There is nothing like going on a vacation and feeling like you never left home. The familiarity of situations or environments takes away some of the tension of leaving your comfort zone. The people welcome you with open arms and you feel like you are truly embraced by the culture. That was not the case in Thailand. Though Thailand is rich in culture and filled with natural beauty, I felt my presence was apathetically received. That isn’t a bad thing. It was just my perception.
I have traveled alone before, so I am familiar with the feelings of loneliness. I’ve become accustomed to knowing that there are only a few hours early in the morning and late in the evening you can communicate with those back home. Most people like to travel to get out of your element, out of your environment and immerse yourself into the culture, not to keep up with everything going on back home. We cannot deny the fact that seeing a ‘familiar’ face makes us happy. Seeing a brown face on the other side of the world makes us feel connected. So when the vibe isn’t returned, it can leave us feeling even more alone than we already are.
I’m going, to be honest, I did not encounter many black people while in Thailand. It wasn’t until hours before I was to leave Thailand that I had a friendly encounter with another black person (thanks, Mo!). I know you may think it would be typical being that I was in southeast Asia. Agreed. The longer I stayed, the more of us I saw, especially in Ko Samui and Chiang Mai. You know the jokes circulating about black travel and references that we frequent Miami and Las Vegas only (which happen to be two of my favorite places). I was excited to see other black people traveling so far. When I saw other black women, I would smile. I was usually met with quick glances or no eye contact at all. I was ignored. My last night in Chiang Mai I saw a black couple walking down the street coming towards me. The man greeted me with a gentle head nod and soft, but audible hello. Her? Blinders. It’s like I wasn’t even there. I was a little taken aback but did not take offense. Earlier in my trip, on two separate occasions, I had been eyed by black men while out but never approached. It felt like I was back at home. I even saw one of the gentlemen the NEXT day on a completely different side of the island. He noticed me, smirked, but again said nothing. This was after he had watched me the day before; I even noticed him actively watching me leave the previous day.
After some reflection, I realized the nature of acknowledging other people of color may not translate outside of North America. When I told my friend Mo, who is from Canada, my encounters, he said he tries to break that spirit when black ex-pats move there. This is why he rolled up on me the way he did and we embraced like favorite cousins as we departed. Some of the black people I met were of the diaspora, speaking French as they walked passed me. I even said something to two black men sitting next to me while in the bar, and they didn’t understand me- they were from Dubai and their English was limited. Cultures and customs are so varied within the black diaspora. I was quickly reminded of that and had it confirmed in my interaction with Mo.
I will say that Thai people were pretty immune to my presence. If they were perplexed by me walking down the street, I didn’t feel their stares. I received the most attention from the other Asian tourists. My most jarring travel experience would be when I sat down to rest and was looking at my phone. Two Asian men were walking by and I could see their feet stop in front of me. I look up to find one of them facing toward me with his phone out. He was video calling someone and thought it would be appropriate to showcase me to whoever was on the call. My expressive facial expressions and body language quickly taught him that his actions were totally inappropriate. He walked away and continued to look back, probably fearing what I would do.
I know that our presence in some of these countries, regions and small villages will be some people’s first interaction with a black person, let alone a black woman. Some only know us by what they see on the internet. Curiosity can border on inappropriate behavior. I think going into situations with that knowledge helps make the experience better. The native Thai people were more shocked that I had come from California than the color of my skin!
Thailand was an overall pleasant experience. I believe that since I have traveled alone before, I was comfortable with sticking out in crowds. I would go back, but now I know what to expect and what I could do better next time around.
Is Thailand on your travel list? Have you ever traveled alone? If not, would you and where? Share in the comments below!