It Took 62 Years, but I Am Finally Experiencing “Real” Foreign Travel

I’ve been lucky to get to do some traveling outside the U.S. over the years, but I realized today it was pretty “safe” traveling.

I’ve been to Ireland, London, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Paris, and Barcelona. It doesn’t take long to notice what all those places have in common – they’re all in Europe.

Which means that even if the people of these countries don’t speak the English language (I’m looking at you, Edinburgh πŸ™‚ ), at least they use the same alphabet. Plus it’s usually pretty easy to find someone who can speak English (I am so jealous of people that can speak multiple languages…)

I’ve also been living in Singapore the past few weeks, and while it is obviously an Asian country (and my first time to visit Asia), English seems to be the default language. Nearly all the signs around the country are in English, and most people seem to speak English fairly well.

So traveling around Europe or Singapore is fairly safe in that I can get by pretty easily as an English speaker.

All that changed dramatically when we arrived in Bangkok today for a four-day visit.

English is not the primary language (and there’s no reason why it should be). Plus the Thai language does not use the same letters as the western alphabet.

This has made it a bit harder to get around. I’ve already tried to speak to a couple of people to ask directions, but they had no idea what I was saying, and vice versa. (Even my confused look didn’t help too much…)

So this is what “real” foreign travel is like, and I have to say, I love it.

We managed to survive our first day – we left our rental unit, took public transit, had something to eat, and found our way back to the apartment, all without causing a scene.

Once again, I’ve learned how universal a smile, a thumbs-up, or a wave can be – at least I hope such gestures mean what I think they do! (By the way, Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles…)

I am much more confident about our ability to make our way around Bangkok over the next few days.

Now I just have to get used to the idea of a beer costing 100, baht that is…

 

40 thoughts on “It Took 62 Years, but I Am Finally Experiencing “Real” Foreign Travel

  1. I’ve only travelled in the USA and Europe and still think I’m quite the Adventurer when I’m not really, even remotely! Ha. I’d love to visit Thailand and India and some other far flung exotic destinations, though I haven’t had the nerve yet. But I think I would have to do it as part of some group package deal with a guide or I know I’d be lost! Especially as a Vegetarian trying to figure out edible dishes.

    Even travelling in Europe sometimes I get overwhelmed and agree it really helps to speak a few languages. Not that it would help much in the more exotic locations! I am guilty of talking to people in other countries in English when they haven’t a clue what I am talking about!

    Always helps to bring a mini language or guide book with a few phrases. Or if not there might be a Google translate thing or App where you can speak in to the phone and it translates what you are saying. I have never used it but a taxi driver I got in the Pyrenees Mountains used it with me and we were able to have a conversation that way the whole journey! Brilliant. Hope you have a great time in Thailand! I’m presuming it’s sunny there!! πŸ™‚

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    1. I think you would love it here. The people seem very spiritual, which I think you would find appealing. There are little temples everywhere, and some are quite impressive. We went to the Grand Palace which was incredibly ornate, then to a couple of Buddha shrines. It was nice to see the reverence that the locals have for Buddha. I also learned it’s a crime to disrespect Buddha; for example, you cannot get a tattoo of Buddha. I have been using Google Translate a bit, and trying to learn some new phrases. But I learn best by total immersion, and it’s hard to do so while I am here!

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  2. I’m glad to hear that you decided to venture to Thailand; I remembered your post from before debating about whether to go for it or not. I also smiled when I saw that “your confused look” didn’t help you that much. I can see the headlines nowβ€”Borden Loses Magic Touch. 😎 Safe travels and many wonderful adventures.

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    1. we are glad we decided to go as well; so far it has been great. The confused look has been successful a couple of times here. It just takes a really confused look, and someone in the vicinity that a) wants to help and b) knows how to speak English. Part b) is the problem…

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  3. Congratulations on arriving in Bangkok and experiencing “real” foreign travel. You are truly fearless to take public transit on your first day. BTS and MRT are great for getting around and beating rush hour traffic (although can also get crowded on the trains) but can be daunting the first couple of trips. Enjoy the Land of Smiles.

