UIB Travels: The Land of Smiles – Thailand, Part II

Now where was I?  (To see where I left off click the link here –> https://unicorninbrooklyn.com/2014/12/16/uib-travels-the-land-of-smiles-part-i/)  Ah yes, I’d just checked out of my hostel in Bangkok and headed to the Hua Hun district of Thailand (one of the oldest districts in Thailand – home to the King and Queen of Thailand and a popular destination for the Thai elite, as it is known for its beach resorts).

  Getting to Hua Hin seemed simple enough – all I had to do was take the BTS (Bangkok’s efficient and immaculate train system) to the Victory Monument stop, get off, then walk to the Hua Hun bus stand.   I was told to keep an eye out for the “Mr. Orange” juice stand (as it was a landmark indicating I was near the bus stand).  I spotted the juice stand and patronized it – treating myself to a freshly squeezed bottle orange juice at 30 baht/$0.91 USD.

After buying my drink, I headed downstairs (out of the BTS station) and walked about a half a block up when I stumbled upon the Hua Hin “bus” station.  I put the word bus in quotations because it wasn’t actually a bus station (like I envisioned), it was more of a luxury van station.  I didn’t complain, after all the vans appeared to be new and clean. I purchased my ticket for 180 baht/$5.46 USD (the exact price that my cousin told me it would be) and made my way to the next leaving van.

The driver took my small suitcase and led me to the the van that I would ride on – a slate gray van.  When the sliding door opened I saw six passengers patiently waiting to leave.  I wound up being seated in the first row next to a young Malaysian couple (I learned their decent after making small talk along the way).  Another couple (I’m not sure of their background) sat in the row directly behind us and in the third and final row sat a solo male passenger.  Lastly, up front with the driver, riding shotgun, was another solo male passenger.

 I smiled and greeted all passengers upon entrance (“Kap Khun Ka” – I was getting mighty used to using this Thai greeting), took my seat, and made myself comfortable for the three hour ride to Hua Hin.

 Mid way through the ride we encountered a nasty rain storm that left me a bit uneasy.  I was fearful that I would arrive to my destination in a torrential downpour, but thankfully we were able to pass through the storm and make it to sunshine.  I took in the beauty of Hua Hin from the van and and admired the scenic views .

Before I knew it I noticed we were near my stop (Soi 57).  I took my phone out to call my cousin (Karim) with my newly upgraded T-Mobile plan (which included an international data plan), but my phone wasn’t working – DAMN IT.  Soi 32… Soi 41…. Soi 47…. the numbers were climbing and I had no idea how I was going to contact my cousin upon arrival.

As we approached Soi 57 I told the driver my stop and immediately turned around and smiled (sidebar: a smile is universal.  A bright friendly smile immediately lowers the guard of the people around you that are unable to understand you and your foreign language).  “English? I need phone, I pay $1 USD”, I said (in my best broken English), as I waved my Samsung Galaxy 5 in the air.  The solo passenger in the back of the van came forward with his phone.  He told me that he spoke a little English and asked for the phone number.  Thankfully my cousin answered on the 2nd ring and told me that he’d meet me in front of the clock tower in 20 minutes.  Perfection.  I thanked the man and tried to offer him money, but he refused.  I smiled, and thanked the driver, then cross the road to walk towards the clock tower.

While walking up the road I encountered the same thing that I encountered on the streets of Bangkok – intense staring. I was used to it by now and was able to easily phase it out.  I made my way to a store front and sat on the steps looking like the only hobo (with my carry on and large back pack).  I took in the sites, noticed an influx of older tourists/foreigners (or “Farangs” as Thai natives call them).  I also noticed something else – the air.  The air quality was a lot less stagnant than it was in Bangkok and it wasn’t nearly as humid – thank God.

Before I knew it, Karim pulled up directly in front of me (it was pretty easy to spot me, I was the only Black woman sitting on the side of the road with bags).

