Expert Travel Tips: Best Places to Meet Local People
Quite often the best and longest-lasting memories folks have of their travels are of the people they meet along the way. Meeting local people is an art; it takes timing, opportunity and chutzpah.
One of the methods that MIR regularly employs in meeting the locals is being at the right place at the right time – knowledge gained from more than 30 years of travel experience.
For example, we know that bazaars and markets of all types, from Tabriz, Iran to Kashgar, China are great places to browse, mingle and people-watch. We always try to include a market in our itineraries. We love to add a meal in a family home, too.
- Kashgar Sunday Animal Market
- Tabriz Bazaar in Tabriz, Iran
- Fish Market in Listvyanka, Siberia
- Meals in Family Homes
- Coffee Shops and Bakeries
- Aboard Local Trains
Some places that turn out to be great spots to meet locals are not as obvious. In fact, you might have to be a local to know about them. Luckily, our local guides are natives who know where people like to hang out.
A Little Help Making Friends: Insider Knowledge
When you travel with MIR, you don’t just pass through; you tap into the culture. We provide you with uncommon experiences, connecting you with local and people and places. One way we do that is with our partners in the field and a team of Tour Managers and Tour Guides.
Most MIR small group tours and rail journeys by private train are led by a dedicated Tour Manager who stays with the group for the duration of the trip. In various cities, the Tour Manager is assisted by expert local Tour Guides familiar with every aspect of the locales. Those traveling with MIR on a custom, private trip may also choose to have a local Tour Guide travel with them.
Our Tour Guides themselves are local people who love to share their stories and answer your questions about what life is like in their countries. They know people all across their routes, and take advantage of opportunities for their groups to mingle and merge. Nothing can compete with a local resident’s combination of knowledge, experience, personal connections and intuition.
MIR Tour Managers are not always local, but they are always the sort of gregarious person who makes new friends easily and is not too shy to ask to visit a home or to talk to people on the street. Our excellent Tour Managers are a breed apart – a blend of personal guide, destination expert, magician and diplomat.
Likely Spots to Meet and Greet
Kashgar Sunday Animal Market in Western China
China’s westernmost city, two-thousand-year-old Kashgar is unlike any other place in China. Mainly populated by Turkic Uighur people, Kashgar retains the exotic air and immense appeal of medieval Asia. Wander its famous Sunday animal market, where you can test drive a camel or buy yourself a herd of sheep. Travelers may come to observe, but locals drive the action, buying, selling, herding and haggling over the animals that make up their livelihood.
Tabriz Bazaar in Tabriz, Iran
One of the oldest and largest covered bazaars in the world, Iran‘s UNESCO-listed Tabriz Bazaar was already flourishing in the 13th century, and was a hub of Silk Road commerce. The labyrinthine bazaar has sections where different crafts are represented, and is a maze of tiny shops, booths, and alcoves all crowded with purposeful shoppers.
Fish Market in Listvyanka, Siberia
Listvyanka is a little lakeside village on the shores of UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia. It began as a fishing outpost and has become a center for the study of the lake. Visit the little open-air fish market at the Listvyanka dock, where all manner of Baikal fish are presented for sale, including fresh and smoked omul, the endemic salmon-like fish that is a favorite around here. The salespeople smoke their own fish, and sell mainly to Russians from Irkutsk, who carry their newspaper-wrapped treasures back to their families in town.
Meals in Family Homes
Lots of MIR’s small group tours include a meal in a family home, but the award-winning tour Belarus, Ukraine & Moldova fits in a family meal in each of the three countries it traverses. From Minsk in Belarus, travelers head out through the countryside to a rural farmhouse, and stop to dine with a local family, learning about life in this corner of the world. In Lviv, Ukraine, they explore a family-run goat farm and cheese-making enterprise, enjoying lunch and a tasting of different hand-made cheeses. And in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, the travelers enter a family home for lunch and conversation.
A handful of MIR itineraries include a homestay. In the remote Siberian town of Ust-Barguzin, MIR travelers on the Siberia & Mongolia: Spirits & Nomads tour not only have dinner with a family, they spend the night and have breakfast! A fishing and port town with unpaved streets, Ust-Barguzin offers a fascinating glimpse into rural Siberian life.
Coffee Shops and Bakeries
Coffee shops and little bakeries from the Balkans to the Baltics are great places to get into a conversation with local people. Head to the Old Towns, many of them UNESCO Sites, and pull up a chair – inside or on the street.
Aboard Local Trains
You can travel with MIR on regularly scheduled Trans-Siberian trains with a small group of intrepid travelers over a dramatic and variegated route that offers limitless opportunities to meet the diverse local people. Start in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, and end in the megalopolis of Moscow, hopping off to explore fascinating towns and cities along the route.
Less Likely Spots
Tomb of Hafez in Shiraz, Iran
In Iran, the place to meet local people is at the tombs of poets. Because who else knows about the 14th century Persian poet, Hafez? (Besides other poets and students of Persian language and history, that is.)
The Tomb of Hafez is in a lovely cool garden, and is a place of pilgrimage and reverence. Hafez was born and died in Shiraz in the 14th century, and his poetry is memorized by many Iranians. The marble tombstone is engraved with some of his verses. The teahouse by a cooling pool is a wonderful place to sit and people-watch, as Iranians come from all over the country to read Hafez’s poetry, contemplate life and enjoy the flowers, paths and streams.
“Near the String of Riding Camels” Outside Yarkand, Western China
This is a well-kept secret that only the local guides and Tour Managers know about. Outside of Yarkand on the outskirts of the Taklamakan Desert of Western China, travelers can get a chance to mount a “ship of the desert” and take a swaying ride around the dunes. Insiders agree that this place is a great spot to get into a conversation with local people who might be sitting around with their camels or selling trinkets.
Meet the Locals with MIR
In 2016, MIR celebrated 30 years of connecting travelers with locals. Clients rave about our on-the-ground support and stellar Tour Managers. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
30 years of travel expertise means that the specialists at MIR know how to get there, what to do while you’re there, and how to enhance your trip in each of our destinations.
Wondering which destination or itinerary is right for you? In addition to browsing the pages of our free catalog, you can narrow down your choices online using our Trip Finder and the Destination Map.
Contact MIR today at email@example.com or 1-800-424-7289.
Top photo: Travel like a local and make friends in Iran. Photo credit: Taylor Broadfoot
PUBLISHED: January 22, 2016