When I travel I try to take advantage of meeting locals and seeking out home stay opportunities. Rather than seeing a country from just my own perspective, often times more superficially, staying with locals allows one to see and experience a country through their eyes. I find experiences more rewarding and despite the usual communication barriers I discover they are also intrigued with my perspectives and are curious about my own travels.
My wife’s family lives in Thailand; we are able to visit each year, preferring to spend as much of our winter as possible in Thailand rather than California.
Our time here is spent among family in a true Thai Village – merely several homes, some built Thai style (up on stilts). For a westerner, the experiences here can be dramatically different then one is used to. It is a traditional way of life including growing what you can eat and catching what you can (often with unique traps).
The villagers catch fish in the local ponds by draining water into an adjoining pond and then spending several hours splashing around grabbing fish with their bare hands until they are covered from head to toe in mud – soon filling up buckets with flopping fish.
A number of young people from northern Thailand live in the area because they moved here to work at nearby factories. They also enjoy eating a variety of insects. Several of the villagers place shallow pans of water below blue lights in various spots directly outside the village – and by morning many insects are caught in these traps. These are then fried and prepared with a locally grown leaf and soy sauce for additional flavors. These make a delicious snack. And then the villagers sell them in the local markets.
Wild bees make their nests in some of the nearby mango trees – the villagers collect these. I help smoke them out – the bees become quite docile once they are introduced to smoke. We put the honey in old whiskey jars for later and then suck on the fresh beeswax. This wax is also creatively used to make a very nice lip balm.
Many tall coconut palm trees grow in and around the village. We use several long bamboo poles tied to each other to make one super long pole which has a metal hook at the end. We raise these high into the air and hook off the coconuts being very careful not to be anywhere near where they come crashing down. When we are in the mood for coconut curry, we harvest these and hack them open with a machete. We then rub the inside of the coconut against a special metal device which shreds the coconut meat into whispy pieces. This pile of fine white coconut meat is then used in the curry dishes.
Trips to small markets where I am the only westerner in the sea of shoppers is an intriguing and sensory experience. The smells, sounds and sights are not what you would find in a “western” market. These markets are full of local vegetables, exotic fruits and various animals and fish. Vendors also cook a number of tasty dishes at their small stalls while you wait.
I am fortunate to have these experiences based on where my inlaws live. But how would one seek out these experiences if one does not have family living this traditional lifestyle? An online tour company, Withlocals recently reached out to me to share their interesting services. They offer an online platform to connect travelers with local people for a variety of experiences.
Withlocals offers many tour options in Thailand (and in other countries) where you meet with locals for sightseeing, unique market visits, and culinary activities. During a recent scan of experiences offered I saw items as varied Thai Fruit Carving, a Leather Workshop, Massage classes, Natural Herb Soap Production and Muay Thai lessons among others. This reservation platform is a valuable way to easily connect with locals for these experiences, either during or prior to your trip.