The less-conventional cuisine that I hunt for is only part of the thrill that city wandering provides. Human interaction, to me, is just as tantalizing as the pungent curry simmering on the stove behind the counter — it is the lifeblood of exchange student success. As a teenaged foreigner with the ability to communicate using the Thai language (which makes me even more conspicuous), meeting new people happens about as often as one eats rice with a meal. I meet untold numbers of people in a given day’s travels and rarely are any of the encounters unpleasant. The people I chat with are ordinary people, shop owners and peddlers — people more than willing to divulge the whereabouts of the city’s best kao mok gai, Islamic style chicken and yellow rice, or to complain about the ever-present heat or sometimes both: “Eat here, it’s too hot to walk down there.”
Yes, I’ve become a bit of a street food connoisseur. Local roti vendors all over town know my order (roti is a magical Indian-inspired dessert that consists of fried dough, bananas and sugar, as do many magical things) and I’ve made many friends and contacts in the process. People I have — or have not — met wave to me as I walk on the street or ride on the back of a moped. My satisfaction in exploring new places and meeting new people comes in large part from the Thai culture of hospitality and outward warmth that, like the food, can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime.
Just as the best of New York City isn’t always found where the brightest lights shine, the best of Thailand is “off-Broadway” too. I’ve been quenching my thirst for urban exploration under that Smash Mouth philosophy of: “So much to do, so much to see, so what’s wrong with taking the backstreets?” and that is what has been behind my best adventures in Thailand. But have I experienced my best adventures? I’ve still got four months to live here!
Zak Aldridge is a junior at Milford Central School. To read more from him, visit eightabovetheequator.wordpress.com.