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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36 responses to “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”
I totally get relying on your brother for his knowledge. When I went to Paris I did the same thing with my sister. I do hold some knowledge about the language and city but i followed my sister around like a lost puppy just because she had the knowledge. What was also funny was that the motos you talked about is the same thing that happened in Paris. They did not care at all about the lanes or anything. they would just weave their way to the front of every light and take off as quickly as possible. Which i think is insane because that would drive me crazy as a driver in a car. I’m glad you are able to share this because it is so amazing to be able to take that first trip over seas.
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Oh my Kyle, what an unexpected surprise. I’m always super happy to see Americans travel to places that aren’t heavily toured by America. Mexico, for example, is one of those vacation spots that if you haven’t been to Mexico before you are in the minority. Timeshares in Mexico have also allowed people to find a more permanent vacation house. But isn’t this a backward thinking? I always tend to get confused as to why so many people tour in Mexico for years and years in a row. I believe that vacations allow humans to get a taste of different cultures and to celebrate this different. I believe more people should go out and explore the different cultures in our world that are less toured by Americans. With vacations comes trying to understand different beautiful cultures. Let us get to all the corners of the world and explore the unseen.
This was a really fun story to read! I think about what I would do in your shoes in a few of these instances, and wow I am blown away by your courage. I feel that it was me, would probably have decided against the traveling alone. This experience was, I’m sure, one of a kind. I recall feeling that “culture shock” that you spoke about, when I traveled to Costa Rica, my senior year of high school. I lived with a host family for about a week, and I was so scared at first. I didn’t know what to think or what to do, and sometimes I felt like just shutting down. But, what makes the experience memorable is the effort you put in to the trip. It’s easy to give up when things get hard or scary, but you enjoy moments so much more when you try to make things fun. Have you traveled anywhere else by yourself yet? How did you manage to convince your parents to let you travel along?
Thank you for sharing this highly anxiety-inducing story. The idea of stepping off a plane and into bustling, new city and existing without a safety net… I wouldn’t have had your initial confidence. At the same time, I find that world travel is a valuable experience that everyone should have the opportunity to partake in at least once in their life. Every part of the journey – the planning, the flight, the place, the people, the tours etc all have different knowledge to offer. I read something once that said world travel is the best way to learn about people – would you agree?
Thank you for sharing,
I really enjoyed your honest post about the fears of travelling abroad for the first time, especially the time you spent alone. I plan on travelling to Ecuador this spring and taking a very long flight by myself and landing in a different country is still too unreal for me to even process. I was happy to hear that you ended up leaving your comfort zone and exploring Vietnam alone because I am sure you are a more worldly and independent person because of it. I think challenging oneself and being open to new opportunities is the best way to experience personal growth. I also like how you talked about culture shock because it is sometimes an after thought when people choose to travel. They simply worry about the tourist plans of site-seeing and forget that they are going to be immersed in another culture and way of life. Wonderful post and well done on travelling solo.
Kyle, it is very courageous to travel internationally alone, but even more so to go somewhere that you don’t have even an inkling of the language or customs to help you. I find it interesting that they have warnings for tourists about getting tattoos of Buddha; I do understand that it [is or could be] offensive to people who practice Buddhism if they see Westerners putting a sacred symbol onto their skin without regard for the religion, and personally, I think it is ridiculous to consider doing such a thing on an impulse anyway. That aside, how did you feel about seeing such a sea of buildings everywhere? Was there a particular layout that you noticed for the buildings that was similar or different from what is common in the U.S? I think I would feel particularly uncomfortable in a foreign place that is entirely cityscape, because I’m so accustomed to Duluth which has plenty of nature amidst its buildings. Additionally, on the idea of landscape, what is the walkability or transportation like (besides that first taxi that you paid too much for)? There is so much to be learned from traveling abroad, and especially on your own. I hope I have the privilege of doing that soon, although I plan to go somewhere where I at least have a grasp of the language.
I really enjoyed your article and hearing about the start to your first international adventure. I know what it feels like to rely on someone when it comes to traveling. When I went to Ireland, I didn’t know anyone and I met my tour guide and the other six students joining me in the Dublin airport. I am glad you chose to continue with your adventure in Vietnam and hope it went well. Culture shock did not hit me in Ireland as much as I had expected, almost everyone spoke English so I did not have that language barrier. I am hoping to also continue my travels through age and would like to someday visit Vietnam and Thailand.
Kyle, how courageous of you to decide to go solo in Vietnam!
I’m sure it’s not the easiest country to start an international traveling career in considering the language barriers, not to mention the cultural differences. I sincerely hope that you felt it was worthwhile though! I am convinced that traveling and meeting new cultures is beneficial for each and every one of us even though it might be scary in the moment, especially when the culture shock kicks in. Seeing that there are other ways to live your life and other values the one can adhere to is in my opinion one way to burst bubbles of ignorance and ethnocentrism. I wish you all the best on your future journeys and hope that you’ll get to experience all corners of this beautiful world we live in!
