Since I travel a lot for work, my personal travel is largely free. I cash in miles to fly first class and I use points for free hotel rooms. Since I’m a frequent traveler, I wait for planes in comfy lounges, get the best rooms in the hotel, eat and drink for free in Hyatt lounges…basically I contribute spending money and a sense of adventure.
On this trip there were no Hyatts in Chiang Mai so I decided to embark on an experiment. I wanted to know, am I so spoiled that I can’t take a rougher route? Contemplating starting my own company and not having my regular creature comforts, it is an important question to ask myself. So for transport from Bangkok to Chiang Mai I booked an overnight train rather than a flight. For a hotel, I booked a guest house rather than a hotel, and I limited myself to about $30 per day spending (granted, which is more than most spend per day on the famed backpacker trail in SE Asia).
At the very start I had a few hiccups…my train ticket, confirmed online weeks before my trip, was no longer available. All they could offer was a third class ticket (which is even below the backpacker standard). So I booked a plane ticket – not off to a good start! It did get better, though….
I arrived at the Galare Guest House via taxi. We drove down a small, dark alley to what turned out to be an oasis on the Ping River. Galare cost me about $35 dollars a night, for which I got a comfy bed, my own bathroom with a hot shower, and great views of the Ping River from their waterfront restaurant. $35 is more than what backpackers usually pay, but it served my purposes well. The only thing I had a hard time getting accustomed to was the bathroom. The sink drained through a hole in the floor, which splashed your feet. Eeeww. Not as bad as an Asian squat toilet, but still a bit gross.
Other than that, I survived the backpacker experiment with flying colors. A lover of street food, I ate on very little money. I even shopped the markets and came away with bargains like $8 pearl earrings, $5 silk scarves. Also, the environment in the guest house was endearing. People are more friendly, fellow travelers are interested in your adventures, and there is a sense of camaraderie that I’ve never experienced in any upscale hotel. In fact, I might do this when alone abroad just for the interaction with people.
I met a lovely couple from Canada who were en route to Laos and stopped me in the breezeway just to say hello and chat, a couple from Australia who wanted to know everything about my iPad, and a father and son who insisted I had lunch with them. I make friends just about everywhere I go, but this was more than easy!
Maybe I can develop my own version of backpacker…first class plane tickets are much more comfortable after all. (Ex. My trip over resulted in only having slept in a bed two nights between Wednesday and Sunday, which would have been literally painful in coach). And I need more than one backpack to survive – toiletries, clothes, shoes (yes, I need two pair), iPad, book…it takes two bags.
What shall I call my version? Half packer sounds a bit weird – like a man with one testicle. Less packer, comfort packer, guest house guru…All I know is if it means I get to travel more and perhaps even have a better experience, I’m there!
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