I’ve been fortunate enough to count six extended travels, such as I one I just completed. Each one has had many glory and exciting moments, and this one exceeded all the rest because of the cultural immersion I had intended as the theme of this trip. From a real Homestay in Vietnam to the very colorful Indian wedding in Chennai, and many great and happy moments in between, this trip had it all. And that was the intention all along, to immerse into the culture of the country I was visiting. And I feel I succeeded in that as I made many new friends along the way.
When people travel for extended periods, their interest may lie in many different areas: temples, food, city life, eco tourism, or simply hanging out on a beach, or climbing mountains or back country trekking… or all of that. For me it is the people. To get to know the people will get you to know the country. I feel I know India very well now, being this my 3rd visit, and Vietnam as well.
I can’t really say the same for Thailand, and maybe because Thailand has become a mecca for SE Asia travel, and it is so saturated with tourists, travelers, expats and the like it was a bit off putting. When I was off the beaten path in Darjeeling, Sikkim and Assam, when I saw the few western travelers, I immediately felt like asking, “what are you doing here?” And to take it a step more extreme, I became possessive and also felt like saying “get off my mountain, this is mine”!
Of course I didn’t, as that’d be rude. And it was also a curiosity, like really, what are you doing here? I guess they had the same off the beaten path wanderlust as I, so in that since, we shared a lot. But I just never had the chance to discuss that with any of them, as there were so few opportunities to do so anyway. Except for that one time in Guwahati, where I spotted a western person who seemed as so out of place as I was, and I went up to him and did ask: “what are you doing here?” He said, “Yes kind of rare to spot one of us here”. I asked him where he was from and he said “Ohio (US)” Me: Colorado. We both said have a nice trip, and moved on. Courteous yet not so wanting to get involved..it’s that immersion thing and didn’t want to break the continuity of immersion that we would start talking sports or something.
It’s a curious thing being immersed in the land in which you are in, and equally an honor when the locals so happy to see you, and they often ask the same question: What are you doing here? And often I would say, just seeing how you live and all about your lives.
And in the end, everyone’s life is more or less the same, surviving, pursuit of happiness, being with friends and families and the ones you love, eating a good meal…all also known as life, and we’re all separately living it together!