Traveling in Asia can be tough when you find yourself battling against price-gouging vendors, harassing taxi drivers and language barriers. Depending on how long you’re on the road, it can really start to grind you down and really make you question your faith in humanity.
Thankfully, there are individuals who will restore that faith with unexpected, yet very welcome, random acts of kindness. After our first such encounter, we decided to keep a log of all the times people went out of their way to be compassionate to us without any financial gain in return during our 7 month travel abroad in SE Asia and on. We hope that you too will receive and pass on similar acts of kindness to make our world just a little brighter by the end of the day.
- Frazzled by the heat and experiencing sensory overload on our first day in Southeast Asia had us lost in the busy downtown core of Yangon. Lacking a map or GPS, we gave up trying to wing it. On the edge of the sidewalk at a bustling intersection, we spotted an elderly man sitting on a stool and enjoying an afternoon of people-watching, creases of time wrinkling his mocha face. He resembled Barun’s own kind-faced late grandfather, and he was drawn to ask him for directions. All we expected was for him to jab a finger in a direction before returning to his own thoughts. However, he laboriously stood up, placed a gentle hand on my shoulder and walked me to the edge of the road. He mustered the little English he knew and combined it with frail hand gestures to successfully set us on the right path, before shuffling over and creaking back onto his stool to watch the world go by.
- Graduating university student Zao Ko Ko had only ever met us for an hour when we accidentally discovered an architectural art exhibit put on by his class. We were just two strangers from foreign lands whom he only chatted with for an hour. And yet that didn’t stop him from inviting us to an intimate dinner with his friends who all worked in tourism, so that they could help us put together a travel itinerary for the rest of Myanmar! Not only did he pick us up to take us to dinner, but they also paid for our meals and drinks while loading us up with helpful travel info that only industry experts would know.
- Cebbina is a Taiwanese solo world traveler who right off the bat saved us cash by offering to share a cab with us into the city from Yangon International Airport. Later, we were quickly running out of our reserves of the local currency, Burmese Kyat, because the pile of US dollars we had brought to exchange out were torn and ratty and subject to immediately rejection by local banks and money exchangers. Cebbina took a hit and saved our butts by trading her own Burmese Kyat out for our poor condition dollars.
- All the dogs we had encountered on our trip were grungy and hostile creatures, which broke my big dog-loving heart. We visited an abandoned pagoda in dusty Bagan after sunset where we found a friendly puppy as we were leaving. We played with him for ages, to the point that we even named him – Thura. We poured water in an empty chip bag, which he drank thirstily. After seeing the legions of stray dogs in Myanmar, many of them scary, Thura warmed our animal-loving hearts towards stray dogs by being a kind and innocent puppy just looking to make some friends. Once dark, we began riding away on our ebike, and he sat and watched us for a second with his big puppy eyes and droopy ears before letting out a yelp and running after us. We stopped and gave him more pats but pleaded with him to “stay” so we could go home. I hit the accelerator full speed and refused to look back, but Jen burst into sobs and buried her face into the back of my neck as Thura ran after us until Jen couldn’t see him anymore.
- As I napped, Jen set out in the heat of midday to buy us a big bottle of whiskey that I had been raving about since we arrived in Myanmar. She approached the boy we rented our ebike from and he pointed out a store a block away. But at the store she was turned away, as they didn’t have any. Suddenly, the boy popped up on an ebike outside the store and told Jen to hop on. Not only did he whisk her away to a second store further away where she finally found what she was looking for, but he also even drove her all the way back to our hotel. Had she walked, it would have been a 20-25 minute sweatfest.
- At night, we zipped over to the entrance of the illuminated Dhamma Ya Zi Ka Pagoda in Bagan, but stopped when it looked like the gate was closed. Suddenly, we heard “Hello!” and looked up to see an old man waving at us while tucked into a bed on the porch of a village hut. He threw off his blanket and clambered out of bed to walk over, and then beckoned us to follow him to the pagoda gates. He led us in and took us on a silent and casual stroll around the entire pagoda, allowing us to admire its beauty. Once we finished a whole loop, he waved us goodbye and tucked himself back into bed and closed the gates.
- As we prepared to land cross from Myanmar to Thailand, I had 700 Burmese Kyats I needed to get rid of, while hunger rumbled in my tummy. Unfortunately, all the street food stalls I asked at charged an even 1,000 Kyat. for a meal. Just as we gave up, a Tamil man eating his lunch noticed my predicament and told me to sit down at the food stall he was at. He asked me what I wanted to eat and immediately paid for the meal I was 300 Kyat short of. On top of that, he sent an employee out to fetch us a pair of Thai energy drinks which he also paid for. Although he refused to accept my remaining 700 Kyat no matter how many times he tried, I was happy that he finally accepted two Myanmar postcards as a token of my gratitude.
- After crossing into Thailand, we were hounded by price-gouging motorcycle taxi drivers and very confused about how much it should cost us to get to our hotel. At first sight of our plight, the lone elderly bank teller at the nearby currency exchange temporarily locked up his shop, ventured out of his air conditioned office and under the blazing noon Thai sun so he could both point us towards the public transportation and explain the process of using them. We were so grateful, as he saved us from paying 6 times more for a taxi!
- In Chiang Mai, not only did a grocery store attendant break the liquor laws for us by selling us two bottles of wine past midnight, but a spectacled young man at Virgo Hostel and Hotel who was finally off-duty at 3AM put his post-shift meal on pause to bring us a wine bottle opener AND open both for us. Fantastic!
