Travelling and Social Justice
Throughout my childhood, I have traveled to many countries, specifically within South America. My ethnic background pertains to being South American, so my parents would often relish the idea of all-inclusive vacations, laying on beaches and sipping mojito’s all day. Being that there was a sense of cultural familiarity, family vacations always gravitated toward 5 start hotel resorts and all of the luxuries you could imagine included within that. Although I was exposed to traveling at such a young age, I knew there was much more to the world than living lavishly and being pampered.
I have always had a yearning to learn about different cultures and their history. If we think about it, cultures are one amongst many factors that diversify human experience, perception, and connectivity. Cultures shape our norms- define right from wrong, and shape who we are as people ourselves. One’s way of living can majorly differ from our own daily lifestyle, and the beauty of traveling is being able to witness it. In saying this, we can either grow to appreciate and accept other people’s lifestyle choices, or we begin to question ethics and morality, perhaps challenging our own beliefs, which is personally what I love most about traveling itself. I love to break my own thoughts, questioning what I thought I knew, only proving to myself how much is left to be learned. As I grew older, I found a deep-rooted fascination and passion for helping those amongst international borders, in breaking barriers to advocate for basic human rights.
Being that I love traveling and I also happen to love helping international populations, I secured a month-long volunteer placement in Thailand’s most northern province, Chiang Rai. Right after I had written the last exam of my university undergraduate degree, I hopped on a plane without looking back.
Solo Backpacking in Chiang Rai
Many people often glorify and idealize solo backpacking to be fairytale-like, when it is not sought out to be that way at all, in reality.
Being that the total time of travel to get to my destination was 42 hours and considering the fact that I suffer from motion sickness, this set my trip off to an amazing start. I remember wanting to kick myself for even considering to travel halfway across the world alone. I had this perfect picture of how this trip was going to go, ingrained in my head, thinking that it would resemble much of a scene out of “Eat, Pray, Love”. I would run into no issues and this would be near peachy, as I basked in the sun, drinking coconut water while I helping children. Boy, was I in for a ride.
Throughout the entire travel time of getting to my volunteer placement, I was throwing up all over myself and passing out in the airport bathroom. Had I had been with another individual to accompany me, maybe this would not have sounded so bad. Somehow (by the grace of God), I had gotten up and changed into a new set of clothing, and hauled my butt out of the bathroom. As I was walking toward baggage claims to grab my suitcase for my next flight, I get news that my baggage was lost somehow. The airline told me that they would reimburse me for 200$USD if the suitcase could not be found, however, my laptop, research, and work documents were in there. Keep in mind…while this is happening, I am still continuing to puke into a plastic bag. I am literally walking around the airport with a plastic bag filled with vomit.
Once I had arrived in Chiang Rai, it seemed as though everything had shifted. Through my stay in this small little village, I have learned the true meaning of generosity and kindness. Chiang Rai is known to be the most northern province in Thailand, yet also the most underrated. In this city, I experienced what true Thai culture is all about, from the slow paced village life to the kind smiles spread across faces all around the town. It is a norm to be kind, which caught me off guard at first. We are always taught to never take a ride from a stranger, never allow strangers into your homes, or never to accept candy from people who you don’t know, but it is as if the rules are completely flipped in Thailand. While I was walking down the street one afternoon, an elderly woman smiled at me and placed her hand on mine, guiding me into her home. I was alarmed and caught off guard, but my gut feeling deep down told me to go with the flow- that this woman did not have any ill intentions. She brought me into her home and sat me down at her wooden table, where she fed me unlimited amounts of pineapple. I was in utter shock…it’s not every day where someone pulls you into their home to eat pineapple! I offered her money as I was leaving, and the woman looked disturbed that I ever pulled out the money- pushing it away. Throughout Thailand, Chiang Rai is the one place where I experienced the most humility and warmth, through the authenticity of true Thai culture.
Solo Backpacking in Bangkok
Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, was a whole different world compared to Chiang Rai. The land of ‘ladymen’ and never-ending traffic.
Bangkok was filled with adventure, from the floating market, to seeing live ladyboy shows, to experiencing all the different street meats you can imagine….not forgetting the 5$ Thai massages. I’m glad I experienced Bangkok, for the fact of ample amenities and opportunities to explore, but nothing quite compared to Chiang Rai. Although filled with thrill, Bangkok suffers from mass pollution, dirty rat infested streets, pickpocketers, and overpopulation. I originally went to Thailand to experience the culture for what it is and did not end up getting much of the authenticity in Bangkok. Being a capital city, many things catered to westernization, including the way people dressed, spoke, their norms, and even the things they ate (there was a McDonalds or a Pizza Pizza on every corner of the block).
Although I enjoyed travelling to both cities, Chiang Rai takes the trophy, merely for demonstrating the epitome of Thai culture. Mannerisms, norms, values, food, language, and connectivity can all be found in Chiang Rai, Thailand’s most underrated province.
Sidenote: Travelling and Resiliency
We are often so used to having someone to fall back on, whether it is a parent, sibling, significant other, boss, professor, or a friend…we forget how self-sufficient human beings are made to be. Had I not have traveled solo, I would have never revealed my true potential and bravery to myself. I have always been independent in the sense where I pay my own bills, live alone and even do activities alone because I enjoy my solitude. However, when you are halfway across the world, facing near death situations and feeling like your whole life is collapsing in front of your eyes, being independent isn’t about paying bills or enjoying some time alone. It’s about having your own back and proving how trustworthy you are, to yourself. Being your own hero and picking yourself off of the floor is the most fulfilling experience you will ever live to witness.
All of the amazing, genuine and loving souls I met throughout my stay, as well as the experiences of authenticity and cultural awareness, make it all worthwhile.