The Time I Lost My Shit in Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Southeast Asia
Trip from hell so worth it to see Angkor Wat at sunrise.
I knew it was going to happen eventually. That I would lose my shit, somewhere along the line in this grand backpacking tour of Southeast Asia.

I'm not the most patient person. I'm also perennially anxious, change-avoidant and generally terrified of any stimulation stronger than reading a good book. This all makes me one of the worst travellers alive. In fact, I'm pretty much unfit to step outside my door. I've wondered many, many times during this four months (and counting) trip why the hell I put myself through this much stress.

I suppose it's because even though I hate new things I also hate stagnation. I get bored easily and I crave eating new foods, hearing new languages, meeting new people (on my own very limited terms) and experiencing things that give me that shock-awe-horror-bliss sensation that's so delicious as well as terrifying. In short, I'm stubborn despite my shortcomings.

That said, I was so sure I was going to have some kind of meltdown during the trip. How could I not? It was going to be the ultimate clusterfuck of terrifying new things! I came pretty close during our scuba diving course on Koh Tao, Thailand. The first time we approached the pool and began to don that heavy equipment I began to cry, thoughts of drowning running through my fevered brain. I made a bit of an ass of myself but I saved face by pulling through and finishing the course.

However, I was still early in my travels. Now, the last month or so has been a real test of my patience. I got a disgusting skin abscess on my leg that was dangerously deep and has kept me from swimming, diving or at times, walking. Then my boyfriend lost his passport in Indonesia. I went onward to Cambodia alone and we frantically coordinated new flights while he raced around Jakarta trying to fix all the things. It was an expensive and emotionally exhausting experience. 

Miguel finally landed in Cambodia and we got around to the business of sightseeing in Phnom Penh. But the city is under-developed and tough to love, at least for me. I'm not much of a city person, preferring the controlled stimulation of small towns with excellent wifi. Phnom Penh is busy with no public transportation, limited amenities for tourists and they use the U.S. dollar so it can be expensive. Plus, our hostel was a party place with music raging on well into the night. Not relaxing.

Ta Prohm temple in the Angkor complex, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Also worth it to see Ta Prohm, a crumbling jungle temple near Siem Reap, Cambodia.
I wanted to get out so I booked a daytime bus to Siem Reap, the city closest to the archaeological wonder that is Angkor. The hotel's prices seemed inflated so we went to a random tour office and booked a ticket through them. Big mistake.

We got to the station on time and I sent Miguel out to grab water and snacks for the five and a half hour trip. He ended up having to go farther than he thought. I loaded our bags on the bus and waited for him. Except that the driver, his buddies and random tuk tuk drivers were having none of it. They all started in on me, yelling that I was holding everyone up, that this was my "personal problem" and demanding to know where Miguel was. Like I knew. OK so I shouldn't have asked Miguel to go out, but seriously, don't yell.

I burst into tears and started crying, right there in the middle of the damn street. That's when the tuk tuk drivers started laughing at me. Laughing!

Miguel emerged and pulled me into the bus. The driver got in my face, berating me, so I lost it and yelled "SHUT UP!"

Not my finest moment. I definitely shouldn't have gone that far.

Got in the bus anyway, where I continued to sob and the guy next to Miguel started laughing as well.

It was a long five plus hours on terrible roads, plus we were crammed in the very back in tiny seats. The driver drove like a madman, playing chicken with tour buses and motorcycles alike. Gotta love the infamous "third lane" in Southeast Asia.

I learned later from reading online that Cambodians sometimes deal with uncomfortable or awful situations through humour. God knows they've been through a lot, so I get it. I didn't realize that before so there you go -- serious cultural misunderstanding.

I regret being such an ass, as much as I regret taking that stupid piece of crap bus. I guess I can now say I've had my "lost my shit moment" and be more diplomatic from here on in.

Have you ever totally lost it while traveling? What happened?


Unknown said...

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Exclusive Thesis said...

When we travel, we find some kind of inner harmony that enables us to break away from everyday life and become part of another culture, to feel like another person. I think everyone needs to find this piece of their own calm.


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