increased my appetite, alongside the temporary comfort I would get from the the satisfaction of my limbic survival mechanisms through over-eating. I was told to be on a ‘diet for life’ by my doctor, Doctor Lowery, which was the start of my eating disorder and unhealthy relationship with food. I had grown up accepting that I was too weak and ugly to ever be loved, and I’d look down in the bath to see my naked belly surfacing the water with rolls of fat resembling processed corned-beef, thinking how if I ever tricked somebody into loving me then I would worship them so they would never leave me. Now I had a tattoo, and anorexia, so If people paid attention to me it wasn’t because I was fat, it was because I had a tattoo (and a 25 inch waist).

A few months prior to me getting the tattoo I had met a girl through the introduction of my cousin who showed interest in me romantically, and I would contemplate how my cousin must have convinced her friend to go out with me through pity. The first time I recognised that her interest was authentic after spending some time with her on the evening I couldn’t sleep for crying at how overwhelming it all was. I had my mind made up early on that I was too undesirable to be of interest to anybody, so this contradictory revelation took me off guard. I had learned what it felt like to be desired and I wanted to do all I could to maintain her enthusiasm, and so I put myself on a diet of sugar-free soft drinks and Trebor extra strong mints. Having the tattoo was the next step in my attempt to get rid of my self-loathing through extreme strategies.

I lost my virginity at 14 years old to the girl mentioned, and became what in retrospect could probably be considered a sex addict. I would finish my day at the all boys catholic school I was intending and go to her house, where we would sleep together from 3:30 until around 4:45, then I’d leave in time for her parents’ arrival with hair stuck to my forehead. My sex drive wasn’t exclusively the result of having regular heavy doses of hormones surging through my body through puberty, but of feeling united with another being and completely open and vulnerable without feeling any form of judgement. It was the experience of the loss of self and merging into one with another being experiencing the same thing. When all your defences are gone it’s easy to fall in love.

Being in a long-term relationship at 14 is not healthy, especially when you’re inadvertently using your partner as a means to justify your existence. When she cheated on me after 9 months of being together I was heartbroken. I’d never felt devastation like it. If I noticed another girl that I found attractive I would feel ashamed of myself and immediately repress my thoughts like a strict protestant parent. I expected her to act equally against nature’s rules, but I was too dependent of what we had to give it up, so we stayed together. 3 months later she ended up, and I found out that she had cheated during that time. I knew that I would have still taken her back, but it was no longer my choice. Mother nature is always going to do her thing.

My attitude to sexuality soon shifted, and I became detached from the significance I’d previously attributed sex with, now seeing it as recreational escapism and ego-strengthening. I began to get more female attention by adopting the popular trend of the time period of what was known as ‘scene’ (long hair, snakebite lip piercings, stretched ears etc.). I had my Scorpio tattoo covered up at 16 with a larger skull and rose tattoo. Being tattooed became my method of releasing adrenalin. The commitment made under the needle was ceremonial; it provided certainty and objective truth. It provided permanence. Popular girls seemed to like tattooed males, and thus began the start of various limbs getting coloured in for the next few years and a series of girlfriends on average 3-4 years my senior.

I would enter into relationships with no active intent to hurt anyone and I continued to try and be a good partner, but my choices where often based on how open I believed the girls sexual availability to be. I’d also find older women automatically more attractive as they could offer more sexual experience and emotional maturity. My relationships generally lasted around 3 – 12 months, and I would be confused when I found that I didn’t enjoy the company of the person I was with but enjoyed sex with them. I struggled to allow myself to get emotionally connected as I knew it wouldn’t last. I was searching for the sense of purity and purpose I experienced when I was with my first girlfriend but too scared to allow myself to feel it. It wasn’t that my first girlfriend was ‘the one’, but rather she was the one I happened to be with when I was inexperienced enough to lower my defences and feel every feeling in total nudity. I was searching for self-worth through the bodies and emotions of others.

