I apologize for the length of this entry, but I had a lot to say and wanted to just get it all out in one go – since my blogging hasn’t been very consistent lately. So here is my backpacking trip in a nutshell:

Koh Phi Phi – The second stop on my journey was the lovely Koh Phi Phi. After a ferry ride and mad rush to grab our bags, we walked along the beach to get to our hotel. It was here that we saw the bay where the tsunami came across to destroy so much of the island. Excuse my brief history lesson, but I found it so interesting that I can’t help myself. On December 26, 2004 a massive tsunami hit Koh Phi Phi and the island was devastated. The island was hit from both sides, minutes apart – giving bungalows and ramshackle homes little chance. There is no exact number, but estimates guess that the deaths on the island reach approximately 2,000 people. 70% of the buildings were destroyed. The island was shut down while they decided the best way to rebuild, forcing many people to move to nearby refugee camps.                                              Since it has been rebuilt, the island has flourished. Koh Phi Phi caters to the typical tourist, providing a plethora of souvenir shops, restaurants, and excursions to satisfy any possible whim or need. Admittedly the island was full of more wants than needs as far as I was concerned. It was certainly not the Thai culture that I’ve become accustomed to, but the culture and traditions of the local tourist was still very fun to experience! While there, I had the opportunity to visit Maya Bay, where “The Beach” was filmed, saw a Muay Thai fight, went snorkeling, watched a fire dancing show, and even went scuba diving! The water was full of turtles, lion fish, and blacktip reef sharks, so there was never a dull moment. When the time came to leave Koh Phi Phi, I happily boarded the ferry knowing that I had experienced the island to its fullest.

Muay Thai Fight

Krabi – From Koh Phi Phi my tour moved on to Krabi/ Ao Nang. It was a beautiful area, with a lovely view and all of the shopping needs a tourist could possibly want. After the go-go-go pace in the other two cities, I took advantage of the hotel spa services and pool. I had time to build myself up for more traveling, while enjoying the company of my new friends. Krabi was where my tour ended, so this was where I had to say goodbye to twenty of the friendliest people I had ever spent time with. In just a few days we became close friends and I would happily meet up with any of them in a heartbeat. One of the many benefits of technology is that we can keep in touch even though we’re all over the world, so hopefully these are friendships that will last.

My awesome travel group on our last night

My awesome travel group on our last night

Phuket – When the tour ended, I was taken back to Phuket where I got my bearings and set myself up in my very first hostel. I felt like such a newb – walking into the dorm room and having absolutely no idea what to do with myself. True to backpacker form, however, everyone in the dorm was open and friendly, and only too happy to help me out.                                                     I was only in Phuket for a couple nights, just to relax and get my next travel plans set up, but while I was there I got a quick peek at the Chinese Vegetarian Festival. When I first heard that it was going on, I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t exactly impressed. I was expecting a group of stalls set up in market place form with tofu or vegetables on every shelf. I couldn’t be farther from the truth. No – it wasn’t a market full of meat, but it wasn’t a market either. Internationally, it is known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, during which the Chinese will worship the 9 Emperor Gods, represented by the stars making up the Big Dipper and Ursa Major. For nine days people will march from the temple to the sea or river to honor the Emperors. Oh, and did I mention that some people will pierce their cheeks with swords, hooks, bars, and other objects to protrude from their face on their journey? Such people have entered a trance to allow the gods into their bodies while they take in the evils of the world. It is said that they can’t feel pain. Needless to say, this sight completely blew my mind. Such dedication is impressive and somewhat scary – I can’t say that I would’ve done the same.

Because they are possessed by the Emperor Gods, they cannot feel any pain when they pierce their cheeks.

Because they are possessed by the Emperor Gods, they cannot feel any pain when they pierce their cheeks.

