Wednesday, February 15, 2012

That Long-lost Newbie Backpacker Feeling

That day I arrived in Hanoi wasn't my best of days. It was a combination of a lousy hostel experience in Hue, another grueling sleeper bus ride, and a stomach needing regular doses of gastroenteritis meds. It did not help that Hanoi was cold, cloudy and drizzly. I admit. I felt down the next few days. Travel was not exciting anymore. That is one of the effects of long-term travel, I think. Because you are traveling all the time, you lose sense of what is normal and what is usual. And when you lose that sense, nothing is new and exciting anymore. You don't know what's "old," so how do you know what's "new?" I used to relish that feeling, that feeling of being away from your city, your everyday, that fascination for the new place you just arrived into. Now it's gone. Add the fact that I was feeling trapped by my own very well laid-out plans for the next few months and you have yourself a veritable dose of travel fatigue.

Hanoi Old Quarter
Cloud and gloom over Hanoi's Old Quarter

So I found myself cancelling the China leg of my journey. I did not feel like diving into anything that big of an adventure anytime soon. And one month in China is one big adventure. So I thought I'd stay in Vietnam a few more days, which required me to get a proper visa, and then head to northern Thailand, the one place I knew that could make me happy about travel again.

Fortunately and thankfully, after an cold yet still enjoyable tour to Halong Bay, having Hanoi's local cheap brew bia hoi for 10 pesos a mug (a quarter US) on the side of a street at Hanoi's Old Quarter, meeting fellow travelers fascinated and very much eager to travel to China again and again, I came to my senses. The next day, I booked a flight to Kunming leaving that same day. It cost me a few more bucks than I wanted, but that's fine.

When I got to Kunming airport, things started to make "sense" again.

I knew I was supposed to commute to my hostel by myself, so off I went searching for an ATM. It took almost an hour seeing as there were only two machines in that airport, one at the arrivals area, one in departures. One wasn't functional, too. I tried calling my hostel to ask for directions but my phone was not working. I was hoping that the tourist desk at the arrival area could help me but surprise, surprise, no English. So I was pointed to the airport assistance desk at the departures area and thankfully, thankfully, they said yes when I asked Ni huishou Yingwen ma? (Do you speak English because I'm too dumb to learn your language?) They called my hostel and wrote down the address in Chinese, which I gave to my cab driver. I got to my hostel safe and sound, three hours after I arrived in the city.

On that cab ride, I realized something. The tourist trail in Southeast Asia is very much well-trodden by foreign tourists that it has become so easy to do things, to get somewhere, that the only challenge you get is deciding when, where and how to get to places. That is absolutely not the case in China. This is still very much unconquered territory for foreign tourists. There is a very big tourism industry, sure, but it primarily caters to Chinese tourists, as it should. Chinese tourists now have all the money to see their country north to south, east to west.

When I arrived in China, I felt like a newbie backpacker again. Everything was new and exciting again. Everything was a challenge again, and that includes the big language barrier. So did I make the right decision by pushing through with my China trip? I think so.

Kunming, City of Eternal Spring

Have you ever experienced travel fatigue? How did you react to it? What measure did you take to remedy it?

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