A few nights ago I went down to the Chiang Mai gate since I’d heard good things about the street food, and I’d been sitting in a café working all day. After stuffing my face I decided to grab a sorgtaaou which is a shared taxi.
Basically it’s almost like a pickup truck except the back of it’s enclosed and there are bench seats on either side. They’re cheaper than tuk tuks, and they have routes that they drive through the city-you just have to flag one down and see if it’s going your way.
A sorgtaaou pulled up and the woman in the passenger seat waved me over. Her husband was the driver, and he looked about seventy. They spoke absolutely no English which was fine because I’d been given a map with my hostel circled on it, so all I needed to do was point and look at them questioningly.
“Ahh” they both looked at the map and nodded their heads at me.
“Are you sure?” I asked suspiciously.
Thai people don’t like to disagree with you, so often they’ll say they know where something is, or pretend to understand you when they have no idea. I found this frustrating until I talked to some of my friends who work with Thai’s in Bangkok. I have it easy in comparison.
These guys were adamant that they knew where to take me. He gestured for me to get in, and when I asked how much I needed to pay he just grunted and waved his hand at me. Obviously we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.
I jumped in the back, and soon we were pulling up in a part of town that I had never seen before. It definitely wasn’t the old city which was where I needed to be. He gestured for me to get out and I shook my head. Not even close.
We then drove around for the next twenty minutes. At one stage we were going towards the airport, and even I knew that was wrong. He pulled over to ask directions three times, and each time I waved my map at strangers, pointing desperately and wishing I could say more than Hello in Thai.
At first it was fine. I hadn’t had a good look at the city yet, so it was interesting to drive through different parts of town. After a while it got old though, especially when I began seeing things for the second time.
I was using Google maps on my phone, but it was being a bitch and not working properly. Nevertheless, I repeatedly stuck my head out the side window to yell directions at the driver, who had no fucking idea where we were going.
At this stage I noticed that people around us were beeping and passing us, and he was driving in two lanes-very slowly if the people racing past were any indication. The next time we pulled over I got out and showed him my phone. As I walked up to the window his wife poured something into a cup and handed it to him. It definitely wasn’t coffee.
Eventually we pulled into an alley. The driver asked directions from someone who worked in a hotel, and he gestured for me to go inside and talk to someone there. I figured I was screwed at this point, handed the driver 50 baht (yup I’m a sucker) and followed the man into the hotel. The driver left, taking with him the map that had my hostel circled on it.
The manager at the hotel had no idea where I needed to go, and I realized that I no longer had my map. I typed the address into Google one more time, and it told me the hostel was a twenty-minute walk away. I left the alley, reached the main street and promptly burst into tears.
Yes it was an overreaction. My only excuse is that I hadn’t had any sleep for a few nights and I couldn’t trust that Google would send me in the right direction. I mean if you can’t trust Google who can you trust?
So I walked around for a while, sobbing like a little girl (I am not a pretty crier), and feeling mortified that I was crying in the first place.
In over two months of travel I’ve never had a breakdown. I’ve dealt with dodgy taxi drivers, losing my belongings, food poisoning, bed bugs, crappy hostel beds, rude roommates, and culture shock. I’ve witnessed extreme poverty, the disgusting sex tourism in Asia, and children forced to sell bracelets instead of being allowed to go to school.
Maybe I was crying for all the times I get lost and feel like an idiot.
Maybe it was the knowledge that most people my age can at least find their way to where they’re staying after a few days.
Maybe it was because I felt like a crappy traveler, who was failing at traveling alone because I was so dependent on everyone else to give me directions all the time.
Maybe I was just tired and hormonal. Take your pick.
While having a major meltdown was embarrassing, sometimes it just happens. Obviously I never thought I’d be throwing a tantrum in Chiang Mai but traveling solo is challenging. For me the most challenging part will always be finding my way around since I have the world’s shittiest sense of direction.
When you’re traveling alone there’s no one to give you advice or help with decisions, and when a challenge arises it’s up to you to sort it out. No one was going to walk up to me and offer me a hug and some chocolate.
So I pulled myself together, found some tourists and asked for directions. I eventually found my hostel, and on the bright side I now know my way around that part of Chiang Mai!