I’m Not a Backpacker; I’m Just Traveling with Backpacks

Quick note before I begin this post: This might be a little bit of a rant and I apologize beforehand. If you refer to yourself as a backpacker, if you are obsessed with the Thai islands, if you overly love to party, etc. be ready to be slightly offended. But it’s time you realize something, so read on.

Ok let’s get started. Unpopular opinion coming atcha. I HATED the Thai islands. Ok, hate is a strong word. And the Thai islands are some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. So maybe the word “hate” is a little much. But the Thai islands proved everything I had expected to be true about Thailand.

Let’s rewind a bit. I’m living in Indonesia. I had just come from Singapore and Malaysia and had a blast. And was falling in love quickly with the Asian culture. To be honest, when I was leaving Malaysia, I was absolutely not looking forward to Thailand. To me, Thailand has always seemed like a played out, overrun tourist destination for full-moon parties or honeymoon resorts, and that’s just not my style. But, as I was just an hour flight away, I knew I had to see it for myself to hopefully prove me wrong. I knew there was so much more to this country than what I was thinking, or so I hoped.

However, when I arrived in Krabi, I was greeted with everything I hated: loud Westerners with no regard for a new culture, already drunk, with 2+ massive checked bags a piece, and looking for the closest party. Major eye roll. Yea I know, if you’re reading this and you’ve been to the south of Thailand, you’ll say “Obviously Paige, what did you expect?” But I had hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as I’ve heard. Man, was I wrong.

Now listen. If you are looking to party with a bunch of fellow white, English-speaking people in gorgeous places, by all means, visit the Thai islands. But what I noticed was that the culture I fell in love with was missing from the second I landed (It also might’ve not helped that I almost didn’t land. Long story short, we hit a really bad storm; lightning hit the wing; we tried to make an emergency landing; the wind was too strong and right before we landed, the pilot had to go full-throttle straight up to avoid crashing; one of the flight attendants was crying; and I was ready to leave Thailand before I even actually got there. But I’m alive, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice).

Ok ok I’m done bashing the islands because I’m being cynical and totally didn’t hate them that much. I had a really good time to be honest. But there is one thing I realized about myself when hopping from island to island:

I am absolutely not a backpacker.

backpacker

Yes, I’m traveling with two backpacks and may look like one. But for the first time, I really was forced to spend time with the “backpacker” type. You know, the one that hasn’t showered for two days, isn’t wearing shoes, already has a beer (or two) in hand, and somehow manages to talk about the number of countries they’ve ever been to and how they’re “like sooo powerful man.”

I’ve learned a ton of patience while traveling. And I’ve learned that I have zero patience while traveling. Years ago, the backpacker term was truly that: stuffing your life in a bag and exploring a country as it was meant to be seen, leaving nothing behind. I don’t know if I’m just old now that I’m thirty but holy shit is this not the case anymore. These “backpackers” as they refer to themselves might travel with a backpack but they leave trash everywhere, they refuse to learn the local language, they get absolutely pissed drunk, are the loudest in the hostel, and expect everyone to love them.

But I’ve realized that while all of my belongings fit in two backpacks, I will never call myself a backpacker. While I haven’t showered in two days, it’s because I have been so busy hiking or exploring the city I’m in that I crash right when my head hits the pillow on my hostel bed. While I may not get the pronunciation correct, I’ll do my best to only speak the local tongue when I can. While I may like to have a few beers, I know my limit and know that I’m not in my own country and need to show respect (and know my way back to the hostel without stumbling around).

So if you are a “backpacker,” please be more self-aware. Please learn to respect a culture and blend in, not stand out (in a rather embarrassing way). And for god’s sake, it’s a 45-minute boat ride from island to island. I promise you, you don’t need to slam 10 beers before you get to the next stop.

On that note, I’m grabbing my two backpacks and softly saying “thank you” and “I’m sorry” in Thai behind every one of these “backpackers” to show not all of us are like that. I promise.

48 Hours in Singapore: The (Almost Missed) Visa Run

Day 58. I was cutting it close. After missing my first flight to Singapore…

Wait, quick side note. So I had my first visa run flight booked before I even got to Indonesia (since I had to have proof of departure for the type of visa I was applying for). Fast forward two months, and I was sitting on the beach with friends on my little island when my phone dinged. I looked down at it to a reminder for “Flight to Singapore in 10 minutes.” I laughed, took another sip of my Bintang, and sat back. I didn’t want to leave yet anyway. Ok ok, back to the story…

I knew I couldn’t miss this one. I had two more days until my Indonesian visa ran out, and it was either pay a ton of money and sit in Denpasar for a week or take a little weekend trip and just get a new visa when I flew back. Obviously, I was way more intrigued by a good adventure.

