Noor: My Bucket Buddy
Thailand: Bangkok, Khao Sok, Koh Phangan, Bottle Beach, Phuket.
Noor and I shared a special relationship because we were both in a very similar place when we met. We were both quite vulnerable in a way; it was our first time in Thailand, our respective first times away travelling like this and I don’t know, we just jibed on a similar wavelength. We met on a 2-week adventure young people’s group tour that I’d been convinced to go on by a smarmy salesperson, to shoe-horn me into the lifestyle before I set off on my own own. It turned out to be the best thing I needed at that time, to be fair, and as a bonus, I met Noor. I asked her what she remembers of our first encounter:
“I met you in the crazy city of Bangkok! I think we first met in the hotel room and the moment I heard your voice I loved your accent because I was living with Dutch girls for two weeks before traveling down there, so it was a nice change of sound. I instantly knew you’d be a great friend though because you just seemed so kind and warm. After we both went down to meet the rest of the group, our first night consisted of walking around the Khao San Road, watching others eat scorpions, and exploring the wild street.”
I was as equally glad to have Noor on this tour too; she was so easygoing, had a great sense of humour and I could tell, even from that first brief encounter, us sitting on our hotel beds introducing ourselves, that she was a good person. We would share rooms together for those two weeks and became quite close. We especially bonded over the fact that there were a few ‘interesting’ characters within our group, and took refuge in that we weren’t in fact crazy.
On the sleeper train, as a group we were all getting to know each other more and the laughs started growing in pitch and frequency. We played rummy while we watched the industrial, more gritty parts of Bangkok shoot past the window. Poor Noor found what was either a baby cockroach or bedbug in her bunk and didn’t sleep the whole night on that long gruelling journey. It was hard enough with those penetrating strip lights, the nylon curtains barely doing a thing to block them out. The train carriages rattled so violently that it was quite impossible to sleep, only to doze, but Noor probably didn’t even get a wink of that. And she never said a word of complaint, I admired her for her stoicism and tolerance.
Once we made it to the South islands, life got a bit smoother. One of the highlights was our bungalow that we shared on Bottle Beach, that looked right out onto the sea. We had a double bed EACH, a hammock outside the sliding door and a gorgeous waterfall shower. We were pretty spoiled. The beach itself was quiet and virtually undisturbed by other tourists compared to the main islands. We played beach volleyball, paddled in the water as the sun set and all of us in the group drank beers by the camp fire.
Then came the time Noor parted from the group after a week, but we would later meet up in Phuket, for the full moon party, just the two of us. A wild – and completely utterly soaking – night which Noor herself describes best:
“Somehow, you got some tickets and then we were told to get on this super sketchy bus that looked like it was about to break down with the hundreds of people stuffed in there. Everyone there was drunk out of their minds already, so it was hilarious chatting with them. Once we got to the party, they gave us the traditional giant Thai Bucket to drink out of. I remember everyone loved our glow in the dark face paint since we were one of the very few people that had face paint on. There was a large stage with lights everywhere and music playing by the beach. We met some creeps here and there, but it was a fun time.”
We stuck together for a girly night, dancing in front of a stage as the equally drunken waves down at the beach behind us crashed halfheartedly against each other. The moon did indeed make an appearance, almost competing with the floodlights above our heads.
As part of this project, I asked what her favourite part of travelling was for her:
“The feeling of having no other worries. Meeting new people from all over the world has got to be the most intriguing part. I also loved the spontaneity of our travels and how we were both nowhere else, just completely in the moment.”
After some blurred memories of getting drenched but somehow making it home to Noor’s, I said goodbye the following morning and using the trusty maps.me app, found my way back to my hostel after spending a solid hungover half hour with a family of puppies. That was the last time I saw her, but we’re still in touch. And some excellent, wise parting words for future travellers, with Noor’s abiding deadpan sense of humour that I loved from the start – the 3 things I asked every traveller I interviewed that they learned on the road:
1. “In Thailand, 7-11’s have everything you need!”
2. “Don’t argue with strangers, it’s not worth it.”
3. “Don’t take overnight boat trips. There’s vomit everywhere.”
We still find each other checking in with one another across the Atlantic ocean (and a shit load of land mass) – whether in the context of a pandemic or the wildfires that raged across California in 2020. I hope to see her one day again, where we can order gross sugary drinks by the bucket again, just for the sake of nostalgia.
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