As I mentioned in my previous blog I have recently spent three weeks travelling Thailand over the Christmas period. I can honestly say it was the best experience of my life.
Leading up to the date of departure I was extremely anxious. I had never been away from my family for that long before and I knew it was going to be lots of strange environments with lots of big changes to my daily routine. I was worried that due to my Autism I would struggle and be unable to enjoy my holiday to its fullest potential.
Setting off – Bangkok
The first few days were a bit rocky, we started in Bangkok which is very loud, very busy and very overwhelming on the senses. This was the part of our travels which I was least looking forward to. It turned out I didn’t need to stress myself out as much as I thought. I actually really enjoyed Bangkok and it was one of my favourite places. I recommend the temples, they’re such a peaceful and calm environment, allowing you to escape the hustle and bustle of Bangkok centre for a bit and take time to regain some energy before heading back out. We also visited Lumphini Park which provided the same calm atmosphere.
Khaosan Road is where our hotel was situated – this was my least favourite part of Bangkok – in the evenings it becomes claustrophobic and the type of loud that is painful, it’s definitely worth a visit as the street food served there is so yummy, but I was equally happy to get back to my hotel room each night and take a deep breath. We also did a boat ride along the canal, I struggled a lot with this, the engine was very loud and the smell of the petrol was overpowering. If you struggle with sensory overload then this is a big no.
We then spent a few days travelling in a minivan which we hired between ourselves to take us down to Khao Sok – my favourite place – where we slept in the jungle and cared for rescued elephants!!
I don’t think I could have managed as well as I did without the minivan. Overnight buses and trains would have made me too exhausted and I’m sure a meltdown would have ensued. The minivan with just my friends and I meant I felt comfortable and relaxed, I was able to take the time on the journeys to regain my energy to help me cope with the days ahead. We were lucky in that our friend, Jamie felt confident enough to drive in Thailand. They drive on the same side of the road as us in the UK which helps, driving through and out of Bangkok was a bit dodgy, they don’t seem to have many rules of the road, but once we were out of the city it was a straight easy to navigate drive. If you feel confident enough to drive overseas I would recommend this option if you are Autistic.
Overwhelmed – Phuket
Phuket was where I had my first meltdown of the trip. We were staying in the Old Town in a very basic hostel – now, the one way I know how to cope with my Autism is to make sure I get plenty of sleep so that I have the energy to cope with the next day. I could tell the second we saw our bedrooms that the chance of a good night’s sleep was not hopeful… if you want to find out more about our ‘prison sentence’ read my friends entertaining review of the hostel here.
There was also a market taking place outside our hotel on the street, this reminded me of Khaosan Road, but the street was not as wide and so you were squashed in like sardines trying to get up and down from our hotel – not pleasant.
The market was lovely and I really enjoyed looking around it and loved the street food, but after a few hours it became too intense for me. This was then topped off by a market stall holder shouting at us for trying on some clothes to see if they fit before we purchased them, (one tip: ALWAYS ASK FOR PERMISSION TO TRY ON THE CLOTHES or you may be threatened with the police!?) this is when I lost it.
I spent the rest of the evening trying not to cry in front of my friends as I didn’t want to put a ‘downer’ on their evening. Once we got back into our room I got in the shower and I lost it. I felt so overwhelmed, I was shaking and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I let it all out, spent a night tossing and turning feeling like I was unsure I could cope with two more weeks away.
In the morning I still felt deflated and anxious. We decided to spend a day on the beach – the best decision. I spent my day sleeping, reading and laughing off the weight of the night before with my friends. I felt much better and slept well that evening. A good rest is all I needed, I felt recharged and ready to enjoy my holiday again.
Phi Phi’s Ferry
The next day we set off to Phi Phi Islands. To get to Phi Phi you take a public ferry. It was a pleasant journey, we sat outside and it was quiet and spacious. When we boarded the ferry they took our bags off us and put them in a pile at the front of the ship – no organisation involved. Once, the ferry docked at Phi Phi it was a free for all to grab your bags. I got separated from my friends and was left with my heavy bag dragging it through a crowd of people who were pushing me the other way, (they’d already started boarding the ship for returning back to Phuket). It was mayhem and I felt the sensation of being overwhelmed starting to wash over me again. I managed to locate my friends at the end of the dock and we were walked to our hotel.
When you first enter Phi Phi it seems very touristy and busy, bear with it, as once you get past the first few twists and turns of the streets it quietens down and becomes a more enjoyable place to be. We got to our hotel and I told Alex, (my partner) that I needed him to come on a walk with me ASAP. We dumped our bags in our room and left to get some lunch together. I felt bad going off on our own and not with the rest of our friends but I needed to get some space and have a bit of a cry to Alex after the ferry disaster. It’s hard, but try not to feel guilty if you need time by yourself, especially if it’s an integral part of your coping mechanisms.
We then went back to the room and had a nap – when I woke up, I felt much better and ready to take on the evening – which happened to be New Year’s Eve.
