The day finally arrived. At 1:15 am (San Francisco time) on April 18th, 2014, I departed the good ol’ U S of A for the longest foreign adventure of my life. After months of thinking almost non-stop about this trip and spending time getting ready for this 4 month excursion (both mentally and physically) I boarded my flight and headed off into the great unknown.
This trek is what I am calling the 2014 Ring of Fire World Tour (irony intended). While it is not planned out day by day (I don’t like doing TOO much planning), it will span roughly 4 months and cover Southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and a final stop in Australia.
After plenty of internal deliberation and internet searching, I settled on starting in Phuket, Thailand and heading south. Unfortunately, there is no quick way to arrive in Phuket from San Francisco. I knew getting out here would be a battle of air travel endurance, but mentally attempting to prepare was nothing for the real thing.
Calculating door-to-door travel, it started out leaving my mom’s place in Mountain View, California around 10:30 pm. I had a mountain of anxiety when it was finally go time. Admittedly, I had spent far too much time thinking about this trip- what to pack, what to bring, what not to bring. I “practice packed” around 10 times- filling up my bag with everything I thought I would bring. It is all completely irrational anyway, since ANYTHING can be purchased and/ or thrown away. This is just the way my mind works.
Once the car left Mountain View, that was it. Whatever was in the bags thrown into the trunk were the items that would be joining me. I knew as soon as my flight took off the anxiety would slowly but surely subside. Once I arrived in Thailand, the anxiety would fade away almost entirely. I have done a decent amount of traveling, so I know pretty much what to expect. There is still a massive “unknown” factor that keeps me up at night. There was no turning back now. Whatever I packed made the cut. Anything else would be silently waiting for my return in August.
The first flight was from SFO to Hong Kong- a 14 hour haul. Leaving at 1:15 am, this was great for me. I would prefer to sleep as much as I can on the long portion of a flight and pretend that whenever I get to the next destination is the following day- whether that is true or not in local time. I highly discourage playing the “well it is XXX time at home right now!” game, as it will only fuck with your mental state. Just treat that wherever local time you arrive in as your new time and roll with it. Stay up until a normal local hour (whenever you go to bed) and try to wake up at a “normal” local time. This has served me well during my world travels, and I don’t often suffer from big jet lag.
Fortunately, without even needing the help of over the counter or not-over-the counter meds, I slept a LOT on the first leg. While it was far from anything resembling a solid, deep sleep in a bed (I was still slammed into an economy class airplane chair), I did sleep on and off for over 8 hours. Yes- incredible, I know. It was the always welcome feeling of finally deciding to not try and sleep anymore (there is only so much my poor neck can take), and I checked my clock to realize over 8 hours had passed. That is well over half the flight! Celebrations all around.
The plane touches down in Hong Kong on time. I will be taking the same plane to Singapore, which I stupidly think means I can just wait on the plane. Oh no, amateur traveler. You need to get off the plane, go in a massive circle that includes going through security again, before getting on THE SAME PLANE.
This is when I am at my absolute worst- discombobulated, needing to keep track of too much stuff (my passport, boarding pass, transit card, carry on bag). I will never know what I did, but somehow I lost my boarding pass. Not a big deal- there was a ticket window close by to re-print one for me. Then I make it through security, even though I need to throw away a 75% full water bottle that I bought AFTER security at SFO.
After taking an escalator up a level and nearly making it back to the same gate I exited 20 minutes earlier, I realize I left my sweatshirt back at security. Aargh. There are no escalators back down to the security check, so I attempt to take an elevator. For whatever reason, I cant get to that floor! Unbelievable. Luckily I am young and in shape enough to run down an upwards moving escalator to make it back down to the security level where my sweatshirt is. Success. Losing the sweatshirt would be far from tragic- just would have been an annoying mistake on day 1.
I am finally let back on the SAME plane I was on an hour earlier (in the same seat, next to the same seat neighbors) to make our way from Hong Kong to Singapore. This leg is about 2 ½ hours. Compared to 14, this is a walk in the park. They even feed me again, which is my 3rd airplane meal of the “day”. This portion is uneventful (I even sneak in some more shut eye) and we land in Singapore.
Then I get to switch planes, which includes a terminal change. I have plenty of time, so there is no panic. I make it to the new gate with ample time, and board my 3rd plane of the day for my final leg. At this point is when I was second guessing my massive first day of travel. I really wanted to start my trip on the beach, but I am exhausted at this point. Too late to turn back now.
To my surprise, I am fed one more time- even though this is only a 90 minute flight. Feeding humans for free on short flights in the US is completely unheard of in 2014. I crush my 4th airplane meal in 24 hours, and before long I am on the ground at my final destination- Phuket.
I make it through customs without any hassle and make it to the baggage claim. This is where I always worry- losing my bag would be a pretty big headache. BOOM- there it is and I am out of the airport. I wait for a $6 shuttle and eventually am on my way to the hotel. It takes awhile to get to my stop, since I am the last person getting dropped off. I don’t mind, as I get a free tour of Phuket. There is no rush to check in (although I could badly use a shower).
The shuttle weaves its’ way though Phuket traffic, crawling through the uber-tourist mecca of Patong Beach. I consciously did not choose to stay in Patong, and I am glad I skipped it. It is TOURIST TOWN- Burger Kings and Starbucks and McDonalds are quickly spotted, as well as sidewalks full of westerners. I completely understand Leonardo Dicaprio’s character from The Beach wanting to escape all of this Tourist-ness.
It takes another hour to get to my hotel, I check in, drop my bags in the room, hop in the pool, take a shower, and head to the beach which is a block away.
And it is fucking gorgeous. It may have gotten just a slight bit dusty on the beach at that moment.
The beach itself is really nice, although it is filled to the brim with white tourists. Oh well- cant expect to escape Tourist Town immediately. I am already in heaven. Knowing that this is my life for the next 4 months is an incredible feeling. I wander around the area near my hotel, take some sunset photos, and eat my first official thai meal. I am definitely paying tourist prices, which means a green curry with chicken is a whopping $5 instead of $3 that I expected. It is pretty crazy that when you are in countries like this an extra $2 for a meal seems like an outrage.
The area is still overwhelmingly touristy, which isn’t ideal, but far from unbearable.
I have finally arrived, and I could not be happier. The 2014 Ring of Fire World Tour has officially begun.
Door-to-door: 28 hours.
3 flights, 3 security checks, 4 airplane meals.
$6 for a airport-to-hotel shuttle.
$34 for a hotel room.
$9 for dinner (chicken green curry, 1 large Singha beer)
$3 for 2 tall boys at the corner store.