It’s Halloween. While we don’t celebrate Halloween, I thought it’d be ‘in season’ to share three of the scariest moments which happened to us during our trips.
While there are always some sense of adventure and apprehension associated with travel (especially with child in tow no less) our experiences are not the supernatural type, but rather scarily real. For most, there are some important travel lessons to learn from them. In order of the ‘least’ scary of the three:
No. 3. The villa:
During our trip to Bali in 2013, we decided to book a plush local villa from one of those online websites that offers privately owned properties for short term stays (think Airbnb, Roomarooma etc…) We were completely bought-in by the idea of having our own private pool complete in an authentic Balinese villa experience at half the cost of a hotel stay for 2 nights.
I sensed something was amiss when our experienced Balinese driver started to enquire about the exact location of this villa. This was a driver who had brought us around from one end of Bali to another, who negotiated almost every nook and corner of Bali but yet had to stop a few times to ask directions to get to this villa.
Finally, after meandering through a maze of local dilapidated houses, we arrived at our luxurious villa. A gleaming beacon set among some old quarters in need of dire repairs. As our van pulled up to the villa, we attracted curious stares from the locals – gaunt looking men and women carrying crying babies. Our presence stopped their conversations as their gaze followed our van being driven into that rural estate. I started to feel uneasy.
Our friendly host greeted us and settled us in into the beautiful villa. It was exactly how it looked like online – charming, rustic and oh, the pool! Before our host left, he reminded us to lock the doors to the villa. I looked at the lock – it was nothing but a small simple lock, latched across the wooden Balinese door. That was it! A simple ‘less than $10’ lock is all there is between us and any security breaches!
As the sun set and the dim mood lights gave a mesmerizing glow to the whole villa, our mood was in fact far from being mesmerized – unsettled by the loud chatters from the locals, some in their rumbling motor bikes and the annoying crows of the free roaming roosters etc…All this while, my thoughts was just on that rickety lock that would supposedly protect my family from any intruders who may just try to take advantage of this small Singaporean family. To make matters worse, the villa had low walls – just like any Balinese villa. We were indeed living among the locals in a rather rural part of a Balinese town…but there was nothing exotic or romantic about it!
That night, I hardly slept a wink. Ensuring that my phone is right next to me, I pre-dialed our local driver’s number just in case… I ensured all lights within the villa were switched on. I woke up every few minutes or whenever I heard any creak or squeak.
Next day, blurry-eyed and all, it didn’t take Angie and I too long to agree to cut-short our stay at the villa and checked ourselves into a hotel.
Lesson: While we did do our homework to research on our accommodation, there are other intuitive factors like communal safety and security to consider. A villa in a rural place like that would be more suitable for a larger group, like bigger families or friends, preferably with a few more men. Otherwise it would be challenging for me to defend my family should we encounter any security issues.
No. 2: The flight:
This happened when we were returning from our first trip to Taiwan in 2012 which was during its rainy season in June. That month, there were also some instances of typhoons – a common occurrence in Taiwan.
The night before our flight back to Singapore, the news reported that 2 typhoons that had pounded the shores of Japan are headed for Taiwan. Before we slept , we prayed.
When we woke up the next day, we were glad to hear that the two typhoons are expected to narrowly pass Taiwan later in the day and will be headed out to sea. We thanked God and were cautiously optimistic. Why? Because our flight was scheduled for ‘later in the day’.
When we boarded our flight, the clouds looked lowvin an ominous gray. Not good. Before we took off, we heard the pilot announced over the cockpit (and this is a first for me), “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are expected to encounter SEVERE turbulence” . In all our flights we have never heard the word ‘SEVERE’ uttered from any pilot’s mouth.
