Hi, you lovely people,
Here's a special travel post for you. I love experiencing local culture when I visit a new place, and I've always thought that having someone local show you the best of their place is the greatest and most authentic way to travel. So I got in touch with lots of different travel bloggers so that they can tell you all about the most local and authentic experiences they've had abroad.
I hope the post resonates with you like it did with me, and I hope you enjoy reading it!
I was delighted when Helene posted this guest post opportunity, as it is one of my favourite topics to write about. I have always been fascinated by different cultures from around the world and one of my main aims of traveling is to experience cultures in different countries as well as having authentic experiences, from the history of places, to traditions, religions, rituals, food, arts and languages I am really fascinated by it all.
Authentic travel to me is immersing yourself in cultural experiences, seeing things that allow you to understand the people and country. In my opinion, everyone's idea of what is authentic travel will be different and everyone's idea of what experiencing culture will be different too. I have written this post purely from my own perspective. Some of the most authentic and cultural experiences I have had have not always been planned. For others authentic experiences might just be traveling to a new country or seeing a new place. For me personally, I like to delve deeper into places I visit - I have managed to this by trying to go off the beaten track if I can and finding places and things to do and see that will allow me to learn about the place I am visiting. I am all for seeing top attractions in places and places that are tourist hotspots, but I also like to see and do things that are not.
I LOVE to get lost when I travel to places, which means, on some days just exploring with no plan, and no direction, just waking up and thinking let’s see where today takes me. It may mean driving for many miles or using local transport and walking but that is the best way I have managed to see things, and I have found some amazing places this way and met many local people on my travels and have learnt so much. My motto is if I can get there I will find my way back.
Some of my most memorable travel and authentic experiences have been unplanned.
Whilst on our honeymoon last year in beautiful Samoa, we thought we would get to know more about the culture. The locals from a nearby village showed us what happens during an ‘ava ceremony; one of the occasions is during the bestowal of matai chiefly titles. It’s a very important custom involving speeches and drinking of ‘ava. The ‘ava is made from dried roots, mixed with water and is strained before drinking. We did try the ‘ava … let’s just say we found it a bit strong, looked a bit like muddy water and left our lips and tongue numb! The locals also showed us basket weaving with coconut leaves – I couldn’t believe how fast they weaved a basket literally in 5 minutes! If we need ideas on what to see or where to go, we always ask the locals for suggestions. Sometimes you can find those hidden gems if you happen to get lost too!
I stayed in Korea for 4 months as an exchange student. One thing I wouldn’t have discovered without the inspiration of local friends is the opportunity to join a temple stay. You will find a lot of Buddhist temples in Korea, but staying in one for the night is truly special! The Buddhist nuns showed us how they live, meditate, make their traditional tea and prepare and eat their monastic food. We learned so much about their culture and ceremonies and even created our own prayer bracelets. I am so thankful that my Korean friends organized this for a few of us exchange students!
Some of my best experiences with local culture have been in more rural areas. Here it seems like culture isn’t as diluted with Westernized ideology and practices. And while it's hard to pick just one experience, I think the most authentic travel experience I ever had was in Western China. I had traveled there to visit a remote Glacier, in a town that really didn’t have too much going on. But I stayed and befriended a local man who spoke rather good English. This was honestly the best part of my entire trip because not only did he show me some of the best places to eat, but he even took me to a party where we all sat, drank, and ate. We talked about life and our interests and it was in that moment that I realized how similar, yet different our lives were. A truly magical experience that I only had because I stepped out of my comfort zone and met some local people.
On my last trip to Malaysia, I decided to take a last minute flight to Sandakan, Malaysia. I was impressed by the local lifestyle and the friendly attitude of the people I met there. During my stay, I was particularly interested in visiting the floating fishermen's villages that I drove by each day. One of my newly met friends offered to go with me as some areas of the village have high crime rates. With his help, I was offered a glimpse at a lifestyle that is unlike anything I had seen before. The seafood and fried bananas that I ate here were absolutely amazing!
My best experiences with local culture have been the ones involving chatting with locals over a meal, understanding their recipe and roots, and eating a special preparation exactly the way they do. I make sure that I get the most authentic experiences when I'm traveling by chatting with the locals and keeping a day aside, devoid of agenda, to explore the city on foot and discover spots off the map. I discovered many hole-in-the-wall places while treading the city on foot, literally stepping into every alley or corner I came across. Heading out early in the morning also helps me see places that I would have otherwise missed. I mark them and get back during opening time.
Whilst celebrating Diwali in Jaipur we were welcomed into the home of an Indian family to be cooked an authentic lunch. JiJi cooked dishes consisting of daal, vegetables and paratha, it was delicious. Whilst we ate, she fed her cows in the back yard and Raju, her son and guide, told us stories about how they would be celebrating the Festival of Light with the family. After lunch, we viewed the temples from the rooftop and saw their uncle’s prize-winning pigeons on the next roof. Now that is how to celebrate heart-warming local culture.
I had my most authentic travel experience when I did a tour of South East Asia a few years ago. My parents are originally from Malaysia, so I have family there, and we have quite a few family friends who reside there. This was the first time I'd visited the region without my parents as I went with my ex-boyfriend.
Thailand (Bangkok) was the first stop, and I met up with our family friends' daughter (who I'd never met before). She and her Thai boyfriend brought us to all the must-see locations such as the Chinatown food market, the Royal Summer Palace, the Wat Pho temple, but also invited us to the most delicious food I'd ever tasted!
In Phuket, we were accompanied by my uncle, who used to be a tour guide there, so naturally, he knew all the best-kept secrets of the area.
My godparents were in Singapore when I went, so they took us to the best sushi place ever. They also paid for a stay at the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which has an infinity pool at the very top that's shaped like a ship (no joke!).
It turned out to be one of the best trips of my life, all because of the people who so generously showed us around.