During my more sexually active adolescence I found that alcohol helped me pretend to be more confident than I actually was. I would go out to rock and metal nights in a club in Sunderland most Thursday nights from around the ages of 15 – 17. There where a few experiences where alcohol helped me massively and I genuinely did have fun, but a lot of the time when I was drunk, I felt empty. I only drank in company (apart from one night where I woke up alone in a Jack Daniels-scented-vomit-flooded pillow), so it wasn’t that I was trying to escape from day to day life, but when I did drink I had made an assumption of a promise of a good time. I was treat for my general depressed disposition on a combination of medication and therapy for a while. When alcohol didn’t hold up it’s end of the bargain and provide me with happiness I would get even deeper into myself. I gave up drinking on and off when I started to realise this at around 17, but chose to abstain in totality when I was brought home by the police after being pinned down by my best friend while attempting to jump off the same bridge that my late grandmother did a few years before I was born. I have never drank alcohol since.

I went through a period of more self acceptance but had grown something of an ego as a thin shell to cover up my insecurities. I had now earned some kind of status through playing in a band that where reasonably well-liked locally and getting a little attention from girls. I could act patronising and condescending to those who I deemed deserved it, as if I could soak up self-worth through diminishing the worth of others. Somewhere in there I recognised I didn’t genuinely think I was better than anybody else, but it felt good to pretend that I did.

I had a best-friend who I admired greatly. He was 4 years older than me and I was impressed by his positive demeanour and enthusiasm for life. He was inspiring to be around and would shower me with compliments. We got on incredibly well. The friendship grew increasingly intense, to a point where it was unhealthy. He was openly gay, and I could sense he was attracted to me but he was fully aware with total certainty of my heterosexuality.

He began to act in ways that would be typical of a psychologically abusive partner through his frustration with the dynamic, and I would have to not mention my girlfriends name in front of him to avoid jealousy (which always lead to terrible moods and ruined evenings together). If I didn’t agree with his opinion on something I would be bullied into pretending that I did to avoid interrogation of my character on the whole. He made me make an agreement where I would text or call him on a daily basis, and would request that I told him I loved him claiming that if I felt weird saying it then I must have been homophobic. There are many examples of similar behaviours, but despite it all, it was clear that he did have genuine love for me and when he was in a good mood we had an amazingly good time together.

For the first few years I became accepting of his controlling behaviour in return for the sense of worth he placed on me. The intensity eventually became too much and I had outgrown my reliance on him to confirm my validity – his presence was more of a chore than a pleasure. Fortunately, he met a partner, and the dynamic between us was strange but manageable, until his recently developed daily dependence on cannabis brought on symptoms of psychosis. That lead to him cutting all friends out his life out of the blue around a year ago, about a month after he asked to borrow £50 for drugs. When I figured out that the cost to gain ratio of his company was unfavourably balanced, I had to look elsewhere for affirmation.

I had a varied academic history, through my lack of commitment to a particular discipline through fear I wasn’t good enough at anything to make it into a career. After sixth form I was lined up to do a foundation art course, but was convinced that I’d not be able to independently survive as a ‘starving artist’, so I managed to get a place on a B.Sc Psychology course at Sunderland University. While my tutors did seem to like me, it was clear that a discipline of science was not what I was meant to do, and after 9 months and 9 grand of student debt, I dropped the B.Sc and enrolled on another foundation art course.

I did well on the course and earned a distinction, which secured me a place on B.A Illustration and design course. It was during these years that I started to actively go to meditation lessons, and became obsessed with beat literature as I resonated with the sense of discontent discussed in poems like Ginsbergs, ‘Howl’, and was infatuated with the romance of the travel accounts of Kerouac. Meditation and beat culture created a sense of the alternative to being stuck in the head space that I was. I applied this inspiration to my university work, and got dependant on the concrete certainty provided by high percentage marks for my work. I believed high marks to equate to a positive and secure future, where I would no longer be working weekends at Starbucks for minimum wage. My unrecognised tendency to look for answers where there couldn’t be any was in full swing again.

When I graduated I felt lost. The sense of meaning my life had when I had a goal was my identity, and getting a job in the design field is not easy, even with a first class degree. At my graduation ceremony I noticed there where also some M.A students receiving their symbolic rolls of paper that had given them the status as ‘Masters’. I had saved my maintenance loans and had savings from my weekend job, so I spent £3,300 on an M.A Illustration and Design course, to buy me a little more time before attempting to enter the cyclical void of the 9-5 that I inevitably would have to settle with.