Almost immediately when we were airborne, and for the next 1.5 hours, the plane was shaken like a rag doll. It bumped, shook, dropped suddenly and randomly. There were times, as we dropped, we could hear the loud whine of the jets outside trying to compensate and climb. Dana, being the innocent and intrepid 3 year-old that she was, thought that it was one of those fun rides I sometimes bring her on, was giggling with every bump and chuckling with every drop. We figured, let’s not make her worry and just played along albeit with very sombre and serious faces. This 4 hour flight, seems like taking a lifetime. We could only hold our hands tight and pray for journey mercies.
Lesson: I guess this all boils down to luck. There is nothing anyone can prepare to avoid something like this unless we avoid travelling altogether during the monsoon / snowy season. However, this may just rob us of a chance to see or experience the country in a different light.
Now, for our number 1 scariest experience of all:
Number 1: The voyage:
This happened during our trip to Phuket in 2010. As part of the free and easy itinerary, we had planned to do ‘island hopping’ – a ‘must do’ for all tourists, where one either travel by speed boat or by sail boat (the latter being slower, more majestic – read EXPENSIVE!) to the smaller islands around Phuket for snorkeling and lazing on the pure sandy beaches.
When we were deciding on the Island Hopping tours, we tussled between taking a speed boat or a sail boat. The duration is about the same – a day. But obviously the sail boat covers far less places as it is a much slower voyage. The sail boat is costlier also, as it takes lesser people (3 couples or so only) and claims to be safer.
We were travelling with our cousins and all 4 of us decided on the speedboat – cheaper, faster and it promises to cover more attractions. Just to be safe, after all, we were travelling with our 2 year-old, we asked over email, if there would be life vests available on the speedboat and what would happen if it were to rain. The Phuket tour company assured us that there were life vests on board and refunds would be made if the trip is cancelled due to unfavorable weather.
Finally, the day of the Island Hopping tour arrived. Problem was, it was raining heavily. The tour shuttle picked us up as planned and brought us to the pier to “wait and see”. Not wanting to be disappointed, we complied. When we reached the pier, we were shocked to find easily another 30+ other tourists from all walks of life there waiting out the storm as well!
When the storm finally abated a little, the tour operator assured everyone that it is ok to set sail. Not wanting to go home disappointed, majority agreed (anyway, we were all from different nationalities and there was no common language and solidarity). Because the voyage is on, there won’t be any refund for anyone not wanting to be part of the trip. So reluctantly, we followed – with our 2 year-old in tow wearing her sunny and bright swimming costume all prepared for a day on the sandy beaches.
So, the 40 odd of us (it has grown to that size) were packed into one speed boat, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip. We squeezed with just small port holes to look out to. The speed boat then sped off towards the open sea.
The next two hours were the longest two hours in our lives. Shortly after leaving shore, the storm came back. Large waves were beating against the hull of the speedboat as it crashed through the rough waves. We were tossed like pasta on a pan. Dana was crying (she seldom does) as Angie used a bath towel to shield her from the splashing waves and hugged her tightly. When we looked out, we could see that the waves were so much taller than the speed boat…In fact, the area where we were seated was actually below sea level. Despite the wild tossing, the boat pushed on. People started asking for life vests and we were crudely pointed to a pile of them scattered in a corner. I quickly grabbed one each (but there were none for young children!). I held on tight to Angie and our toddler and prayed hard amidst the loud thumping and banging by the giant waves against the speedboat. All it needed was for one huge wave and we all would have capsized! I made a decision that moment that I will NEVER compromise my family’s safety over monetary savings… no matter what the cost, life is more precious.
The rain and storm did stop finally, 2 hours into our voyage. There were some on board who were too ill to proceed but we were alright, albeit shaken. Dana was back to normal the moment we could play sand and snorkel together in the Indian Ocean.
Now at 6 years old, there are many things Dana may have forgotten from her toddler travels with Daddy and Mommy. But recently during a casual dinner conversation, I asked if she remembered anything about taking a speedboat and she instinctively replied ‘scary’; mention Phuket and she will tell you about that “shaky speedboat ride”.
Thankfully, our travels thereafter have been memorable for the right reasons. Do you have any ‘scary’ incidents to recall and learn from from any of your travels?