Usually, I dread New Year’s Eve, it’s a noisy event with lots of pressure surrounding it; this year we spent it partying on the beach, I felt so safe and happy with all my friends and I had the best New Year’s Eve to date. The power also went out on the whole of Phi Phi due to too many people being on the island, apparently this happens most New Year’s Eve. It was such a cool experience being completely cut off from everything for a few hours and surviving on candle light and eating food cooked from fires.
The day after we went snorkelling the bays of Phi Phi – this I really recommend. We hired our own water taxi off the main beach and spent the day sailing around the island and swimming in all the different bays – another quiet and calm activity.
We left Phi Phi on the fourth day and on the ferry back to Phuket we made sure to keep our bags with us this time and my friends promised me they wouldn’t leave me stranded – it made exiting the ferry much more bearable.
We then flew to Singapore for a few days – Singapore’s airport is a dream, the organisation is next level, it is stress-free, quiet, spacious and everything an Aspie could ask for, including no human interaction; everything is done via machines, from check-in to security! Unfortunately, Thai airports are more like the UK’s – mayhem – I didn’t attempt to ask for a sunflower lanyard as I wasn’t very hopeful this would be a scheme which they support.
Eating with our hands – Singapore
Singapore was a lovely few days, short but sweet, in a beautiful city. I’m not usually a fan of cities due to the sensory overload which they often cause – but Singapore was very different and worth a visit. My highlight of Singapore was the Indian which we had at a local cuisine in Little India, it tasted incredible and due to Indian culture we ate with our hands! Many on the spectrum dislike using cutlery when they eat and much prefer finger foods. I fall into this category as I can’t stand the noise which knives and forks make when they scrape plates and bowls. I took full advantage of the opportunity to eat curry with my hands and not be judged, so much so that we went back to that same restaurant the night after so I could experience it again.
Friends are everything
After Singapore we went back to Phuket for the last few days of our adventure. On the last evening I started to think about how I wasn’t ready to go back to England and for my routine, which I had now gotten used to and was enjoying, to drastically change again. I began to get myself worked up and felt overwhelmed, to top that we were in a very noisy part of Phuket and Alex who I would have talked to in order to calm myself down had walked off with some of my other friends and we were struggling to find them. I resulted to sitting on the pavement in Phuket and crying on the shoulder of one of my friends. When Alex finally found us he sat with me and helped me to take deep breaths until I felt ready to get up and get myself going again. My friends were incredibly caring and understanding giving me space, time and hugs until I had calmed my nerves. I felt awful for ruining their final night but felt equally awful that I hadn’t let them see me in the previous days when I was upset and overwhelmed as I realise now what a great help and support they would have been to me. I am so lucky to have each of them, to go on this trip with them and for them to understand and always be aware of my Autism and the struggles I may be having. This meant so much – little things such as Chloe asking if I was ok and coping every hour, Jamie giving me his noise cancelling headphones to try in the airport and Lois playing McFly so it gave me something to focus on and drown out the surrounding noise around me – each of them had their own little ways of letting me know they were aware and were there for me should I need them during our three weeks travelling.
Back to reality
At the end of our journey I didn’t want to leave our little family unit which we had created. I couldn’t believe that I had gone from being terrified of leaving home to being terrified of returning home. Although, this blog post may seem like all I had was downs, it is because I am writing about the handful of low moments to make people aware and understand what can cause us on the spectrum to become unsettled and anxious. If I were to write a blog post on all the incredible memories I made over these three weeks then this post would be never ending. Thailand is the most magical and beautiful place. I had the time of my life and I proved to myself that I am able to push myself out of my comfort zone and, after a small wobble, enjoy myself as any neuro-typical would. I am proud of myself and am already eager to book my next adventure.
Returning home was a shock to the system and I felt very down for a couple of days whilst I adjusted to a very different routine. It was an easier adjustment than on the way there though as I was reunited with my bed, my dogs and my family (listed in order of importance, hahaha).
I can’t speak for everyone on the spectrum but if you are wondering about travelling or going on a big holiday I would suggest you give the rest of my blogs a read first, if you finish them and think ‘this is me’ and relate to a lot of what I write then I can 100% promise you that you would be absolutely fine if you chose to travel. It is scary and daunting and there will definitely be hard moments but overall it will be so worth it. If you are on the spectrum and have been travelling/are wanting to travel, please get in touch and let me know all about your plans or how your holiday went – I’d love to read how other people found the experience and it will give me ideas of where I can visit next!
Preparing for Travel
A good way to prepare yourself for travelling is to research into where you are visiting. I read every website, book and travel brochure available so that I knew what to expect. I also watched documentaries and YouTube videos about others who had visited the same places where I was going so I had a mental image in my head and it wouldn’t be such a shock when I arrived there.
My friend Chloe writes a travel blog which you can find here. Even if she hasn’t travelled to where you are visiting she will still be happy to answer any questions you have about hostels, transport, etc just drop her a message. She’s also worked in supported living with those on the spectrum so she has knowledge of the condition and should be able to recommend activities which may or may not work for you!
If you want to see some images of my time in Thailand then please visit my Instagram page.