When you have the love for travel and adventure, nothing can really stop you from crossing the seven seas come what may. Now what started as an invitation as early as February this year, very soon had three of US closest friends putting their heads together and their plans into action. We did some research, looked up travel routes, worked out ticket details, itineraries etc. Early bookings = Cheap tickets!

It is such a pure moment of euphoria when you finally decide to take a break and are ready to discover some place new. All the challenges and opportunities travel lays at your feet help you discover who you are in a way that’s only possible when on the move. People you meet while on your journey become some of the most valued names on your contact list. They show you places on the map to visit once again. These folks and places give you a glimpse outside your own family and circle of friends, and force you to take in new and refreshing perspectives. It is only when you are far from home that you realize that you’ve got skills you’ve never used. It is definitely travel that brings them to the surface and makes you smile, satisfied to have reached whatever goal you have in mind – no matter how small or big it is.

With Thailand and Cambodia in sight just days away, we finally got down to packing – the plan was to travel light, few clothes as we were turning into beach bums for the holiday part and the aim being to rough it out and walk as much as possible with no serious plan and only random ideas!

The first thing we three girls realised was that even though our family and good friends were completely cool with us taking off, many were not! Furrowed brows and a few caustic remarks were surprising but did not deter us and after a while though went over our heads for we had not a care in the world. Misconceptions, ignorant ranting, stereotyping and unfounded comments are a way of life for independent women in this country. Secondly, there are horror stories everywhere but that doesn’t mean that we allow them to define every movement and action of ours. Thirdly, getting ‘labelled’ is a heavy burden to carry – there are naysayers everywhere but you’ve got to be focussed on what needs to be done.

With D-Day upon us and an early morning flight…a huge, strong cup of cappuccino had me wide-eyed and sparkly in no time. Armed with my backpack that had all the necessities in it…what could possibly go wrong? It was an even better sign when I was wedged in between priests flying to Agartala who chanted their prayers throughout the journey. I am absolutely certain that the speed of their chanting increased and the beads moved at a faster pace when they came to know that I was off to Bangkok!

My friends and I flew out from different cities and rendezvoused at Kolkata before embarking on our flight together to Bangkok for the first part of the journey. But before, we move on to the fun part, I can’t help myself from writing about ‘Chaotic Calcutta’ – welcome to a rather fancy, modern, state-of-the art kind of terminal. But it stops there.

On ground – exists a clueless staff. The ground personnel are unhelpful, lost and well plain incompetent while doling out information. Changing from a domestic flight to an international one here is a nightmare. While any layman would know that travelling to foreign shores needs us to be at the international terminal, we were told to proceed to the domestic counter much against our will just because we were using Indigo - an Indian private carrier! Sheesh… So we spent the better part of an hour rushing from the left to the right of the airport till we were finally directed to the correct counter… Okay, so we were a few pounds lighter by the end of it but in one hell of a mood.

Sadly, from the guard at the entrance to the helpdesk to the airlines ground staff, we only encountered inexperienced and disinterested staff. On pointing out their ineptness and the lack of proper signboards, they countered by being rude and that was also the point where we lost it, and hell hath no fury when women are treated shoddily. On a complaint being lodged, we were told that there were many others too facing the same issues and running from pillar to post and that things at the airport were bad, people were resigning and well, there were huge management issues.

It was surprising to see an international airport of a capital city in complete disarray. Long queues that were broken ever too often by obnoxious ones with slow moving counters that were only manned by two people…and snaking lines at immigration. What lay ahead was even worse, including an immigration officer who was most interested in knowing why three girls were off on a vacation!! The duty-free shop inside was an apology by itself. I thought it was a curio shop at first. And the toilets a mess. Isn’t it highly embarrassing that foreign tourists have to go through this before they fly back to their countries? These are services that should be top notch.

While I did relate to my friends that my earlier experience at the very same airport while catching a connecting flight to Aizawl had been a dreadful one too… the return journey that lay ahead for us was even worse but of course we didn’t know that at the time. Memories of our beautiful holiday had faded once we had landed back into Chaotic Calcutta again! Till our flights back home, we were running and repacking bags and dealing with messed up rules.

Surprisingly, the very helpful and supportive ground staff of Air India – our national carrier and much abused and criticised by one and all, turned out to be a much better deal than the private ones.

Let me not deviate anymore and speak of the in-flight behaviour of well, some desperate men at large on the flight to Bangkok and on the return flight as well! Just a handful of women on a flight full of groups of men in ill-fitting t-shirts and slippers, loud, crude and crass trying desperately to feel up any woman walking through the aisle was the order of the day. We had to firmly tell them to get back in their seats and not brush past us.

The air-hostesses had a tough time handling them. I think such flights must have male-stewards and sky-marshals to keep such men in check. These men leer and gawk all through the flight. It’s so obvious why these hordes of men (sans wives/girlfriends/families) are doing this trip…in fact they make it abundantly clear throughout the trip but well they could do it a little more discreetly. We had a long chat with the air-hostesses who told us about the harassment they face on such journeys and the disgusting behaviour they have to tolerate. I believe the Kolkata – Bangkok sectors are the worst!

The very same men did their best to sidle up and stick to us at the luggage conveyor belt till we had to rudely castigate them with warnings. Deplorable to say the least. I wish I could videotape these men and send it to their better-halves… I don’t mind using the Taser on them too! Anything to keep them at bay.

Once clear with all this, out vacation was a breeze. Travelling sure does give you different perspectives. You meet people from other cultures that teach you that the way you’ve been looking at the world isn’t the way everybody else does. Seeing the world for yourself improves your vision and your grip on reality. Travel is an education by itself and it challenges you, shaking things up that are a mix of positivity and dampeners.

But this is all a part of life and to be taken with a pinch of salt… So if you are like me… Get that itinerary going and put those plans into motion! You’ll be constantly surprised at what the world has to offer. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment as you overcome challenges and soak in the moments of joy.

More on to trip and the places and the food and the people in the next part. In all it was an incredible vacation. There is something satisfying about being able to throw around a few words of Khmer, knowing how to say hello and thanks in Thai, rolling words on your tongue that sound strange at first or simply hearing a dialect you didn’t know existed just a few weeks before.