There are moments when you’re in the thick of your time away and you start taking experiences in your stride, as if it’s commonplace to wake up in an incredible eco hotel and then scramble up rocks to glimpse an incredible panorama, just days after you’ve sipped fresh coconut water from the source and ridden on the back of an elephant.
Flash forward a few more days and you’re haggling like a pro in the market, making a ferry crossing in a storm and… somehow making it through the trip with an ever-increasing inner ear infection brewing under the surface the whole time (more on that later). Then you come home and think, I really did all that? Little old me? Yup. Somehow, I did.
This was the country where I was placed most obviously out of my comfort zone; not speaking a word of the language, not being accustomed to the sun or the heat (hey, I’m a pasty English girl) and not having any sort of backpacking experience, as many of the other members of my tour group did, and were keen to prove. But those deficits didn’t stop me from embracing the newness of it all and accepting every activity that our brilliant tour leader offered, from an awesome Jeep safari to a bar crawl around Samui, so I really got to know the area and the other group members. What’s more, I explored on my own too, seeing an obscure viewpoint recommended by a taxi driver, enjoying a hot stone massage for the first time and hitting up the Rock Cafe in Koh Samui. I also managed to survive being the gourmet meal of local mosquitoes, and found that the best treatment is After Bite, whilst Mrs. White’s Unstung Hero is a vastly superior deterrent than any of the Deet-heavy pharmacy sprays that choke the back of your throat with their chemical-rich recipe.
Whilst I couldn’t possibly squeeze the most out of each island in a matter of days, I think I squeezed a damn good part of them into my itinerary. I ate weird and wonderful Thai food that mostly agreed with me; I drank my way through the local beer menu and discovered that my favourite tipple there is Leo, brewed in Bangkok; I haggled an imitation Prada purse down from 1,200 baht to 310 – the logo isn’t even fastened on straight, but I love it for its imperfections. I held two monkeys, both of whom I wanted to pop in my handbag and take home; I was blessed by a monk after getting an insanely bad fortune predicted; I invented my own crepe recipe by accident on a street corner of Koh Tao.
Despite all this, as the trip progressed, the one thing that unsettled me was my sudden episodes of vertigo. Usually I’m not scared of heights, it’s just that I’m by no means a gymnast, so I expected to have a few minor elegance deficiencies getting in and out of boats and doing the odd bit of walking up rocky hills. What I didn’t anticipate was developing an innate fear of falling, a fear of the gap stretching between me and the ground – or the sea, or the pool – beneath, to the point where even a drop of little more than a metre made my stomach churn as though I was looking down from a dizzying height. This was meant to be my big adventure, not my big wimping out, and it left me frustrated.
What started as a minor worry on the first day (when I felt like I was on a boat, but hadn’t even been on one yet) got worse as the days went on. Yes, I was still participating in everything, but I was tiring quicker and getting dizzy spells. By the time I got on the plane home, the dizziness was becoming less intermittent and more of a constant, to the point where I felt like I’d been drugged. The next day, unable to stop feeling like I was still on a bloody boat, I headed to the doctor and was diagnosed with an inner ear infection (the less-hilarious-than-it-sounds labyrinthitis), which had been brewing since I took the flight from the UK and had caused all those weird moments that I couldn’t previously explain.
The reason I’ve written about my ears in the same post as all of the great things I got up to, is that I’m still pinching myself now that I managed to see and do so much with the infection rearing its ugly head at the same time. I guess thinking it was my own weakness, and not a valid medical reason, made me grit my teeth and carry on. I thought I’d be ruining my holiday to give into what I thought was just a bad case of jet lag… but maybe if I’d had a diagnosis then I wouldn’t have ploughed on through and I’d have missed out on so many things, not just the big events, but simple boat trips, impromptu night shopping excursions, and doing shots in a backpackers’ resort.
You could say that the best travel lesson I learned was not to see a doctor, but obviously that sounds like quite ill-judged advice. Instead, what I would say is that you should crack on as best you can, drinking plenty of water, until you know it’s definitely not your imagination, and then hit the pharmacist and the doctor for help. Just make sure you don’t turn into the Fun Police for no good reason (read: hypochondria), because you don’t get that time back, and those elephants won’t ride themselves. If the elephants do start riding themselves, then congratulations: you’re hallucinating.
Disclaimer: I visited Thailand as a blog competition winner with Contiki.com, on their Thai Island Hopper East tour. As ever, all views are my own.