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On my cousin’s bike in Hua Hin, Thailand

His first words to me “You Clarke women are all the same.  What’d you pack everything but the kitchen sink?”  I ignored his sarcasm, jumped up, and ran over to him to give him a hug and kiss.  It felt good to see family on a different continent.

The third leg of my trip (the first two legs included Dubai and Bangkok, Thailand) was starting off wonderfully.  I climbed onto the back of his bike with my carry-on and backpack.  Next stop, my lodging for the next four days.

The ride was invigorating and fun; feeling the fresh air in my face and in between my twists made me feel like I was flying.  After about 15 minutes we made it to our destination – my lodging; a room on top of “The Gulf of Thailand” bar.  Karim, had arranged for me to rent a room for four nights (at a rate of 450 baht/$13.69 USD) with his buddy, Jim, (owner of the bar) over on Soi 81 aka “The skeevy road” (a name I came up with because this strip consisted of bars with night workers – if you know what I mean).

I followed Jim upstairs to my room that contained all the basics: an air con unit, a queen-sized bed, a locked door, and Wi-Fi.  Cool.  I didn’t need a TV, as I knew that I would spend most of my day exploring Hua Hin with my cousin.  I put my bags down and went back downstairs to hop back on my cousin’s bike – next stop, a quick tour of his place and then to grab some food.

His place was cool and equipped with standard accommodations (accommodations that I learned were the norm for all studio apartments in Hua Hin): air con, Wi-Fi, bathroom, mini refrigerator, and cable TV.  After a quick phone call to T-Mobile to activate my international plan, we walked to a restaurant literally in Karim’s backyard to enjoy my first meal in Hua Hin – a delicious meal of cashew chicken, stir-fried veggies, spicy chicken, seafood fried rice, and beers.  Laughter, conversation, and good times lasted for what felt like hours.  It was time to crash – long day, I was ready to either catch a nap or knock out for the night – my body would determine the length of my slumber.

He drove me back to Jim’s where I bid him adieu and walked upstairs to my room, unlocked my key, turned my light & air con on, then proceeded to pull the dirty looking comforter off my bed for the next four days.  Gross.  There were no sheets on the bed, just a bare blue mattress.  I knew that I’d be staying in the “quickie” room so I bought sheets from home.  I placed the pink and green polka dot sheet across half of the bed and sat down.  While seated I felt “creeped” out.  I could only imagine what kind of critters (bed bugs, lice, and/or crabs) were crawling around on that mattress and on that nasty comforter.  Only my cousin – a guy- would think this would cut it for me.  I had to laugh because I knew that he meant well, but I was NOT going to stay there that night or any other night.  I started to plot on nearby hostels and hotels because I was sleepy and wanted to shower and relax.

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My room atop “The Gulf of Thailand”

 Life’s funny, doing things out of the kindness of your heart garners you good karma.  Peep game. Before coming to Thailand, a fellow travel group member, D asked me to bring her few toiletries (things from the states that were not available in Hua Hin).  I bought these items for D and planned to contact her the morning after my arrival to Hua Hin (Wednesday) since I wasn’t sure how late I’d be out with my cousin.  D and I didn’t have the pleasure of actually speaking on the phone while I was in Brooklyn – we only exchanged correspondence via Facebook messenger.  During those exchanges I was able to get a feel for her personality – very warm, personable, and kind.  I would soon see just how right I was.

I sat on that bed and perused the Internet for a few minutes looking for nearby accommodations before deciding to give D a call.  It was a little after 8 pm, I  had no idea if she’d be free and able to speak – to my delight she was.  To my pleasant surprise she was not only free, she was insistent on me crashing at her place since we shared the same suspicions about my bed (that it was ridden with creepy crawlers).  I packed my things and phoned my cousin to let him know where I would be staying (about 5 – 8 minutes from “The Gulf of Thailand”).  D arrived within 15 minutes and I was elated to see her.  I embraced her with a big hug and chucked a deuce to Jim and his whore room for rent – never to see either of them again, good riddance.

