Our Guide To A More Authentic OS Experience
Let’s be honest: being a tourist is easy. All you have to do is stick to the guidebook and tick off a list of tourist-friendly activities in each new destination. Trust me, I’ve completed almost every travel cliché there is, riding in a gondola in Venice, taking a selfie on the Great Wall of China and catching a Broadway show in New York. Don’t get me wrong: I loved every moment. These bucket list moments may do wonders for our Instagram feeds, but they don’t tend to deepen our understanding of the countries we visit.
On the other hand, scratching beneath the surface of a new place takes a lot of time and effort. But it’s worth it: there’s something inherently rewarding about diving into a different culture and really getting to know it. You end up emerging from your travels with more than just a bunch of selfies and tacky key-rings – you gain lifelong memories, learn important lessons and get a greater understanding of the world (and people) around you.
Opting for an authentic travel experience isn’t always the easiest route to take, but it is by far the most rewarding. I recently visited Thailand for the first time with G Adventures, and instead of spending my time lying on the overcrowded beaches of Phuket or partying it up in Bangkok, I was determined to experience the country like a local. Starting in Chiang Mai, I spent three days trekking to the hill tribes in Northern Thailand. During this adventure, I discovered there are a few ways you can fast-track to the heart of a destination to gain an authentic overseas experience. Here are my tips.
#1 Stay with locals
If you’re after the most authentic experience of a place you can possibly get, staying with locals is the answer. Instead of staying at a hotel or hostel, opt for a homestay, go couch surfing or even rent a room somewhere. During my trek in Northern Thailand, we got to stay in the villages of the Red Lahu and White Karen tribes. We were warmly welcomed into the homes of local families, who set up beds for us, cooked us delicious meals and shared some of their local traditions with us. Getting to witness day-to-day life in the village was a truly eye-opening experience.
#2 Get out of the city
While it is always tempting to stick within the confines of a city, escaping the hustle and bustle can truly open your eyes to see another side of a destination. Trekking through the Northern hills of Thailand was a truly immersive way of appreciating the country’s natural beauty. I grew very accustomed to waking up everyday to the sound of roosters and the sun ascending over the lush mountains- a far better wakeup call than the sound of honking horns if you ask me!
#3 Eat where the locals eat
What better way is there to experience a new destination than through your stomach? While it’s easy to fall for tourist-heavy restaurants serving overpriced and sub-par food, there are a few ways you can ensure you are eating authentic local cuisine. Head to food markets, take a cooking class or go on a local food tour. Chiang Mai is famous for its night markets, and it was here that I found some of the freshest and most authentic local fare. I jumped from street vendor to street vendor, indulging my taste buds in local dishes such as Phad Thai, Kao Soi and Mango Sticky Rice.
#4 Take part in festivals or activities
Festivals tend to be the time where places and people truly come alive. It’s a great idea to plan your travels around festivals or check to see if anything is special is happening during your stay – you might be pleasantly surprised with what you find! I just happened to be in Northern Thailand at the start of Songkran, the Thai New Year. When we visited the village of White Karen, our homestay family invited us to take part in their local traditions, which included a string-tying ceremony and a traditional dinner of pork and home-brewed rice whisky. When we arrived back in Chiang Mai, Songkran commenced, which involved a crazy nation-wide water fight over three days. Taking part in such festivities was not only a lot of fun, but it also deepened my understanding of the local culture.
#5 Treat travel like a marathon, not a sprint
When travelling, it’s all too easy to go at a million miles per hour, cramming your days with tourist attractions. If you want to truly appreciate the place you’re in, it’s important to slow down the pace. It could be sitting in a little café and watching the world go by, waking up early to catch the sunrise, or simply wandering through the backstreets. During my trip to Thailand, it was during those slow, quiet moments that I felt most connected to the country. For me, that is what an authentic overseas experience is all about.
Watch Nicola’s adventures through Thailand here:
All images: Nicola Easterby
G Adventures is the world’s leading small group tour operator, offering some of the planet’s most awe-inspiring selections of affordable tours, safaris, and expeditions. Want to have your own Thailand adventure? Check out their selection of itineraries here.