Thailand: the land of smiles. Not exactly the slogan one would anticipate considering our trip was to a land renowned for its sex slave trafficking – not to mention, the same country rebuilding from the unforgettable tsunami in 2004 that rocked the southern coasts and left the land devastated and the people distraught. But you’d be surprised. Thailand is far from socioeconomically developed (from a Western perspective) and it certainly has its obstacles. But what makes the country so incredible is its welcoming ethos, strong pride in its history, and (my favorite) its people.
“I came to Thailand to find my inner self.” Humorously spoken by an incapacitated hippie on Khao San Road, yet there is truth in his proclamation. I haven’t seen the world but in all of my travels thus far, I have to admit that I find myself searching for some experience that will help make meaning of my life, perhaps even justify the purpose in my existence. Deep? Philosophical? Call it what you will, but it’s true. I think it’s easy for travelers to be allured by the exoticism of international tourism. However, the authenticity of Thailand’s culture and traditional Asian hospitality provided me with a humbling experience.
What made its mark on me the most was the Baan Than Namchai Orphanage. The best part about the orphanage was the incredible sense of family ties between all of the children as well as between the children and the staff. Left by parents, abandoned, orphaned by the tsunami … deeply unfortunate stories as to why each child was there, but never once did you see disdain, anger, or even sadness on any of the children’s faces. In fact, what we saw was just that – a bunch of kids! Though their energy levels were exponentially higher than any of ours, there is no better feeling than hearing laughter and seeing smiles … simply from just spending time with them. It always amazes me that traveling to Thailand was necessary to really understand it, but it’s true: life’s pleasures are in simple forms. In a society where capitalism and materialism tend to define our status, the Thai kids at the Baan Than Namchai Orphanage really prove that what’s most important in life is the relationships and people we have. When I think about the kids, the slogan really is true. Thailand is the land of smiles, at least in my memories.
Lesson learned, Thailand. Cherish the people in life and relish the opportunities that present chances for new relationships.