Ivan, my second son, will be 20 years old this September 2015. I decided to take him backpacking to Thailand for 10 days while he was having a break from his studies. To my utter surprise and absolute delight, he turned out to be the perfect travel buddy and a born backpacker. Let me tell you why Ivan surpassed my expectations as a compatible travel buddy.
1) My Travel Buddy Should Love Street Food – Ivan devoured them!!
If you are ever in Thailand and you turn up your nose at the street food for whatever reasons, you are missing out on the most delicious and cheapest food ever. At every corner you turn, on every street, you are bound to come face to face with all kinds of scrumptious food and refreshing drinks. Food stalls selling all kinds of Thai delicacies can be easily found in their night markets, traditional markets, outside the temples, below the trees and at every nook and corner.
Ivan has never been a picky eater and out of my three sons, he is the only one who eats anything and everything. We had a great time trying out all all kinds of street food. Our favorites are pad thai and sticky rice with mangoes/durians. Thailand is one place where it is perfectly alright to have sticky rice with mangoes for breakfast.
He has no qualms sitting in the market to eat his meals like the locals. The best food is where the locals are eating and we just look at whatever they were eating and gesture to the sellers that we want the same thing. So far we had never gone wrong in that manner and had tasted the most amazing Thai food. Needless to say, we had a great time gallivanting from one food stall to another trying out any food that looked decadent to our eyes! Ivan passed with flying colours as a backpacker who loves local street food as they are cheap and this suit the budget of a backpacker.
2) My Travel Buddy Must Have A Sense of Humor – Ivan Made Me Laugh!
In many tourist places in Thailand, we discovered that the locals are allowed to breeze through whereas “foreigners” need to pay entrance fees. We took a songthaew to Doi Suthep Temple, Chiang Mai and after climbing 300 steps, we came face to face with a sign directing foreigners to buy tickets. As I will be blogging about this place in another post, I got Ivan to pose beside the sign. That was when I found out that my son has a comical side to him. I will let the photo do the talking. He was on a roll and I broke up laughing each time he posed for a photograph. I didn’t ask for him to pose but somehow those funny expressions naturally oozed out from him.
3) My Travel Buddy Must Be Adventurous And Daring – Ivan Dared To Be My Scooter Passenger!
In order to see the various attractions in Pai, Thailand, the most popular & convenient vehicle is the scooter. Almost all, if not all the attractions are outside Pai town and they are too far and scattered in-between to walk there. During the peak season, I was told that there will be hundreds of scooters zipping around Pai and accidents are very common. Then I discovered why – it was really cheap to rent a scooter – 100 bahts for 24 hours!! Boy…I was so tempted to rent one but the last time I rode a scooter was when I was 15 years old. I was doubtful whether we should rent one as I had not ridden a scooter for the past 38 years!!! Finally, we decided to rent one because Ivan was game for it, reassuring me that I would be fine with it.
I was very glad we rented the scooter as we were able to see all the sights that were shown in the map given to us by the scooter rental company. If you find yourself in Pai and you know how to ride a scooter, rent one. The scooters are mostly automatic and with a turn of the key and another turn of the handle, you are off. Bear in mind that not all companies provide insurance for the rental. Be sure to check the scooter properly and take photos of the dents and scratches on it when you first take delivery of it. Some unscrupulous rental company might take advantage of your negligence and accuse you of damaging their scooter and demand compensation. So be forewarned. This advice was given to me by my guesthouse.
5) My Travel Buddy Should Use Local Transport – No Problem With Ivan!
From the moment we touched down at Chiang Mai International Airport, our mode of transportation was songthaews (small van converted to fetch passengers), vans and local buses. They were cheap, surprisingly very clean and fast (sometimes way too fast for my liking). Ivan stood quietly beside me while I haggled with a few songthaews for a good price to get us from one place to another. He was definitely silently learning the ropes on the art of bargaining to secure good rates. In fact, Ivan loved to stick out his head to feel the rush of the wind against his face when riding in the songthaews. Do not let foreign language deter you from taking public transportation. The locals are always ready to assist and we had no problem at all getting from one town to the other by local buses. I love taking the town buses as well because it is the perfect place for people watching.
4) My Travel Buddy Should Be Sociable – Ivan Fits The Bill Like A Glove!
When we were in Chiang Rai, I deliberately chose to stay away from the town to enjoy nature with some peace and quiet. We chose a location smack right in the middle of nowhere with bamboo huts as accommodation with solar-powered electricity. This meant no wifi, no television, no computer, no nothing…. except for 3 dogs, a cat, a fat toad and two other guests from Canada, Kelly and Elan. Ivan had no problem talking to the Canadian travellers, making friends with the dogs and even holding the fat toad in his hands. He became friends with the owner of the guesthouse, Noh who was 2/3 of his size.
5) My Travel Buddy And I Look Out For Each Other – Ivan Was Practically My Knight In Shining Armour
I love murals, street art and creative graffiti. There was this place near the US Embassy, Chiang Mai where you can find walls full of mural paintings done by schools and societies. It was a scorching hot day and Ivan gallantly asked me to wait in the shades while he went around capturing all the murals for me with the camera. Halfway through, he had to use the umbrella as the heat was too much for him to bear. For the first time in my backpacking travel, I only carried a camera and an umbrella while sightseeing. Ivan carried the rest of the stuff in a small backpack. Benefit of travelling with a son – porter service 24/7!
Most guys do not like shopping and they are not very patient especially more so when the ladies spend too much time doing that while the men wait for them. Ivan not only patiently waited for me to choose the stuff, he carried all my purchased goodies and took photographs of the different food and wares for my website as well. Mind you, the night market in Chiang Mai was really massive and even though we spent 4 hours there, we still could not cover all the lanes! It was crowded, noisy, suffocating and yet Ivan managed to enjoy himself trying out different kinds of food and even buying something for himself. My eldest son would have asked me to leave after 15 minutes.
6) My Travel Buddy Must Free-Spirited – Ivan Took The Cake For This One!
We had so much fun jumping in the air in so many places. Often, we received strange stares from the locals. They must be wondering why an old lady and a young man are taking turns to jump or lie down on the ground. To make sure the jump looks higher, the photographer must go way low by lying on the ground to snap the picture.
When we bring our children for holiday by using tours, they are comfortable as transportation, accommodation, food and visiting of places of attractions are all arranged. But when they are backpacking, they have to take part in looking for the right bus, hailing the local songthaews, eating in not so-nice markets, staying in dormitories, mingling with the locals and other backpackers – they will have the experience of their lives by taking ownership of their travels. When things don’t go right during travels, the true colour of a traveller will reveal itself. Ivan’s colours were beautiful, soothing and gentle – never loud, ugly nor overbearing. I am glad that I took Ivan for this backpacking trip because I saw a part of my son which made me a very proud mum. He was considerate, respectful, friendly, easy-going, fun and a joy to be with for 10 days. It was truly a rewarding and fulfilling time of bonding between mommy and son.