17 Mar Travel – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
I love inspiring people to get out there and see the world. But it would be very irresponsible of me to speak only about the positive side of it. Learning about the world is not all pink sunsets and rainbows, even if that’s what our Instagram feeds show. Bad experiences are a right of passage in the world of long term travel. Tourist traps, scams, robberies, diarrhea, dirty bathrooms, impossibly crowded attractions. No doubt, you’ll have a taste of them along the road no matter how careful you are.
These are the 7 worst travel experiences I’ve ever had:
#7 All-day orgies at Castaway Island, Vietnam
I was kicking off my six-month Southeast Asia backpacking trip and was in a celebratory mood having just turned 32. I splurged to spend a few days in Halong Bay, so I signed up for the most popular tour called the Castaway Experience. I felt blessed to sail along such magnificent wonder, the most gorgeous limestone formations set against a backdrop of the clearest emerald waters… until we docked on the infamous island.
A fat, naked, real life version of Super Mario howled at our arrival. I quickly realized it was a hardcore booze cruise, a no-holds-barred hedonistic party island. I thought about swimming back to civilization. I was about to be stuck on this cursed island for the next 4 whole days with every kind of narcotic imaginable and there was no turning back! Although, the food wasn’t bad, the cafeteria smelled like urine and puke. Orgies were taking place in different areas of the island at different times. Gross. Just gross.
#6 Rough ride with zombies from Panama to Colombia
This could’ve been a wonderful trip. Four days hopping from one San Blas Island to another, sleeping in hammocks and interacting with the indigenous people, the Kuna tribe. First the “sail boat” wasn’t a sail boat. It was a tiny speed boat, the kind that you’d take out for a day of diving, not the kind you’d want to be on to go to another country! Second, it was December, the roughest time for oceans as winds pick up causing massive waves to rock our boat so violently, our buttocks slammed hard against the wooden seats. One of the ladies swore her organs had been rearranged.
Also at that time, I had already burnt out from traveling for seven months so I can’t entirely blame the people I was stuck with. But a lot of them were either stoned, high, drunk, hungover or rowdy the whole time. On the first morning, I woke up to the sound and smell of a man peeing right next to my hammock. The crew prepared delicious fresh lobsters for our first dinner but fed us ham and cheese sandwiches the rest of the trip. Plus of course the standard sandflies and mosquitoes. No fun at all.
#5 Celebrating my birthday alone and depressed in Costa Rica
So I wanted to travel the world solo for a year non-stop. This was something I had never anticipated. On the day that I turned 33, I was working in Costa Rica as a yoga teacher. It was low season and I was barely making enough money to eat so celebrating was out of the question. I was homesick, missed my friends and family. I just wanted to be back home in Asia.
To make matters worse, the guy I was seeing at that time was probably the saddest person I’ve ever met and his negativity probably rubbed off on me. We made plans to go to the beach, I made us a delicious picnic lunch and after waiting for him the whole day, he never showed up on me. Boo.
#4 The worst hostel on earth
Stephanie had previously stayed there and spoke highly of the place and its original owner. Although it was rainy, Pai seemed it had loads to offer so we couldn’t wait to explore it. The hut that they gave us had literally fallen apart. The moldy mattress on the floor was soaked from the rain, holes on the roof and the floor. We requested to be transferred to the dark and stuffy dorm room instead, but it had the same problem. The structure was falling apart, it creaked everytime someone made the slightest movement. I feared for our safety, I couldn’t sleep at all.
I fell ill that night so I drank lots of water to hydrate resulting for the need to pee several times during the night. The smelly and disgusting toilets were on the opposite side of the muddy field. To top it all off, I woke up with dozens of bed bugs all over my body, and no, they didn’t refund us for the second night that we had already paid for. General rule, when you see a sign in reception that says “NO REFUNDS AFTER CHECK-IN”, be wary and find something else.
Friends drove me to the hospital where I was admitted to the ER and was quickly given an IV fluids. With a language barrier, I cried to the doctor as I felt my my head being drilled in half, tonsils so swollen I couldn’t even swallow my own saliva. After being tested negative for dengue fever, she prescribed what seemed like antibiotics and discharged me for the day.
#3 Watching my friend being slapped across the face. Twice.
Some Canadian friends and I decided to have dinner and drinks at Alleycats, a popular watering hole in Kuta, Bali before heading across the street to Skygarden. Lo and I rode together and left our moped in the parking lot thinking it will be safer there. After a night of drunken revelry, we came back for it at 4:00 am and met a very angry security guard/parking attendant along with five of his drinking buddies. He demanded money from us but we refused to pay because we knew parking was free.
Before we could speed off, the obese Balinese man slapped Lo across the face with his thick fat hands while giving him a lecture about respecting locals. He did it one more time, even harder, provoking him to fight against them. I spoke to them in Bahasa Indonesian, but didn’t help at all so I had no choice but to pacify them by giving them whatever money was left in my pocket. I had to restraint Lo to keep him from fighting back and thankfully he did. Who knows what could’ve happened to us if he reacted differently. I wish I had reported the incident to the police, but at that time we were just too damn exhausted.
#2 India’s Sleeper Train
On 2012, my friends and I traveled across India on a packed itinerary. As amateurs, we picked 7 different places to see across the country for 3.5 weeks, meaning we only stayed in most places for less than 48 hours! What the heck were we thinking?! We wanted to see a magical region called Jaisalmer and decided to travel by train. The first and second class compartments were booked a month in advance so we had no choice to grab seats in the horrible sleeper class!
It was a nightmare. Along with our 30 kilo gigantic roll-on suitcases, we got ostracized by the locals while we waited around and got elbowed as each of us tried to board the train. We quickly found out that the seats we’ve strategically picked for the six of us so that we could sit close by have already been occupied by locals. They wouldn’t budge without a fight. We ended up sitting close to the toilet where it smelled like pee, poop, body odor and vomit all at the same time. Oh and it was 18 hours long.
#1 Being sold in exchange for 200 camels
On the same trip, we booked to ride camels before we were scheduled to spend the night in our desert camp. Our guide Pappu picked us up from our cozy hotel in town and drove hundreds of kilometers into the desert bordering Pakistan. The ride was supposed to be towards sunset. I’m not sure what happened but we were on our camels at 3:00 pm when the sun was still harsh. I quicky felt very faint and asked him if I could come down and ride with him in his 4×4 instead.
We were in a long convoy behind 6 camels when all of a sudden he veered off track, I could no longer see anyone or anything else but sand for miles. When I nervously asked him where we were going, he replied “I’m going to sell you to the Pakistanis for 200 camels”. My heart dropped and felt like blacking out. I had never been more afraid in my life and thought about jumping off the vehicle but there was nowhere to hide. In the horizon, there were a few men who stood next to two jeeps, parked as if waiting for our arrival. Pappu slowed down to park close to them, and talked to them as if he were bargaining while pointing to me. Just before I was about to completely black out, he nudged my elbow and giggled, “I’m just joking, ya!”