Since D was unable to carry my bags and I on her bike like Karim was, she flagged a bus down (the fare was 10 baht/$0.30 USD) for me to ride on and she followed behind on her motor bike.  We made it to her building and I was extremely impressed.  The building was brand new and complete with concierge services.  After a brief ride to the third floor we made it to D’s apartment.  The second the door opened and lights came on I knew that I would be comfortable and safe my next few days in Hua Hin…..REFUGE!

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D’s modest apartment

D gave me a brief tour of her place, explained one rule of the building – that residents (and visitors) weren’t allowed to flush toilet paper down the toilet because the plumbing system couldn’t handle it, and drove me down her road on her bike so I could get a feel for where certain stores were located.  For the next few days I would be able to enjoy a bug free environment with cable TV, air con, Wi-Fi, and access to neighboring restaurants and massage parlors – I was so grateful for this most unexpected blessing.

D and I stayed up talking about this and that; what led her to Hua Hin Thailand (to work as a ESL teacher), what made her take a hiatus from a prosperous profession as a CPA, how life in Thailand was for her, my journey on my first solo trip abroad, my passions, the pretty much non-existent dating scene in Thailand, and my plans to increase my travels in the near future.  We pretty much hit it off right away – so much so that D proposed something rather spontaneous – a weekend trip to Phuket, Thailand.  Why not?   I was on vacation and was completely open to whatever this inaugural solo trip had in store for me!

The next day (while D was at work) I linked up with my cousin to do a little site seeing.  He took me to monkey mountain and to a nearby beach where we blazed, enjoyed lunch, drank beers, and talked about life.

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Halfway up Monkey Mountain. I stopped to catch a view of the beauty around me.
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These monkeys were very friendly (and scary – mainly because I have never been up close and personal with wild monkeys before).
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This little guy wasn’t even phased by my presence.
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I loved this little guy’s eyes.
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Leo beer became my favorite beer while in Thailand because of it’s smooth taste. Here I placed my cold Leo next to some shells I’d collected while walking on the shore with my cousin.
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Here I am with one of the friendly workers of the beach restaurant, Thapoe.
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Karim caught this shot of me as I was moving. It captures the essence of my spirit while in Thailand – carefree, abundant, and open to adventure and new experiences!

After a full afternoon with Karim he dropped me back to my accommodations so I could shower and hang out with D for dinner.  I would later hook up with my cousin for drinks and fun along the strip (which I’ll touch on later).

D and I feasted on fresh roasted fish, spicy chicken, vegetables, and bugs – yes, I ate bugs.  My sense of adventure doesn’t just stop at travel, I also have a very adventurous palate.

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An assortment of grilled bugs: meal worms, grasshoppers, crickets, and roaches.
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Showing off the bug that I was about to eat.
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Ahh, I ate a grasshopper like a boss! It tasted like a toasted popcorn kernel with salt. It wasn’t bad at all!

After dinner, Karim met up with D and I for a few minutes.  I introduced them to each other then big D adieu before hopping on the back of my cousin’s bike.  Karim picked up another friend, Glenn, and the three of us hung out on Soi 88 – the “happening strip” full of bars, clubs, restaurants, and lounges.  The highlights of the night included catching a group of young Thai boys break dancing on the side of the road to rap music, bar hopping, battling a fabulous lady boy on the dance floor (to Beyonce  and Rihanna tracks), pole dancing with my dancing partner for the night (Glenn), and people watching (watching “SEXpats” (old White men) traipsing around the street with young lady boys and/or young Thai women).

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Three men and a lady. Yep, I’m the only natural born lady in this picture. I battled the spunky lady boy on the left and she was GOOD!

