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kudos to all my sisters in the struggle

     Some things that a man will never be able to understand are the limitations that come with being a woman travelling solo. That being said, I'm not trying to imply anything other than the fact that travelling alone as a female comes with a set of struggles particular to our sex, as cautious as we may be. The other day I set out for Hat Thung Wa Laen from Chumphon, hoping to camp there for two nights and then return for my Thai friends' wedding on the 6th. Along the way, I stopped at a roadside shop after a big uphill for a soda. Boys from the nearby Technical College happened to be on their lunch break, and throngs of them were stopping to grab some snacks as well. A couple of them were brave enough to approach me, and soon enough I had a circle of boys sitting around me, trying to communicate with me in Thai. I told them I was headed for Thung Wa Laen Beach, not knowing how small the place was, and one of them offered to meet me there as I was his first farang friend. Of course, it's propositions like these that require me to trust my gut and decide whether a situation is safe or if there is the slightest possibility of danger. As innocent as the request seemed at first, he kept insisting that he come along despite my constant refusals. Listening to my intuition and feeling a little uncomfortable, I laughed him off and said he'd better get back to class instead.
Hat Thung Wa Laen
     Arriving at Thung Wa Laen, I was surprised to see the array of beachfront resorts and of restaurants advertising "western food," etc. Although one of the farang I met there raved about how quiet and remote the place is compared to the rest of Thailand, for me it was the one of the most touristic places I've been so far this month! Even the price of a bag of sticky rice, usually 5 baht, was quadrupled. Despite the beautiful seaside and the soft, white sands, I felt a little defeated. I looked around for a place to set up camp and a hotel owner kindly offered for me to put my tent up within the area of her bungalows. I think she was worried that I'd end up camping on the beach, which is never a good idea for reasons concerning both safety and sandflies. I met a nice Frenchman and Thai woman living in the room next to my tent who invited me for a chat over beers on their patio, after which I headed off to bed. Sometime between 10 and 11PM I heard a car roll up right next to my tent, the slamming of doors, and male voices calling "hey! hey! You!" right outside my tent.
I unzipped the door to see two of the boys that I'd met that afternoon, their eyes bloodshot, faces right up against my tent. I had no idea how they managed to find me (my tent wasn't visible from the road), or why they came, especially so late at night on a weekday. My stomach lurched, but I kept my calm. We sat outside my tent, and they talked to me, incredibly high on something or other, in Thai slang, speaking too quickly and constantly asking if I understood. I started feeling a little frustrated and announced that I was going to bed, after which the one asked if he could join me, and then said he'd return to my tent the next day.
My setup at Thung Wa Laen
     After the boys rode off, the French/Thai couple came out again to make sure that everything was okay. As they were planning on leaving the next day, I decided that it was for the better if I headed off first thing in the morning as well. Of course, maybe no harm was to be done, but it's always better to be safe than sorry. And it bothered me that the boys knew where I was sleeping and could drop in on me whenever they wanted. Initially, they offered to meet me at the beach as friends, but little comments like wanting to join me in bed are bound to make me feel uneasy, though it could be because some men have an image of western women as targets for easy sex, for whatever reason. So I can never be sure if a man is just being friendly or if he's looking for something more, but this doesn't mean I'm afraid. Of course I always travel with a knife, but I try not to have an attitude of mistrust. In my opinion, if you believe that bad things are going to happen, they most likely will. There are some people in this world that shouldn't be trusted, but most people are good. So I hold a smile on my face, make a fool of myself, and keep an open heart. On my way back to Chumphon the next morning, I stopped to ask a motorcyclist for directions. He ended up pushing me for the remaining 15 kilometers back to the city, after which he simply rode off with a smile and pointed for me to continue on straight. People are full of good- you just have to be open to it.
     I don't mean to offend anyone of any gender or nationality. I recount only my personal experiences as a woman, and Thai people have otherwise been SO warm and accommodating to me. Lastly, I encourage solo traveling by all means, as it is a fantastic experience 99.8% of the time! :-)

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