Travel Thailand: Land of Smiles
For half a month, I’ve been playing tourist in one of the most exciting countries for backpackers: Thailand. I’ve seen temples, experienced Songkran in Chiang Mai, and reggae festivals in Pai. But, without question, the greatest part of Thailand so far has been the people.
As a first-time solo female traveler, I was nervous to embark on this journey. It was drilled into me by friends, family, and colleagues, that I was about to enter dangerous waters. As a young woman, I was warned about every possible scenario where I could be taken advantage of, scammed, or hurt. Thailand has proven everyone wrong.
I grew up thinking that if a stranger approaches you on the street, they want something from you.
Walking through the streets of Bangkok, Pai, and Chiang Mai, I have felt extremely safe. That’s not because there is excellent lighting, or there is police everywhere, but because of the locals. Everywhere you turn, a local is eager to share her culture with you and to help you out.
On my first day here, I was walking around with a map in one hand and a confused look on my face. I was stopped not once, but twice by locals who wanted to help me find where I was heading and to give me advice about authentic Thai foods and experiences. Within my first week, four different locals struck up conversations with me and taught me Thai expressions. Two of them even wrote down the pronunciation for hello, thank you, how much, and other need-to-know terms.
One night, a group of six backpackers and I wandered the streets in search of dinner. A local Thai official who lived on the street where we were walking asked us what we were doing. Within five minutes, he had dragged a table from his house, set it up on the street, and helped us order food from a chef who only spoke Thai. It was the best pad Thai I’ve had so far!
Travel Thailand: Land of Smiles
Another time, a storeowner struck up a conversation with me, and within five minutes, we were discussing where I’d been and what I’d seen of Thailand so far. He was shocked when I told him that I hadn’t visited one of the local temples. He immediately closed his shop and proceeded to give me and a friend a 40 minute tour of the temple. He asked for nothing in return other than for us to visit him the next day and tell us how our dinner was. He just loved sharing his culture with us!
I grew up thinking that if a stranger approaches you on the street, they want something from you. Not once has a local asked for money in return for their advice.
With all that being said, it is always important to trust your gut as a traveler. If someone gives you a bad vibe, walk away. If you feel an inkling of hesitation about approaching someone, don’t do it. The greatest lesson I’ve learned on the road is to trust your intuition.
If you don’t know where to go for dinner, ask a shop owner or a worker at your hostel. Believe me, they have greater insight than Lonely Planet.
At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Travel is just as much about the people you meet as the places you see. If you don’t know where to go for dinner, ask a shop owner or a worker at your hostel. Believe me, they have greater insight than Lonely Planet. It’s all about finding the balance while traveling.
The Thai are not the richest people. There is a lot of poverty in the big cities, and life is hard here. But, I have never been to a place that is filled with so many smiles. The Thai are rich of heart. They love their country and are eager to show you why you should, too.
Travel Thailand photo credit: pixabay.com