After a long night of hanging out I needed to recoup.  Sai Noi Beach was just what I needed!  This beach was one of my cousin’s favorites as it was more exclusive and mainly visited by Thai natives.  While here we enjoyed another lovely lunch of cashew chicken, fresh squid, vegetables, shrimp fried rice, sweet & sour shrimp, mussels, and of course, Leo beers.   It was on this beach that I treated myself to my very first massage in Thailand – a 1 hour oil massage for 300 baht/$9.00 USD.

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Under an umbrella taking in the beauty of Sai Noi Beach
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The beauty of the beach

 After a fun afternoon with Karim, I hugged and kissed him goodbye – Thursday was the last time that I would see him because D and I decided to take an overnight VIP bus out of Hua Hin to Phuket the following morning.  I was going to miss him, but was extremely thankful for the great time he showed me.

Phuk-it, I’m going to Phuket

The spelling of this city is misleading, while it looks like ‘Phuk it”, it is actually pronounced “Poo-ket”.  Phuket is home to the beautiful Phi Phi (pronounced “Pee Pee”) Islands with beautiful turquoise waters and breathtaking views.

To get to Phuket, D and I took an 8-hour ride aboard a VIP bus (complete with a blanket, plush reclining seats, a snack box (of water, a muffin, and cookies) and a meal ticket for hot meal at the rest stop).  Upon arrival to the bus station (around 7:30 am) we took a 20-minute tuk tuk ride up a windy road to our accommodations for the next three days and two nights, the Hemingway’s Hotel (http://www.hemingwayshotel.com/).  Our room was clean and equipped with air con, Wi-Fi, cable TV, a mini refrigerator and two full sized beds.  This hotel was conveniently located up the block from Bangla Road (the hot spot or “go to strip” during the day and night), two blocks from Patong Beach, and near a slew of restaurants and shops.

Patong Beach (Phuket,Thailand)

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I literally just came off the tuk tuk and went to the beach. I was so excited to be in Phuket!
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Here I am at the Patong Beach sign – at the entrance of the beach

 

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Selfie on the shore

After a few hours of relaxing beach time, D and I stopped by Sunset Bar (my favorite bar on Bangla Road) for a few brews then continued down the strip in search of good meal.  We wound up at Number 6 Restaurant.  We decided to patronize this restaurant because we noticed a small crowd waiting to get a seat inside.  That led us to believe that the wait was worth the food inside.  Once inside, we realized that it indeed was.  When you visit Phuket (Patong Beach specifically), you must dine here – trust me.  The prices are inexpensive, the service is impeccable, and the food is DELICIOUS!

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Nok (pronounched “No”), a cocktail waitress at Sunset Bar, and I striking a pose.

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Ginger dish with chicken
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Basil dish with chicken

While in Phuket, I wound up dining at the Number 6 restaurant a total of three times because the food was always fresh and good.  During my dining experiences I tried the pad thai (the best I’ve had to date – and I eat a lot of pad thai), mango shakes (make sure you try this – it’s like manna from heaven) and other dishes that caught my eye.  I enjoyed the cuisine and socialized with neighboring patrons – specifically two other solo travelers – Stella & Tiago.  Stella was a 50+ year old woman from Canada (of Asian decent).  She told was on the 4th month of her one year abroad and had been in Phuket for about a week.  She had no idea what she would do when her trip was over because she was living in the moment.  I loved her energy and fearlessness.  Tiago, a 30-something (GORGEOUS) Italian polyglot (he fluently spoke five languages) and artist (living in China) was on a short holiday.  He talked about his life abroad and what inspired him.  Like Stella, I loved his energy and fearlessness, as well as his sense of adventure and artsy energy.