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    1. thanks! after the taxi from the airport to our rental unit took so long, we just thought public transit would be better. As it turned out, that was the last time we used public transit, It seems much easier just to use Grab, with a couple Tuk Tuk rides thrown in for fun! We have really enjoyed our visit here.

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  4. Alas I have only been to Bangkok airport, quick flight change to and from Australia- but one time landing was delayed for half an hour due to a storm – a bit nerve wracking, but we circled Bangkok with lightning in the sky and below so many lights making a pattern of squares, the streets of the city I guess, but the whole effect was magical.

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    1. that does sound like a magical moment, but a little scary as well! We got to see a planned light and water show last night that was fantastic. With several boats going up and down the river behind the light show, it was a special sight.

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  5. Have you tried Google translate? I’ve never tried it for Asian languages but it’s amazing. You hold the camera up to the words and the translation appears. We are going to Croatia in December and I’m sure we will use it there. Enjoy the short break.

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    1. Thanks for the reminder, Tandy. We had used Translate in Barcelona a couple of years ago, and I didn’t think it would work with the different symbols. But it seems to work fairly well. It has been an enjoyable break!

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      1. I am chuckling, Jim. -:) A memory floated up then. I was in the depths of rural France looking after a very delicate dog (with anger issues) so we used to walk at dawn so we were alone. We stuck to the paths at the edges of the fields and behaved ourselves and one morning we bumped into the farmer. A tiny weather beaten man with a cloth cap firmly on his head. My French is limited and his English was non-existent. Belle must have liked him because she didn’t bark. We ended up with his agreement that we could walk there every morning and hugged before we parted. The hand gestures and facial expressions during that exchange must have been comic to witness. πŸ™‚

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      2. what a wonderful story; sounds like your dog was a born translator! (I’m sure the hand gestures and facial expressions helped as well). I’ve learned that I much prefer staying off the beaten paths a bit, and feeling like you are a local. Sounds like that’s what you were doing in France at the time.

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      3. I feel you’re right, Jim. That is how I prefer to travel. My friends who live there were worried I’d feel isolated, yet I thrived there. I have never forgotten that trip, as you can tell. x

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  6. I am with you on reading Thai. It would appear virtually impossible to a non-native speaker, but you have to admit it is one of the most visually beautiful languages you have ever seen written. And though English is not spoken as readily (indicative of the educational system rather than a cultural preference), the people are still just as friendly and accommodating as any you can meet. I am so happy to see that you and your family are making the most of your time while travelling. It is not an overstatement that you are all experiencing some ‘once in a lifetime’ moments. How cool is that? Enjoy, be safe, and savor every moment!

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    1. Have you been to Thailand? You are right, the people are quite friendly and respectful. That’s why it was shocking to hear about the shooting in Thailand yesterday. Thankfully, such events appear to be quite rare here.

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      1. I had some time in Bangkok, many, many years ago as a young Marine. Quite memorable! The shooting was a real shock. Like you said, it is just so rare that it makes it almost surreal. Just glad you and the family are safe!

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      2. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be a young Marine in Bangkok. Seems like there is quite the party scene in parts of the town (which we have avoided, to no great surprise). It was scary that the shooting took place at a Terminal 21 mall, because we were at a different Terminal 21 mall earlier in the day.

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      3. Needless to say, we frequented those places you have avoided. In fact, before shore leave I would have to have a talk with all my Marines and warn them of where in the city they should avoid. They then immediately headed for that area. It was so prevalent to happen, that it became a standing joke among team leaders.

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      4. That may have worked a little. But I am fairly certain the cab drivers who would work the dock ferrying Marines in and out of the city, were paid by certain clubs to drop their passengers off at their location. There is no good way to keep a Marine out of the mud…😁

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  7. Sounds like you are having a fantastic time. In a place where there is no English is real foreign travel. I will suggest what the other bloggers suggested.. Google translate.. You can also use your social media to meet locals and other America. Expats..

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    1. we are having a wonderful time, and I have tried Google translate a couple of times, it has come in handy. I didn’t think about using social media to meet some locals – that would have been fun.

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