Sunburnt, Bruised, and Poor

In The Art of Travel, 8. Troubles, Washington DC by Sonia1 Comment

My last post was kind of about homesickness, whether it be for Shanghai or New York. I haven’t really had any specific travel troubles here in DC other than that so I’d like to share the most troublesome and equally great trip I’ve ever taken.

Sophomore year of college, while studying in Shanghai, three friends (Johan, Jimmy, and Kilian) and I decided we would spend spring break 2016 in Thailand and Cambodia. Kilian decided to plan the entire trip for us, even after we offered to help. Within Thailand our time would be split between Chiang Mai and Krabi. In Cambodia, we would visit Siem Riep.

Upon arriving in Chiang Mai, we realized that this city was much smaller than we thought. It essentially felt as if it was 4 streets that were connected into a rectangle. We spent the first day roaming the temples and the town. It was all very beautiful but it was about 101 degrees outside. On the next day, we didn’t have anything planned so I suggested visiting either the tigers or elephants that were nearby. Kilian was very much not interested. This is where the tension on this trip began. Johan, Jimmy, and I ended up visiting Tiger Temple without Kilian who opted to stay at the hotel. We had fun without him and soon it was time to head to our next city.

The next day we made it to Krabi and discovered that the bungalows that we had booked did not have air conditioning and were made in a way that they had openings in the wood where mosquitos could fly through. We asked Kilian if it had said this in the booking and he claimed it did not. We all decided to roll with it, we were right on the water and it was all very beautiful. The café that was part of the bungalows was delicious and the sunsets were unbelievable.

On our first real day there, we did about a 4 hour hike. Halfway through the hike the trail became a scramble and we had to rush up piles of rocks that easily could have resulted in our death. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. Had we done some more research we may have seen the dangers of the trail. However, ultimately, the summit was worth it. It was all very beautiful.

On our third day in Krabi, we decided to go kayaking. Jimmy and I paired up and Kilian and Johan paired up. Kilian pointed to a nearby island and we all thought it might be cool to paddle out there. However, about 10 minutes in, we realized we were struggling against the current. Not directly, but indirectly enough that by minute 30 I was exhausted. It took us at least two hours to kayak to that island. It was clearly much farther than we thought it was. We all sat in the turquoise ocean, and thought about the kayak back to shore. It was all very beautiful and I was of course grateful to be there.

However, Kilian then came up with a plan to kayak back to our bungalow for lunch and then from there kayak back to the place where we rented them. He was convinced that the café was closer to the island than the rental hut. I was very against this because I knew that I would be so tired after that first trip that I would not want to then again get back into the kayak and paddle back to the rental place. I can’t remember where Johan and Jimmy said at this point but soon, Jimmy would agree with me, but at that point the other two would be too far away to rechart our paths.

I’m not sure how it’s possible but as we headed toward our bungalow, we were again going against the current. It also seemed like the bungalows were just getting farther and farther away. Maybe it was our eyes adjusting to just how far we had to go to get to the café for lunch. It took us at least two hours to get to the edge of the shore. At this point, we were all very much sunburnt. Originally we had thought that the kayaks would cover our legs so we had not put sunscreen on our thighs or shins. We regretted this oversight more than you can imagine. Also at this point, the water was at low tide and the “shore” was about a mile away from the beach. By the time we reached the water’s edge Kilian and Johan were already long gone and could not hear our cries for help. Jimmy was way more sunburnt than I was and he was not looking well. We ended up having to drag the kayak over the wet sand because we were unable to simply tie it up so far from the actual water’s edge. Had Kilian or Johan helped us with the kayak, we would have been better off. By the time we got back to the bungalow, Jimmy was so sick that he puked and passed out. We later agreed that he had gotten sun poisoning. The rest of us had pretty severe sunburns. Kilian and I got into a heated argument in the café (which was especially problematic because we were sharing a bungalow).

On another day, we decided to rent mopeds and travel to a nearby town and beach. On the way there we used a main road. On the way back, Kilian argued for taking a short cut. It was kind of a lengthy ride so we went with Kilian’s suggestion (he was also the only person with access to Google Maps). Immediately, it was clear that this was a very untended trail. The ground was covered with clay rocks the size of my hand or bigger. Sitting on the back of the moped driven by Jimmy, I was very uneasy. Ten minutes into the trail, our moped hit a huge rock and I tipped over the edge and the right side of my body slammed into sharp clay. The next day, Kilian suggested we take the same trail again. I was a bit outraged but we ended up taking the regular road.

Our time in Thailand was riddled with troubles but while I was there I also felt a great deal of gratefulness for my privilege for being able to even travel there. It was all so beautiful that regardless of my annoyance with Kilian on this trip, my terrible sunburn, and my bloody cuts on my right arm, I was so grateful to be where I was. The sunsets, the pad thai on the side of the road, the breeze from the back of the moped, all balanced out the bad.

When we made it to Cambodia we all felt that this trip had been much longer than any other spring break. I ended up not being able to see Siem Riep personally because I ran out of money and wasn’t able to pay the $30 admissions fee.

(Image: Thailand; Source: Sonia Alvarez)


  1. Hi Sonia! Wow, I’m sorry that you had to go through all of that during your trip. It’s really great that you were able to experience moments of gratitude despite all of the stress. This shows your ability to make the most out of your time. I really want to visit Thailand! It sounds so beautiful. Maybe one day you will be able to go back and have a more seamless experience. However, part of what makes traveling so wonderful is the unexpected and oftentimes irritating situations that you can never plan for. You are able to learn so much from this. I am glad to hear that you did not have any crazy stories of things gone wrong in DC!

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