I first told my college pal, Anna, about my plans to go to Vietnam maybe in April or May of 2017. She barely skipped a beat before throwing out the idea of coming to visit while I was there. In December we made official plans to meet in Thailand in March. To say there were high expectations is an understatement.
I was so wrapped up in building the anticipation, it wasn’t even on my radar that there could be any kind of complication. So you can imagine the let down when Anna messaged me about an impending Nor’easter cancelling all flights out of NYC. If you can’t imagine this devastation, I’ll try to paint a picture. I felt like my world was ending. I felt like someone had died while I was fully aware that it was just inconvenient weather. I was just taken aback that something I had no control over could feel so crushing. This probably only painted the picture of a sheltered, dramatic girl. But that’s how I felt when I was flying from Hanoi to Bangkok. How could anyone feel that way when they were off to explore a new part of the world?? It sucked.
I landed in Bangkok and changed my itinerary to stay in Chiang Mai for the whole week because I couldn’t bear wandering Bangkok alone again. I thought after hopping around Cambodia I would enjoy staying in one city. Instead, I was left with a lot of time to fill and an inability to make decisions.
Early in the week I went to The Elephant Nature Park, so glad we had booked that in advance. It was amazing. I spent the day wandering this highland reservation with three rescued elephants. We walked with them, fed them, bathed them. It was pretty great. Cool animals and an awesome landscape is all I could really ask for.
The week progressed and I meandered through the city eating and drinking anything that seemed appealing. So it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise that I caught a little bout of what I’m assuming was food poisoning. I was down for the count for about 24 hours and for the first time grateful I was alone….
There is so much to do outside the city center in Northern Thailand that I was fully aware of and if I had been in a better mental space I would have taken advantage. I found myself full of doubt, indecisiveness, and insecurities. There was one place that Anna and I had both wanted to go to so I made it my mission to find a way there. It took the whole week, but on my last day I was headed to the “Grand Canyon” of Chiang Mai.
It wasn’t really grand but it was this canyon that someone had decided to fill with water and make into a little amusement park. I went to the cheaper part with less frills but a few cliff jumps, which is what I was after. I walked into the park and was handed a life jacket. I waved it off with a smile, like “nah I’m a solidly proficient swimmer, I do not need that wimpy thing.” The worker asked if I was going to swim, to which is say yes and he followed up with putting it in my hands. I surveyed the area, watched a few people jump off the cliffs, and built the courage to take the plunge. I walked over to the jumping area and realized I was significantly less brave than I was when I walked in. Another worker asked if I could swim, I said yeah and he started to take the life jacket away from me. By this point any confidence was gone and I said, “actually I think I want to wear it.” Jokes on me. I almost backed out but after a week of indecision I had a black or white decision right in front of me. I wasn’t going to let doubt get in the way of this one.
I basically stepped away from the cliff edge and I’m pretty sure I screamed the whole way down. I don’t think my feet were directly under me because when I hit the water I immediately thought I did permanent damage to my butt. You know you nailed the landing when you surface to the workers calling down asking if you’re ok. But I did something that made me nervous, and that will always feel rewarding.
When I look back at this trip in the future, it’s likely I won’t remember the feeling of loneliness while wandering the streets of Chiang Mai. There is no doubt that I will remember the joy of the elephants and the terrifying thrill of jumping from the cliff. And the devastation of having to experience it all without Anna.