The kindness from complete strangers can often make the difference between a good trip and a great one. The Chinese passengers in our train car, who vacated the window seats for us when we passed a gorgeous lake on the Tibetan plateau, or the hotel clerk unlucky enough to work on Christmas in Coban, Guatemala, who offered us her own food when we learned that no restaurants would be open, or so many strangers in the Philippines yelling from across the street, “Welcome to the Philippines” left a lasting impression on us. In no particular order, here are our most memorable acts of kindness from strangers while traveling:
Rescued from the Rain
Mindy and I were excited to go to Thailand’s Yi Peng festival, where we, among so many others, lit a lantern, made a wish and released it into the sky. We found a shared taxi willing to take us out to Maejo University for 300 Baht ($10US) and given the size of the event, we were confident we could find a way back to Chiang Mai at the end of the evening. Big mistake! After releasing our lanterns en masse, the skies started to cover over and a familiar wind picked up.
The mass exodus was not unlike leaving a packed stadium at the end of a game. It took us about an hour to inch our way back to where the shared taxi had dropped us off; meanwhile, the wind was blowing leaves around and breaking off small branches and shooting them to the ground.
There was not a single available song taew to take us back to Chiang Mai! As if Mother Nature was laughing at our misfortune, the skies opened and rain started teeming down. With the strong possibility of not being able to get home, I decided to start asking drivers if they were heading to Chiang Mai and if they had room for four soaked passengers. I must have asked 15 cars before a nice woman happily took us in, who refused payment, despite dropping us off right at home! We left her car with our hearts brimming with gratitude.
Chinese Woman with a Magic Wand
In Guilin, China we boarded a van bound for the Dragon Backbone Rice Terraces only to find two free seats in the very back and one way up front. While the obvious choice might have been to sit together in the back, this did not take into account Mindy’s terrible motion sickness which dictates that she sit as far front as possible. The van was full of Chinese tourists who watched us carefully as we separated with Mindy up front and Ligeia in the back.
Just then a woman seated towards the front said a few phrases in Mandarin so everyone on the van could hear, which was followed by a person at the very front vacating his seat and several people motioning me to join Mindy in the front. Although we smiled profusely and thanked everyone several times in bad Mandarin, it didn’t feel like enough.
Sleigh Ride on the Rideau Canal
Mindy and I were so excited to visit Canada’s capital city of Ottawa for the first time by skating the 7 kilometers (5 miles) into it via the frozen over Rideau Canal. Although considered the world’s longest ice rink, the Rideau Canal does not have a smooth surface. The inevitable happened with about 2 kilometers left: I didn’t lift my exhausted legs high enough, and I caught an edge and came crashing down on my knees!
Skaterbys came to check on me and one handed me my water bottle that had escaped in my fall. Out of embarrassment I said I was fine and not to worry. It wasn’t until Mindy came over that I showed my true state – I was in excruciating pain. I wasn’t sure I could even get up and off the ice.
Noticing my agony, a couple insisted that we take their red sleigh they had rented for their small child, claiming that we needed it more than they did. My heart filled with warmth, even on such a cold January day, and my eyes teared with gratefulness! Mindy pushed me for about 20 minutes before the pain subsided enough for me to get up and skate on my own again. When we got to the hotel that evening we were not surprised to see that both knees were severely bruised.
Our Own Private Ambulance
My lowest point in Thailand was contending with dengue fever and receiving rabies shots at the same time. I had contracted dengue fever from an infected mosquito in Ayuthaya and had a rabies scare after I had been bitten by a macaque in Lopburi (both in one weekend!). The immense pain and general discomfort of the dengue fever left incredible homesickness and no longer having the desire for adventure. On the appointment day of yet another rabies shot I shuffled, hunched over in pain, to the curb of the closest street to our apartment and plopped myself down while Mindy was in charge of hailing a song taew (shared taxi) to the hospital.
After a short enough time for us not to even notice that traffic was slower than usual, a woman on a motorbike pulled over right in front of us and explained that the road had been blocked off for New Years Eve, and that waiting for a song taew would be useless. She must have noticed our defeated looks and seeing how unwell I looked, asked where we were trying to go. When she learned that the hospital was our destination, without hesitation she insisted on taking us there on her motorbike. So we climbed on and were speedily whisked away.
When we arrived at the Emergency entrance, she adamantly refused our money, smiled and continued on her way. Such kindness during what can be described as one of the lowest points in my life I have (thankfully) ever endured, this complete stranger filled our hearts with hope and joy.
Boat Trip to the Money Shot
While in Yangshuo Mindy and I embarked on a 24 kilometer (15 miles) hike along China’s Li River with the hope of ending our excursion at the location featured on the back of the 20 Yuan bill. By the afternoon we found ourselves tired and unsure of exactly where we were and wondering how far away the money shot was. We ran into a Chinese couple, and with very limited broken Mandarin and using our currency as a prop, we managed to communicate where we wanted to go.
Although we didn’t understand a word of their verbal response, we figured out that they wanted us to follow them, so we did. They directed us to the front seats of a motorized bamboo boat, clearly given the best view, and we were off. Then minutes later we pulled up to the opposite shore, the couple once again motioned for us to follow them and we climbed up the bank after them.
When they stopped, they pointed in the right direction and there it was: the same gorgeous view of the Li River surrounded by karst peaks that was featured on the 20 Yuan bill. Mindy reached into her pocket to hand over our share of the boat ride but they refused despite our insisting. As they hurried back down the bank, they left us to watch the sunset in one of the most scenic places we had seen on the trip.
Security Guard with Magic Fingers
Once while returning from dinner on Nimmanhaemin Road in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we were walking on Soi 2 when suddenly Mindy’s back spasmed. The pain was such that she had to sit down on the nearest place to do so, which turned out to be a short step in front of an apartment building. Seeing Mindy was in pain, the security guard for the building came over to us smiling and began to massage Mindy’s back, after pinpointing the hurt location.
As he worked he made conversation with us, asking us our names and where we were from. Before we knew it Mindy’s back was all better and we were able to continue on our way back to our apartment. We left full of awe for his miraculous skills and immense gratitude for his generosity. Whenever we go back to Soi 2, we look for him and wave. What a generous (and skillful) person!
Ticket to Ride
We had just stepped out of the airport in Abu Dhabi and tried to navigate the buses into town. It was late at night, we were very tired and we were only armed with a few Arabic phrases and 20 dirham. We asked a man in his 20’s, who turned out to be Sri Lankan, which bus to take and if the bus driver would be able to give change for a twenty. He helped us find the right bus, told us where to get off and then gave us the 6 dirham each for the ride, explaining that the driver wouldn’t give us change. Our protests were met with “Welcome to the UAE. Be sure to visit Sri Lanka.” And we will. 🙂