- Using Couchsurfing, we found Mins, a 23 year old Singaporean teacher and fellow world traveler, to hang out with and show us the most popular districts of Singapore. Well, what was supposed to be just a couple of hours in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve turned into a full day & night excursion. She invited her Australian compatriot Yuji, and the four of us went on to celebrate NYE and the midnight fireworks we anticipated so much, before finally bidding each other farewell at the subway to return home.
- In the boiling afternoon heat of Bali, we zipped our scooter to a stop at a local restaurant for lunch, but were immediately perplexed by the menu that was entirely in the local language. The only customer eating there was Manuel Junior, a man kind enough to fill us in on what the different foods were and translated our requests to the restaurant employee. There was a beverage in the fridge I’d never seen before, and when I simply asked what it was, Manuel Jr. replied, “Do you want one? It’s on me,” and immediately ordered one for me even as I politely protested. We all finished our meals together and parted ways. As Jen and I were settling in on our scooter, Manuel suddenly popped by and gifted Jen a brand new jar of a local beauty cream remedy, before smiling and riding off.
- We were riding across the mostly uninhabited island of Sumbawa and were in the middle of nowhere just as a rainstorm began. We took shelter under the awning of a tiny clothing store with three women and several of their young children sitting outside. Without communicating they gave us silent consent to wait the storm out on the stoop of their shop. “We’re so close!” said Jen as we were just a few kilometers short of the next town, where we were going to scrounge up a much-needed late lunch. As the rain beat down while we sat on the tiled stoop, the women started feeding their kids a lunch of traditional Indonesian mixed veggies, crispy noodles, rice and grilled fish. We smiled politely, and suddenly, one of the women gestured us to have some noodles. She later introduced herself as Rehan, tightly wrapped in a hijab and with a kind face. She grabbed a bowl and we were shocked as filled it with one-third of their entire dinner, despite having so many mouths to feed. We were both taken aback by such random kindness and gratefully enjoyed the meal, while profusely thanking them. Afterwards, I tried to offer them 20,000 IDR in return but all three women adamantly refused, so we did our best to exchange polite conversation instead. We even busted out our selfie stick and clicked off several group selfies, much to their amusement. We were so impressed with their kindness that we wrote a note of our appreciation on a Korean postcards and gifted it to Rehan. They all bid us a safe journey as we donned our ponchos and braved the rain for the rest of our journey with full bellies and big smiles.
- We came off the ferry at Lombok Harbour during a rainstorm in the dark of night and with a front tire dangerously low on air. The closest town was 2km from the harbour, so we cautiously putted forward on the far edge locals wildly zipped past us. Suddenly, with 1/2 a kilometer before civilization, our fears were realized as our tire blew and we veered sharply across our both our lane and the opposite lane before skidding to a halt. We were so lucky that there just didn’t happen to be anyone passing us or any oncoming traffic in that harrowing moment! As I lurched the bike towards the lights in the distance, Jen walked alongside and began ducking into shops to unsuccessfully ask shopkeepers where the closest mechanic open on a Sunday night was. We began to see hope slip away as the dark, the cold rain and fatigue of riding all day began to pile up, when a young man in a tshirt and shorts rolled up next to us on his own scooter. “Do you need help?” he asked, with a sincere look. We told him our plight and he said he knew of a mechanic still open down the street and offered to let Jen ride with him there. Caution took a backseat to our miserable state and before I could protest, Jen jumped on the back of his moped and I trailed behind. We arrived at brightly lit shop where Ricky, the English name of our sudden hero, helped us communicate and even negotiate the price of getting our tire replaced. While we waited, he told us that the lady running the clothing store was actually his older sister, and after she had failed to help Jen in English, she called Ricky from his room to help us. Twenty-two year old Ricky spoke English so well after working at the tourist island of Gili Trawangan since he was 18, so he was glad to help us out – and we couldn’t have been more grateful! With a new tire on, we thanked him profusely and hit the road towards food and a shelter.
- We seated ourselves in a busy eatery in Melaka one morning. A muscular young man was sharing our table and we offered a polite “Hello.” We soon got to chatting and he recommended we order the local specialty, ‘chicken-rice balls.’ When the bill came, he suddenly paid for our dish as well as for Jen’s milk tea. Without even exchanging names, he wished us a good day and set off to meet up with his girlfriend.
- In search of dinner, we strolled out of our hotel tucked away at the end of a quiet street in Siem Reap. Right across from our hotel was a little place named “Popeye” with a sign that read “FREE BEER.” Intrigued, we stepped in and were surprised to be greeted by a young Korean man. Instinctively, we asked him if he was indeed from Korea, and before long we got wrapped up in a 2 hour conversation about Korea, travels and life. Born in Korea, raised in India and now living in Cambodia, Byeongchan proved to be a cool kid of 22. The bar we were at had just opened, so they were serving free draft beer all week. Hyped up on happy juice, he paid for the taxi to take us clubbing and bought us drinks there to top it off. We made sure to bid him farewell the next day before we left town and hoped to see him again one day.
- Most of the motorcycle mechanics of rural Vietnam have proven to be very kind individuals. Our speedometer cable popped out at one point, and when we enlisted a local mechanic to adjust it, he simply waved us off after I asked him how much. Just a few hours later, our fuel cap refused to open after seemingly locking itself shut. A friendly round-faced mechanic stopped working on a customer’s bike to take a look it for us. He had to struggle to pry the cap open, and yet again, we were just waved off when we asked him how much. Mechanics often get a bad rap for extorting people, but these helpful men really restored our faith in skilled motor masters!
Have you experienced any random acts of kindness, big or small, while you’ve traversed the world? We’d love to hear about them below in the comments!