You will never understand how a solitary backpacking feels like unless you experienced it yourself. It might be dangerous and risky but you won’t learn your abilities to hurdle what seems like challenges until you take the first step.
December 26 -30, 2012. Words are unnecessary to explain why I left Tina & Gabby in our current home in Penang for 5 days and traveled alone to Chiang Mai. There’s no selfishness in the intent but gratitude for understanding. I initially asked my wife if she’s interested in going with all three of us; the casual response I got was a verbal permit to travel solo. She knew I wanted to experience solo backpacking. Sweet! While I have been used to going to places with my own family for 9 years now, it’s a uniquely beautiful gift when people you love most provide you the wings to explore new grounds, discover new cultures and appreciate your own days.
Travelers and tourists may take a train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to Hat Yai and Bangkok on a single journey. Then transfer to another train or bus to Chiang Mai (or any parts of Thailand). I didn’t take the train; here’s my route :
From Point A : Penang Sentral Bus Station in Butterworth to Point B : Hat Yai Bus Terminal was about 4 hour trip via mini-van including the Immigration procedures of exit from Malaysian border and entry to Thailand border.
From Point B : Hat Yai Bus Terminal to Point C : Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok was 14 hour-night-trip on a VIP bus.
Point C : Mo Chit Station to Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok to Point D : Chiang Mai International Airport was around 1 hour flight.
This was my very first solo backpacking trip and God knows if it will be the last.
December 26, 2012, Wednesday. At 7.30AM via Rapid Penang Bus, I left our 11th floor apartment in Butterworth, Penang with my laptop bag, DSLR camera and a backpack in tow. The public bus that usually takes Tina and I to work took me to Penang Sentral Bus Station after 10 minutes. Barely an hour after, I asked the dispatcher of the busliner where I bought my ticket to Hat Yai about the arrival of the mini-van; she said, it’ll come in a while. True enough, I found myself inside a 10-seater-van with 4 other passengers en route to the borders of two Southeast Asian Countries.
Although my family and I miss everything about our country, the Philippines, I personally consider myself lucky to be based for more than two years now in Northern part of Malaysia where Thailand is so accessible (not to mention we also enjoyed going to Singapore which is at Malaysian’s Southern tip via bus from Penang). My family and I crossed the borders and return more than a couple of times. However, this post-Christmas trip was so different for I was lone but not lonely.
Penang to Hat Yai City proper is roughly 4 hours. The mini-vans that take passengers from Penang to Hat Yai usually have an obligatory few-minute-stopover at a food-toilet-forex-complex in a place so near the Malaysia border called Changloon and this trip was not an exception. In Changloon, driver asked our passports for him to prepare and type-write our Departure-Arrival cards. This service was included in the 32 ringgit or USD 10.51 mini-van fare. While he was doing that, I was busy stuffing my tummy with brunch. I ordered two plates for I left home without having breakfast. It was carbohydrate-loading for me that late morning; I had my favorites although I dare say Penang’s versions of these dishes are incomparably delicious, Changloon’s don’t even come close.
Exiting Malaysia was a breeze.
Likewsie entering Thailand for someone like me who’s a holder of Philippine passport stamped with Employment Pass in Malaysia was hassle-free, as my country of origin and these nations are all members of ASEAN, simply putting it - No Visa required.
Drizzle greeted me on the road to Hat Yai.
I reminded myself that Thailand is an hour late than Malaysian and Philippine times. Literally that is. I didn’t need to adjust my wrist watch but I had efforts to be conscious.
At 11:29AM Thailand time, I purchased my bus ticket directly from this counter at the Hat Yai Bus Terminal. My ticket from Hat Yai to Bangkok cost me THB 1,162 or USD 38.19 because I opted to take the VIP bus where dinner and other stuffs are included in the fare. It was the same bus liner my family and I rode from Bangkok to Hat Yai last August 2012.
The VIP bus was schedule to leave Hat Yai at 4PM, Thailand time. So it was 4 hours of waiting for me. There goes my backpack that doubles as a duffel bag too and my laptop bag sitting pretty on a bench with that tame street dog on the floor.
Wifi’s free at Hat Yai Bus Station. Must update facebook status.
I was seated at B1 -located on the first seat at the upper deck. It provided me more leg room and comfort for a good night sleep.
I told you it’s a VIP bus, so on my seat, I found the same things that amused Tina, Gabby and I last year when we all revisited Bangkok. There were bottled water, guava juice in tetra pack, 2 pastries, wet ones and pack of coffee, creamer and sugar in a box and a laundried and sealed blanket.
The seal’s more like a security for me.
I was ready to sleep in the middle of my 14 hour-trip from 4PM to 6 the following morning when the bus made a mandatory stop for dinner at this familiar Thai restaurant at around 9PM.
Passengers only needed to present the bus ticket for the dinner (included in the fare). As mentioned, it was not my first time to take this route but my main concern remained the same. I was worried about sanitation, food preparation and handling. You cannot blame me of course but thank goodness, I didn’t suffer from Traveller’s Diarrhea or any infections yet. God is alive!
