Jodie: My Seven-minute Soul Sister
Thailand: Pai & Vietnam: Ninh Binh.
I made quite a few friends in the Northern village of Pai, Thailand, but Jodie was one of the more special ones. What makes our friendship even more so is that we’ve only ever met each other twice in person!
Pai is the place synonymous with a hippie/typical vegan/yogi stereotype’s paradise. Sort of self-aware of this fact, yet in its own charming bubble entirely. It’s a friendly place where everyone knows everyone. You walk through the narrow winding streets of the night market each evening, and you’re almost guaranteed to see a group of people you’ve met that day. To get there, you have to take a bus that is a relentless uphill journey, designed but who I can only assume was a total drunkard and/or sadist. With 762 gut-churning turns in total, you can safely say that it’s away from the big cities. Once you get away from the industry, you’re swallowed up by rich, lush tropical landscape, caves, rice fields and epic surrounding mountainous regions (that are freezing cold once you get up there). I really don’t blame all of the people who have innocently come to Pai to visit – and ended up living there.
I ummed and ahhed for a while when choosing hostels but I absolutely picked the perfect one – Deejai Pai. It had this wide, open common space that overlooked the rice fields and mountains, where you could lay on a hammock and quite easily spend the whole day reading your book. There were bean bags too, so it was a great place to socialise. I was sat with a few English friends I’d made when Jodie came over and joined us; I remember she had a really bright, warm smile. She started telling us about a traditional Thai bamboo tattoo she was thinking of getting, which I thought was pretty awesome. I remember us all sharing some Changs together, talking about the evening’s plans. We all decided to go out to the bars, which were actually a string of cosy cafes that turned into funky dance floors at night.
I remember her also telling us about her amazing experiences teaching kids in Phangnga, an even more rural southern province in Thailand. So when I recently interviewed her, she told me more specifically about her times there:
“One of my most special travel memories is with my “jungle gang”, the girls who I taught with. Our town was fairly remote and we were the only “farang” (foreigners) who lived in our town. We all took a road trip on our scooters to Samet Nangshe one weekend to go camping. Christina, the self-proclaimed jungle gang queen, decided we should hike to the top of the viewpoint to camp- when we could have hired someone to drive us. The mountain was very steep and muddy, since it just finished raining. We hiked up the top, slipping through the mud and laughing the entire time. It was worth it though, as the view at sunrise was absolutely beautiful and surreal. I miss those ladies!”
I also asked where – out of Bali, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore – the most unique place she’d been was for her. Of course, it was Vietnam – is there any other answer to this question?
“It would have to specifically be Sapa. I stayed at a homestay there, where the windows in the room opened to the view of the rice fields. I will never forget laying on the room’s deck that night with a friend I met in Hanoi, looking at all of the stars over the field. The beauty was so magical. It felt like I was in a movie.”
Speaking of Vietnam, this is where mine and Jodie’s paths crossed again. I saw on Instagram that she was in the neighbouring town and I sent her a message that went something along the lines of: “OMG you’re in Ninh Binh too?!?” We ended up booking the same place to stay and I remember seeing her again in the lobby and it was so nice to see a familiar face, since in Vietnam you did so much moving around to new places almost every day.
“We stayed at the same homestay and went out for dinner/drinks one night before I left on an overnight bus to Phong Nha. That dinner was so nice – it was like catching up with an old lifetime friend. We talked all things boys, relationships, travel and personal growth. You meet a lot of people traveling, but it is rare that you connect with a friend on such a personal level.”
I couldn’t agree more. Zooming out on our scooters, we found a sweet, small restaurant across from some rice fields and sat outside by the pizza oven, drank beers and had such a good, deep, enriching talk. It was then I really got to know how strong Jodie is and I really admired her for her candour and general badassery. I found it so easy to open up to her.
Travelling, I think, has some kind of deep, mystical spiritual/unexplainable voodoo magic that – on rare occasions – just dissolves your boundaries with others, where you just feel like you’ve known someone for years, yet you’ve only ever met them once or twice. You’re both in this liminal space and time and within that, you’re as open as you’ll ever be – it’s so beautiful that it gives you that opportunity you would never have in ‘real’ life. Jodie gave me some really salient advice and I respected how she was so much of her own person, and nobody else’s. I think that’s such an important quality to have in this world today.
We got back to the homestay and said goodbye as we were moving on in separate ways the next day, but I was so glad we managed to have some time together. At the time, I was travelling with someone else, so to have some quality time with another person was really sweet, though I agree with Jodie that solo travelling is equally as golden:
“I do wish I had more solo time. It sounds crazy since I was backpacking alone. However, I would make friends in every hostel I would go to, which meant we all go do things together. While I am so thankful for all of the friends I met along the way, I do wish I had more adventures alone.”
And the 3 things she learned on the road which any traveller should be mindful of…
- “Stay flexible. Plans change all the time. I will never forget getting on a bus to Hue, Vietnam, only to get an hour away and get told that I am on the wrong bus. I just laughed and had fun hitching a ride on the side of the road to get back there!”
- “Open up! I made so many friends having deep conversations about life. You learn so much about yourself traveling and learning from other people’s experiences.”
- “Always bring toilet paper with you in Asia! If you know, you know.”
Jodie and I are still in touch and check in with each other periodically. I’m sure we will meet again, to catch up on how much we’ve both grown and changed since that beautiful long evening we had! With another pizza of course.
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