Since I’ve been back in the U.S. from backpacking around Southeast Asia and Australia for over a year, I have been asked countless times about the crazy stories I must have. Although I traveled by myself, as you can imagine, I met hundreds of incredible people along the way and I don’t want to ever forget the memories I made. This brings me to this list: *brace yourself* my top 5 craziest travel stories! Hopefully you can get an idea of the craziness that has been my life traveling these past 3.5 years, or if you were there for any of these experiences, it will bring back memories from wild times :).
- #1- Trekking in Laos: In Laos, one of the top activities I wanted to do in SE Asia was the “Vang Vieng Challenge,” which ended up being the most physically and mentally challenging two days of my life. With my new friends, Katherine, Anna and Alex, from my hostel who I convinced to come with me, we got our food for two days at the local market with our guide before heading to the mountains. We got to try ant larvae and all kinds of Laotian food wrapped in banana leaves! Fast forward through hours of trekking through the jungle with a machete, zip lining into waterfalls, abseiling off wooden platforms hundreds of feet over the jungle floor, rock climbing up cliff faces, and crossing suspended bridges….. we had a major mishap. Alex was the first to cross the suspended bridge, which was slippery from the waterfall, and suddenly slipped on the rope (don’t worry, we were cabled in!) and dislocated his shoulder! It all happened so quickly and he was in a lot of pain, so our first reaction was to try to pop it back into place (probably not the best idea for people without any medical training) which didn’t work. Long story short, our two guides had to get him down the mountain to the hospital and left me, Katherine and Anna on the mountain to wait. As you can imagine, we had no idea how long it would be and went a little stir crazy for the afternoon. No one would ever be able to hear us, so we were yelling, singing, and going a little crazy because we couldn’t sit down due to the fire ants and spiders. We thought about trying to find our camp at the top of the mountain (we still had an hour of rock climbing and hiking left) in case the guide didn’t come back for us, but we decided to stay put. It was a good decision because he came back for us about 4 hours later! (Lots of happy tears!) We made it to our little hut we slept in, which had rat poop all over, rats on the rafters and a chewed up mosquito net, but we survived and woke up to incredible views above the clouds with butterflies everywhere. Our shower was jumping into a waterfall pool after rappelling down the 300 foot face of the falls. After we got back to the town after a crazy few days, we were bruised and bloodied from leeches, had fire ant and mosquito bites all over, and were down a person (sorry, Alex), I couldn’t walk for a few days, but it was totally worth it.
- #2- Struck by lightning in the Philippines: Yup, you heard that right. I was on a boat in the Philippines that was struck by lightning. On an 8-hour boat journey from Coron to El Nido with my friend Lyndsay, we hit a major storm on what I would later find out is one of the most dangerous boat routes in the Philippines. We got put on a tiny boat (the kind with bamboo on the sides for balance), which was obviously not meant for an 8 hour ride, with about 25 Filipino people and one French backpacker (never got his name after going through such a crazy experience together!), and tried to ignore the pounding rain outside of the tarps that were pinned down to the sides of the otherwise open-air vessel. Out of nowhere, when I was chatting to the French guy about two feet from the mast (highest point of the boat), there was a HUGE explosion louder than anything I had ever heard before. Everything was silent and I saw nothing but white from what I thought was the engine exploding and what the French guy thought was a bomb. Who knows how long I blacked out for, but all I know is the next thing I knew I was standing up across the boat where Lyndsay was sitting with my day pack on my back (not sure why I packed it up or put it on thinking I would be going somewhere..) and trying to yell at Lyndsay but not being able to hear anything. Every single person on the boat already had a life vest on, including the crew. I immediately knew I must have ruptured both eardrums and may be deaf, but my first thought was “crap, now I won’t be able to dive anymore!” which seems kind of ridiculous looking back. Lyndsay is not a fan of the open ocean in the first place, so you can only imagine our reactions to this craziness. She was the only one who knew immediately that it was a lightning strike which struck the metal trash can that was touching the mast. Everyone on board was absolutely stunned and after trying to evaluate if there were any injuries, it looked like only one guy near us got electrocuted and couldn’t move his arm. I was most worried about the two babies on board though. The crew began lowering the life boats and everyone began grabbing their valuables, when suddenly the crew member who was in the boiler room below got the engine to work again. Thank God for that! Long story short, we ended up stopping at the next port and we made it back to El Nido safely eventually. My ears were ringing for a few days after that but my hearing eventually came back. I was paranoid about it for months though, so I actually got it checked while in Australia at a free hearing test truck. I am still within normal range- phew! What an insane story though.