Six of us sat in one table and dishes with rice were served. There were many choices and I sampled them all. Brought my feet to the toilet for bladder break and brushed my teeth after.
December 27, 2012. Thursday. 6AM. I arrived in one piece at Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok. Rise and shine, Bangkok!!! We meet again!
What I shouted in facebook was partly wrong; it should’ve been 14-hour-trip instead of 11. I miscalculated; a proof I hate numbers!
After observing my morning rituals, I managed to freshen up and change my clothes. Have I told you that I only traveled with no shoes but a pair of 3-year-old-dependable slippers? Comfort at its best!
I ate the pack of pastries as my first bites that morning and looked for a spot to while away time until my 1:30PM flight to Chiang Mai. I first sat on one of the waiting lounges and since I did not have anyone to rely on, I went several times to the toilet to void with all my bags and all. It’s an inevitable downside of solo traveling, of course.
I was smiling widely after I found my feet on this tranquil area of the terminal. It’s the Observation deck located at the 2nd floor of the Departure area. It was too perfect for me to kill time as it also has its own toilet. I spent hours of waiting here then I realized I should have brought a good read! I promised myself never to leave home for a travel without a good book; nevertheless I savored my quiet time here.
Thank God for airports with good food!
This is the eye-catching huge monitor that puts images of passers-by into various famous spots in the globe from Paris to New York to London. I saw a lot of passengers stop to take photo-ops. I found watching people more fun than watching myself on the screen.
Boarding time was few minutes past 1PM at Gate 31. Air Asia flight Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
And up we went! It has been years since I last sat by the window. I was like a kid again enjoying the sea of clouds!
Less than an hour later, we safely arrived in this Thai City called The Rose of the North.
My first glimpse of the arrival area of Chiang Mai International Airport was not roses but orchids. Lots of them!
So many varieties of orchids from the airport to the streets of Chiang Mai; what a lovely sight!
Maps are essential I know. I took two copies but funny I didn’t bother to scan at least during the entire trip. I also didn’t bring any guidebook with me. It was more like carefree adventure!
Chiang Mai is truly inviting!
No airport pick up/transfer for me as I went on this backpacking trip on a budget.
Upon exiting the airport, I took a taxi cab for 20 minutes and THB 150 (USD 4.90) to my guesthouse.
Drum roll, please! Welcome everyone to where I stayed for 4D3N in Chiang Mai! This backpackers’ paradise is called A Little Bird Guesthouse. I became one of their “birdies” for few nights, lol!
Tucked within the city center in Chiang Mai where travel agencies, pharmacies, restaurants, hawker stalls, night markets, massage parlors and spas, internet shops and a volume of temples that spring like mushrooms, A Little Bird Guesthouse is one of the favorites among backpackers who troop to this part of Thailand. I discovered it by googling and reading reviews on Tripadvisor. It’s location isn’t only accessible to almost everything but a secured and safe place too.
After hopping off the taxi cab, I entered the reception office and checked in. Since I made a reservation via their website but was not issued a voucher, the young and friendly lady at the counter named, Fai asked me to show their email-confirmation about my booking and so I did.
I was given a key to the dormitory and was led to my designated room at A Little Bird Guesthouse 2 (yes, the front building is named, ALBG 1, and I was assigned to a room at the newer building called ALBG 2; they expanded, business must have been good!).
Universe, meet my bed. This was my name tag and my Thai name is ”AngeRo” instead of Angelo, *kidding*. No harm done actually.
I was assigned at the upper deck of this double-decker bed. Good luck to the bed! In all fairness, it remained intact the entire time I was there, climbing up and down! My weight wasn’t enough to break it! Yay!!! It was built for heavier foreigners, I guess. :D The bed below was occupied by German backpacker named, Katya.
I shared a room with 5 backpackers. So there’s Katya- the German lady, Amber the American lady, Jason the American guy, Andre the British guy and another German-long-haired backpacker guy whose name slipped my memory! Sorry.
I forgot to bring a key for the lockers, I needed to buy on the streets. No airconditioning units but wall fans which were good enough! At 100 baht per night, I wasn’t expecting a 5-star-accomodation of course! Toilet and shower with heater, mind you, is located after that open space near the sink.
Wifi was fast and more importantly free or included in the 100 THB or USD 3.28 per night accomodation. I could not complain! I chose to stay at this 6 pax per dormitory instead of their 10 pax per room.
It was a great first-time-experience staying at this backpackers’ favorite! I highly recommend it if you’re traveling to Chiang Mai on a budget.
- Padaung / Long Neck Women & Other Hill Tribes in Thailand
- Doi Suthep Buddhist Temple
- Elephant Show, Elephant Ride, Ox-Cart Ride, Bamboo Raft Ride, Orchid Farm
- Chiang Mai Zoo : Pandas, Koalas And More!
- Beyond Boundaries : Penang-Hat Yai-Bangkok-Chiang Mai
- Anusarn Market, Tha Phae Gate Night Market and lots of Thai Food!
*Map sourced from www.maps.google.com