Koh Tao – Originally, I planned to go to northern Thailand after my tour. As I traveled, however, other backpackers told me that Koh Tao was amazing and that I should try to visit if I have time. So on a whim, I decided to go to Koh Tao for a few days and see what I found. The trip to get there was miserable, as I had to stop at Samui on the way and found myself completely alone in the hostel. The Thai people were all out to make a quick buck and being the trusting person that I am, I made for an easy target. I took everyone at their word and probably took the most round-about route to get to Koh Tao. By the time I finally got to the island I was a little fed up with people in general and just wanted to rest for a few hours before figuring out my next move.                                 Picture if you will: Exhausted and cranky, a little smelly, wandering off the ferry to the beautiful island of Koh Tao. You are bombarded by taxi drivers, holding up signs, yelling destinations at you and popping your personal bubble to find out where you’re going. Flustered, you shoulder your way past, pretending you don’t understand them, and pull out your address for the hostel hoping to stumble upon it. You walk up and down the same street three times, looking for your hostel, only to finally realize that the empty building in front of you IS your hostel.                                                              I felt so defeated. A neighbor informed me that the owner had packed up and moved to Bangkok – before trying to sell me an expensive room in her building. Another foreigner from the ferry spotted me and looked almost as lost – instant friendship! So my new Canadian friend, Spencer, and I ended up finding a nice restaurant to enjoy a cold drink, discuss our travels, and look for a place to stay. Spencer’s friends had recommended a resort, mentioning that you could get great deals if you dive with them, and I’m certainly glad I ran into him! Instead of a dingy hostel with a poor location, I found myself in a swanky resort located right in the thick of things!                                                       I was completely caught up in the lifestyle of the island and ended up going scuba diving for the next three days! I got my advanced diver certification, saw amazing reefs and even a sunken ship!                                        On my second day with the certification course, we were taken out to Chumphon for our deep dive. The weather was absolutely miserable. Rain had us drenched before we even got in the water and large waves were throwing us around to the point that a couple people got sick. We would be going 30 meters down and completing a few exercises before we got to explore the reef. We were relaxing on the bottom for about ten minutes and had just started to explore when I noticed all of the other divers. Divers were all over the site, but they all seemed to be swimming in the same direction. I heard people tapping on their tanks with knives to get others attention. Words cannot express my shock when I looked up and saw a WHALE SHARK, 3 meters long, swimming past. It was unbelievably exciting – there were 4 juvenile whale sharks at the site that day. Everyone was swimming around it, taking pictures, enjoying the feeling of euphoria at our insane luck. Completely made my trip.                                                  I became friends with the other people in my dive group and several of the instructors. The lifestyle was addicting. Essentially, all of the instructors had come to the island to do some diving, fell in love with the island, and next thing you know they were getting their diving instructor certification and they’d been on the island for 3 years! I was so tempted to drop everything and join them. I love diving and can’t get enough of it. Torn by my obligation to my students, I took the responsible route and left the island after 5 amazing days, insisting that I would be back in March or April to get my Rescue Diving certification. Contrary to boarding the ferry in Koh Phi Phi, leaving Koh Tao was incredibly difficult and even sad. I feel like I barely tapped into what that island has to offer and will need to find a way to get back there before my time on this side of the world is over.

The hostel that wasn't meant to be.

The hostel that wasn’t meant to be.

Oh just your average, everyday, drop dead gorgeous scenery on Koh Tao

Oh just your average, everyday, drop dead gorgeous scenery on Koh Tao

Koh Phangan – I took the ferry from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan, where I would meet up with 5 other teachers from my organization and spend 5 nights at a hostel on the beach. This island was so much fun and the people staying at the hostel were all fantastic. If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway, stay away from this island! Music is blaring 24/7 (usually the same 20 songs, mind you) the beach is crowded, people are out at all hours of the day and night – basically this place is a party all day, every day. While I enjoyed beach days, motorbike excursions, the Wipe Out Zone, and shopping trips, it was the nighttime adventures that are the most memorable and I enjoyed staying up to watch more than one gorgeous sunrise. I had my fun, and wouldn’t trade a minute of it, but it definitely took its toll on me.

When myself and the group of teachers left the island we all took the train up to Chiang Mai to get our work visas sorted out… again. The strain that I had put on myself was too much and I was miserable for the next 3 days. I had a fever and terrible cough and just felt gross – my ‘happy backpacker’ demeanor was in short supply during this time. Arriving home was a huge relief and weight off my shoulders. I had a couple days to recuperate and then finally got myself back into the classroom. It was an amazing trip, and I met wonderful people who I hope to run into again, but there’s no denying that it was good to be back at school and surrounded by familiar faces. It’ll be a few months before I’m ready to put that backpack on again, but when it does – look out world! I can do it!