Huge pleasure in me introducing Natalie Derham-Weston
Those who take a close interest in this place (you poor, lost souls!) will have noticed from time to time me posting items that have been sent to me by Bob Derham. He and I first met when we were both based in Larnaca, Cyprus in the late 80’s/early 90’s and we have remained good and close friends ever since.
Natalie is Bob’s beautiful daughter and recently contacted me to ask if she might offer a guest post on her traveling experiences. Natalie has ambitions to be a travel writer and, as you are about to see, would make an excellent one.
So, that’s more than enough from me. Over to Natalie.
Travel Blog: Instalment 1: The Introduction
After having spent much time over the last few years travelling, I have arrived home and really feel at a slight loss. I miss so many aspects of the backpacking lifestyle and writing about it brings it all back so vividly. I have never blogged or publicly documented anything before. However, here goes…
I have always been extremely privileged in the department of exploring, having grown up with a pilot as my father. By 9 months old I was perched on his lap in the flight deck of a BAC 1-11 drinking milk and probably mumbling loudly, on my way to Spain.
Since then, things have only picked up. We have taken family holidays across Europe, America, the UAE and latterly I have completed some independent travel through South East Asia, India, Nepal, South America and Indonesia. I even spent time being schooled in South Africa in my early teens and despite the gruelling slog of their strict education system, we had a blast on a farm at the weekends in the Karoo, racing around on quad bikes and roaming the many acres of raw land they had there.
My mother was an air hostess and my step mum a tours manager on the ocean liners. So I would presume this travelling bug I seem to have caught so ferociously has been somewhat inherited.
As part of my Dads job, he and my Mother used to live in Kenya for some time and I have grown up hearing stories of their escapades and have always been very open to the idea of other cultures and ways of life.
After 17 years of constant education and not confidently knowing which direction to take with my life, I decided backpacking around South East Asia would be a good stop gap. So this plan started to take shape, along with Hannah, my best friend from University. We began as most people do nowadays with some tentative Google searches and tried to create a clearer picture of where we should go and why. This is very difficult to gauge through a screen and since then I have taken this information with a generous pinch of salt. I do peruse the Lonely Planet books and like to have them as reference.
Regardless, we began to tally up costs, buy creams, tablets and lotions to cover every disease known to man and pay through the nose for a concoction of injections promised to keep us safe and which seemed to appease my Mother! I have to say both my parents have been exceedingly supportive every time I spring on them that I am fleeing the country and any responsibilities.
So, struggling under a bag almost as big as me, I met Hannah at Gatwick in March 2015, waved goodbye to Ma and Pa and we pranced off through security, eager to make a start.
We landed in Bangkok and convinced we would be living as cheaply as possible, which included transport, headed for some public transport system. Having vaguely fathomed the measure of the currency, Baht, we found a train to take us further into the depths of the area.
Our destination was Khao San Road, the tourist tapered high street. Our journey was broken into parts and we ended up on a street where we were accosted by a tuk tuk driver. Naively we accepted a lift. I have now learnt to agree on a fee before entering the vehicle!
Anyway, after repeating the address of our hostel more times than I would like to recount, we rocked up outside. Our room was totally terrifying to two novice travellers. Again, another thing I’ve learnt not to be too fussy about. It was a luminescent green, although this was barely visible through the crude graffiti, it was bug ridden and the sheets looked like they had been used to clean the floors. We swiftly requested a change of rooms, which wasn’t much of an improvement and led to Hannah sleeping on her important belongings. In turn, leading to a broken phone. However, this did not dampen our enthusiasm and we immediately immersed ourselves in the heaving road, trying the fresh phad thai, for about 40p made by street vendors and tried our hand at haggling. We finished the day with some local ‘Tiger’ beer.
Over the next few days we ticked off some tourist spots in Bangkok, drinking our weight in water to compensate for the insane temperatures and removing our shoes 80% of the day, an Asian custom.
We had deliberately left our time very free but had one pre planned event in Chang Mai. This was an elephant sanctuary where we would have the chance to feed, wash and ride them. As two animal lovers, we had checked the ethos of the organisation and had found the elephants were ridden bareback to avoid aggravating them with cages and ropes.
However, we had to first make our way there and made our first overnight train journey, a surprisingly comfy affair. We ended up in a cheap hotel in Chang Mai. We checked in and headed upstairs to shower and generally relax. Hannah went in the bathroom first and I was just rifling through some paperwork when I heard a loud crash followed by some mild expletives. Hannah fell out the door looking a little sheepish. I glanced past her and saw the remains of what had been the basin, now strewn all over the floor in bits.
Unluckily, the thing must have been loose before and when Hannah had been brushing her teeth, it had chosen that moment to fall off. We went immediately down to reception to explain the situation and they waved it away as nothing and re-homed us across the corridor. We were very grateful and had a good night’s sleep.
Going downstairs early the next morning ready for the pick-up vehicle to the sanctuary, the reception began laying into us and demanded we pay for the damage. The police were threatened and this was when Hannah became overwhelmed, burst into tears and ran out! I was left to smooth the argument and try to rationally explain there may have been some lapse in due care of their maintenance. We finally escaped unscathed and both look back at this as another of our funny incidences.
The experience of caring for the elephants was extremely special. They had a one year old baby there who was so cheeky and constantly stole bananas. The first day we spent in a group of about 20 but we were the only ones to stay overnight. We both were invited to the nearby camp of the Burmese mahout (elephant guardians) and spent the evening drinking their homemade whisky, playing music with cups and pans and bottles and playing with their children.
The next day the two of us, one mahout and two elephants walked into the jungle. We made a camp fire, and whittled cups and chopsticks from bamboo we cut down and cooked our lunch. It was so raw and adventurous and I loved it.
Next, we made our way to Pai, a secluded place tucked away behind some mountains North West of Chang Mai that some fellow travellers had recommended to us. This was one of my favourite stops and life here was spent at a very relaxed pace. We hired mopeds to be independent and discovered natural hot springs, forest parties, waterfalls and otherwise spent time in hammocks on the veranda of our private hut overlooking the incredible landscape.
This really concludes our first couple of weeks and I look back on this with very fond memories. More to follow…
I know you, as with me, will look forward to Natalie’s second installment.