Following my 2015 fall semester abroad and part of 2016 summer in Rio de Janeiro, it’s fair to say I caught the travel bug.
In August, less than a week after returning from Rio, I used a portion of what I earned while working the Olympic Games to book a flight to Bangkok, Thailand for $640.86.
16 days. Three guys. One backpack each. A $1500 budget. And an undeniable desire for adventure and discovery.
On December 29, 2016, three of us were supposed to board a China Eastern flight out of JFK to Shanghai, China just after midnight. Only two of us did.
Rule # 1 in the 2005 comedy Wedding Crashers (one of our all-time favorite movies and something we referenced often throughout our trip) is simple: Never leave a fellow crasher behind. Crashers take care of their own.
Rule # 1 was broken before we even left the state.
My lifelong friend, Anthony Umina, spelled his name wrong (Anthony Amina, if you must know) when booking the flight back in August.
After debating back and forth with China Eastern employees in broken English for hours (we arrived to JFK six hours early) on the phone, he was left with two options: wait 24 hours for processing of a new e-ticket or book a separate flight to Bangkok on the spot and hope for a decent refund.
At the eleventh hour, Anthony (later known as “tree boy” in Thailand because of his 6’7″ stature) booked an early morning flight to Bangkok with a layover in Korea which meant he was going to do his first airport sleepover before our 16-day backpack would even begin.
Take a look at a few snaps from that night:
After these initial bumps in the road for our crew and over 24 hours of travel with two layovers in China, the 16-day backpack adenture was underway.
The first stop on our itinerary was Bangkok, where we would stay two nights in Chinatown. We spent time exploring the famous Buddhist temple Wat Arun, small Thai villages and hopped on a long tail boat for a canal tour to see the way locals live right along the water. Take a look:
One of my personal favorite moments of our Bangkok experience was the time we spent in Central World Plaza during New Year’s Eve celebrations. It’s the closest thing Thailand has to New York’s Times Square and it was extra special this year as the country is still mourning the passing of its long-time king. Here’s a look at the atmosphere moments before the ball dropped:
Once 2017 came, we hit the road from Bangkok to Ayutthaya via train for a small day trip. We went from the hustle and bustle of the big city to a quiet and subdued town with hundreds and hundreds of years of history written all over it. Here’s a look at the inside of the train:
We made the best of the few hours we had here checking out old ruins, spectacular temples and getting an overall feel for the former capital of the Kingdom of Siam and international trading port. Here are the views from the day:
Once nightfall hit, we boarded a sleeper train bound for Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. It was a trek lasting 13 total hours with tough sleeping conditions on a loud and fast-moving train. Nonetheless, we got it done and arrived at what would become our favorite three-day stint of the entire trip.
Upon arrival, we quickly found a small backpacker hostel for 200 Thai baht per night. It worked out to be just over $5 a night. We were thrilled with the deal, service and people we met during our stay.
One of the days was spent on an excursion to Maewang, which is a small village outside of town. From hiking to a waterfall to elephant riding, this day was everything we hoped it would be. Take a look:
On January 5th, we hit the road for the southern islands and tropical weather. Our first airport sleepover. Well, for some of us it was our first. Others were veterans, thus had the advantage and knew how to sleep properly…
After a night in Phuket, we took a ferry to Koh Phi Phi for what would end up being the most brutal three-day stretch of our entire 16-day trip. For three straight days, heavy winds and rain rocked our worlds and turned the beautiful island into one big mudslide. This made the already cramped living conditions within the hostel that much more sticky and damp. Combine that with the fact that each of us got sick for one whole day. We wont forget the eighth of January anytime soon. Trust that.
On a serious note, we were saddened to learn of the passing of many Thai people throughout southern Thailand who couldn’t escape the flooding. We’re thankful to have had shelter and good fortune during a tough stretch on the road. Here are a few shots:
Following the Phi Phi Islands, we left the monsoons behind us and ferried to Krabi and stayed in another backpacker hostel on Ao Nang beach. This served as our final leg of the trip and helped rejuvenate our bodies before the return home. Take a glance at limestone, street food and sunsets:
If you want to learn the art of bargaining, book your flight to Thailand right now. Everyone’s out to get your money, and for good reason. Tourism is Thailand in a nutshell. We were always on our toes in order to ensure we were receiving the best bang for our buck.
It took some effort, but we reached a deal for custom made suits each going for $150 a piece. I even splurged and bought two!
Our final day in the islands was spent in the Hong Islands whipping around in a speedboat, snorkeling and taking in the scenic limestone. The trip was capped off with great weather, lots of laughs and a whole lot of damn fun.
This wasn’t just a backpack trip for me. It represents my fifth continent I’ve stepped foot on and my third big adventure in less than a year and a half. It’s a trip I personally funded, which I think makes it that much more rewarding. After my semester abroad, I set a lofty goal to reach all seven continents in my lifetime. This was just another step to do doing so.
Thanks to my “wolfpack” brothers Anthony Umina and Grant Gallup for forming a band that will be telling and retelling stories that these 16 days helped produce for a lifetime.
Korb kun Krup!