Several years ago, I stayed in Bangkok on business for about 4 months.
People who have traveled to Bangkok would know that while the city is quite tourist-friendly, communication in English is a serious issue. I used to carry the hotel’s Business Card printed in English on one side and in Thai on the other. We were instructed to show the Thai version of the card to the locals in case we needed help to get back to the hotel.
Weekends were free and I would venture out on foot to see the sights. I am known to be poor with navigation skills and can get lost easily. Walking on foot along a familiar path with a few new turns was fine.
Plan vs. Actual
On a particular Saturday, I decided to take a bus and explore the city. I had planned to take a particular bus route up to the destination and after seeing the sights, return on the same bus route. Since all the street and bus signs were in Thai, this plan would mean zero risks.
As planned, I took the bus. It took more than an hour to reach the destination. I had a good time walking around, exploring. While returning, it had turned dark and as per my plan, I took the same bus route. However, after about 30 minutes, the driver parked the bus on the side and all the passengers disembarked. I was the only one on the bus. The conductor came up to me and using more of body language, directed me to get down.
I got down from the bus. The bus left. My co-passengers disappeared. I realized that I was in the middle of an upmarket residential neighborhood. There were large houses with massive gates. Luxury cars were zipping past. I had the hotel card but there was no one I could show it to. There were no shops, no people around. I went up and down the street, took a few turns hoping to see people but in vain.
I could see no taxis and decided to walk. When I had walked for about 20 minutes, it started raining heavily. This was bad news for someone who was completely lost in a city with zero local-language skills.
I decided to keep walking in the same direction. After another 20 minutes, I saw a few locals huddled together in a shed. I rushed up to them and extended the Thai version of the card. They looked at the card, smiled awkwardly but said nothing. They seemed more like workers or porters. I continued walking. I was completely drenched and was getting very anxious by now. Bangkok acquires a different character after dark posing new risks for a lost foreigner.
After another 15 minutes of walk, I came to a circle and spotted a bus stop and a few people. One of them was a youth holding a folded English newspaper. My joy knew no bounds. I leaped in his direction, holding the hotel’s card.
I must have blabbered in English, for he said very slowly, ‘Pliss …………spik …………sloly. I………yumm……….lurning……..Englis’ . I consciously took several deep breaths and explained the situation very slowly. He seemed to understand. He smiled and using sign language, requested me to follow him.
We walked for about 10 minutes and reached a busy crossing. He hailed a taxi, went up to the driver’s side and took a lot of time to explain to the driver. Then he came to me, smiled and said, ‘I……..thell………im. No……….wurry!’. I shook his hand and with all the gratitude I could ever demonstrate, managed to say, ‘Thank you!’. He waved me a good-bye.
I am not sure if I had tears in my eyes. It was raining, anyway.
The taxi took me to my hotel in 30 minutes.