‘Oh my word, what am I doing travelling solo as a deaf person?!’
I stood in the middle of the concourse of the Arrivals Hall at Bangkok airport, surrounded by a wave of tourists, business travellers and backpackers, their hubbub of activity resoundingly amplified into my hearing aid, causing a little of feedback.
Overwhelmed, was probably the word I was feeling.
Here I am, newly a backpacker, in my first country of my round the world ticket I had bought months before, and yes, I was feeling pretty green around my ears.
I struggled to keep awake in this mid-afternoon after a 11 hour flight from London Heathrow and I had to fight the urge to panic and throw a lot of doubt onto myself.
But it crept in. I’m 25 years old and it was my last attempt to travel the world solo s a deaf traveller. It was fortuitous timing, I had left my job, bored with the 9-5 routine, and despite my attempts in the last few years to find someone to travel with (now realising my emotional support animal), I plunged into solo travel to prove myself and everyone wrong that deaf people can’t travel solo.
I shook my head, chasing away the cackling and taunting demon on my shoulder and swung into action. I had pre-planned my first few days and my first thing to do was to get to my accommodation, not far from the famous backpacker street of Khao San Road. I had saved everything and downloaded everything onto my phone.
I pulled it out of my bag. Then I stared at it in disbelief.
It seems like it got switched on in my bag during my flight and I was staring at a no battery notification.
I looked round, desperately finding a plug point, but to no avail.
Here was my first test of my deaf travel.
I simply had to talk to someone. A stranger. Who hopefully wouldn’t kidnap me or run away from me screaming.
Spying someone on their laptop in a Starbucks coffee shop in the airport, I approached him gingerly with a big massive smile on my face. Yeah, in hindsight, that was pretty creepy.
Luckily, this was a friendly guy who laughed at my predicament and allowed me to use his laptop to write down the address and I memorised the map.
Then came immediately my second test.
Getting the taxi from the airport into Bangkok.
I pre-paid a taxi fare at the airport and clambered into the back with my backpack squishing me in the face. Waving my note with the address under the taxi driver’s face, he looked at me perplexed. I soon realised. He couldn’t read. I attempted to read out the address but he couldn’t understand – which I knew the Thai language depended on tones. Why didn’t I learnt the Thai language back at home?
Then I said ‘Khao San Road’.
‘Ah, you backpacker!’ and pressed down firmly on the gas pedal speeding off into freeway, weaving around the cars that honked angrily at us.
He carried on talking but I couldn’t see his lips. I had absolutely no clue what he was saying, despite straining my head up to catch his reflection in the rearview mirror.
I simply smiled and looked out of the window, staring at the skyline of Bangkok. Then it hit me.
I’m actually travelling. I’m backpacking solo and I’m deaf. So far, so good.
‘Oi, oi, oi!’
A panicky start from the taxi driver ripped me from my inner thoughts. I looked over to see him gesturing wildly at the road to the other side. We had stopped.
‘Khao San Road this way!’
I got out, cursing at the weight of my backpack – why did I pack so much? Did I really need that many clothes?
Remembering from the map that the accommodation was two roads away from Khao San Road, I staggered around potholes and breathed in the hazy air, smelling of street food cooking and the hot humid atmosphere.
I found my accommodation quickly, despite a boy attempting to lead me the way in exchange for payment. I waved him off, him sticking his tongue out at me as I walked into NapPark Hostel, feeling the wave of cold zircon wash over me.
Letting my backpack fall to the floor, I was greeted by the sight of backpackers milling around, animatedly talking to each other, and an expectant air of excitement that hung into the room.
I felt a tap on my shoulder to which revealed a shy Thai receptionist who smiled broadly at me and in a sing-song voice said to me:
‘Welcome to Thailand!’
I’m here, deaf and travelling solo.
Absolutely welcome to Thailand!