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Finding family in Thailand

Audley traveler Nicole and her husband Dean visited Thailand to find culture and adventure, and returned having found family and lifelong friends.

Story by Audley Travel May 4th, 2016

I’ve always dreamt of visiting Thailand for its beauty and diversity, but also for reasons far beyond that.

Having been adopted several times when I was young, I only knew my biological father for a few short years. During those years he promised to one day take me to Thailand to meet my family. Before he had the chance to do so, he passed away. With my father gone, I had little to no information about my family – just a handful of names and photos in black and white from 1969. My Thai friends living in America offered to help me in my search and even enlisted the help of the Bangkok police. But after a series of searches with nothing close to a lead, it became clear to me that my search was a lost cause and made peace with the reality that I may never meet my biological family.

When it came time for our trip to Thailand, I wasn’t going hoping to find my family; I was going to enjoy the country I’d always dreamt of. Our specialist Julie arranged a day with a local Thai family for us, and that was as close to family as I assumed I’d get.

Cooking course with a local Thai family
The results of our Thai cooking course
Myself and my husband, Dean, cooking with a local family.
With a local Thai family

Upon arrival in Bangkok we were met by our guide Chai, whose charisma and intelligence was immediately evident. He asked us what inspired us to visit Thailand and, wanting to spare him a lifetime’s worth of a story, I gave him a brief and generic answer. But when my husband Dean insisted I fill Chai in on the real reason behind my passion for the country, I told Chai about my family. He nodded along, listening intently.

The next day on a long car ride, Chai said he believed he’d found my cousin through a little Internet research he’d done the day before. I was in disbelief. There was no way that one tour guide could have found someone even the police couldn’t locate. But Chai insisted – he said that my cousin’s last name was so rare that in all his time in Thailand and his ten years being a tour guide he had never heard of anyone else by that name. I freaked out to say the least - I was full of emotion.

After some back-and-forth about how to best contact my cousin, Chai decided to call him for me. It took a lot of convincing on both ends, and about 45 minutes of Chai translating my story, my background, and even scanning and emailing some old photos my family. My cousin finally showed the scanned photos to his father and it was confirmed - we were family. Chai then handed me the phone and my dream of speaking with my family finally came true. My cousin said that above all, it was my crying that convinced him I was telling the truth. We tried to arrange to meet in person at some point over the next day, but we still weren’t sure if it would happen.

Chai could tell I was nervous while waiting for an answer from my cousin, so, as a true testament to his selfless character, he took us to play dress up in traditional Thai clothing to take our mind off things.

Dean and I dressed up in traditional Thai clothing
Dean and Chai in traditional clothing

Finally, we got word that my cousin would drive up to Bangkok to meet us.

When my cousin arrived, I was shaking so much you’d think I was giving a speech in front of the whole of the United States. I honestly can’t think of words to describe how big that moment was. Meeting, hugging and speaking to members of a family I never thought I’d meet was magical. Chai took us on a boat ride on the river that evening, and we spent the time getting to know each other.

My heart was completely content being able to spend this time with my cousin, so when arrangements began to meet my uncle in Bangkok, it was more than a dream come true. Again with the help of Chai’s generosity and translations, we made plans to meet my uncle at a steakhouse the next day. I was so excited I didn’t even care that I’m a vegetarian.

Sitting at the table chatting with my uncle about the rest of my eclectic family – my grandfather who’d had seven wives, my grandmother who had twelve children – every daydream I’d ever had of meeting my biological family paled in comparison to this very real experience. Through my uncle’s stories, I learned of so many more living family members I had scattered throughout Thailand and the family tree I hadn’t even had a few weeks ago now seemed endless.

Spending time with my cousin and his wife
At a night market with my cousin and his wife
Meeting my cousin's wife and my uncle!
Taking a boat ride through the floating markets with my cousin and his wife
Family photo
My cousin and I

None of this would have ever happened if we hadn’t been put in touch with Audley and if they hadn’t paired us with Chai. Chai became so much more than our guide, he became our friend for life. He is the most open, gregarious, intelligent, funny – pick any positive adjective and it will describe Chai. Beyond his kindness and friendship, Chai’s intelligence was out of this world. He seemed to know every single fact possible. We saw a lot while in Thailand, from temples and pagodas to historical districts, and everywhere we went, he knew every single detail. I’ve been on walking tours all over the world and never experienced anything like it.

After I caught on to how smart he was, I started playing a game with him where I’d ask him extremely obscure questions about our surroundings – what kind of gravel is this, why is there one patch of grass in that corner, etc. He knew the answer to every single question. It was then that he revealed to us that he was on a Thai game show and had been the grand champion three times, the first time when he was twenty. Locals would stop him during our tour, recognizing him from the show. That is the best tour guide in the world. Chai is now family to us, and as the Thai say, he will walk with me the rest of my life.

Saying goodbye to Chai at the airport
Chai, our guide
Chai dressed up in traditional clothing
Dean and Chai

Even after our return home, Chai continued to help me locate and find more members of my family, and it’s because of him that I’ve now been able to reach out to more of my cousins and arrange a visit for their wedding in June. This experience has lead to me locating and speaking to my fathers closest brother, who was with him till his last breath in the hospital in Nakhonnayok.

This entire trip has been a whirlwind. I have an entire large family that is waiting to meet me! I am video chatting with my fathers closest brother, who was with my father in his dying moment, and who will take me to my fathers ashes when I return. My life is evolving at such a rapid rate I cannot put it into words.

And all because of Chai. Chai, who was to be the guide for another couple, but they got cancelled last minute. And because of Julie, who set up our trip for us last minute. It’s all improbable but true. I truly believe it was was fate.

So, thank you Julie and Audley Travel. Cheers to truly life changing trips!

Temples in Chiang Mai
An elephant at the Patara elephant sanctuary
A monk giving alms
The Similan Islands in Phuket
Dean enjoying the Similan Islands
Wat Phra Kaew Temple in Bangkok
Enjoying a boat ride in Bangkok
Similan Islands

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