Thank you for sharing the story of your first international trip. I commend you for being able to travel by yourself in Vietnam. I don’t think I would have been able to get myself to do that. I have always been fascinated with traffic in other countries because the roads are in a state of chaos, yet everyone seems to be able to control what they are doing. I am now very interested in the possibility of travelling to Vietnam, I have heard great things from friends who have visited and from what it seems you also had a worthwhile experience. I think it would be greatly beneficial to experience their culture first hand.
Kyle, Your article on your first international trip resonated with me, I also have a brother in the military and I understand what it is like to put utter trust in your brother and defer to him in matters he is expert in. I also feel that it must have been a valuable experience for you to not have a backup plan once your brother’s plans changed. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to leave much farther than northern Minnesota, but I would love to one day visit a foreign place and see the museums of the world. Thank you for sharing such a personal journey and I look forward to potentially seeing more of your work on this publication.
Thank you for sharing your story on the beginning of your trip to Thailand and Vietnam. It sounds like a very stressful but exciting thing to travel abroad especially to somewhere you have never been and may not know much about. Someday I hope to be able to travel and see many parts of the world and your article is helpful in knowing that other people have the same concerns that I do. Traveling alone in an area that I do not know the language would take a lot of courage and Im not sure if I could do it all by myself. Getting a SIM card is one thing I have never thought about when traveling abroad and am wondering why the SIM card is needed? I really enjoyed the picture of the motors and can not imagine the streets of Duluth looking like that, unless during the school year if every college kid rode a moped around. Lastly, I hope your trip goes well and that you are able to take in as much of the culture as possible.
I am curious to hear about how the rest of your journey went, and I definitely relate to travel plans going awry. What’s the address of my hostel? Where do I get off the bus? Where should I go? What should I do? It’s a humbling experience to be that clueless & reliant on others’ advice. You have to accept that things likely won’t go as planned and learn to be comfortable in unknowing. It’s an exhilarating experience, and I’m sure you learned a lot from it, as I did.
This article really got my attention about traveling abroad to other countries especially when it ‘s your first time out of North America. Kyle’s fear of traveling to Thailand and Vietnam is completely normal and there are many risks of going to a different country. I have never traveled out of the United States but I have gone to other states where the culture and people are very different from the one that I grew up in. It made me have a culture shock and really makes you understand how big the world actually is. Overall, Kyle was able to see the beauties and wonders of a amazing culture and gave him a sense of happiness of being a international traveler.
This article made me think of things I do not normally think of. For most travelling abroad can be a scary experience with lots to think about, for me I am so use to travelling I don’t think about these things as much. I am from Canada and even the small distance between our countries I still noticed a bit of culture shock. When I travel I do often find it hard when there is a language barrier but some countries it is easier than others to sort out the issues. I do not think I would feel comfortable going on a trip that far away from home by myself so good for you. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Travelling abroad for the first time is definetly scary at best, and culture shock is real! My first time abroad, I had no idea what to expect. That was my first time away from the safety of home and my family. In my travels, I have seen some interesting modes of transportation, and seeing the attitude surrounding driving in other cultures was very interesting. I also saw bikes swerving in and out of traffic, tuk-tuks following suit, and the very abrupt stop and go of the rest of the vehicles. Most people travel abroad to experience the culture and see the turisty spots, but I think we underappreciate the modes of transportation, which we rely on to get around cities, or to our destination.
It was brave of you to travel internationally alone. It can’t be easy, but from what you have written it seems like you will have an experience of a lifetime.
I can understand a little bit of your culture shock, too. Two summers ago a group of Russian university students came to St. Scholastica for an English Language camp and hanging out with them was like being in a mini pocket of Russia. While I have never traveled outside of America before, seeing the different mannerisms and learning about their traditions was exciting and beautiful and kind of nerve-wracking all at the same time. To add on top of that, while the Russian students English was fantastic, my Russian was rusty. I wish I could have spoken with them in Russian more. After your travels in Thailand and Vietnam do you think you would want to learn the languages of each country? Where do you think you want to travel next?
Hi Kyle! It’s wonderful to hear about your travels! As I’ve only traveled within North America, I can’t image what it must be like to transported to someplace so different. I would love to hear more about your time in Thailand and Vietnam, as well as the food you got to have while you’re there! I’m glad you still had a positive outlook after your initial hiccups. I admire your decision to travel through Vietnam alone. I aspire one day to be able to do that myself as I think it’d be quite an experience to be so self-reliant. Great post! -Hannah
I find it very courageous that you traveled abroad alone. I have never traveled abroad and now reading your article I learned much about what I could expect as well as the pros and cons. My question for you is, Did you know a lot about the countries before you traveled there? And if there was one piece of advice you could give to people traveling abroad what would it be? Your article puts into perspective the dangers as well as the fun festivities of traveling to a foreign country and I hope to learn more about it.
