Making Lifelong Friends Far from Home

Making Lifelong Friends Far from Home

Piper Salmon


Southeast Asian Adventurer, Thailand 2022

Pursuing a Business Degree at the University of Minnesota

All the images have been provided by Piper. Read Piper’s story below

Small moments stuck out in Piper Salmon’s mind when she reminisced about her time spent in Thailand. There was the moment when she was doing forest restoration work and paused to watch the light reflecting off the trees and making a rainbow effect. And there was the day when a man playing a gong-like instrument at a temple let her try her hand at making various ringing sounds. Plus, there were numerous moments spent with newfound friends.

Piper says one of the funniest evenings came when they were staying at a unique and memorable treehouse accommodation during their Southeast Asian Adventurer program. That night the students’ program leader Lalada “Katie” Kaewpim taught them a new game.

“She was teaching us how to play a game called dice, and she was very competitive and wanted all of us to lose so she could win. When she was teaching us, she’d give us the wrong tips. It was really funny,” Piper said.

That night came towards the beginning of a 16-day journey that took Piper and her fellow students from the green mountains in the north to the coastline in the south. Along the way, they did activities ranging from white water rafting to elephant care, while being immersed in the local culture.

The trip had long been anticipated by Piper. She had originally signed up for a program years before, but then unexpected problems got in the way.

The Long Road to Travel

Piper went to Thailand after her senior year of high school and before heading to the University of Minnesota for business school. However, she had planned to travel with Rustic Pathways years earlier. Originally she chose a program much closer to home, but her family had to cancel that trip. Then Covid put a wrench in other hoped-for travel.

Finally, in the summer of 2022, the cards fell into place. Piper chose to travel farther away from home to stretch her wings before college.

“I’m very glad I went, not only by myself, but to a place that’s far away,” Piper said. “I’ve experienced a new level of independence… In Asia where the people are different, the culture is different, and the food is different, you’re just forced to try new things. It really gave me a better perspective of the world outside my little bubble.”

Among the new things she enjoyed were hanging out with Asian elephants and learning how to care for them. She says it was “such a unique experience” to be able to feed and bathe them and was tons of fun to learn how to call them by whistling.

That stop also gave Piper the chance to make an unusual present for her brother and sister. Piper used paper made from recycled elephant poop to make them cards.

During this time, Piper felt at home doing these types of activities. But later in the program there would be moments when she would have to decide how much she wanted to be pushed outside her comfort zone.

Facing Fears

When the students traveled to the south, they had a day to try rock climbing on cliffs overhanging the beach. Piper says some students were really excited about it, but she had her doubts.

“I was definitely afraid… They told me I didn’t have to, but I should. I thought, ‘okay, when is the next time I’m gonna be here,’ so then I did it.” Piper said. “Once I got to the top, it was a beautiful view… It was so cool. I’m really glad I did it.”

Later, Piper and the other students were rewarded for their efforts by getting to relax at a gorgeous beachfront hotel.

“It had a pool and a hot tub, and the beach was lined up with a mountain that the sun would rise above. It was picture perfect,” Piper said.

In between this time at the beach and the elephant sanctuary, the students had opportunities to visit Bangkok and see other historical sites. This gave them a great feel for what life is like in the country – both now and in the past.

Embracing the Culture

Throughout the program, the students had many opportunities to learn about the local culture. They had a Thai cooking class, attended a monk talk, and visited many ancient sites. Piper says it was interesting to see how the sights differed from home.

“Everywhere you went you would see Buddha statues or temples… and you’d see monks walking around,” Piper said. “Learning about their religion was new to me and that was definitely a good experience.”

Piper also said the ruins they visited were “super cool” and that she found it enjoyable to try Thai foods other than the pad thai she’s had in the past.

Thai food wasn’t the only thing on the menu though during the program. One night they ended up in a Mexican restaurant that had live music, dancing and sombreros.

“When we got there no one was dancing, so we all started to dance, and then it was like the whole restaurant joined it. It was really fun,” Piper said.

Each of these moments helped Piper make lasting connections.

Cementing New Friendships

Piper became closest with two other students during the program and visited them over winter break. She says making friends was easier than you may expect.

“You become so close because you don’t know anyone else where you are. These are your people for this time,” Piper said. “If you’re worried, you can know everyone there likes to travel. They all have a similar interest to you. They are the same sort of people who wanted to do this.”

Piper said at the end of the program, it was sad to say goodbye to her fellow travelers. She still wears her Rustic Ties bracelet as a reminder of the program. And now she’s trying to convince her parents to send her sister on a trip – maybe to Thailand as well.

“When else are you going to have the opportunity to have an experience like this?” Piper said. “You just have to go to Thailand. It’s beautiful everywhere you go. If you’re in a little town, big city, or on the coast, it’s just gorgeous.”