I wrapped my first first night up in Phuket with a massage (at 400 baht/ $12.13 USD) in which I think I received a happy ending.  D and I were led upstairs in massage parlor and into a dimly lit room with three mattresses on the floor.  A sheet was drawn between D and I (so we were able to maintain privacy) and then the massages began.  I lied on my stomach and enjoyed the thorough rub down with oil.  After about 30 minutes the Thai woman told me to turn over so she could finish her massage.  I didn’t have my bikini top on so I assumed she would cover my breasts with a towel so she could massage my arms, neck, and shoulders while I closed my eyes and enjoyed the ending phase of my massage.  Wrong.  I immediately opened my eyes when I felt this woman’s oily hands on my bare breasts.  I guess my stunned look spoke volumes because before I could ask her what the hell she was doing she said “It’s ok, you and me same”while simultaneously pointing to her own (covered) breasts.  She was right, I was in “Phuk-it” right?  I closed my eyes, told myself “eff it” and let this woman finish my happy ending.

After the massages D and I laughed about our respective (weird) massage experience and made our way back to our hotel to get showered and all dolled up because we wanted to hit the town and see what Bangla Road had to offer at night.  We hit Sunset Bar first because we loved the vibe, music, and service.  We bought a round of drinks then had a random Nigerian man (that professed his love for me) buy us several additional rounds.  We stayed for a little while then made our way down the strip to immerse ourselves in the crowd and bar hop.  Taking in the sites (pole dancers, street walkers, street meat, impromptu dancing by strippers, and Muy Thai fighters to name a few), dancing to music in the streets, and snapping pictures were the highlights of my night.  I felt incredibly free and in my element.

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D, a Sunset Bar worker, and I
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D and I –  I adore this girl!

Despite a long night out of dancing and drinking, D woke up around 7:00 am to make our way downstairs to our car (a car that would transport us to the pier to catch our tour boat).  We paid for a day tour of the Phi Phi Islands with Sea Angel Speedboat tours (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g293920-d1151776-r179014365-Sea_Angel_Cruise-Phuket.html) for 1,500 baht/ $45.71 USD each.  The tour included stops at Maya Bay, Phi Phi, and Khai island, a hearty and delicious buffet lunch, water, soda, and snacks.  I had a great time and saw some of the most amazing views of my life.  Even though it rained most of the day, the water (rain and sea water) was warm and gorgeous.

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I love this shot! It shows just how happy I was at that very moment.
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Celebrity status – These women from Singapore asked to take a photo with me. Peep the tourist with the duck lips and the peace sign though – ha!
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Another tourist asked me to take a photo with him. Although he didn’t smile in this pic, he was a very pleasant gentleman.
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Here I am snorkeling in the ocean. I was surrounded by tens of thousands of multi-colored fish. They swam up to me and I touched them. That was such an awesome experience!
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Grounded. Here I am posed with a traditional Thail boat – also known as a long tail boat. I love how the boats are adorned.

My girl D wasn’t feeling the best so after the tour she wound up staying in the room to rest.  I on the other hand wanted to hang out so I linked up with another travel group member, Chelcie, on Bangla road.  It was her first time in Phuket so I wanted to make sure she had a good time.  The rain minimized the crowd on the strip that night, but there were still quite a few tourists walking around.  I took her to Sunset Bar and to Seduction nightclub where we danced to hip hop (I lost my mind when I heard Bobby Schmurda – Brooklyn made it to Thailand, ha!) and house music.  The craziest and most memorable part of our night was the ping pong show.

The second you hit Bangla road at night you will be approached by a slew of workers trying to lure you into one of many ping pong show along the strip.  They will tell you that the admission is free, but that you have to pay for a drink.  Word to the wise, haggle the price down and agree to pay for the cheapest drink – a beer.  Upon entrance the worker tried to get me to pay 900 baht/$27.30 USD for a beer (she was clearly smoking something), but that didn’t happen.  I haggled her down until she agreed on two beers at 200 baht/$6.06 USD each.

