How are you tomorrow? Reverse culture shock in Bangkok.
There’s a particular phenomenon that travelers often allude to: “reverse culture shock.” It happens when you return home from long term travel. You get so used to being immersed a different cultures that when you arrive back home it no longer feels right. It feels different. You feel different being there.
That’s how I felt when I arrived back back in Bangkok after three months in India.
True, Bangkok wasn’t home. But Thailand had become the closest thing before I had left for India. I’d spent two months in the country in total. It was easy, familiar, and, with no real plans after India, I figured it would be a good place to rest up for a few weeks while I decide what’s next.
I returned to the same just off Khao San Road hostel in the same town that I had left from to begin with. It was, kind of, like going home.
According to every plan I ever had, I was supposed to fly home, to my actual home, to Chicago, at the end of May.
But I just wasn’t ready.
Yes, this from the girl that no one would thought would last past Europe.
I’ve grown to love this lifestyle. I get itchy when I have no where to go and nothing to do now. I like meeting new people all the time.
So I decided, simply, to change my plan. I still have enough money to keep going, I still don’t have to be home until late October for a wedding.
For a while I was dead set on going to Australia. It’s a place I’ve always dreamed of going. But, it’s expensive. And while I technically can afford it, my money is starting to dwindle, and, for the first time, I’m thinking more about how to stretch my money so I can travel longer.
Eleven months ago I would never had guessed that I’d want to travel for any longer than a year, and now I know I’m not ready to stop.
And so, in a painful decision, I decided I couldn’t head to Australia. The problem was, I couldn’t decide where I wanted to go. And so, I ended up right back where I left.
The first thing I did, after checking into my hostel, was head to Khao San Road and order a beef in oyster sauce. (Seriously, I hadn’t eaten any beef in my 3 months in India, I needed it!) I sat in an over-touristy restaurant, observing everything that was going on and it just seemed…weird. Off. Different.
There were so many westerners. There was loud pop music. There were touts trying to sell me everything from t-shirts to fake IDs asking, “how are you tomorrow?” It was somehow more crowded than I’d remembered it.
After three months of hardly seeing tourists, of being in some of the more culturally rich places I’ve been, it was like being slammed in the head with just how easy everything was in Thailand. Granted, I’d brought myself right back into one of the backpacker meccas. But still.
I was no longer sure I wanted to be there.
I was exhausted from having to wake up at 3:30 in the morning to catch my flight so I spent the rest of the day in bed, enjoying air conditioning and wi-fi (two luxuries that were rare in India).
The next day I still wasn’t sure I was content to be back there. It was no longer feeling like “going home” but more so like trying to recapture something. I’ve had good times throughout all of Southeast Asia and I was never really prepared to leave. But going back seemed like, maybe, I was trying to recapture what I’d had there. And I wasn’t sure I’d be able to.
But all of that kind of faded away that afternoon. I sat around outside the hostel reading the thrilling book I’d just bought (AKA, a Sweet Valley High novella). After I finished it in one sitting, I began talking with a guy who was sitting next to me about travel, about my mad hopscotching skills, about all kinds of random things.
And then that inevitably led to getting a beer. And that, inevitably, led to doing about…6…bucket challenges (where you make a bucket of whiskey and coke and m1-50, stick in 5 straws and then just drink until it’s gone)…and that, inevitably, led to heading out to Khao San Road to drink more beers with two of the guys I’d been talking to. And that, inevitably, led to more beers, eating crickets, dancing in the street, making out, heading back to my dorm bed with a cute Welsh boy…
All at once I felt like I was, most definitely, back in Thailand.
And I remembered why I liked it. India had broken me so many times that I forgot about just how much fun I could have. How much fun I could be.
The next day I ended up grabbing lunch with the boy (during which a monkey threw dirt all over us and our food, luckily the waiter was kind and replaced our meals) and getting dinner and going to see Snow White and the Huntsman with some people from my hostel. (OK, seriously, does anyone else think that every time Snow White looked at an animal in that movie she looked like she was going to start making out with it?)
After three nights it was time to leave Bangkok, head North to do nothing for a bit while I figure out my next moves. But, despite the weird reverse culture shock, I was feeling good, coming back, being surrounded by people, finding new friends, finally eating beef.