I think one of the biggest mistakes I made early on in traveling internationally was to fear strangers. Who decided this was the most efficient way to teach us to be safe? As vulnerable as children are, I can see how there is no way to teach the discernment necessary to distinguish who is a safe stranger and who isn’t. It has taken me years of my adulthood to overcome the effects of this social barricade. And I’m here to say that if you are an adult and you are afraid of traveling alone because you are afraid of talking to and making friends with strangers: STOP!
I’ve wanted to tell this story for a while, I think it’s a positive anecdote that evidences how being open to meeting people can pleasantly surprise you when you least expect it. It is my opinion that fearing all strangers closes you off to intercultural interactions and traveling in a bubble of comfort and familiarity can really inhibit your experience.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
It was my last day in Chiang Mai and to tell the truth, I was really bummed about returning to work in Korea. I mean, with $6 hour long full body Thai massages, who wouldn’t be?! I was aimlessly wandering through parts of the old city, sweating as usual, when I stopped in a unique shop that caught my eye. The merchandise there was special, clearly handcrafted and artfully displayed with care. While chatting with the sweet Thai store owner, who charmed me immediately, I quickly found something I wanted to purchase, but I had run out of Thai Baht and needed to go to the ATM! She told me it was a ways up the road and that she could go with me. I didn’t think it was necessary for her to leave her store to accompany me, but I also was dreading another sure to be sweaty long walk in the sun just to go to an ATM machine. But when she told me, “I am also going to get the best mango and sticky rice in all of Chiang Mai, so I think you better come with me”, I couldn’t refuse. So, I hopped (clumsily) on the back of her motor bike and we rode together to get me some cash and she kindly bought me a mango sticky rice, too. We rode back to her store together and as I ate my sweet treat, she made me a cup of lavender tea saying, “I think you need to relax, lavender is very good to relax.” How did she know?!? She told me the lavender was organic and that she had got it from the even more northern Thai city of Chiang Rai. I was so delighted to have someone to spend my last afternoon in Thailand with and so grateful for her generosity–which was so characteristic of the amazing people I met in Thailand.
When I talk about my trip to Thailand, almost everyone comments on my pictures with the elephants. While the Elephant Nature Park was definitely one of the highlights of the trip and maybe my life so far, it doesn’t stand out to me as my favorite part about Thailand. The kindness and the gentle nature of the Thai people I got to meet are absolutely what made my trip. Thailand is full of amazing food and fun and there is so much more than even what I was able to enjoy, but it is my experience that the people make the place and if I hadn’t been willing to get on the back of that motorcycle, I never would have seen it. You never know who you’ll meet! (Or who will buy you mango sticky rice)…