A Shared Experience (Video)

Som Tam (Thai Green Papaya Salad)

Som Tam

Travelling alone has its perks.  No discussions about where to go.  No debates about what to eat.

Travelling alone on a different continent has an even greater perk.  The locals want to talk to you.  Go to a not-so-touristy area and a mutual curiosity emerges.  You want to see how they live and they want to know what you’re doing there. 

Nakhon Si Thammarat in Thailand map.

For example, a few years ago I spent a week wandering around Nakhon Si Thammarat province in south Thailand. 

I stayed in the provincial capital, Nakhon Si Thammarat city.

Despite its small population (105,000) and laid back atmosphere, Nakhon Si Thammarat city has a certain buzz to it.  In the morning, vans and cars share the road with water buffaloes.  Spatulas scrape woks throughout the day.  Scooter exhaust gives in to the sea breeze.  The open sky dominates the minimalist skyline. 

Karome Waterfall sign

Outside of the city, Nakhon Si Thammarat offers plenty for outdoorsy types.  For example, Karome Waterfall park is a lush, cacophonous jungle filled with squawking birds and screeching insects. 

A group of university students

On a Wednesday hike in Karome park, I came across a group of students from Rajabhat University.

They were eager to talk to the farang (foreigner).  However, jungles lack Wi-Fi to use Google translate.

Pocket English-Thai dictionary

So, in this case, a pocket dictionary helps break down the language barrier.

They shared their wine coolers with me and we had a chat, passing the dictionary back and forth.

A court transcript of our conversation would look like this:

Student:  Work?

Me:  Teacher English.

Student:  English improve?

Me:  Conversation farang.

Student:  Difficult.  Shy.

Me:  Mai long mai roo.  (A Thai idiom from the pocket dictionary.  It means “If you don’t try, you don’t know.”  Very handy.) 

Everybody cracked up.  Even better, we communicated on the most basic yet meaningful level.

On Friday, I walked around Tha Rai tambon.   (A tambon is similar to a U.S. township.  Tha Rai is the least populated tambon in Nakhon Si Thammarat). Looking around, contentedly clueless,  I met Benz, Pi Pi and Sert.

Benz, Pi Pi and Sert
Benz, Pi Pi and Sert

They were on lunch break from work at a scooter shop and curious about the farang.  So, they called me over. 

Again, we passed the dictionary back and forth.  I pointed to the question “What’s good to eat?” Benz held up his hand in the universal “Wait” sign.  A few minutes later he came back with a Styrofoam container filled with green shreds and a lot of juice.  I asked, “Nee arai?”  “What’s this?”  Sert answered, “Som Tam.” 

We didn’t have forks, spoons or chopsticks. I opened the dictionary.  “Gin yang rai?”  “How do you eat it?” Pi Pi smiled and scooped up some of the salad.  So, I did the same.  It hit every note the experts talk about in Thai food:  Spicy, sweet, sour and salty with multiple textures.  Sweat glistened on my forehead. 

Sert opened the dictionary, pointed to the word for “spicy” and widened his eyes to indicate a question.  Smiling, I shook my head.  “Aroi.”  Delicious.  They laughed. I laughed and coughed.   After we ate, they went back to work.  We said goodbye and I continued wandering, the tastes lingering and the memory cemented.

Pi Pi, me and Sert

Take a look at the video to see the beauty of Karome Waterfall and a version of my Som Tam memory.

Shredded green papaya.

A note about green papaya: Many Southeastern Asian grocery stores sell pre-shredded green papaya. It’s a huge time saver.

Som Tam ingredients

Serves 4

2 garlic cloves

5 Thai chiles (less or more, depending your heat tolerance)

1 tablespoon palm sugar (brown sugar works fine as well)

1 tablespoon fish sauce

Juice of 2 limes

½ to 1 teaspoon shrimp paste (or 1 tablespoon dried shrimp)

2 tablespoons roasted peanuts

10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

2 cups shredded green papaya

Optional garnishes:

Tomato roses

Basil leaves


Roast the peanuts in a small skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently, until they have some brown  spots, about five minutes.  Set aside.

Pound the garlic and chiles in a mortar and pestle, about two or three minutes.

Add the palm sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and shrimp paste. Grind these until the palm sugar dissolves. Taste until you get the Pop! that Thai food is famous for.

Add the peanuts and cherry tomatoes and lightly pound to release the tomato juice.

Toss in handfuls of green papaya.  As opposed to pounding, let the weight of the pestle do the work and guide it with your hand.  Alternate pestling and stirring.  The goal is coating the papaya with the dressing. 

To make a tomato rose:  Using a sharp paring knife, start at the tomato base.  Rotate the tomato as you peel, trying to keep the skin in one piece.  Like you’re peeling an apple.  Place the skin on a cutting board and tightly roll it.  Before serving, adjust the tightness. 


Som Tam in a bowl.

The easiest way to serve Som Tam is in a bowl.

For a precise, fancy presentation, pack some Som Tam in a ring mold.  Lay down some basil leaves so they overlap.  Center a tomato rose in the basil leaves.  Serve immediately.

Som Tam

Do you have any stand out experiences travelling alone? Share your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Rating: 1 out of 5.

13 thoughts on “A Shared Experience (Video)

  1. So well written. And with the photos, it’s easy for the reader to imagine being there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! Thanks for reading!


  2. I remember traveling in the 80’s ..no google translate and no translation dictionary..just a lot of broken english and even more patience. But, i think that was probably my most favirite part of trying to communicate, the having to read peoples emotions and watch for there smiling( or frowning) eyes…i was always amazed at the kindness that could be recieved for something as simple as a smile( or a jimmy buffet cassette..met a guy who led a horse riding tour in isreal..got to ride arabian horses on a trail that went up& over mount olive..gave the guy the jimmy buffet cassette that i had and he took us again,and we stopped by his place by a kabutz on the way back..reverence and good memories. Thanks for sharing brian & i really enjoyed your story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading and you have an amazing story as well!


  3. Love the photos!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks for your sharing and recipes!!! Much appreciated!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I appreciate you reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. An excellent and fun story that is well told.
    We need more kindness like this in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and in these times, we need more kindness like I experienced in Thailand,


  6. I can’t help but marvel at the delivery of this post! And O love how travel-sy and cheerful your blog is! Keep spreading joy, Brian!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks again Rashi! I’m always working on spreading the joy!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re doing a marvellous job!


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