May 25, 2018

Letters from Thailand: Hua Hin – my Thai cultural immersion trip

After the hour and a half bus ride from Hua Hin, the other students and I finished the journey with a boat ride down the canal to the homestay on a field trip to experience traditional Thai culture.  As we got off the boat, we were greeted by a traditional Thai home and lovely Thai smiles, welcoming us into their home.

The Thai home came forth as more of a compound than a single house with its many structures. It consisted of one main house and several smaller houses in the surrounding area, all on stilts.  It also contained a large communal dining area with rustic wooden stools and a separate area specifically for making coconut sugar. Just on the other side of the outdoor dining area, the compound had their own personal coconut farm where they harvested both the coconut fruit and the coconut sugar.

Seeing this Thai home itself awed and fascinated all of us, and we were able to experience it firsthand for the night.  The group stayed in the traditional Thai houses separated by gender. In traditional Thai culture, the houses were often separated by gender unless the inhabitants were married or were family.  

After climbing the wooden steps to the house, we found several mattresses pushed together on the floor without separate rooms for the inhabitants.  This traditional set-up in close quarters reflected the communal, family-oriented culture of Thailand.

During our stay, we were able to get a neat look into the traditional, rural Thai culture through experiencing and taking an active part in many different traditional practices.

We observed closely as they made many Thai dishes from Pad Thai to green curry and different Thai desserts.  We even helped in the culinary process by shaving the inside of coconuts with traditional tools and rolling dough around a coconut concoction.

Those at the homestay also  showed us how to make the traditional Thai toys out of palm trees guided us as we attempted to make them ourselves. At the adjacent farm, we saw as they harvested coconut sugar and were able to help them along as they cooked it up.

Besides the variety of the traditional activities at the homestay, we travelled around Amphawa by boat and saw a variety of sights such as local temples and a traditional floating market, stores and food stalls/restaurants along a canal with boats travelling up and down selling different delicacies and wares.

Other than seeing Thai culture practices and places, I had the opportunity to discover the great kindness of the Thai culture.  This had sometimes been difficult to find in urban areas such as Hua Hin and Bangkok. Often, though many were kind, it often had a superficial aspect to it, as if only to make a profit or as if it was hiding something deeper.   Sometimes, you would find that gem of genuine kindness, but, as in western cultures, it is not as common as one would like.

When I first arrived in Thailand,  I took the smiles and the easy-going attitude of the Thai people at its face value.  But, as time has gone on, I have discovered sometimes it’s not as genuine as one would think.  This is not restricted to Thailand and exists in many cultures, but it has been a touching experience to get beyond the surface and discover the true smiles and kindness of the Thai people.

I have been able to do this more so in rural areas than in touristy or urban areas.  I have found people to be overall more genuine in these areas. In places such as in Erawan National Park, the genuity showed itself through Thais helping my friend and I navigate the bus system and through the Thai families who offered to take my friend back to our hotel to prevent us from having to walk in the dark.

During the trip, I  also had the fortune of discovering this kindness even further.  After a bike accident and a nasty camel bite, those at the homestay took me in and cared for me as one of their own.  This caring and compassion they showed me made the trip even more special.

The much-awaited culture trip accomplished its purpose.  It had given all of us a much better look at what it meant to live in Thailand.  It revealed a side of Thailand that the average study abroad or occasional travel doesn’t really get to see, staying in the more developed, touristy areas of Thailand.  

By the end of the trip, I had not only discovered this other side of Thailand, but I also found a family, across the world, through the kindness and compassion of those at the homestay.

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