It doesn’t happen often to me anymore but every now and then it creeps up on me out of nowhere in the least expected places. Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. Arriving in an unfamiliar city at a bus station that is at least 3 miles away from the town center where you know there are guest houses. Problem is you’re not really sure that it’s far away so you start walking in the direction you think it is. The bus driver that brought you there is of no help because he doesn’t speak English and since this isn’t really a tourist destination, no one else speaks English either. You have no local currency in your pocket, no hotel reservation and no credit on your cell phone to call anyone. And to add insult to injury you have to go to the bathroom really bad. What do you do?
With experience I’ve learned to be patient and take my time. I took a deep breathe, put a smile on my face and began waking. I walked, and I walked, occasionally trying my luck on a local to see if they understood what I was saying. No luck. I continued on. I found an ATM! Money was important. Unfortunately the machine only dispensed 1000 baht notes, which is equivalent to $30. No Tuk Tuk driver was going to make change for this. I did however find a nice lady with a motorcycle who agreed to take me to the area I was looking to go. I used the little Thai I know to negotiate a price. She said 40 baht. I showed her my 1000 baht note and then offered her some of my Malaysian money instead. She took a 10 ringgit note which was about 3 times what she asked in baht. But I wasn’t worried, I was just happy to get where I needed to go.
I had been to Had Yai once before but I am by no means an expert on it. I passed through for one night 4 years ago. I did remember that there was a large shopping center near where some of the hotels were so that was my goal. She dropped me off right in front of the mall and I headed off in search of accommodation. I am traveling with out a guidebook in hand so I wasn’t sure what I was looking for and being nighttime everything looked different. I wandered around and was amazed that I couldn’t find a single guest house. Where did they all go? Now I’ve been walking around for quite awhile with my backpack on, working up a sweat.
I had forgotten how different Thailand can feel. The language is much harder than Indonesian and Malay and the alphabet is not Latin based so reading a sign is difficult. Thailand is the country I’ve spent more time in outside of the U.S. than any other country so I came in feeling confident and was quickly reminded that it takes some getting used to. This is heightened by not arriving in Bangkok and instead coming by land through the south which sees far less tourists.
Culture shock is pretty much a minor anxiety attack while traveling. For me it always seems to come in places where I feel I should be most comfortable. Arriving in London I was incredibly overwhelmed and started to feel like I was losing it because of how simple I thought being in England SHOULD be. I didn’t get culture shock in Lebanon or in Somaliland because I probably had my mind prepared for the worst.
Either way, in Thailand it is pretty easy to get yourself back in the groove. A stop over at a pub, a glass of scotch and maybe a foot massage before bed and I’ll be ready to go. I think my cold is behind me but I do have a pretty debilitating cough left over. I’ll have to load up on Halls for the bus ride to Phuket in the morning.