Dear Kyle, thank you for sharing your travelling experience! I have to admit, I am a bit envious, not only of your opportunity to travel Thailand and Vietnam, but because of the fact you were able to travel with your brother. What a great opportunity to grow closer together; I would love to plan a similar trip with my brother in the future. It is funny you mentioned that your travels took you to Vietnam, as I just got off the phone with one of my closest high school friends, whose family is from Vietnam. Many of my friend’s family members are currently immigrating to the United States, and it has been fascinating to hear about how they are navigating through the immigration process.
I have taken 2 trips to western europe where I could for the most part communicate effectively with anyone I needed to. It was super brave of you to decide to travel alone, and even more so because you were in a country where you couldn’t easily communicate and it is outside of western culture. Culture shock is real, and I’m glad you were able to experience it as it gives you a new perspective that is common for many people who immigrate anywhere especially people in the USA. I really enjoyed how you describe all the challenges you faced in your realization of culture shock. Thank you for sharing your experience.
This was such an interesting essay to read. I feel like it is so important to note the culture shock that you had because it is such a big aspect of travel. A lot of us just assume that when we travel its just going to be a good adventurous time when thats not always the reality.I commend you for going on with your trip to Vietnam alone because thats something I probably would not have done! I hope this experience has changed the way you see things for the better too. Thank you for sharing!
Kyle, I found your story to be really intriguing. I have had family friends who have traveled extensively through Thailand and to hear another perspective on travel there was intriguing. I really related to your experience of culture shock: when I was in Germany and Austria in 2014, I was left on my own to wander for a while through the cities of Innsbruck and Salzburg and, knowing none of the German language, found myself feeling lost. Your experience in the taxi made me think of one instance that I now laugh at but found incredibly intimidating when I was in Europe: I was at a small cafe ordering a meal to-go as there was no seating, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to ask for plastic silverware. I tried the traditional arrogant American tactic of acting things out, but the woman behind the counter, who spoke no English, was not understanding what I was trying to show her. Finally, a rather irritated Austrian customer behind me in line helped me out and asked the woman for me, but it was not without watching me struggle. I think culture shock and experiences such as these are important to go through because they humble us and make us realize how big our world truly is. Thank you!
Kyle, reading this gave me an insane amount of anxiety. I cannot even imagine being in a foreign country by myself trying to communicate to people that don’t understand what I’m saying. That would be the scariest thing for me, not being able to speak english and be understood. I think us as Americans take that for granted, especially myself. That is one reason why I would be timid to go to another country, just simply because I cannot speak any other languages. I give you a lot of credit for just deciding to go and especially going by yourself, that’s crazy but super cool. I hope your trip was awesome!
It was really fasinating to read your story. If I was in your shoes I don’t think I would have been as charismatic about travelling to a new and completely unfamiliar place as you were. Just choosing to travel solo shows how you are a open-minded about travelling and how are receptive you are about people and culture. I am slighty curious about your adventous through Vietnam. For example, were you scared, how did such trip change or advance your thinking, what are some places you can recommend to those travelling to Vietnem? Overall, it was astonishing to read that one should not be afraid to try new things, even if it means going to a totallly strange place.
Thanks for sharing your story Kyle! I give you props for going through with this and never losing your eagerness. I would be so nervous and probably even scared during the taxi situation. That is one thing in America we never have to worry about because it is our country. Being on the other side of that must of made you realize how hard it really is when no one understands what you are saying. I would rely on my brother too in this situation to sort of ease the anxiety going somewhere new.
What a great experience and opportunity this trip offers you. To me, international travel is the best way to truly understand the human connection that we all share. For so many people all over the globe, the only bases for considering other peoples is a very abstract and static idea present by the media. To go, meet, interact, and experience another culture can be intimidating and a bit frightening, but it is worth it. Through these interactions, one can not help but see the humanity of all people. And hopefully, the people you interacted with will increase their knowledge and understand of the humanity of all peoples as well.
This is really neat! I, too, want to be an international traveler so it was great reading about your experience. I haven’t had culture shock on that large of a scale yet, but it is still fascinating being emerged into a culture that is so unlike your own. The only stories I have heard about Vietnam are war related so it was really interesting reading about your experience. I had heard before that taxi drivers in other countries take advantage of foreign travelers, and I would have been so frustrated had that happened to me, yet again, like you said it would be just so wonderful just being there and finally making it to your destination. After reading this, I am curious to learn more about the tourism aspect of Vietnam. Thanks for sharing!
