Instagram vs Reality aka The Long Road Home

Instagram vs Reality aka The Long Road Home

Emeli Sande released a new single this week. My friend MCB sent it to me and said that she thought it was written just for me. It made me cry.

Alone in a hotel room in Koh Lanta, Thailand. Reflecting on my time here. And still receiving support from my team back home.

Thank goodness for the internet, and for good people ❤

When I left the UK I’d planned to stay in Thailand for at least two months, maybe three.

I’d never been outside of Europe before. Hell, I’d only ever been on a plane twice [three times if you count wing walking! Five times if you count the return journeys.] I’d never checked luggage or taken a backpack anywhere. I’d never been on a scooter, or swam in the sea or used a snorkel successfully. I’d never swam with fins, or done paddleboarding, or been on a longtail boat. I’d never gotten so many internal flights, minibuses, and little ferries. I’d never moved around so much in such a short amount of time. I’d never spent three weeks without any alone time.

And I’d never been on ‘holiday’ with a boyfriend [AP doesn’t like me calling it holiday because we didn’t do the standard beach resort for two weeks. But I still think the word is valid. Soz babe.]

I’d never had food poisoning. I’d never had D&V with someone else for five hours. I’d never had to feed myself, wheat free, in a country that doesn’t naturally seem to have gluten intolerances [probably because their diet doesn’t involve untold amounts of wheat]. I’ve never eaten so many crisps. [If I never eat another crisp in my life it would not be a shame!]

Thailand exceeded my expectations in a lot of ways. But it was not what I expected in many more.

I did not expect to find this so hard. When I first landed it was a shock to me how difficult it was to find appropriate food. [Which has really been a defining factor on this trip.] How I had to think ahead about how much drinking water I might need. How toilet paper is just not something they take seriously [I am not putting those little hoses near my foofoo – imagine how many people have used that thing. Ugh.]

The cities are too busy for me. And many of the beaches are too touristy.

The mountains were pretty perfect to be honest. But it’s burning season so breathing and visibility were not ideal… So I couldn’t stay there for long. I do think that part of the reason I loved Pai so much was because I found somewhere I could eat. Safely and nutritiously. But also the vibe is very hippy and many of the people there make my level of woowoo look positively normal. [Ikr – whoever thought I could look normal anywhere!]

Food has really been an issue for me here. I mean, it isn’t always straightforward at home, but because everything is familiar it is now easy for me to manage. And on top of the wheat intolerance, there is the food poisoning.

How does one person get food poisoning twice in two weeks?!

It broke me to be honest.

That second experience of food poisoning hit me at the worst time. I was missing home [AP], I was in need of some proper food anyway [my stomach always felt uncomfortable] and we were in a hostel that was trying to basically steam me in my own sweat it was so bloody hot.

Banana was on her way home and we kept talking about all the things we missed. Like cheese, and roast dinner, and fish and chips… Yeah, genuinely that is all we were missing. And gluten free bread – marmite and cheese on toast…

Food.

I’d spent all day feeling ill. And I’d made a decision in that gloom that I was ready to leave. Probably not the best time to make such a decision – gloom is rarely a good time to make decisions. But I did it anyway.

I changed my flight home. And then I was sick. Again. Delightful.

Thailand had been disappointing in many ways. It was hard to find paradise in the south. Tourism is out of control. And while I may have gone to a few of the wrong places to find paradise, even in Koh Lanta [which is relatively quiet] they are paving the roads, building everywhere, and every other step is a tourist information kiosk where you can book boat trips out to snorkel the other islands. It won’t take long before that’s ruined too.

We did find a beautiful beach on my last day in Lanta. It was genuinely perfect and I’d be very happy to go back there. It was quiet, there was zero litter [previously unheard of], and there wasn’t an awful sewage smell. The sea even felt clean! I really hope it stays that way.

The sewerage system is under pressure – it is not designed for so many people and so much accidental toilet paper being flushed… The power system goes down periodically, I am yet to find good wifi and mobile phone signal cuts out frequently. I even had the shower cut out once.

I know these sound like princess problems, but the point I am trying to make is that the infrastructure is not robust enough to support the number of people here. And that is because the number of people here is significantly increased by tourists.

