I’ve absolutely loved every second of my past travels around Europe. I look back on my adventures with much fondness. From jumping from attraction to attraction, from catching one bus to another and from photographing anything and everything, because lets be real, Europe is exquisite. However, no matter how many information plaques I read, how many tours I took or how many photographs I captured, I only gained a surface understanding of that culture. I was constantly on the move to see everything I could, but never felt it in all its glory.
In all honesty, I actually only realized this when I recently read an article based on slow travel. So many aspects of the article resonated with me, which left the concept lingering in my mind a little longer than usual.
Slow travel is about spending longer periods of time at a destination or location. In doing so, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what you are seeing, hearing and experiencing. The concept echos simplicity and leisure. Its involves absorbing the deeper meaning behind the functioning of that specific society and immersing yourself within their way of life.
Fast forward to the present. Over the past 6 months, I live on the outskirts of the sprawling Bangkok metropolis. Although “Bangkokians” have a good reputation for being able to speak English, that is not the case in the area I live in. In fact, most people stare at us in shock and the kids often touch us, as if to check if we are real. The most familiar food in our immediate proximity was probably the Pringles and banana muffins sold in the Seven Eleven downstairs. Basically, I threw myself in the deep end of a new and vastly different culture. However, it is this experience, coupled with my recent readings, that has my mind hooked on this concept of slow travel.
As I wake up each morning, I open my balcony doors to the wafting smell of bubbling rice porridge over a gas stove along the streets below. If I walk slightly further down the street, I’m welcomed (and lured) by the sight and sweet smell of Thai doughnuts accompanied by condense milk for dipping. Talk about a good breakfast, right?
To get to the local market, I do as the locals do and catch a Songtauw there, which is basically a truck with benches at the back. I can’t always commend them for their driving skills but the only person who seems to find to mind is the farang, being me. As I stroll along the market street, motorbikes zooming past me whilst transporting entire families, I notice all the golden gems this little market has to offer. From the vendor selling his blooming flowers to the local bakery displaying copious local treats to a tiny street cart selling the most delicious popped-rice snack drizzled in a caramel sauce. The carts owner, a small old Thai man, speaks no English, so I am forced to practice my Thai in order to make my purchase. Speaking Thai can be daunting, awkward and frustrating but even if I don’t get the message across, I never walk away empty handed. I will always leave those moments with a sense of richness as I’ve always gained a new experience, negotiation skills and a new Thai word to add to my growing vocabulary.
I have been so fortunate to experience the Thai culture, which has been enhanced in so many ways thanks to the Thai teachers I worked with. Their generosity and warmth towards me has made all the difference to my slow travels and their inclusion of me within their important ceremonies has provided me with a first hand account of their daily lives.
As the term progressed, the teachers made an effort to invite us English teachers into their lives outside of the school environment. We played Badminton on Thursday evenings and did Aerobics on Mondays and Thursdays. We were encouraged to take part in (or at least have the front seats at cultural ceremonies), which were bright and beautiful.
That’s the beauty of slow travel. You have the time and energy to discover the gold in the most unexpected places, which you probably would have over-looked on a short trip. For me, slow travel has been about living, growing and glowing in a new culture, which wouldn’t have happened on the scale it has if I was speeding through my travels.