Chelcie and I sat as far away from the stage as possible while taking in the show.  Woman after woman came out and made foreign objects materialize from their birth canals – things that no human should put in their bodies.  The first woman “smoked a cigarette” with her coochie.  The next woman bought two men from the audience onto the stage and made them hold balloons.  She shot darts out of her vagina while popping the balloons the foreigners held on top of their heads.  Things got progressively worse.  The next woman copped a squat and a bird came out – fluttering its wings and everything (I shit you not).  Just when I thought I’d seen it all the next woman came out with a small glass fish bowl.  She squatted over it and then poof – a goldfish fell out of her ravaged vagina.  The fish started to swim.  *Barf*.  Chelcie shot out of her seat and said “HELL NO” while making her way towards the exit.  I laughed hysterically and while following her out of the bar while pleading with her to come back in – after all, we’d only been inside for about 5 minutes, I wanted to see more tricks (I had a friend tell me about a frog coming out, I wanted to see Kermit, lol).  After a few seconds we went back inside and caught one more act.  It was as if the night workers saved the most shocking trick for last.  We reclaimed our seats and saw the last act that we could stomach.  The woman came on stage, squatted then caught whatever it was that was inside of her.  Neither Chelcie or I were able to make out what the object was until the worker rested the item on the floor.  To this day, I have no clue what it was, but it was furry and it started to move.  We both shot up out of our seats and ran out of that place laughing hysterically as Chelcie cursed and screamed.  We laughed until tears effortlessly flowed from our eyes and our stomachs hurt.  Two months later, I still joke with Chelcie about the debauchery of that night – it was hilarious!

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Chelcie & I on Bangla Road
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One of the fabulous lady boys of the night.
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Street meat.  Although I’m adventurous, I didn’t try this because the smell of this grilling meat and seafood was less than appetizing.

After a night of gut-wrenching laughter, debauchery, drinks, and dancing, I bid Chelcie adieu and we parted ways – she was on her way to Chiang Mai and I was slated to head back to Hua Hin.  I caught a few hours of sleep and woke up Sunday morning so D and I could make our way downstairs to our tuk tuk so we could get to the bus station in time to catch our bus back to Hua Hin.

Unfortunately, the first bus didn’t work out because it was ridden with cockroaches.  We wound up getting off the bus (without a refund), shaking down our clothing in the bus depot, then waiting about 6 hours for the next bus.  To pass time, we went back to our hotel, placed our bags in the hotel’s storage area, went to buy last minute souvenirs from neighboring stores (I purchased postcards for friends, loved ones, and for myself so I could send them back home to the states to let them know that I was safe and enjoying my time in Thailand) and enjoyed a final meal at Number 6 restaurant.

The new bus was way cleaner and had a bus attendant, a lady boy attendant (similar to flight attendant – clad in a cute uniform) that provided each passenger with water, a blanket, a snack box, and a ticket for a meal at the rest stop (which I passed on because the food didn’t look fresh).

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The shakedown – shaking my belongings out to ensure I didn’t bring any roaches off the bus with me.

Back to Hua Hin

We made it back to Hua Hin at around 1:30am Monday morning and I was pooped.  I packed my belongings and took a hot shower before catching about two hours of sleep.  The next morning I went downstairs to concierge to have a taxi take me to the bus depot where I was able to catch a bus (another very clean bus with a bus attendant) to the Bangkok airport.

 I was heading to the last leg of my trip, my most anticipated destination – Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Bangkok International Airport

As I waited for my flight at the airport for my flight(it would take me 50 minutes to get to Cambodia via Cambodian Air) I treated myself to a traditional Thai dessert, sweet mango with sticky rice and milk and pizza.

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This was so good!

While eating I reflected on the past week.  I was so incredibly thankful for all of the wonderful experiences, memories, breathtaking views, and new friendships that I forged.  I was ready to explore Cambodia by myself and welcomed the thought of meeting other solo travelers along the way.

Before I knew it my flight was called.  I headed to my gate, boarded my flight and…

Stay tuned!

***

Until Next Time Friends!

Pennie Penz

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