“In luxury” may be the way we like to travel, but it’s never been the reason why we travel. Unique travel experiences, discovering the world’s cultures and people are the things that motivate us to jump on a plane with regularity. There is little better than forming a connection with the locals – sharing a smile, a story, a joke, and maybe even a big belly laugh with the people we meet.
For us, the more we travel, the more we realise that we share a deep commonality with people around the world. We recognise that people are more the same than different and that any distinctions are what makes us interesting rather than odd or “the other”.
And every now and then we’re struck by a wonderful soul; by the generosity of spirit of the people we meet.
One such experience we will never forget was a simple but very touching evening spent on the island of Koh Samui, in Thailand.
We were staying at one of the island’s luxury hotels and regularly chatted with a member of staff called Duan, who always seemed genuinely pleased to see us.
After being there for a week she approached us and with a charming timidity asked if we would like to go fishing with her and her family. We explained that we weren’t really fishing types. However, through her broken English – which was far superior to our Thai – she said her family fishes most days for their evening meal.
We would simply go along for the ride, joining them at the beach while her dad gathered the day’s catch.
It was an invitation we couldn’t refuse – a genuine offer made out of friendship and perhaps as much interest in us that we took in her. In fact, it’s the kind of invitation we never refuse, as long as we feel safe. In our experience it leads to connections and opportunities to have a deeper understanding of the people we meet, learn about their lives and culture. It’s a chance to go beyond the usual tourist reality, and have a real experience, to live in our destination just like the locals do.
The next day Duan arrived with her dad Kumpong, mum Sakorn and young son First, to pick us up.
We drove to a nearby beach, not one of people’s Thai dreams. Sharp shingle crunching underfoot, it wasn’t used by tourists or, we doubted, locals looking for a swim.
There we were joined by Duan’s husband Boy, and next-door neighbour, a Finn, called Ary.
Sometimes we can feel inadequate when met by real hands-on skills possessed by people around the world. We’re so of the 21st century – our abilities stretching as far as iPhone photography and simple web-coding instead of to useful skills like fishing. So we sat with Duan and First watching the local men wade up to their waist into the warm Gulf of Thailand to fish for their evening meal.
As the last rays of sunlight dropped below the horizon, the intrepid fishermen returned with their catch of squid.
Speckled, translucent flesh revealed green flashes. And they twitched their last as they were thrust into a carrier bag.
Delighted with the fruits of their endeavours, Duan invited us to join them for dinner at her home. We had only gone along for the fishing trip, at no time anticipating anything further. But we were enjoying each other’s company – our limited Thai, and Duan’s family’s limited English no barrier to friendship.
Half an hour later, somewhere well off the tourist track, we arrived at their family home and Duan and her husband got to work preparing the meal.
Unique travel experiences
The heat of the night shrouding the house that stood on stilts over the uneven terrain, Duan cooked in the open air of the house’s veranda.
We were fascinated that the kitchen was outside the house with a roof but no windows leaving it open to the elements.
Taking a chair in the open ground at the foot of the house, we chatted and drank Chang beers surrounded by expansive, delicious aromas of homemade Thai food.
Then Duan served the meal – the squid, fresher and sweeter than we’d ever tasted, was chopped and tossed with local herbs, vegetables and glass noodles. Thoughtfully Duan and Boy had made a less spicy version for us visitors, the other dish though was at the standard Thai strength of super-hot for local palates.
Over a small plastic table, in the humid air of a tropical night, strangers bonded over a beautiful Thai dinner. We exchanged stories of our respective lives, families and lifestyles. Ary and his Thai girlfriend Tawan joined us, as did Duan’s parents, her husband and son, a real united nations of friendship.
Good food, good cheer and friendship
As the dark of the night engulfed us, we were illuminated by the bright glow of friendship, hospitality, and the kindness of kindred spirits embracing the common bonds of humanity.
What had started as a normal holiday with the trappings of our luxury hotel, took a delightful and unexpected turn, with lovely local people. These are the unique travel experiences that can only be enjoyed by putting yourself out there and embracing the opportunities that travel affords.
Thank you, Duan, your family and neighbours for a truly lovely evening, and for becoming our friends.