Go beyond the bars and beaches to connect to the real Thailand
Surfing, diving, partying and plenty of beach time. It's the picture-perfect Instagram view of Thailand, making it the dream vacation destination for many. No surprise all of these activities probably land on your bucket list when visiting Thailand. Like with many things, mainstream and social media skew our view a little of what a country like Thailand is really all about, as none of this is the daily reality for most Thai people. So, should it be your main objective when travelling, or do you also want to see the authentic sides of Thailand and expand your perspectives on what is truly a great country? There is so much more besides surfing at Koh Tao and diving in Phuket. Let us take you on a tour through Thailand's wild side that stimulates all your senses!
Immerse yourself in Thai culture through authentic experiences
Sometimes, that's easier said than done. As a tourist, you're always looking from the outside in. It's like turning off the tv after having watched a movie. In the end, you return back to your own life in a completely different reality. But don't we all travel to experience fresh things and different cultures and meet new people? So why are we so stuck in our ways, following the beaten path, when it comes to travelling abroad?
If you feel the same way, it's time to break the pattern. Immersing yourself sounds like one of those buzzwords, with not a whole lot of meaning. But let's put it this way: when coming back from a trip, do you want to feel like you visited a place, or do you want to feel like you've fully experienced your destination? If you're like us, it's definitely the latter. It requires a different approach to travel, and also some effort from you when push comes to shove. Not in hard labour, but by opening up to other cultures, new experiences and especially the people around you. After all, a stranger is only a friend you haven't met yet.
There are so many authentic experiences to be found all across Thailand, so finding something that's right up your alley shouldn't be too hard. But we wouldn't be KILROY if we didn't offer some amazing suggestions for you. Here goes…
Travelling as a way to grow and learn
We like to think of travel as the best form of education. You learn so much about the people of our world and the way they live by having meaningful interactions. There are several options, but our favourite pick of the bunch is getting to know the hill-tribe communities in northern Thailand. It's part of a multi-day trek through the dense forests, where each little village has their own language, traditions and dressing style. You'll learn how to utilize local fishing techniques, as well as how blankets, clothing and other textiles are made. Authentic local experiences are the ultimate way to grow both understanding and mutual respect. You'll no longer be just a tourist, and they're not just the host. You become friends. It's easy for us to look at the world from a purely western perspective, focusing on our differences and which way of living is the better option. But once you truly engage with people from all walks of life, you realise there is more common ground than it seemed at first glance. From experience, we know that this character growth stays with you, for the rest of your life.
But, before we get to that stage, we have to learn to get out of our comfort zone. It's natural to stick with what we know and love, even though we really want to explore new territory. It's why we recommend starting off with meaningful experiences as part of a small group. This not only helps with feeling more comfortable and safer but also supports processing your learnings. If you share experiences and stories with other travellers from around the world you gain different perspectives, only adding to your experience.
Even if we take learning literally, there's no way visiting historical places for real can compare to your good old history book. Of course, there are pictures, but walking on the grounds of an ancient Khmer temple, or visiting the Ayutthaya temple to experience the grand scope of it all gives you a feeling of what went down here. We do recommend spending some pennies on a local guide. Not only do the profits stay local, you often get the very best info without falling for tourist traps. It's also a great way to get your Thailand questions on other topics answered, as most local guides are proud and happy to help you out with getting the best Thailand experience they can offer.
The best things in life are food
Our absolute favourite local experience almost always features food, in some way or form. It plays with all of your senses, be it how it smells, looks or tastes. It's also one of the easiest meaningful travel hacks we can give you, as good food in Thailand is literally EVERYWHERE. Our tip? Ask a local you meet where they usually eat and what their favourite dish is. Chances are you'll get something you've never tasted before. Even if you don't like it, it's a great way to expand your palette of flavours. If you want to be a little more low-key, visit one of the many local markets. In each moderately sized town, there's bound to be one. Take a look at all that's on offer and simply buy something to try it out. Ignore the raw meat and fish, but go for some Thai fruits. The national fruit of Thailand, mangosteen, is probably something you have never seen or tried before. The hard thick skin can't be eaten, but the bright white flesh that is revealed when you peel the purple skin away tastes sweet and refreshing, somewhat reminiscent of a mix between lychee, peach and pineapple. There are plenty of others though, like rambutan, dragon fruit and the famously smelly durian. Sometimes, it's a love-it-or-hate-it situation, but at least there are countless options for trying new dishes and snacks.