- #3- Mountain motorbike trip in the rain: I would like to say that my first time riding a motorbike was an absolute dream, but unfortunately my motorbike ride with my Dutch friend, Michelle, ended up being more of a nightmare. Bokor Mountain is a famous landmark in Kampot, Cambodia (highly recommend visiting here and staying at Arcadia Hostel, it has a waterslide and blob off the hostel bar!) which many backpackers come to enjoy. What looked like a sunny day during rainy season in Cambodia ended up being quite the opposite once Michelle and I broke the cloud base on the way up. I have never experienced pelting rain as much as I did that day, with no poncho or protection of any kind (except a helmet) and not being able to see two feet in front of me at times because of the thick rain clouds. Not only did we go up the mountain in the freezing cold wearing shorts and tank tops, but my bike actually broke down on the side of the mountain in the pissing rain. There was a moment of sheer panic when I realized I had no idea how a motorbike even works, let alone how to fix one. Luckily, a local guy drove by and obviously felt bad for a girl looking like a sad puppy on the side of a mountain, and somehow jumped it for me! The best part about our day was that we spent at least 30 minutes looking for the famous creepy casino at the top of the mountain, and when we finally asked a woman we saw walking towards us through the clouds, she laughed and said we had been circling the parking lot the entire time. Now that is the worst visibility I have ever heard of! We couldn’t even see a giant casino right in front of us! We warmed up inside and had some laughs about our ridiculous day, then rode back down without seeing the waterfall or big Buddha we tried to find. Luckily, on the way down, the clouds opened up and we stopped for some incredible views of central Cambodia. Overall, it was one wild ride that I will never forget but definitely wouldn’t do again during rainy season!
- #4- Canceled flight to Croatia: On a Europe trip two years ago with my friend Courtney, we took a seemingly simple flight from Venice to Split, Croatia. Wrong. Our flight was delayed, then canceled hours later, we were led around the airport on a wild goose chase to try to collect our luggage, were not told what was going on other than that the next flight would be the following day. This was an obvious problem considering we began our 10-day boat trip the following morning out of Split. There was a lot of confusion with the airline and airport employees, who were yelling out for passengers on the Split flight all over the airport with about 50 of us in tow. They ended up putting us on an unmarked charter bus with a driver who didn’t speak a word of English without letting us get food or go to the bathroom. *imagine absolute chaos* All we were told was that it would take us “only four hours” to get to Split. So we said okay, we will make the best of it as long as we get there at some point today. Well, fast forward to the Slovenia border, where we were quite literally dropped off on the side of the road and told there would be another bus to pick us up soon. Yup, in an industrial area at the Slovenia border with no bathroom. Almost everyone on the bus went to the bathroom on the side of the road or behind a parked car. Luckily, to our relief, another bus actually did come for us to take us the rest of the way through Slovenia and Croatia to get to Split. We made lots of new friends on the bus, people decided to turn the ride into a drinking event, and we all complained together in a close bond of camaraderie. After a crazy 10 hours on the bus, we finally made it to Split! The best part is, Courtney and I ended up getting reimbursed for our flight in full a few months later (yay for travel insurance!).