I really enjoyed the M.A and the dynamic it provided. Though I only had 4 hours contact time a week, I would be in the studio daily and produce a lot of work. I started to write a blog and post my work on networking websites, following the cliché pattern of equating attention to validity. It was during my M.A that I started to recognise this sense of fundamental dissatisfaction – that no matter what I achieved I still felt unhappy. In Buddhism, this is known as ‘Dukkha’. I was watching Ted Talks for inspiration for concepts in my work, when I came across the previously banned talk from Graham Hancock, ‘The War on Consciousness’. It was Hancock who introduced the world of Plant Medicines to me, which I initially responded to with dismissal, given my self-conditioned understanding that all drugs (including alcohol) where for escapism. I became fascinated by research on psychedelics for anxiety and depression, and managed to find a UK ceremony that I later attended. It was this experience that finally opened me up to self-work with full authenticity. It was at this time that I met Magda, which was timed perfectly.

During my M.A I had applied for various PhD’s, as this pattern of finding purpose through academia was working for my ego very well. I had submitted a very misunderstood proposal to multiple universities, all of which rejected me, with the exception of one. After many anxious months following an interview, I was offered a partial studentship to complete a 3 year research project. They would pay for all my fee’s and give me 2.5k a year to do it. My previous success in academia had given me the inaccurate assumption that It would logically continue, and so my mind was made up that I would do a PhD. I began the research in October 2014, and quit in December the same year, as it became apparent that I was not ready to do what was asked of me, and whoever had accepted me made a mistake, or misunderstood what it was I wanted to do.

After making the commitment to quit the PhD fuelled by some integration of what I had learned through ayahuasca, I began looking for a ‘proper job’. I was offered an interview as a graphic designer for a clothing label in London, which I reluctantly accepted. A few days later I was offered an interview for a content editor position in a local high-fashion e-commerce business. The day of this interview, I got a call to say that I was successful in securing the London job. I didn’t really want either, but I needed independence after relying on the kindness of my mam to put me up through my long-winded attempt at an academic career, so I took the local job. I was relieved that I got to stay near Magda, and getting offered jobs made me feel good. Even better when you aren’t really bothered either and have surrendered to settling the way that long-term couples often do when through time they’ve grown into different people to who they once where. I didn’t know what path to go on, but I was OK with that now.

Working in that job terrified me from day one. I was surrounded by people around my own age, who where conventionally ‘cool’. It felt like a regression back into starting in secondary school. In my M.A and even Ph.D, the authority figures where there to ensure you produced the best that you could, for your own gain. There is no sense of hierarchy, but rather a community of supportive staff and peers. In a workplace with a boss, all motivations are driven by capital. There is a hierarchy based on how long you’ve been in the job, and nobody really cares beyond a superficial level about anything other than small talk, as they are all feeling equally imprisoned by the impeding sense of meaningless that the role offers.

My first few months had me a nervous wreck, and almost incapable of communication with others. I would sit outside on a rock in the rain in the winter to eat my lunch, rather than having to spend time in a communal kitchen which was shared by all departments. The thought of potentially embarrassing myself by showing my personality in any way effectively made me mute. Most of the people I worked with seemed to treat materialism as recreational escapism (high-end fashion sculpts people into mannequins beyond just their clothing), but the majority where nice people who I had very little in common with. My sense of alienation was no secret. I did get on with those in my department who I had to opportunity to communicate with on a human level, but it was clear I was disliked by everybody else for being so weird and quiet. You just feel it in your gut.

The job itself was the equivalent of a digital cleaner. I would use photoshop to alter the appearance of photographs of clothing on a website so they looked more desirable. It wasn’t technically too challenging, but when you can’t trick yourself into believing that what you are doing is purposeful, fulfilling, or necessary, then simple tasks can become almost impossible. You can’t keep track of your thoughts when they are so boring that you forget what they are about as soon as you’ve started having them. The situation I was in was no worse than the standard Western employee in a meaningless 9 -5 (or 9-6 in my case), but given my desire for personal fulfilment that I would normally acquire using one of my evolving methods (food, tattoos, sex, academia etc.) I found it unbearable. I attempted working 4 days a week, living in a shared basic flat on a simple vegan diet and using my 3 days for illustration work, but that was still not enough. It was in the height of my despair that I made the decision to quit, and opt to travel with no intentions of answering any questions, but to learn and experience more organically.

