Friday, 15 January 2010

It started with a smile...

Thailand is known as the ‘Land of Smiles’. When I first came here on holiday in 2005, I wanted to know why this was so. I tested it out - smiling at street sellers, hotel attendants, people jogging in the park, people on the skytrain, people in the shops - and every time I smiled at someone I was guaranteed to get a beautiful energetic response. I was delighted to walk around and share fleeting moments with people from all walks of life, through the simple act of smiling.

I once tried this exercise in Sydney. I walked from Darling Harbour to Hyde Park (approximately 6 blocks), trying to smile at as many people as possible. What happened was completely the opposite. Some people saw my smile and assumed that I was looking at someone else - turning around to see if there was someone walking behind them who I recognised. Others simply kept walking (pretending not to see) and some looked at me like I was wearing a sign that said 'freak'. As disheartening as it was, I found it funny and remember laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all.

But what's in a Thai smile? And why do Thai people smile so much?

There are many different characteristics which define the smile. Here are a select few that I have encountered when riding a bicycle through Thailand's countryside:

1. Sometimes people smile at you instead of talking. Initially there is no common language, so a smile says 'you are welcome'. Once they know that I speak Thai, the smile becomes wider, more natural and shows a sense of relief.

2. Thai people smile when they feel shy. They may want to talk to you, but when you approach them or start to speak to them, they simply smile.

3. Foreigners are always a subject of interest to Thai people, especially when they are doing strange things like riding a bicycle up a steep mountain. Another smile I regularly encounter is one of hilarity, laughing through their smile at the 'silly farang’ (foreigner).

4. Sometimes people look at you with interest or intrigue. They may wonder what you are doing here, where you have come from, why and how? The look is initially one of query but as soon as you break that gaze with a smile, you get an even bigger one back. These smiles stay with you for hours and are often enough to get me up the next mountain!

Thailand really is the 'Land of Smiles' - a place where I have learned to smile more often, more genuinely, for smiling's sake.


  1. Go Hannah!
    all the best for your last leg of your amazing journey, (if you're not already there)
    if i knew how to attach a picture of a smile i would... but because i dont, here's one of those sideways computer smiles!!
    love, light, laughter and smiles,
    Celia :) (you met me in bundoran!)

  2. Couldn't stop smiling - I am so proud of you Han...

    Your always follower


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