By Caroline Frappier
When I was prepping for my trip to Thailand in January, I was unusually calm about the entire planning process. With only a couple of months before the new year, I decided to meet my long-time partner-in-crime, Kathleen, at the Bangkok airport in February. This last-minute, loose schedule, devil-may-care approach to travel made my parents want to lock me up in the cellar.
“Check in every three to four days now, you hear?” barked my father when he dropped me off at the airport the morning of February 4th.
“Hopefully they have internet!” I replied as I moved to grab my backpack out of the trunk. As we embraced, I felt a certain uneasiness at the thought of the journey that was waiting for me on the other side of the globe. I had done very little research on the country I would be traveling through for an entire month. The fun was just beginning.
Once reunited with Kathleen in Bangkok, we flew out to Koh Phagan, host to the famed Full Moon Party. Once a month, young travelers congregate on Haad Rin beach: a mixture of hormones and sand pails full of no-name booze. Imagine your first night out in university, but set on a beach with unlimited access to alcohol and fire shows, and you’ll begin to get the picture. The number of people I saw walking around with bandages the next day was outrageous; they definitely don’t warn you about the dangers of drunk people with flaming skipping ropes in the Lonely Planet guides.
Toilet paper was definitely a must on the beach. With the long lines of girls waiting for the bathroom, arriving in a paperless stall was a real bust. When I asked Lauren Karpman, a travel agent at G Adventures, what necessities a female traveler destined to Thailand might need, she responded: “I would say… toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Just because yeah, that is not always available.” She also quickly added to the list: “no heels. I never found there was a chance to even wear them. Everyone was just in flip flops all the time.”
Our next stop following Koh Phagan was a one-week excursion to Koh Tao to obtain scuba diving certifications. We took a ferry to the tiny island accompanied by three Canadians we met in Koh Phagan; they became friends that we would repeatedly encounter every now and on our travels. Scuba diving is not an activity that I had imagined myself doing while in Thailand. I figured I may snorkel a bit here and there, but never had I thought I would be twenty metres underwater.
The experience was not a successful one at first. During our pool training, I panicked and would not trust the equipment to let me breathe underwater. Inhaling and exhaling solely with my mouth was proving to be difficult. Taking a deep breath was nearly impossible for me, while the rest of our group were flying through the training course at the bottom of the pool. Thanks to the patience and encouragement of the trainers trainers, I slowly began to adjust to life underwater. The experience was fascinating. Once certified, Kathleen and I dove off the island of Phi Phi into turquoise waters revealing an myriad of colourful and otherworldly marine creatures belonging to the coral reef. It truly was paradise.
In addition to a slew of cultural and recreational activities that I experienced, a final highlight was the back-to-back ladyboy shows. Before arriving in Thailand, I had never heard of the term “ladyboy,” though I gather it was mentioned in the film The Hangover. The “ladies” that performed were Thai men who had altered themselves to look like women—and they looked stunning!
“They look more womanly then we ever will!” stated Kathleen, matter-of-factly. There was no doubt that she was right. These ladyboys were not only gorgeous, but they could put on a good performance. Many imitated a female celebrity singer and sang their own rendition of songs, often omitting lyrics or making them up as they went. Highlights included: Diana Ross, Madonna and Beyonce—all sassy, with no shortage of divas.