One of the things I wondered about before moving to Thailand was how easy it was going to be to make new friends. I have lived in other countries before, but it was during my time in the Navy. I worked with other people, many of whom had similar interests because we had chosen the same career field. Being stationed in a foreign country on a U.S. military base is like bringing small-town America with you. Most established bases have restaurants, theaters, stores, bowling alleys and bars. Many of the people working in these places are military spouses or locals who are fluent in English and used to dealing with Americans. This time, it was going to be different!
I moved to Thailand alone, and there are no military bases here. I didn’t speak a word of Thai, and I’m a bit of an introvert. I wasn’t sure how well, or quickly I would adapt. It turns out, I really had no reason for concern. I live in Chiang Mai, which is the second largest city in Thailand, and a tourist destination. English is the predominant language for business around the world, and people from most countries know at least some. Language wasn’t going to be a huge barrier. I did however, still have to deal with my tendency to be a bit closed off from folks.
Luckily for me, the people I’ve met in Thailand are generally friendly and open. I’ve actually found it to be much easier to meet people here than it was back home. I’m more of a novelty. One example of meeting somebody in Thailand happened during a visit from my Navy buddy, Keith. He was almost finished with his visit to Thailand and was flying home the following morning. We had to return the motorbike he had rented, so I arranged for an Uber to follow him to the rental place.
I was picked up by young Thai woman who goes by the name of Pear. She spoke English well, and I decided to ask her if she did tours (as some drivers do). She said, sure. So, when we picked up Keith, I let him know we had an opportunity to go see some elephants. Pear drove us to an elephant camp where we were able to feed and interact with them. Then she recommended going to a botanical garden nearby with some beautiful views. After the tours, we stopped for lunch, exchanged Facebook information and arranged for Pear to pick Keith up the following morning and take him to the airport.
Now, it’s about six months later and Keith and I are both still in touch with Pear. In fact, today she picked me up for lunch and took me to a nice restaurant to which I’d never been. The Lamoon Lamom Cafe is owned by a Thai couple, but serves a variety of very fresh, international food. Most of the vegetables are grown in a garden next door to the restaurant. The husband worked in England for a while as a chef and is familiar with western cuisine. In addition to the food being excellent and affordable, Pear and I talked like old friends. She asked about Keith and tagged him in a Facebook photo.
I really can’t think of a time in the U.S. when I befriended an Uber driver or taxi driver, but here, I tend to have encounters like this on a regular basis. I’ve talked to people working in coffee shops and restaurants who have remembered me and struck up conversations on subsequent visits. One of the benefits of being in a tourist destination is the willingness of people to talk to strangers.
So, if you are thinking about making a move to a foreign country (Thailand anyway), don’t worry! Even if you are a little introverted like me, there is still hope for you to make lasting friendships. If you’re more of an outgoing person, you will never lack for lunch dates and invitations to Thai barbecues.