Southeast Asia is known for its beautiful tropical rainforests, each place having its specific Oriental feel to it. In Thailand, there are the majestic palaces, beaches, ancient ruins, and temples, but there's more to Thailand than just its surreal scenery. Our Lomographer Elisabeth, a.k.a. @elisabethdare is here to show us her immersive experiences in the country through her own words and pictures.
It took longer than anticipated to find what I was searching for in Thailand. I spent a month trying to get past the abundance of western travelers marinating in the cheap bucket-liquor scene. Fun, but wasn’t really my flavor, or what I was looking to photograph.
As the dry season began, I scored some work doing odd jobs in a Northern Province. Somehow, I found myself living and working in a small, ageless village, steeped in a 300-year-old history of traditional woodworking. The locals I worked for were of old Lanna ancestry, spending languid days whittling teak into beautiful cabinets, signage, or trinkets. They taught me bits of Northern Thai dialect, how to properly cook in a wok, the artistry of folding flowers. Always with kind hands, sweet smiles.
The work immersed me headfirst into the Thai community. Somedays I helped clear bamboo or strip banana leaves from the riverside, somedays I rode a (questionable) fixed-gear bike to another village and taught English to Thai kindergartners. Curious locals were always surprised, full of smiles, seeing a foreigner all the way out here. I made friends with the local tarot card reader. The guy who owns the only laundry machines around. The local barber who sells sinfully good dumplings and steamed buns on the side. The sweet coffee hut owner. She sometimes makes soap out of things from the garden while her husband makes exquisite wood carvings.
Eventually, I began hitchhiking through Northern Thailand, which was undoubtedly the best way to connect to the country. Seeing a lone female on roads less-traveled is always an anomaly for people, no matter where I seem to be in the world. People are always willing to share room or stories. Several times I thought the police in Thailand was going to accost me for hitching, asking me what I was doing.
To my great surprise, they would turn around and stop traffic to help me flag down rides. I found Thailand to be constantly uplifting and surprising in this way. Kindness is given freely. One night, I was allowed to stay in a temple convent with a few Thai nuns (who I also hitchhiked with) in exchange for some garden work. At 3:50 am I was invited to meditate and chant with them. They shared stories, allowed me to drink water from an ancient well, gave me advice I will keep tucked away until I am old.
By late November I was hitching my way across the north in sugarcane trucks, occasionally pitching a tent in the jungle, etc. I didn’t make the grand tour of Cambodia and Vietnam, the way many backpackers do. I sought out Thailand, a truer Thailand. It took wading through rice fields, being lost and unable to communicate and dirty and beyond uncomfortable, but I found it. Isn’t it odd for a young woman to be traveling alone this way? I guess. That question never ceases to surprise me. But the desire to go off-grid, or to create art, doesn’t know age or gender.
The road to Thai authenticity is paved with risks and delicious unknowns. Hitching is about unleashing your control to the wind. Free falling down the rabbit hole. Being completely unable to communicate, but somehow singing 90s love songs together over a choppy radio connection. Trying to make it to the border by sundown. Always searching for the next risk to take. I have an eye trained on the Mongolian horizon soon. There’s no rest for the wicked.
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