The kindness of strangers in Thailand – November 2013 Newsletter

Reclining Budda at Sunset

Thailand  is a country where niceness is practically a given. Not for nothing is Thailand known as the land of the smiles.  So I’m going to tell two stories. Both involve kind strangers, and me being lost. They are both quite similar, even though they take place hundreds of kilometers apart.

Here is my first story.

It’s hot. I’m in the south of Thailand, it’s the middle of the day, and I’m wandering a city that even Lonely Planet struggles to recommend – the town of Nakhon si Thammarat.  I was walking down the street in search of a hotel, which seemed promising given the reviews online, from the few choices available.  Despite my best efforts, walking up and down the street and peering intently around, the hotel resolutely failed to appear at the location the online map I was using said it should be.

Dejected, and sweating profusely in the hot sun, I took refuge in a small shop to plan my next move. The lady in the shop took pity, and asked what I was doing. In my entirely non-existent Thai, I conveyed the impression that I was trying to find a hotel that didn’t seem to exist. After much hand waving and other sign language, it became apparent that the hotel did in fact exist, only, it wasn’t anywhere near where I was looking for it. Which explained at least why I couldn’t find it.  She inspected my sweaty condition, my luggage and the distance I had to go, and decided that attempting to walk across town to find the hotel was likely to kill me.

Instead, a motorbike and side car were procured, with two likely lads summoned as my chauffeurs. Bags were loaded into the sidecar, I was popped onto the seat. Off we went, arriving ten minutes later on the other side of town to a hotel that did, thankfully, exist. Attempts to thank my rescuers with money were waved away amidst enormous smiles. An experience I won’t forget.

The next tale also involves me being rescued by a lady on a motorbike.

Beautiful Sunset in Trang Thailand
Beautiful Sunset in Trang Thailand

This time I was in the ancient Thai city of Ayutthaya. This used to be the largest city in the world, and the capital of the Thai Kingdom. Over a million people once called this city home – although that all came to an end when the Burmese razed it to the ground in the 17th century.I had spent the day exploring some of the many temple ruins that dot the city, on a circuitous route that had taken me all day, and where I had somewhat lost track of time.  I found myself, as the sun was setting, only fifty meters from my hostel, footsore and ready for a cold beer.

Unfortunately, the fifty meters between myself and the hostel were filled with the flowing mass of the Chaophraya river, making my return home that little bit trickier. There was nary a bridge in sight. Nor was there any evidence of the many water taxis that had been zipping up and down the river all day. It looked like I might have to walk back around the way I had come, a distance of at least 6km, in the dark.I cast about for an alternative option, which didn’t present itself, so I started walking.  After a few minutes of walking, a lady on a bright yellow scooter stopped, and presumably attracted by my despondent face, asked in Thai if I was ok.  I pointed at the river, and signaled I needed to be on the other side of it.  She smiled, made it clear I was walking in exactly the wrong direction, and motioned me to the back of her scooter.

Now – accepting rides from strangers isn’t necessarily something I’d recommend, but given I was tired and she seemed nice, I hopped on. I figured if all went wrong I could scream a lot.  We set off into the traffic, on a journey which could best be described as “slightly terrifying”.  Scooters in Thailand appear to have their own set of traffic regulations, and we seemed to be defying all of them. Still, before I could get really worried, it was all over, and I was deposited at the public ferry for river crossings – presumably a well sign posted location for those with Thai as a language. Mere seconds later I was back on the right side of the river, and it wasn’t long before that cold beer was in my hand.  Again, attempts to thank my rescuer with a few Thai Baht were waved away with smiles.

These were but two examples of the friendly welcome I received during my time in Thailand – I can think of many more.

Truly, this is a place where the smile is backed up with genuine friendliness and compassion! A country I am always pleased to recommend to travelers.

Lawrence Noah loves photography and exploring different cultures.  You can find him at Finding the Universe

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