Tourists also bring pollution.

There is so much rubbish. And while there are signs in some places telling you not to litter, there are no bins and apparently no rubbish collection.

I appreciate that that is what you get in developing countries. But without that infrastructure in place before the population increases by tourists, there is no way of managing the increased levels of sewerage and rubbish, which ends up polluting the beaches and the sea.

Literally.

You can see the sewerage being directed into the sea at the beach. And the piles of rubbish at the side of the road.

It is heartbreaking that a country with so much natural beauty is being poisoned by irresponsible levels of tourism.

The ‘Instagram vs Reality’ thing is so very apparent here. I’ve never seen anything like it.

We took a picture on a crowded beach, but the frame had no people in it and posted with a caption “beach to ourselves” [because we are hilarious]. There were no people in it because that part of the sea was fenced off for boats and there happened to be no boats at the time. The beach actually stank of sewage and you came out of the sea covered in it [genuinely, you could see it in the little hairs on your skin].

Phi Phi is the most glaringly obvious example of this. The sand is that beautiful white, the ocean is the perfect blue. Instagram worthy. Except the sand, if you’re there in reality, is 50% fag butts and litter. The ocean is only that colour for a few hours a day when the tide brings in new water – the rest of the time it looks like the English Channel because [imo – no scientific evidence] the level of pollution from tourists is so high. And then, if you were to pan around the shot of the perfect white sand and turquoise ocean, you’d see a crowd of people either high or on a come-down.

Instagram vs Reality.

I am not trying to sound ungrateful. Because honestly this trip has been invaluable to me. I have learnt a LOT, and I couldn’t have started in a better country for the lessons I’ve picked up and the mistakes I’ve made.

But.

I am not 22yo anymore. I do not think that travelling to Thailand should mean partying on a beach, being hungover all day, and then doing it over again for the duration of your trip. You can do that in Europe. But that does seem to be what most people are doing here.

They have changed the visa system now. You can no longer stay here indefinitely on a tourist visa by doing a border run and renewing your 30 day exemption every time ‘day 29’ rolls round. Which is a good thing.

But I can’t help but wonder if it is too little too late.

The Thailand I’ve experienced is one extreme or the other. You’re either in a tourist destination, or [so I hear] you can hire a boat to take you to a remote island and stay in a beach hut with no services (toilet, electricity etc.) and you can sleep under a mosquito net, basically with nature.

I am all for the remote island and the beach hut option. But that’s something I’d rather experience with AP than alone. [And we ran out of time.] Having such an experience without him, with strangers or alone, seems kind of redundant. [And I’ll be honest, I surprise myself with that considering a few months ago I would not have batted an eyelid at doing that alone/with strangers. But now I want to share things with him… Ikr. Who even am I now.]

My mate H did this circuit [Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos] 7 years ago, and when I told her there was a McDonalds in Phi Phi she said “What?! That’s such a shame.” So I can only imagine that the whole place has changed a lot in that short time.

I have learnt a LOT being here. And I have had a lot of fun too. I’ve met some brilliant people, seen some interesting, amazing and beautiful things. And made some very special memories here. And I did find beach paradise on my last day in Lanta. But ultimately this isn’t what I imagined. And I feel like I am adding to the problem by being here.

So I am taking myself home.

It’s not that I am giving up on the dream, because I am not. I am just changing course. I am taking the information I have, and the lessons I’ve learnt, and I am re-evaluating and trying again.

I am not keen to do Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos anymore. I imagine they’re much the same now. Too well trodden, and polluted. [A new friend I’ve made here will keep me informed as she makes her way around these places.]

My priorities have changed. Burma and the Philippines have moved up the list. As has India and Nepal. And I am EXCITED!

I firmly believe that we are exactly where we are meant to be at any given moment. And right now, my gut is telling me to go home [and yes, that was partly a pun because my goodness do I need some familiar food so I can firmly get over this food poisoning! I also need to look into gut health and gut healing, but we’ll discuss that another time.]

So for now, I am UK bound. And to be totally honest, I am looking forward to a few weeks of Spring, with my coat and my hot water bottle. And if our fridge does not have some extra mature cheddar and some seeded GF bread in it, AP is going to be in trouble…