- #5 Attempted kidnapping in Cambodia: Warning to family members- maybe don’t read this one because it’s a little scary. It’s a pretty long story, but I ended up taking a local bus to Battambang, Cambodia from Phnom Penh, the capital later in the afternoon after all the regular buses left. I had come back to PP to pick up my passport which I had left at the Myanmar embassy to get my visa processed and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible to avoid staying another night there. After taking a few random motorbike rides from locals to get to a “travel agency”, I finally ended up on a bus in the late afternoon. Thank God I brought snacks and water because after a police raid on the bus (not sure what happened because no one spoke English, but we got held up for about 45 minutes) and tons of stops to let everyone else off the bus before me, it was 11:30 p.m. before we (me, the ticket collector and the bus driver) arrived to Battambang. When he suddenly pulled over on the side of the highway, I knew I was in trouble. I immediately remembered that in the chaos of the day taking a 4 hour bus to Phnom Penh to get my passport and trying to find a bus out of there, I never told anyone where I was going. I realized I could be entering a bad situation alone at night in the middle of rural Cambodia where no one knew where I was. As soon as they threw my backpack off the bus, I knew I had no choice but to get off to the scam they set me up for. A group of local men on motorbikes, who I presume were the bus driver’s friends who wanted some extra cash for an unnecessary taxi ride, was gathered right outside where the bus left me. After a deep breath, I put my innocent tourist smile on and mentally prepared to get ripped off from this motorbike ride into the city. My lucky driver took my day pack between his legs and I hopped on the back as we took off on the highway (no helmet, no worries, right?). After a few minutes of driving with my non-English speaking friend, I decided to check how far we were from my hostel on my offline map (download Maps.Me app right now if you travel abroad at all), and to my surprise, he had just taken a wrong turn. I alerted my driver by pointing at the map and he ignored me, continuing on a different road heading away from the city center. I double checked on the map, and confirmed there was no way we could be heading toward Battambang, so I considered my options….jump off the bike (not possible because he had my day pack with valuables between his legs), whack him in the head and take over the steering (totally realistic), or try to remain calm and friendly. I chose the latter, and unfortunately was ignored for what seemed like an eternity, but after getting a bit aggressive and yelling at him while grabbing his arm, he seemed to get the idea that I knew we weren’t going to my destination. He ended up eventually taking me to my hostel, where I was pretty shaken up for the night, and I still have no idea where he was planning on taking me. And I’d rather not.
Congratulations, you’ve (almost) made it through a ridiculously long blog post!
Here are a few bonus crazy stories that almost made the cut:
- Did I ever tell you about that one time I did a homestay on the Mekong Delta of Vietnam with my new friends from my hostel, Jackie, Silke and Matthijs, when we got dropped off on the side of a river at night in the pouring rain and were directed to a random man who took us on his boat to get to his house an hour down the river. No English spoken, just a handoff of a two-person motorbike poncho Jackie and I shared to keep the rain out. Epic!
- Or the time I did a homestay with a family on a rural island in the Philippines- no running water, cell service, internet or electricity before 8pm! I went island hopping, ate unlimited fresh scallops and crab prepared by my host family, and met the whole village who acted like I was a celebrity because most had not ever met a foreigner. I will never forget Gigantes Sur!
- Or the time I went on a road trip with four random guys from the internet in Australia. While working in Melbourne, I had a week off and was determined to see the Great Ocean Road, which is a few hours southeast of Melbourne. All of my friends either had to work or had already been, so I was left with three choices: wait until friends could go at a later time, pay $100 to go on a day tour on a bus, or try to find some random people to hitch a ride with. I’m sure you can imagine which one I chose. After the five of us strangers (Patrick, Patrick, Kyle, Erik and me) met at a train station outside of the city ready for our spontaneous camping trip, we had an amazing time, minus constantly swatting those annoying Aussie cattle flies!
- Or that one time I met Ella and Jeremiah at the airport and went on a three day trekking/homestay trip in Sapa the next morning in Vietnam. That first night in Hanoi, my phone was stolen by a guy who swiped it from me on a motorbike, and after one hour of sleep, I got on our six hour bus ride to Sapa. We had to trek four hours through the mountains just to get to the Hmong village we stayed in! We saw wild water buffalo with kids atop, hundreds of acres of hemp, tons of rice paddies, local homes and schools and even a waterfall. Our tour guide was 17 and had two kids already- she was amazing! Most girls in the Hmong village we stayed in get married between 13 and 15 and have kids soon after. The family we stayed with cooked for us, made us drink way too much homemade rice wine, and were so hospitable even with the little that they had. Even though we went three days without a shower and were absolutely exhausted, it was an experience I will never forget.
Do you have any crazy travel stories?! Share them in the comments section!