Travel warning: Watch your head!

For my summer vacation this year, I had 8 days off, so a total of 10 days with the weekend. My original plan was to fly to Bangkok, spend three days there and see the sights, fly to Siem Reap, and spend 5 days there to see the Angkor temples, and then head back to Bangkok one more day and fly out.

This was the first trip I had ever done where I was completely solo: On all three of my short vacations to Japan, I had a friend or friends with me. On my trip to Malaysia and Singapore last year, I had a travel buddy. At times, my friends and I did split up and I was alone, but this was the first trip where I actually went myself.

I did quite a bit to prepare for this trip, I bought a money belt, made sure to later with mosquito repellent to avoid Dengue Fever, got vaccinated for Hepatitis A and Typhoid, and I never wandered far from my guesthouse at night.

The one thing I forgot to do was watch my head.

I gashed my head while sitting on a top bunk bed in a hostel. The ceiling and wall were concrete, and the ceiling above the bed had a lower sort of beam. I was sitting up on the bed and threw myself back to lay down, not thinking about the fact that the ceiling behind my head was lower, so I hit it hard on that concrete and gashed it. The pain wasn’t unbearable and luckily I suffered no concussion, but it was bleeding quite a bit and I put pressure on it with a towel. My hostel roommate went to the staff to tell them and they called a taxi where I was taken to a nearby hospital. One staff member of the hostel and my roommate went with me. At the hosptial, I got stitches and was told I had to get the stitches cleaned every day, and they could come out after a week. This was the first time in my life I had gotten stitches or had my head bleed this bad so it was quite scary for me.

It happened my third day in Bangkok, and I had a flight scheduled to Siem Reap the next day. Originally I was going to postpone the flight to the day after, but ended up cancelling because I was afraid of having a lot of pain after the painkiller wore off for the stitches. I figured that if I changed my mind, I could book a different flight. It turned out though that I didn’t feel much pain at all even after the painkiller wore off, and I really could have just flown as scheduled. I looked at other flights to Siem Reap but the prices were quite a bit higher than what I originally paid so I really wished I hadn’t cancelled or at least just tried to postpone it.

One bit of good news though is that Air Asia did add the money for the flight to my Air Asia credit once I sent them the medical certificate, so at least the money isn’t totally lost. I’m still a bit bummed I cancelled that flight, but I still had a pretty good time on my vacation. I know that I have more time to travel later on so I can always visit Angkor another time.

Aside from gashing my head, the other thing that put a damper on my plans was the Bangkok bombing. The popular Erawan shrine in the middle of Bangkok was bombed by someone targeting tourists, and over 20 died in that accident, both Thais and tourists. Thankfully, I had already left Bangkok for Ayutthaya that day so I was safe. However, I was planning on spending only one or two days in Ayutthaya and then returning to Bangkok to go elsewhere, but because of the bombing I ended up staying in Ayutthaya until I had to return to Bangkok to fly back to Incheon.

I did learn quite a few things from this experience.

  1. Be careful of my head when staying on a top bunk bed in a hostel.
  2. Read the fine print on travel insurance: apparently only international hospitals are covered on my travel insurance so I had to pay out of pocket for the stitches, but luckily it wasn’t that much.
  3. Stitches or other fairly minor injuries aren’t necessarily a reason to cancel a flight or travel plans; next time I’ll try not to panic if something like this happens again.
  4. Be flexible with plans and learn to work around issues while traveling without getting too upset that my plan, that I was really looking forward to, changed.
  5. Be cautious of possible dangers toward travelers, such as the recent Bangkok bombing, but don’t panic. Usually after such events occur security increases and most travelers are safe.

Perhaps all experienced solo travelers are already well aware of all of these, but as a novice solo traveler, this experience did teach me a lot. I do hope that I don’t suffer any accidents while on my Chuseok vacation next month (going to Taiwan and looking forward to it!).

My plan at the moment is to go to China for winter break (though this may change) and travel Southeast Asia in February when my contract is up. I am still not sure if I will stay another year in Korea — I do not want to renew with my current school, but I will look for another job for the coming March school year. If I don’t find a job, then I will probably go home either until the September job intake or indefinitely. I may try and teach in another country at some point or come back to Korea if the job scene in the U.S. doesn’t work out.

I have a few more months to think about this, and perhaps experiences in the coming months can help me make a decision. I know I’ve come quite a long way from my first year in Korea, when I was much too anxious to travel anywhere on my own. As an introvert and someone who really needs alone time, now I’ve come to really enjoy solo travel. The adventure, combined with meeting new people and going at my own pace is the key.

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