I moved back into my mam and step dad’s house (after having moved to Newcastle for a year) and bought myself a one-way ticket to Bangkok. I’ve had a fascination with Asian culture for years (especially Thai food). Although I’d been twice before (once alone for 3 weeks or so) I’d never really experienced the uncertainty of ‘travel’ through my fear driven desire for answers and lack of trust in my capability as an independent being. I spent September until January finishing up a few illustration jobs I had fortunately managed to get, and tutoring B.A Illustrations once a week.

When I had first moved back home I was excited about the prospect of travelling and dropping all commitments that I had. No rent or bills, no uninspiring weekly cycles, but freedom and novelty. I had saved £5000, which I had thought would last me 6 months or so. Though I didn’t have a specific plan, i knew I would start my itinerary in Thailand where I’d spend a month or so, but I had nothing else planned afterwards. I knew I wanted to see India at some point in my travels, but I thought it made sense to keep that as my final destination as it was closer to home than the other places I’d be (so cheaper to fly into). I booked a flight Manila in the Philippines for the 8th of February, to ensure I would be granted entry into Asia to start with (it isn’t possible to get into a country on a 30 day visa without proof of exit). I wanted to keep my options open and keep it vague, but immigration laws don’t always make that easy, so I then booked a flight to Bali to allow myself entry into the Philippines. This was all I had arranged at this point.

I hadn’t fully acknowledged the organisation that the trip would require while I was back at my mam’s, as I was distracting myself through completing the illustration work that I had taken. I had a small square IKEA side table that I placed at the end of my bed, and this was my desk. I felt like a hack knowing that once a week I was teaching degree students how to be a successful illustrator (and was even on a panel that the university compiled of ‘successful alumni’ to give advice to final year design students of all disciplines) while simultaneously working for next to nothing in the attic of the home I spent my years as a student. I really enjoyed teaching, as it gave me an opportunity to stop focussing on myself and instead focus on helping others. My techniques of distraction where as present as always, just more mature and subtle as I got further into adulthood. Perhaps this is when these techniques could be considered most dangerous; they become so nuanced they are barely noticeable.

In the past few months I realised I couldn’t longer avoid that my trip was approaching. I struggled to enjoy producing illustration, as I was too focussed on anxiety about my trip. I felt a contradiction in my psyche, as part of my intention when travelling was to learn to accept spontaneity and uncertainty as it doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s not always easy to distinguish what is free-spirited Kerouacian romanticism, and what is just dangerously poor organisation. From around November onwards everything I did was tainted with the recognition of impermanence. When I would spend time with Magda or with my friends I couldn’t be fully present, as I knew that I soon had to face being alone with myself for a long period of time. I would be laughing with friends and then suddenly remember that soon my laughter would just be a shadow barely visible my memory as I was leaving (again, contradictory as my travels also weren’t permanent). In Buddhism this is known as ‘annica’. The difference between a holiday and travel is that on a holiday you know you’re experiencing a temporary escape that’s enjoyable but not likely to be authentic, whereas with travel you are welcoming the rawness of it all, often in places that are considered dangerous and poor.

The countdown to Christmas and New Year filled me with horror, as I knew that once January hit it was time to go. My rose tinted vision of my adventure was beginning to become murky with the addition of my loyal anxieties. I voiced my concerns to Magda as knowing how much I would miss her was adding a new layer of intensity to the suffering. We both expressed that we recognised how difficult it would be, but would ultimately result in mutual benefits. Magda had some things to take care of too, which she could focus on without my distraction. We knew there was a delayed pay-off to be gained.

From January the 1st the days became walls closing in on me. On Saturday January the 14th I spent my last day with Magda. We went to a coffee shop ran by an old school friend while I finished my final illustration job and bought the new ‘Bonobo’ album (previously mentioned) that was released the day before. On the evening I was sending some emails, listening to music, when it all came out, as vulnerable and raw as a new born child.

This brings me to back to where I was in the first chapter, crying on the shoulders of the girl I love and who I was about to leave for 6 months. She was right when she said that this wasn’t just about missing home. It was about finally confronting all my fears of uncertainty, social unease, and dealing with my own bullshit with no means of being able to escape it. I’d been putting it off all my life because I didn’t think I was ready or wasn’t even aware of its presence. I still don’t now if I’m ready, but I don’t think I have the option not to try anymore.

This is how it’s been going so far.