Facing the underworld in Thailand - alone

It was my first time overseas. I had just graduated from uni and had decided to head to Thailand in search of fun times and a few new experiences. It had been really important to find someone to travel with as Broke Down Palace ' had recently hit the cinemas and hadn't done much to convince my already paranoid parents that travel in Asia was a good idea.

So a high school friend, Jess, and I hopped on a plane to Thailand where pre-trip parental ranting had convinced us a swarm of men with impure thoughts, corrupt narcotics police and a few infectious diseases would be waiting to greet us. We weren't disappointed. Every time we arrived in a new town the usual process was that we hopped off the bus bleary eyed, everyone else disappeared and then we would be surrounded by men with 80's haircuts and hairy chests trying to convince us they could take us to fabulous (and cheap) hotels and to get in their cars. They wouldn't be easily deterred either and called us liars when we said we already had plans. Jess and I finally adopted the language of gobbledegook to try and convince them we couldn't understand their sales pitches, but the men were equipped with photos and a form of sign language for such travellers and no amount of confident gestures and striding (in no particular direction) could put them off pursuing us.

It was therefore in hysteria - half way through our trip - that I realised I had lost Jess and was now travelling solo. The situation was in the making from the time we picked up some friends in Chang Mai 10 to be exact. Jess, who is a self-declared cheapskate and had nearly fainted when there was no other accommodation in Krabi and I had tried to drag her into a three star hotel, thought it was fantastic that all twelve of us could now squeeze into a room and pay about a cent a night for accommodation. I, on the other hand, had trekked off in a huff on the third night of this ridiculous set up in search of my own room.

It was actually quite important that a good night's rest was had because, as a very conscientious graduate, I had agreed to a job interview the next morning for a position back in Melbourne. A back room in an internet café had been found that day and the owner had agreed I could do my phone interview there. I was all set and spent the evening preparing.

The interview didn't go too well. Well, how could it when sitting on the floor surrounded by some local's washing in the boiling heat with a few weeks of partying behind me. It was a ridiculous idea and I should had just concentrated on having fun rather than worrying about what I would be doing in an office for the next 40 years. I went back to the 12 person love-in', looking forward to making plans for the full moon party the next night.

Unfortunately, they had gone. Apparently to a new place nearer the beach where the party would be and Jess had left a note saying that she would meet me at the local post office at 5pm . After two hours of waiting I realised Jess wasn't coming and the reality of having no accommodation this late in the day, on the night before the party, was worthy of few public sobs.

After checking out all the accommodation options and realising that there was no room at the inn' anywhere, I was left to wander the beach lugging my huge pack. Eventually I sat down and considered my fate of sleeping like a homeless person on the beach. While wondering if this would be illegal and if I would be carted off to prison where drugs would probably be planted on me and then my parents' point that no good could come from travel in Asia would finally be proven, a few dogs trotted by and tried to befriend me. A big dog fan, I was grateful for the company. Of course I didn't dare touch them because, although they looked cleaner than the hundreds of strays we had seen around the country, who knew what diseases and bugs lurked below their fur. So my new pals settled for sitting beside me in the little holes they had dug for themselves. So there we were: a girl and three dogs sitting in a row on the beach, looking out to the ocean and considering our fate - which I feared probably wouldn't be too dissimilar.

Finally I had an idea. The girl at the internet café had been really friendly and might be able to help me. These were desperate times and the comfort of self pity was wearing off. So I said goodbye to my furry friends and trekked off to the café, hoping it was still open. It was and the girl made a few phone calls, discovered that everything was full as I had tried to explain. Then, without hesitation, she rang her family in town and one of the Talings came and picked me up.

Although most of the trip had been spent trying not to get in strangers' cars, I was incredibly grateful to be getting in this one. I was taken to their house where a great aunt from China who was now living with the family took me under her wing. Apparently she was very happy for the company as all her friends were back in China and she insisted on always sitting next to me and announcing to everyone that we were best friends.

Dinner was a bit tricky the family didn't seem to understand the concept of vegetarianism. I tried to just play with my food as I wasn't really in the position to ask for something else. But apparently no one could rest until the guest was fed and they all started to yell about western food and the next thing I knew a pizza was on my plate they must have had one in the freezer. It was all very bizarre eating pizza with the Talings and what felt like the entire town in the family's lean-to.

After dinner the great aunt insisted on giving me a traditional massage. This involved me lying on a very smelly mattress and her lying on top of me and curling my limbs around hers so that my body could be stretched. Then she walked on my back. I wasn't really sure what to do. To onlookers I was sure this looked like I was having a lesbian S&M session with a 70 year old.

It must have been about mid-night by now, but the night was far from over. All evening there was talk of me accompanying the family to the kick boxing. Not that they had ever actually described it as kick boxing'. The great aunt just kept on intermittently punching and kicking the air and saying, you sit next to me tonight. So we walked arm in arm into the big event. It was packed, but there were no other westerners there - which was really surprising given that the island was swarming with travellers.

I sat next to my new friend and had sweat splattered onto my face with each kick. I should have taken some photos. They would have been amazing with sweat droplets illuminated by the florescent lights flying off the boxers extremely toned legs. But it didn't occur to me at the time. I felt like one of the locals and sat there drinking beer and cheering for the family's son who was competing.

Exhausted, I fell asleep easily - only to be woken up a couple of hours later by Jess banging on the door. I had sent her a text message earlier explaining where the Talings house was, hoping she would find a power point and charge her mobile phone that had been dead for most of the trip. Apparently she hadn't deserted me and had been waiting at a different post office as she didn't realise they had moved to a different town an easy mistake to make for a first time traveller who is used to huge distances. After all explanations were made I decided to stay with the Talings until the next morning. Jess couldn't believe that I wanted to stay with strangers, but I was tired and it was the middle of the night.

In just one night of solo travel I had learned that no situation is as scary as it first seems and given me the confidence to let down my guard and embrace the local culture in my future travels. After all, for all I knew the only crime of the men who greeted us at the bus stops could have been their bad fashion sense.

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