Confessions Of A Contiki Tour Virgin: My First Was Nothing Like I Expected
I race through my final emails, eyes shifting towards the clock in the corner of the screen. I should have already left work to pack my suitcase and make it to the airport in time for my flight. The next few hours pass by in a blur of caffeine and Duty Free products before I’m flying and it hits me.
The next ten days have been pre-booked, relaxing my usual tight-gripped OCD. My biggest responsibility was rocking up to the airport on time. Which I did (just).
When I arrive in Bangkok, I am greeted by name and escorted to an air-conditioned transfer straight to my hotel where I unpack before meeting my group for dinner.
We overlook the river feasting on fresh seafood, drinking from a Beer Tower and getting to know each other. This is the first time we’ve all met and any social anxiety we had was eased by the tranquil location, shared excitement and, well, the Beer Tower was helpful too. Age and occupation evaporated, our holiday had begun.
Strolling back to our hotel via Koh San Road, taking in the sights and smells of Thailand; 'Pong Shows' – google it – and fried tarantulas aplenty before your casual midnight mani/pedi. I was definitely far away from my average mid-week grind.
The next day we travel to Khao Sok where we jump aboard a boat to a secluded river hut hotel where you exit your room and dive straight into the water outside, surrounded by Cheow Larn Lake and its breathtaking islands.
Less than 24 hours before I was in my office checking off deadlines and responding to briefs.
I feel the need to repeat I didn’t think twice about where we were going next, as our trip leader led us through throngs of crowds and to each transfer with such precision. Before I knew it, we had arrived at our next accommodation – a jungle treehouse deep in Khao Sok National Park.
After a night of bonding and stomach-aching laughter, I fall asleep to cicadas and awake to monkeys at my doorstep – does it get much better?
What doesn’t get mentioned enough are the bus rides – however long they are, pumping tunes and spilling your secrets to strangers quickly morphs into confiding in friends. Before we know it, we’ve arrived in Langkawi’s Cenang Beach.
The Malaysian island town is known for its fresh seafood, stunning sands and relaxed but vibrant nightlife. We stay up late singing and laughing before indulging in endless plates of Roti Canaai (a fried bread to trump all carbs, trust us.)
While adventures up cable cars to the island’s highest peak and walks across suspension bridges surrounded in mist were awe-inspiring (and slightly terrifying), the highlight of the stay came from a sunset cruise aboard a private yacht.
Holding hands and jumping into the turquoise water or back-flipping with free abandon. Sipping on cocktails and tasting homemade dishes. Soaking up the sun at the front of the yacht, swapping stories from the past few days and looking out to the endless horizon.
Leaving Langkawi is hard. But the promise of Penang and it’s melting pot of food, cultural history and vibrant sites lure us forward.
We walk the town searching for street art before gorging at the night markets. We test our stomachs with dishes like ‘oyster eggs’ and desserts topped with corn and a strange jelly. This is our last taste of the city before driving to the mountains – can you believe we’re halfway through already?
The Cameron Highlands are simply breathtaking. Surrounded by miles and miles of greenery we swerve around the mountain climbing to our accommodation perched above the tea plantations and strawberry fields.
The next day is spent exploring our surroundings and ending with covering ourselves in butterflies and snakes (eeek!) at a local farm before a 'Steamboat Dinner'.
With no lakes to be seen, the 'Steamboat' is a pot where we cook our dinner in boiling broth with whatever ingredients we choose. Safe to say we never went hungry.
By this time we know the trip is coming to an end and our last stop in Kuala Lumpur looms with bitter-sweetness.
To keep us cheerful, our tour leader takes us on one last night out; we eat, we drink, we dance and we fall asleep catching a few winks before our airport wake up call.
As a Contiki tour virgin, I expected my time to be long gone – a pleasure set aside for newly 18-year-olds on their first overseas vacation, chomping at the bit to hook up ferociously at any given moment. Thankfully it translates, and I’m not over-the-hill. Cancel the quarter-life-crisis I ordered.
Letting go of control, work stresses and allowing the unique and seamless experiences take me along for the ride was just what I needed. #NoRegrets never rang so true.