“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins
My roommate in New York, currently on the Fulbright scholarship in Bangladesh, shared this quote with me when we were both leaving on our travel adventures. It has been one of my favorite quotes since, but it was only until a few days ago, that I really got to experience and understand its true meaning.
This past weekend I set off to explore northern Thailand with a friend…and what started out as a laid-back weekend getaway somehow ended up turning into an unforgettable motorcycle journey through pure, unadulterated, rural Thailand. Phayao, Chiang Muan, Nan, Phu Kha, Song Khwae, Phu Sang, Phu Chi Fa and Chiang Rai…we traveled 1,000km in 4 days. Biking through mountains and valleys, rice fields and hill tribe villages, sunrises and sunsets, we stopped whenever we wanted to take in the stunning scenery around us. It was incredible. Northern Thailand, with its rugged slopes, hot springs, waterfalls and caves, is truly breathtaking.
But coming back to the quote that I started this post with…what made the weekend so special was not just the natural beauty of the land…it was the warmth and generosity of the local Thai people we met on the way. This weekend, I really got to experience the “limitless kindness of humankind” that Mark Jenkins talks about in his quote.
It’s amazing how the people who have the least to offer somehow give you the most. Everywhere we went, in every remote village we passed through, the local Thais opened up their doors to us, showering us with love and care. If we stopped to ask for a restroom (hong nam yoo ti nai kaa?), they led us to their own bathroom within their hut. If we stopped to buy water (nam tao lai kaa?), they asked us if we’d eaten and invited us to share their meal (gin khao? gin khao?). Delighted by our efforts to communicate in Thai, they enthusiastically offered us food, drinks, a place to stay and travel advice, all without asking for anything in return. They asked us where we were going, where we were from and chatted excitedly about the pictures we showed them of the journey so far. All we had to do was smile, bow our heads and say something like hello! (sawaidi kaa!) / how are you? (sawaidi mai kaa?) / I like Thailand! (chan chob Thailand!) / I’m hungry! (heuy leo kaa!), and we were immediately considered part of their family. Never before have I experienced such generosity and kindness from strangers. And it really blew my mind to receive it all from the people who lived on the lowest incomes.
The path we chose this past weekend was one of real adventure. Self-determined, self-motivated, off the beaten trail adventure. I felt like I was on my own version of Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries, experiencing the same compassion and hospitality, witnessing the same beautiful sights and natural wonders.
It’s so easy, when traveling, to get stuck in the typical tourist track, checking off sights to see, mingling with other foreigners and living with the same comforts available back home. It’s easy and it’s fun, no doubt. But this weekend, more than ever, I realized that the true change that travel brings about in you, the real eye-opening, soul-satisfying experiences associated with globe-trotting…those come from stepping outside your comfort zone and taking a little chance.