Who: Eloise Parker and J.D. Parker
Where we met: Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
When: November 2003
I kissed a frog and met my prince. But there was no fairy-tale puff of smoke involved. Actually, there was an uncomfortable night in the hospital in deepest Malaysia.
Pretending to kiss a frog at a butterfly farm in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands made for a memorable photo op. I was recently out of a long-term relationship and had saved up for months to leave my native England on a round-the-world backpacking trip through Southeast Asia, Australia, and the U.S. Anything could happen. And it did. Hours after the frog kiss, I was attached to an I.V. drip, diagnosed with suspected salmonella poisoning. Damned bacteria-riddled amphibian. I was only two weeks into the trip. Lame idea.
Or was it? I had originally planned to learn to scuba-dive when I arrived in Thailand at Railay Beach. When I got there, however, I was still feeling weak, so I decided to postpone any underwater adventures until my next stop, the islands of Ko Phi Phi. Three years earlier, the tiny picture-perfect islands had provided the backdrop for Leonardo DiCaprio’s tropical adventure movie The Beach.
When I got to Ko Phi Phi, DiCaprio was long gone, but I on the last day of my three-day open-water course, I found myself next to a handsome blond American on the dive boat. I had an instant crush on him. Maybe it was lucky I had changed my dive plans.
With butterflies in my stomach, I scrambled for a conversation opener and asked him how many dives he’d clocked up. “About 250,” he shot back with a grin. Turned out he’d been on the island for six months and worked as a dive master, taking qualified divers out on the reef while the instructors got stuck with rookies like me. I was impressed.
That evening, while celebrating the end of my dive course in a local restaurant, J.D. strolled in. Barefoot and smiling, he walked over with a copy of the Bangkok Post newspaper and a shabby paperback of Robinson Crusoe tucked under his arm. Not your average beach bum, I deduced. As we chatted, I found out that he hailed from Philadelphia and shared my love of adventure travel and fascination with the ocean. I was infatuated. I was thrilled to discover that the feeling was mutual. It was no accident that he’d parked his dive gear next to mine on the dive boat, and the copy of Robinson Crusoe was brought along to catch my eye (cheesy, but it worked).
I hadn’t expected ever to fall for someone so completely or so quickly, but in such exotic surroundings, it just felt right. I moved into his little bamboo hut and we spent our first Thanksgiving together, forgoing turkey for coconut cocktails under the stars. We traveled to Bangkok, joined by his parents, who were intrigued to see his new life in Thailand — and meet his new girlfriend. Spending time with his family, I understood where he had gotten his easygoing nature, confidence, and sense of fun. We quickly realized that we’d moved way beyond the territory of a holiday romance.
Neither of us planned to stay in Thailand in the long term. He had to go back to real life — and a proper job — in the U.S. My next stop was Australia. After an agonizing farewell at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, we stayed in touch almost every day through long-distance phone calls and instant messaging. I spent hours in Web cafés, and our lengthy emails became my default travel journal as I made my way through Australia and New Zealand, pining to get to J.D. in America but keen to make the most of my once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity. Five months later, we were reunited in New York. He’d moved there from Philadelphia and was building a career in commercial real estate. I stayed for three blissful months — as long as my tourist visa would allow — falling almost as madly in love with Manhattan as I was with J.D., but a job offer back in England and a dwindling bank account lured me home.
Before I went back to London, we had a long and honest conversation about where our relationship was headed. I told him that if we were going to go to the lengths of maintaining our relationship long distance, I wanted to know that it was going to lead to something more permanent. It was a gamble, but it paid off. Our long-distance romance continued, and six months later, J.D. surprised me outside my office on New Year’s Eve. I was speechless when he dropped down on one knee, pulled out a ring, and asked me to marry him. My answer, of course, was a resounding “Yes!”
Six months later, I moved to Manhattan for good. We got married on a boat on the Hudson River. Seven years later, we had our first son, Jack, now 2 1/2 years old, followed two years later by our second son, Tristan, now 9 months old. We’re still passionate about travel — over the last decade we’ve trekked Machu Picchu, camped in the Amazon, climbed Kilimanjaro, and scuba-dived on several continents. Our kids have both had passports since they were 3 months old, and we’re excited to show them the world, especially the little Thai island where we fell in love.
Looking back, maybe kissing that frog wasn’t such a bad idea after all.