It was the year 1999. Although I did take an annual vacation, so far it had been confined to visits to relatives / friends homes. I had always traveled with my parents or sister – never alone. But that year I decided to do something out of the ordinary and take a vacation all by myself! Also I had gotten my passport a couple of years ago and thought that it was high time I inaugurated it. I made my plans and did the research. <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-comffice:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on">America</st1:country-region> (I was living in <st1:country-region w:st="on">India</st1:country-region> then), Europe, <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Australia</st1lace></st1:country-region> were too expensive. I did not think my parents would take kindly to my going to <st1lace w:st="on">Africa</st1lace> all alone. So I finally decided on <st1:City w:st="on">Bangkok</st1:City> and <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Singapore</st1lace></st1:country-region>. They were initially taken aback but came around and gave in to my plans. My mom even came with me to the travel agent. I did not want to take a package tour where people are herded around various attractions. So I just booked the air tickets and hotel through the agent and decided to figure out what to do when I got there. I read through a few travel guides to get the general idea of key attractions. Finally the day of departure arrived and I was all set to leave. I must confess that I had an attack of nerves at the airport and almost called off the whole thing. I had traveled alone on work but to cities where I knew people and colleagues were always ready to help. This was the first time I was traveling all alone to a city where I didn’t know anyone! Anyway I swallowed my trepidations and boarded the flight. Once on board, my nerves settled and I started to enjoy it. I felt a thrill as the flight path showed us moving beyond <st1:City w:st="on">Calcutta</st1:City> and I was leaving <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">India</st1lace></st1:country-region> for the first time. The flight was uneventful and we landed at <st1:City w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Bangkok</st1lace></st1:City>. First discovery – few people in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Thailand</st1lace></st1:country-region> speak English, and if they do it is with such a strong accent that it is really hard to understand. My Lonely Planet travel guide had a phrase book at the back and it was really handy the four days I was there. The agency had also booked a car to pick me up at the airport and I came out and saw a man holding a placard with my name. He took my bags and I followed him to the car. Surprise! It was a Mercedes. I was taken aback and thought maybe he had bought me to the wrong car. But no – the merc was for me. So I had a comfortable ride to the hotel (barring a confused dialogue with the driver when he offered to take me to buy gems first – I later discovered all taxi drivers in <st1:City w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Bangkok</st1lace></st1:City> offer to take you to buy gems!). The hotel was really nice – I had splurged and booked a four star. I was also happy to see a huge statue of Lord Ganesha to greet guests in the lobby. I checked in and relaxed a bit. I decided to spend the remainder of the day getting my bearings and deciding where to go. I walked around the hotel, the area was full of shops and malls. There are also a number of street side stalls like in <st1:City w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Bombay</st1lace></st1:City>. It was fun to bargain, despite not knowing the language. I would point at what I wanted and the shopkeeper would punch in the price in a calculator (in bhats). As the bhat was only marginally stronger than the rupee (at that time), it was easy to figure out what it would cost in rupees. I would punch in a lower figure and hand it back to him. He would shake his head and make an upward motion with his hands. Thus after haggling a bit, we would arrive at a mutually acceptable price. The shopping in <st1:City w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Bangkok</st1lace></st1:City> was great – jewellery, silks, dolls – I bought a lot more than I should have. There was a travel desk at the hotel and a really sweet lady worked at the desk. Despite communication difficulties she helped me a lot – I would tell her where I wanted to go and she would give me the directions, approx cab fare etc. Next day I in the morning I visited some of the famous pagodas (also known as Wats). They are truly breathtaking and beautifully designed. The statue of Buddha in most of the Wats are huge. In one of them the Buddha was in the sleeping position and his feet were taller than a person. The interiors of the pagodas are beautifully decorated and a peaceful atmosphere prevails inside. Most of the statues are decorated in gold leaf as well. In the afternoon I went to the palace – the old palace where the royal family does not reside now and is open to the public. The buildings are beautiful – built in the traditional oriental style. A surprising thing I discovered was the entire Ramayana depicted in paintings from one end of the wall to the other. The palace is also where the famous ‘Emerald Buddha’ is located. The statue of the Buddha is carved from jade and sits atop a huge multi tiered golden throne. The river Cho Parya flows through the city and on day 3 I decided to take a river cruise. The cruise leaves from <st1:City w:st="on">Bangkok</st1:City> and goes down river to Ayuthya – the erstwhile capital of <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Thailand</st1lace></st1:country-region>. The Thai countryside is similar to rural south <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">India</st1lace></st1:country-region> – lots of greenery and paddy fields. There were a few American tourists on the cruise and they were really excited at seeing the cows pulling the ploughs in the fields! Ayuthya is a temple town and much of it is in ruins having been invaded multiple times though history. An interesting sight is one where a head of the Buddha is lying at the base of a banyan tree. Apparently it fell there when some invaders destroyed a statue. The roots of the tree have grown over the head – kind of protecting it. If you want to take a picture, you have to crouch down so your head is below that of the Buddha as no one can be standing over it!! On the way back we went to some more pagodas – the most memorable of which was Wat Arun – temple of the dawn on the river banks. On day 4 (my last day), the lady at the travel desk told my about this wonderful wildlife farm and I engaged a taxi to go there. It turned out to be a crocodile farm! – or maybe I misunderstood what she was saying. It was really gross – nothing to see but big fat ugly crocodiles lazing around. I wanted to leave but the taxi driver refused saying he had been engaged for 4 hours and would take me back only after 4 hours – my head spun at the thought of spending four hours with the ugly crocs and I told him I would pay him the full amount if he would take me back to the hotel right away. That was the only unpleasant part of the whole trip. I put the day to better use by visiting the floating market – really beautiful. Boats full of vegetables, flowers and other stuff float along the river canals. The local flower market was nice too. Next day I left for <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Singapore</st1lace></st1:country-region> – I stayed with my cousin there so it was not really ‘all by myself’ although I did visit most of the attractions there by myself – but that is another story. It was a memorable vacation and now almost ten years later when I think of it, it brings back a time when I was foot loose and fancy free. For all the single gals / guys out there I would definitely recommend a ‘single vacation’.