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Thailand Adventures - Viewing Life From A Different Perspective

Jun 10, 2008
Travel can help you to view life from a different perspective.

Another day, another worry, is the monotonous pattern of many people living in the United Kingdom today. As house prices continue to rise, travel expenses increase and the phrase 'credit crunch' rings in our ears, it can feel like we are being followed around by a black cloud. The daily struggle can be disheartening, however, a recent trip to Thailand allowed me to experience life from a different perspective. I learnt how to appreciate and find value in things that had previously been taken for granted.

Arriving at the train station ready to go to work is often an experience which can test many people's patience. The shock of a sudden rush of people makes it clear that the shower you had taken that morning did not wake you up properly. Dreams of being comfortably tucked up in bed are quickly disturbed by the realisation that your train is flashing delayed. Annoyed and with a frown you go over to the worker in the bureau and ask for a ticket, only to discover the price of travel has increased yet again. Was it not just the other week the price had been raised?

Driving to work can be no easier than public transport. The car is sat outside your house and as you quickly finish breakfast and grab your bag you remember that yesterday the petrol light had come on just as you turned into your road. Rushing out of the house with a sigh you drive to the nearest petrol station to find that there has been another increase in fuel prices. Carrying on down the road to the next garage you hope that the fuel costs will be significantly lower, only to be rapidly disappointed. There is nowhere cheaper and so the only option is to fill your tank and clear your wallet. The feeling of frustration rapidly builds up, your bank balance is worryingly low and images of 'final notice' bills run through your head.

The continuous increase of anxieties facing people every day can acount for the pessamistic outlooks of many. So much time is spent worrying that the positive elements in life can be dismissed entirely. This is a great shame, as it can be hard to recognize the extent to which your life has become charged with negativity. During July 2007 I decided to take a month out of my busy working schedule to go to Thailand. It had always been a place I had wanted to visit for a different type of holiday and to find out why so many people referred to this country as "the land of smiles". Determined not to only look around the main tourist areas I decided that for half of my trip I would go into the poorest, most rural places to live with a Hill Tribe family. My desire was to experience customs that were far from the life I had become accustomed to.

Arriving in Bangkok airport, tired from a thirteen hour flight, carrying a heavy backpack I made my way to the exit. Confused by the value of the Thai Baht I attempted to work out the best deal for a taxi to my hotel. As I arrived at my destination I payed the driver, only to later realise the charge was significantly overpriced. Fueled by adrenalin I put my bag in my room and headed out onto the bustling streets, taking rides in "Tuk Tuks" and visiting temples- unprepared to waste any time. This fast paced, action packed schedule was how my time was spent for the first two weeks of the trip, visiting every place that attracted my attention in various guide books.

As I travelled from one place to the next I met very different people, from many places around the world. They all had there own reason for coming to Thailand. There were those who were embarking on a journey of self discovery, others who were unhappy back at home and a significant amount who had come for the adventure. It was clear that the traveling experience enthused a significant amount of people and I wondered how or if their experiences would change them in any way when they eventually went back to their home lives.

At this stage in my trip I was overwhelmed at the idea of being over the other side of the world and was fascinated by the cultural differences, however, i by no means considered myself to be like a lot of the other people I had met. The things I were viewing daily were all part of another culture. As far as I could see I was simply a tourist who would visit, look around and then leave with a little extra knowledge of how people different to me live. It was difficult to understand those people who spoke about having their eyes opened and whose experiences had been life changing. Although I was traveling in a culturally diverse group for much of the time, it took a while to realise we were discovering things collectively and that my English origin should not stop me from learning and adopting ways of various cultures.

Having had an extremely busy and often chaotic two weeks in the urban areas of Thailand including Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Chaing Mai, I was ready to trek out into the rural areas of Chiang Mai, to meet the hill tribe family I would be staying with. The trek alone was an experience i would never forget. Led by an extremely thin guide, I tackled the jungle with a few other travelers. We faced steep inclines followed by challenging declines and unbearably hot temperatures. As the jungle cleared and the surrounding terrain turned into paddy fields, I realised we were entering inhabited land and I soon caught sight of a small arrangement of wooden huts nestled in the hills.

We followed the river until we reached the Hill Tribe village. My guide pointed his finger to two small wooden huts on stilts situated very close to each other. They were at a slight distance away from the rest of the houses in the village and surrounded by mud which seemed to cover the parts of ground that were not long grass. I soon realized this was where we were going to be staying. A mixture of dread, excitement and intrigue came over me as the family slowly appeared from a dark doorway in the hut. As we cautiously walked up the steps to greet them, we were met with big smiles. Two children came running out, both under the age of five, wearing mismatched clothes and no shoes. My eyes scanned the room and i quickly realized the whole family lived in this one single room.

The family were not able to speak any English but enthusiastically signaled to us that we could stay in the hut next door. As we were redirected up the stairs of our new place of residence, i saw that my bed was the bamboo floor and my duvet, a mosquito net. For the first time on the trip i felt alone and admittedly a little frightened within my new situation.

It was dusk and the room looked gloomy. For a moment i started to ask myself what i was doing there. Thoughts of home flashed in my mind and for the first time i felt home sick. However, I was immediately put at ease as soon as I realised that the Thai family were doing everything in their power to make us feel comfortable. The whole family were working together to meet and greet us, creating a hospitable and friendly atmosphere.

Having been left alone for the best part of an hour to unpack, bathe in the river and just relax, i soon noticed that an array of appetizing aromas were coming from the hut of the family. Extremely curious I went onto the balcony just as the man was climbing the steps up to our hut with a large steaming pot. The lady followed closely carrying bowls containing food of all different colors. Even the children were helping with one bowl at a time. It became clear how this family had created a whole array of dishes especially for us, all with such enthusiasm. I could not believe where all the food had come from, there were all types of vegetables including potatoes, carrots and pumpkins - all of which had been turned into a curry.

The people of the Hill Tribe were living in very simple huts, wore no shoes and bathed in the river, however, despite all this, they were still smiling. Not only did they appear content living in such a small space altogether, but they were kind enough to let visitors into their life and were thrilled to share what they had. After the meal, the children danced and sang for our entertainment and we taught them songs in return.

Staying in this environment made me realize for the first time on my trip that I could learn invaluable lessons from this incredibly different culture. Life back in England is often spent worrying about financial issues, when more time should be spent with family or friends. The Hill Tribe people seemed to place great importance on the family unit and enjoyed spending as much time together as possible, which can be a rarity in such a high speed British society. The Hill Tribes do not have luxuries as we know them in the United Kingdom. For instance, I saw one car in the entire village and that was under repair. Yet everyone i met greeted me warmly with a big smile.

This part of my trip, without doubt taught me that we should value what we do have. We may face daily struggles, however, for the majority of UK Citizens hot water and electricity are easily accessible and are used without appreciation. Can we be ruled by negativity when our supermarkets are filled with a variety of foods and our beds are comfortable and warm? More attention should be placed on the enjoyable parts of life and we should recognise how some people do not have the basic comforts we take for granted.
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