Twelve years ago we took a trip that changed our lives.
We packed everything we thought we’d need in two backpacks and set out for a year across Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
Before we left, I thought that we’d bring back lifelong memories of bustling cities, beautiful beaches and ancient temples.
And we did. However the memories that have lasted the longest, and had the deepest impact, are those where we connected most deeply with the local people, food and culture.
What are some of the things I remember most from our first trip?
I remember watching, literally for hours, as local women in Chiang Mai, Thailand painstakingly made beautiful paper umbrellas, and chatting with them about their work and their lives as we sat. So many of our good memories are about the hidden gems we found by asking locals where to shop, swim and play. Like the quiet, hidden beach in busy Phuket, Thailand, where we snorkeled in the shallow waters as local kids played beside us.
A lot of my best memories are based around food as well, like wandering local street markets in Krabi, Thailand and being served homemade coffee from a grandma in her home in rural Sumatra, or snacking on traditional baby finger cookies at a wedding in the Philippines.
To be honest, though, it can be difficult to connect with locals on your own. Often, there’s a language barrier to overcome, and many travelers just don’t have the time needed to make a real connection. That can occur almost anywhere in the world from treks in Nepal, to time spent in New York City, to exploring a Caribbean island.
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley
I was intrigued when the folks at a new travel startup called Withlocals reached out to us.
What Withlocals does is a very a simple concept, and one that I think offers some wonderful experiences for travelers. Simply put, Withlocals connects travelers with local people and cultures through food as well as activities and tours with locals.
It’s a website that helps you experience the real local traditions and culture of the country you’re visiting, and gives locals a chance to earn a little money.
Withlocals offers experiences in Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Sri Lanka.
I spent a while browsing the site and found some fantastic choices for eating with locals, as well as some really interesting tours and activities.
Here’s a peek at some of the activities that caught my eye offered by Withlocals in Thailand and in Vietnam.
Secret Beaches Tour of Phuket
“Discover the untouched and hidden beaches of Phuket. Avoid throngs of tourists and dirty overrun areas. See the places only the locals know, not on any tourist maps. Small intimate beaches, or miles of sandy coastline, its up to you.
Where there is food, drink or service available, you will be treated like a VIP as a guest of mine. I can speak Thai and have a long history of friendship and business relationships across the island.”
Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market Food Tour
“The Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market is also called foodie paradise for local people. If you love food, then you should not miss this market.
Even though this market is quite small and more riverside eating areas than floating market however it offers more relaxed and local atmosphere compared to other floating markets.”
Tangy Thai Home Cooking
“Just one of our many main Thai home cooking dishes is a chicken specialty known as kai betong (named after the town of Betong on the Thai-Malaysian border) that consists of steamed chicken seasoned with soy sauce and then stir-fried with green vegetables. Milder flavor we offer a creamy coconut milk soup made with chicken called Tom kha kai.”
Cook Like a Local!
“Instead of simply sitting down and munching your food away, you are offered the opportunity of cooking your own real Thai dishes! All ingredients will be prepared in a professional manner – healthy and clean. You can learn by watching me cook, or you can help and get to know the basics of local food styles and ingredients.
Ps. This is not a cooking class, we will just simply cook a couple dishes together. Other dishes will be prepared in advance.”
Eat with Hanoian family
“Eating dinner with us and you’ll not only enjoy the Vietnamese fresh & Healthy foods but also explore more about history, lifestyle, economy, social issues… in Vietnam. I cook Veg and Non-veg.”
Have you ever spent time with locals when traveling abroad? Would you love to try some of the Withlocals experiences?
This post was written in collaboration with the great folks at Withlocals, but they didn’t tell us what to write, and definitely didn’t ask me to sit for half an hour drooling over the gorgeous photos of Thai food on their site.