If you want to one-up it and make the best use of the culinary genius of the Thai people, we suggest taking a cooking class. Honestly, it's the best souvenir you can give yourself, as you'll learn new recipes and will make them at home for years to come. How about some delicious green curry, Pad Thai or Thai noodle soup? We're already getting hungry over here!
And last but not least: street food! Think the best quick bite can be found at the big yellow M? Think again, as Thailand is home to what is maybe THE definitive street food scene. It's cheap, full of taste and vibrant, with the capital of Bangkok being the centre of it all. The central street food market is buzzing all day long, and while there is an abundance of restaurants around, you could survive on street food alone. It's also not just for the backpacker on a shoestring budget. You'll see plenty of fancy hotels with five-star restaurants, but don't be surprised when you see big businessmen queueing up at the street food stalls. Why? Because it's just so damn good! Did you know there are street food vendors with a Michelin star in Bangkok? Jay Fai, also commonly referenced as the ''queen of street food'', received the famed mark of quality for her crab omelette creation, turning her into a local legend.
Make travel meaningful by doing a digital detox
Are you heavily invested in your phone or social media? It's almost hard not to be these days. Travelling is an excellent way to let go of all the notifications, messages and urges to check for them on an hourly basis. If you want, you can basically start with this everywhere. But there are some destinations actively stimulating this or even forcing you to, by lack of a decent internet connection at low cost. All the way up in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, it's easy to leave your phone and old patterns behind and just emerge yourself in a wonderous world of nature and wildlife. Either through some wonderful treks through the mountains and lush forests or by participating in a wildlife conservation program, you'll gain a whole new respect and awe for Thailand and its flora and fauna. It's a truly tranquil place that deserves your unbridled attention. While you don't necessarily HAVE to switch your phone or connection off, it does add to the experience if you do so. No outside distractions will make you really see the beauty around you, while also making room to think and meditate at the same time. We often rush so much when on vacation, while we travel to ''get a break'' and want to feel relaxed upon returning. Mindfulness is the way to do it!
Bonus tip: if you want to get serious about mindfulness, check out the yoga classes in Koh Tao. It's a great way to combine mindfulness and adventure in one package, at a stunning location. The best place to find your inner peace and enjoy all that surrounds you. We've previously written a blog about this very topic if you're interested in learning more.
Make your trip feel fulfilling by volunteering
We can't think of a way to make travel more meaningful than by volunteering. There are plenty of different projects where you can get your hands dirty, be it for wildlife conservation, community building or educational purpose. Wildlife conservation at the Elephant Rescue and Education Centre in Bangkok is one of the more popular options, and for a good reason. Animals tend to bring out the best in us and these big friendly giants deserve all the TLC they can get. The animals at the centre were formerly used as tourist attractions and the like, meaning they have generally had a hard life. There are plenty of tourist traps taking advantage of elephants and other animals, so we understand if you're a bit wary of trying animal volunteering, but we can vouch for this one. There are no chained elephants present - ever, and the enclosures are large and made up of natural habitat to ensure the animals can live a good life here.
If wildlife conservation is not your thing, maybe one of the projects in Hua Hin is more up your alley. All over Thailand, there are still many communities in need of a helping hand. In Hua Hin, you can support several projects to improve the local community. You can help out in the ''community construction'' project, to maintain and build homes, schools and other facilities in the village. There are other ways to contribute though, take for example the teaching project, where you will help children to learn English, a valuable skill that will help them for the rest of their lives.
Upskill yourself abroad
Most of our suggestions above are all about incorporating meaningful elements into your adventure. But what if you want the adventure to be full of learning experiences while incorporating travel elements into it? We hear you! With our Upskill itineraries, you can take courses at amazing places around the world. How about our Coding Camp in Thailand? Here you will learn the basics of data analytics and coding in an inspiring and relaxing environment, the beautiful island of Koh Phangan. In an aim to create the ideal learning environment, you will collaborate with equal learners, entrepreneurs and educators on one of the most popular online data science courses within machine learning out there.
In all honesty: it's not for everyone. But if you feel like you're stuck in life, want to mix it up a little and learn a new skill you've always been dreaming about, this is a seriously cool way to turn it into reality. And the best thing: after (or before) the course you can travel around Thailand and experience everything it has to offer. You're already here now, so better make the most of it!
Want to know more?
Got an appetite for some of our amazing experiences off the beaten track? We'll gladly help you out with that. Talk to us to turn your dreams into reality and discover the real Thailand that's so often overlooked.
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