Traveling to a new country is an eye-opening and once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, the problem with traveling is that many people follow the same beaten path that was laid down by other tourists.
This type of travel creates beautiful pictures, but often leaves visitors feeling like they weren't able to experience the true essence of a place or its people. Luckily, this problem is easy to fix by making a mindful effort to connect to your surroundings and to the culture of the people around you.
There are many ways in which you can start truly to connect with and understand Thailand. In this article we will explain some of our favorite ways.
Learn a new Thai word every day
Learning Thai is not necessary when visiting Thailand so most travelers don't. However, language is an important part of culture and we think that learning even a little bit can go a long way!
Thai people really appreciate when foreigners try and speak their language. Just saying a simple "hello" when you enter a store or "thank you" when being served in a restaurant will instantly make the Thai people become more friendly and outgoing.
Our tip: A good way to remember words that you learn is to write them down in a small notebook. That way, if you get stuck you can always check it for reference.
We human beings like to stick to what we know. Most travelers, when they arrive in Thailand, they tend to stick to the tourist areas where there are English signs and western restaurants. People do this because it is familiar, relaxing, and easy.
We suggest getting out of the tourist sectors at least once or twice during your journey. The best way to do this is to pick a direction and start walking. You will get a more realistic view of the city and probably stumble upon some great local cuisine.
Our Tip: If you aren't comfortable with walking through the city, then visiting a wet market can also get you a glimpse of the local culture. Try and pick a market where locals buy their groceries or daily produce, and not a tourist market.
Use public transportation
Travelers often prefer to take taxis or private cars when in a new city rather than trying to figure out public transportation. However, catching a busy bus or subway at rush hour is a great way to get a taste of the daily life in a city.
On public transportation, you can watch people or even strike up a conversation with your neighbor, all while saving money and reducing your impact on the environment.
Our tip: The Skytrain in Bangkok or the long-tail boats near the islands are used often by locals and are a great way to interact with every-day people.
Eat like a local
Because tourism is so important in Thailand, some restaurants alter traditional dishes, to make them more suitable to foreign guests. The only way to be sure that you are getting the real deal when it comes to food, is to try the street food or the restaurants that are full of locals.
First, you can start with the classic Thai dishes such as the famous pad thai and tangy tom yum soup. Once you've tried the classics, keep at it and try something new every day. Thai street food is full of hidden treasures, from green papaya salad (som tam) to bug kebabs.
Our Tip: Bangkok has a large street food culture, and some good places to start looking include Sukhumvit 38, Wang Lang Market, Silom Soi 20, and Rangnam.
Visit a local home
There is no better way to gain a deeper understanding of a culture than by spending some time in the homes of locals.
The home is a very intimate place and it is normal to feel slightly awkward when visiting a local's home for the first time. However, if you get the invitation, definitely take the opportunity. Don't be nervous or worry about making mistakes because even if you do make a mistake, the local people are very understanding and will know that you didn't mean any harm.
Our Tip: It's not easy to get an invitation to a local's home. A good way to start is by trying to connect with locals through asking for their advice and trying to speak their language.
Visit a place of worship
Thai people are deeply religious, as evidenced by the abundance of picturesque Buddhist temples throughout the country. Instead of taking pictures of these temples and then leaving like many travelers, you can better understand the importance of religion in Thailand by finding a nice place to sit and watch the locals for a while.
Temples are a central part of the community and there you'll see how the locals interact with the monks. Maybe you'll even get a chance to talk to a monk and learn about his life philosophy.
Our Tip: You'll get the most authentic temple experience in the early morning because that's when most locals go to pray.
Get close to wildlife
Every country has a unique environment and natural surroundings. For thousands of years, the local environment has been what shaped the people and started them on their path to who they are today.
Go on a trek or spend a night in the jungle in order to distance yourself from the bustling cities and immerse in nature. There are plenty of trekking opportunities in Thailand that can take you deep into the forests and also through remote villages that most people never see.
Our Tip: If you don't want to trek, but still want to see wildlife, then Khao Yi National Park is a great place to start.
Volunteering not only gives travelers the opportunity to help but it also builds a bond between travelers and the community. Travelers who volunteer during their trip often remember it as one of the best parts of their journey. There's nothing that compares to learning about a country while also doing meaningful work.
There are many volunteering programs available in Thailand, but the best way to choose one is to wait until you arrive and talk to the locals to find out which ones are the best.
Our Tip: Some of the volunteer programs that our travelers love the most are at the elephant sanctuaries, where volunteers work side by side with park staff and get the chance to interact with elephants.
Document your journey
Pictures are a very important way to document your travels and you should try and take as many as possible. Take beautiful pictures of Thailand's beaches and main attractions, but also make sure you get some shots of the little things like street food stalls, busy markets, and other examples of local culture.
We also suggest keeping a travel journal to document your experiences. This is something that you can look back on later, to remember your emotions and other things that you couldn't photograph.
Our Tip: It's a good idea to buy a new memory card and journal specifically for your trip. For best results, try to document your journey every day by taking multiple pictures and writing something down at least once.
You might like to read
Best Time to Visit Thailand
The Most Beautiful Places in Thailand
Top Attractions in Thailand
Top Attractions in Chiang Mai
Visit Thailand with Asia Highlights
At Asia Highlights, we are invested in giving our travelers a meaningful travel experience, where they leave feeling different from when they arrived. If you want to know more about what sets our tours apart, feel free to send us an email!
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