Plus, how can you beat the equivalent of a $20USD flight to Singapore? You can’t.

I always wanted to see Singapore, but it never truly was an option until I was on this side of the world. Forget the expensive flights there from the States; the country itself is pretty damn expensive. But with some good options for hostels and neighborhoods like Little India to save me some money, it was the perfect fit for my visa run.

And even better, Singapore is a city/country that you can totally see a good portion of within 48 hours. So if you find yourself on that side of the world with a long layover, here’s how you can extend it and see some of the best of what Singapore has to offer.

Friday

I landed around noon. If you get in earlier and you have time, explore the Changi airport. It’s one of the coolest airports I’ve ever been to (I mean, there’s a badass spiral slide in the airport. Take a moment and be a kid again). Once I got settled in my hostel and unpacked a little, I knew I needed a late lunch. First thing I did was head to Clarke Quay to check out the river and grab a beer.

This may be the most American (or Irish-American) thing I’ve ever done, so for what comes next, try not to judge.

In Indonesia, we have Bintang for our beer of choice. I love it. But it’s a light lager, nothing special. After a few months, I really started to miss a good dark beer. Along with that, I was living on rice and noodles every day, and there was nothing I was craving more than melty stringy cheese.

The second I stepped in Clarke Quay, I forgot all about trying local food, spotted an Irish pub, and beelined it. You better believe I got the cheesiest mac and cheese and the best pint of Guinness I’ve ever had in my life. So if you’re looking for that, or if you’re just looking for a good meal, head here and walk around to explore a little. Clarke Quay is pretty mellow during the day, so be sure to go back at night for a good time, especially on the weekends.

After Clarke Quay, I took a walk down the river down to the Marina Bay Sands area. It’s a bit of a walk but the views are absolutely stunning (and there are a ton of bars along the way to stop and hang at). Famous for its architecture, be sure to take time to just be in awe of some of the buildings here, both old and new. It was time for dinner and a show so I grabbed a quick bite and waited for the Marina Bay Light Show.

There’s two ways to do this show so I recommend saving time to do it two nights you’re there. Here’s why. I personally like the view on the west side of the bay the best. It’s the side that you can see the brightest view of the laser light show, and it’s spectacular. The second night, head to the east side, right in front of the Marina Bay Sands for the fountain and music show. Both views are amazing, but they are truly two totally different experiences, so I wouldn’t miss either.

Saturday

I knew this was my only full day in Singapore so I wanted to make the most of it. And damn, did my legs feel it. I woke up as soon as the sun did and headed straight to the Gardens by the Bay. If you don’t know what this is, or haven’t seen the famous trees in Singapore, here’s a few photos to entice you to visit. This was by far my favorite place in Singapore. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say I spent the better half of an entire day here. I’ll let the pictures do it justice (or not, because nothing except seeing this in real life will do it justice).

Get here first thing in the morning if you want to do the suspension bridge with as little people as possible. I was the third person on the bridge for that day, and it couldn’t have been more peaceful and beautiful.

Take time to explore the two conservatories, one dedicated to saving the forests and animal conservation and the other dedicated to almost every type of flower in Asia. Neither conservatory is better than the other; just make it easy on yourself and don’t force yourself to choose; do both.

After I explored the Gardens by the Bay a bit, I headed to Kampong Glam to get a taste of the famous Muslim Quarter and was more than pleasantly surprised. After taking a few shots of one of the most picturesque mosque you’ll ever see (all the Aladdin vibes seriously), be sure to walk around, shop and eat. Anything and everything is good here. And don’t forget to check out the incredible street art. But if you do want a good spot for both beer and food, head to FOMO (seriously, or else you’ll totally have the fear of missing out).

After I stuffed myself full of falafel and hummus and margaritas (don’t judge the combo here), I headed back to Gardens by the Bay to see the trees at night. And let me tell you, this is absolutely something YOU CANNOT MISS (I know I know, I keep saying that, but everything in Singapore is pretty incredible). Once the sun goes down, the trees sparkle along to music for a one-of-a-kind light show. Get there early, grab a seat on the floor by the center tree, lay down, and enjoy! Best part, you can do this AND the Marina Bay fountain and light show the same night; just head over to the Bay right after the trees. One of the best nights of my life!

Sunday

My flight was leaving at 12pm out of Singapore so I had time to squeeze one more thing in and that was Little India. This is a neighborhood you’ll just want to explore, grab amazing Indian food for cheap, and see brightly colored buildings all around.

Singapore is a city/country that turned from a visa run spot to one of my favorite places I have ever been. It’s a city so filled with culture, so advanced in technology and architecture, so environmentally conscious, that there truly is something for everyone there. So be sure to extend that layover and step into the future!