I consider myself lucky to be well travelled. But this is only with family. Destinations and attractions have been numerous, but I have always craved something else; to travel with friends, peers, and experience richer, local cultural experiences than traditional family holidays deliver. Though I have many sighted friends through university, beyond hiking across the UK with friends from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Group, opportunity to enjoy any travel like this and with my own friends has been allusive.
Finally in 2017 I graduated from university – an extremely testing, and sometimes very dark time in my life – and decided it was time to seize more of the life I wanted. This includes travel. But, how, when I have tried, failed, or been too uncertain before?
Just at this time, VICTA advertised their latest international trip. On looking into the itinerary, I realised Thailand is nothing like the seedy image all too often portrayed on television. It is a large, tropical, majority Buddhist nation, with the unique history in Asia of having never been colonised. Our itinerary was to include temple ruin tours, visits to temples in rural hills and town centres, meeting (splashing with and being kissed by) elephants, visiting flower markets and bamboo gardens, voyaging on an overnight sleeper train, lake tour and rice barge, with the final days spent at an island beach resort. This simply is everything bundled into one trip that I could have wanted.
I couldn’t have imagined better company on a trip. VICTA staff, volunteers, the team from Seable, and two extraordinary Thai tour guides, provided us all with the expertise and assistance to enjoy this itinerary to the fullest. When travel has so many times been dampened by planning around disability, or concern about friends and their ability to support me, this was such a relief; one I realise now in hindsight, looking back on all we did, and how wonderfully simple it felt to enjoy and accomplish.
Because of our Thailand adventure, I am happier today, having experienced and learned how I can travel and discover the things in the world that I wish to. While I could travel with VICTA again, significantly I am closer to being able to do it on my own initiative too. But everyday, whether at home or away, I have nurtured and discovered new friendships and memories that I will cherish for years to come.
Thailand here and now, writing this as I fly home, has come at a time in life where I needed refreshment, enlightenment, and purest pleasure. There are so many moments (and friends) to be treasured.
Thank you one and all who have made this possible. Here is to all our future adventures, be they at home, away, or perhaps even again in Thailand!
By Matthew Clark