This is such an awesome post. I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand and Vietnman because of the beautiful culture. Like you, I love to travel also. I prefer traveling outside America for now because the farther I am away from the U.S, the big of a difference there are in culture, in my opinion. One time I went to London by myself and I had planned on meeting with some friends who were coming from a different country. My experience in London was amazing until it was time for me to go back home. I went to one of London’s airport super early in the morning because my friends were already on their way back home via train. I decided I would feel safer alone at the airport instead of being by myself at the air bnb we stayed at. I was wrong. The airport was open, but the secured area was closed. Because of this I had to stay in an area of the airport where a lot of other passengers were waiting and sleeping on benches as well as a few drunk individuals. Long story short, I was stalked by this drunk man at the airport and had to call their 911 system…. After that, I told myself I will never travel by myself ever again.
Thank you for sharing your amazing experience! I am very impressed by your ability and bravery to travel alone. I love that you jumped on the opportunity to travel and trusted your brother to be a type of “tour guide” for your trip. I was also able to travel internationally recently. I went on a trip to the Philippines and trusted my professor to be our “tour guide” being that she grew up in the area and was very familiar with the surroundings. Similarly to your experience, I also noticed myself struggling with culture shock of the area due to the communication barrier. However, I was lucky enough to have Filipino friends that helped to translate whenever needed. In my history course we are reading a book “Worlds Together Worlds Apart”. In the text it addresses the use of long roads in the Roman Empire for travel and to increase communication and connections with other regions (Tignor, 267). I find this very similar to travel today; however, I feel that now our travel distances have the ability to be over a much larger area due to the access to airplanes. Thanks again for sharing your story!
What an adventure for you! When my sister traveled abroad in London, she had a similar experience – being very hesitant to go alone, but realized she wouldn’t have traded her experience for the world! As we are talking about travel, something we are currently learning about in World History is the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was, “characterized by large-scale road building … roads eventually connected most land areas and larger urban centers in the empire” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 267). This made travel much easier for people.
I loved reading about your experience, and I’m sure all the stress paid off in the end for you.
It sounds like you had a very interesting experience! Even though traveling can be challenging, especially outside the country into an unfamiliar place, it can be so rewarding. In “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart.” Tignor et al. discusses how travel had evolved throughout time. In all of the chapters, Tignor has mentioned how traveling and the use of roads has brought many good things. Trading goods and ideas has strengthened the world (2018). Although we now have access to airplanes and other fast ways of travel, I still believe travel is beneficial and allows one to step outside their comfort zone. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Thank you for sharing your amazing experience! I felt many of the same feelings when I studied abroad. It is crazy to see how so many of those feelings about traveling are universal. I really liked reading about the Buddhist temples and what you experienced, as we are learning about the Rise of World Religions in our World History Class. Our Tignor book states that Buddha was “initially regarded as a contemplative ascetic (someone who chooses a simple, hard life of self denial),..the Buddha now came to be worshipped as a god” (Tignor p. 299). It is really interesting to read about how Buddhism evolved into the religion it is today, and then to read a firsthand account of what you experienced. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for sharing your travel experience! I found your story quite familiar and interesting to read. I recently traveled internationally as well and experiencing “culture shock” as you stated is something like no other! There is no way to describe the experience to people at home when you return. I found it quite intriguing when you stated that there were billboards and signs warning visitors not to get a tattoo of the Buddha. Do you think this is because the Buddha’s followers “view the Buddha as as a god” as stated by Robert Tignor, in the history book “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart”? Do you think the native people found this seemingly popular thing for tourists to do offensive or disrespectful or what was the main message behind those billboards and warning signs? When foreigners travel to America, do you think there is anything specific such as that warning that they are given before or upon entering the country due to religious or cultural guidelines we adhere to? I think it’s truly fascinating traveling to another place in the world and being opened up to something entirely new.
Thank you again for sharing!
Your article is very interesting! I can relate to a lot of what you went through while traveling to a different environment. I am an international adoptee, so the struggle that you went through trying to communicate with someone of a different culture when you don’t speak their language resonate with me. When I came to the United States, I did not speak a word of English so my attempt to communicate with my American family involved a lot of pointing, acting, speaking in my native tongue or just remaining silent. How did you go about getting your message across to the taxi driver? My first time traveling alone I was very nervous. I a lot questions went through my mind that I don’t usually think about when it came to traveling with others. It surprised me on how reliant on others I was when it came traveling. Thanks for sharing!
Really cool story. I would love to visit Thailand, I hear so much good stuff about this country, how busy streets are, hoe amazing food is and how you can have a good time there. I’m amazed that you decided to travel alone, I don’t think I would be able to do that especially the first time in a foreign country without knowing a language. It’s good that you kept a good attitude even after paying too much for a cab.