The Kindness of Strangers in Thailand
For many, traveling is about seeing amazing sights or trying new adventurous things, and while I like those things as much as the next person, my real passion lies in meeting people across the world. I love getting to know about the different cultures and spending time with the locals from wherever I happen to be. It’s the best way to see life from a different perspective.
Last March, I moved across the world to live in Cambodia, and while I saw many great sights and tried absolutely amazing food, it is the people of Cambodia that I will always remember. I have a real soft spot for Khmer people in general and whenever my friends would say I should visit Thailand, because they were just as warm, I was a little skeptical. How could I meet warmer people than the individuals I now call my friends?
I traveled to Thailand for the first time in order to attend an interview for an English teaching position in Phuket. During my time there I was a little confused as to why Thailand was referred to as “The Land of Smiles.” If anything, I received only a handful of smiles, which was a stark contrast to my life in Cambodia, where most strangers I passed greeted me with a huge smile and friendly hello. It seemed that Thai people were a bit harder to get close to, but to be fair, I was only there for a week and that’s hardly enough time to get a feel for a place and its people.
My trip turned south pretty quickly when I came down with a serious case of food poisoning that caused me to miss my bus back to Bangkok and consequently miss my flight. I ended up staying for another four days holed up in my hotel room, feeling weak and defeated. When I started to feel better, I decided to be adventurous and take a bus to a nearby town, so that I could experience riding a Thai train.
Because of poor planning on my part, I didn’t arrive in town until evening and then spent an hour trying to find my way back to the train station. I tried to ask people for help, but because I didn’t speak Thai, they just looked at me blankly. Eventually, I did find a moto driver who could speak some English, and he explained that no more trains would be leaving and maybe the last bus left as well. I asked for him to take me to the bus station anyway, because I had nowhere else to go.
When I arrived, I was relieved to see that the buses were still running, but that relief quickly evaporated when the lady at the counter informed me that the ticket was more expensive than I thought, and I was unable to access money from my bank account. I’ll admit that this wasn’t my finest moment, what with the exhaustion and fear of being stuck with nowhere to sleep in a city where I knew absolutely nobody. The tears began to spill over and I tried to walk away to save what dignity I had left, but then she called me back over and kept asking for me to check if I had any more money. After basically turning my wallet upside down, she had me wait for a moment while she went to speak with another sales person. She came back with a ticket and took the little money I had, and of course, I began to cry more because this stranger who didn’t owe me anything, had gone out of her way to help me, and I was so immensely grateful. I will always remember that kind lady fondly and hope that I can help someone just as she helped me one day.
I’ve learned a lot during my trips, and this is something very special that I learned from Thailand: Sometimes we let a bad experience or string of bad experiences dictate our final impression of a place, but the kindness of strangers can change all of that. I ended up going back to Thailand later that summer and spent a lovely month learning that every country has beautiful people. If you stay open to the possibility, you will have the chance to meet them and make unforgettable memories.