Hey guys, I just thought this article about meeting locals and moving outside the clubby backpacker circles might be helpful to a few of you: http://www.expatarrivals.com/article/six-steps-to-tapping-into-local-culture-in-southeast-asia
#1 gotthebug has been a member since 16/6/2010. Posts: 4
"Talk to everyone" combined with learning a few language basics - I think this is the key! When I arrived in Bali at the start of my recent trip, I stopped to chat to everyone on the street - the shopkeepers, the taxi drivers, the policemen, the kids. I was having a ball - mind you, it always took 3 times as long to walk anywhere!
Somewhere along the way, I ended up chatting to a security guard at a guesthouse that I was passing in Poppies Lane. We talked for an extended period of time, and next thing I know, I was being invited to his brother's wedding in 2 days time.
On the day of the wedding, he picked me up from my hotel, took me to his cousin's house where they dressed me in a special sarong to wear, then headed to the wedding ceremony. I was the only non-local person there. Afterwards, I was brought back to his house to spend time with the family and to meet his kids. I was invited back when I passed back through Bali 2 months later. I confess to being a bit suspicious initially but it ended up being one of the top experiences over a 5-month trip. This wouldn't have happened if I didn't stop to just have a yarn with a friendly local.
We still keep in touch via email, and I look forward to visiting again.
Weddings were huge in Malaysia when I was there. I was invited to so many, and I don't think I ever knew the bride or groom. There was a certain amount of showing-off-the-foreigner, but it came from a genuine and welcoming curiosity. A lot of fun!
#4 gotthebug has been a member since 16/6/2010. Posts: 4
I know that some people enjoy the well-trodden backpacker trail - it just seems a shame not to try and integrate a little into where you are. The best travelling and backpacking experiences for me have all been with locals rather than other Europeans, Antipodeans and Americans (i.e. people with whom I share language and, arguably, culture). Learning a little bit of the language, especially an exotic one, is well worth the effort as there is genuine respect for people who at least try - at the very least it is the consummate ice-breaker. Also, it seemed to me that there were people there who wanted to practice their English too.
I thought all these were pretty good suggestions, although I would caution that in my now extensive experience street food is more likely to give you the runs than that run in a "closed" restaraunt. There isn't much in the way of health inspection, and cleanliness is not always the order of the day. If you are getting ready to take a bus trip, do yourself a favor and eat a little upscale.
Another tip - depending on the time on hand, and how willing you are to stay in a limited geograghic location, try a little romance. Go to a club, meet people there... The reason I have a very intimate knowledge of Thai culture is my wife is Thai. I spend a lot of time in her parents village where not a word of English is spoken. It helps my language skills and it helps me integrate. Romantic and family interaction is a most basic human (and often animal) trait, and in terms of getting to meet the locals, if you meet a "local" you are attracted to and pursue a relationship with, it can't help but give you a more intimate view of the environment.
I've made several friends in Vietnam and South Korea by using the free student guide services. I'm still in contact with several of these people. These are the groups that I've used:
Hanoi - Hanoikids
Saigon - Saigonhotpot
Seoul - Goodwill Guides
I don't buy into dressing like them... First of all they dress differently themselves. Secondly, a lot of them don't have much money, so they can't afford nice clothes. If you can, unlike in many western societies where displays of wealth are considered garish, here you gain status. I don't dress like most Thais, and have no problem meeting them anywhere and everywhere.
Language, though, is huge. The more you speak, the better. In the boonies almost no one speaks English.
And a smile with friendly demeanor is a major plus too.
Basically, though, meeting indigenous people here is incredibly easy, because they want to meet you. Outside of the tourist trail (backpacker trail - synonymous) you are a novelty.