Thailand and Vietnam – The Flow of Travel: The Beginning – by Kyle Hellmann. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
[Picture of motos: This was right after a light turned green at a busy intersection. Motos weave through traffic and move to the front of the light when traffic is stopped. As soon as the light turns green, the motos rush forward and are followed by cars and buses.]
When people ask me why I decided to travel to Thailand and Vietnam, I told them that my twin brother, Kurt, was serving in Cambodia for a year. We had procured a plan to meet in Thailand once his contract was completed. That was my go to answer, which was a reason why I traveled. The larger reason why I decided to travel was that I had heard, studied, and read many stories of international travel. I had been on the sidelines and an opportunity presented it to myself. I said, “Why not?”
When my brother left for Cambodia, we had mentioned the idea for traveling after his contract was completed. The very easy decision to travel together was made later in the year. We planned to travel through Thailand for three weeks and Vietnam for two weeks. Each of us began to research of places to visit and activities to do. My brother, who was in Cambodia at the time, ended up doing most of the research and planning. I was comfortable with his guidance and his experience in the region, he had met and befriended many tourists traveling through Cambodia and spent time in Vietnam. All was well and my flight leaving the country was creeping closer. In one of our many phone conversations, my brother told me that he was returning to the United States much earlier than planned. He was only going to be able to travel in Cambodia and would leave before we could visit Vietnam.
[Picture of Cloth on fence. The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej had passed away on October 13th, 2016. The country had then entered a period a mourning. It was common to see displays like these everywhere in Bangkok. I saw many groups of locals dressed in all black and pictures of the former king and new king at busy intersections. The mourning period was still occurring while I was in Thailand.]
A difficult decision presented itself to me. Would I end my trip early with him? Or would I end up traveling solo in Vietnam? I knew I was already going to be pushed out of my comfort zone, as I had never traveled out of North America. I had no need to return early with him. So, I asked myself, “Why not?” After some research and conversation with my worried parents, I decided that I would travel throughout Vietnam solo. I had no international travel experience and had friends consistently telling me the dangers of traveling alone. Surprisingly, this made me much more excited to get on a twenty-four-hour plane ride.
[Picture of building: I saw many buildings like these with pictures of the new and former king. I took this picture passing by and was unable to discover what this display was saying.]
I stepped off a plane and arrived in Bangkok, Thailand on July 18th. I have mixed feelings about the flight, but it was a good experience and no complications. I was fortunate in that regard, but unfortunate to only obtain two hours of sleep. I believed I had done enough research to be able to breeze through customs, exchange currency, obtain a SIM card for my phone, get a taxi and met my brother at one hostel among thousands. I was undoubtedly wrong. I failed to get a SIM card and getting a taxi took thirty minutes because I couldn’t communicate to my taxi driver where my hostel was. I realized during these moments that I had a very vague idea of what cities I was going to travel to, I was completely reliant on my brother to plan our time in Thailand. I had spent most of my time researching Vietnam tourism rather than Thailand tourism. I was okay with it, I trusted my brother.
[Picture of Buddhist Temple: Temples were a common sight to see in all of Thailand. Tourist were encouraged to follow rules posted in front of the temples. Some rules were having your knees covered by clothing before entering in the morning. Some temples required to take off shoes before entering certain areas. On the roof, those spires are called Naga Tails. They are dragon tails and they bring good luck.]
After these complications, I was on my way and rode through Bangkok. My eyes were taking it all in, I had a moment of self-realization that this is what culture shock feels like, something I had only heard about. My taxi driver was speaking Thai on the phone, motorbikes (called motos) weaving in and out of traffic, billboards warning tourists to not get a tattoo of Buddha, and buildings as far as I could see. It made all the travel worth it at that moment. I was dropped off a mile from my hostel and was hugely overcharged for the taxi ride. I knew I was, but I was too darn happy to be there to care. I found my hostel after asking some locals for directions and arrived. I had finally had begun the journey of becoming what I had wanted to be; an international traveler.
Kyle Hellmann, Class of 2016, serves as a senior editor for The North Star Reports
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