Pleasant travel surprises (Part 9)

This item appears on page 17 of the March 2022 issue.

Ron Carlson of Lakeland, Minnesota, asked ITN subscribers to write in about serendipitous experiences that they had while traveling outside of the US. Under various categories, a number of your stories have been printed in the April through November 2021 issues. This month’s offerings fall under the categories of Right Place, Right Time, Meeting Notable People and Little Things.

Right Place, Right Time

As my husband, Richard, and I strolled along False Creek near our home-exchange apartment in Vancouver, BC, Canada, in July 2014, we saw road signs warning of detours that evening. A passerby told us it was the first night of an international fireworks competition, the Honda Celebration of Light*. We decided to check it out.

Shortly before the beginning of the display, traffic was stopped and streetlights and traffic lights were turned off to give complete darkness. The fireworks were set off from boats in False Creek (so named because it is really an ocean inlet) while spectators lolled on the gentle slope of the park next to the water.

This first night, July 26, was for the United States to display its ability. The fireworks were spectacular. We went next on July 30 for the display by France, which was just as spectacular. And then finally we went on Aug. 2 for Japan’s turn. They were even more spectacular, winning the 2014 competition.

It didn’t matter to us who won. We enjoyed every minute of it, oohing and ahhing with the crowd. A really serendipitous treat!

Kitty Chen Dean
New York, NY

*Held in Vancouver every year, the Honda Celebration of Light was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is scheduled to resume July 23, 27 & 30, 2022.


In 1955, when I was 23, some friends and I biked through parts of Europe. Two of us spent a week in England, with time in London, then rode south to Stratford-upon-Avon.

After checking in at a youth hostel there, we went over to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre* to see what was playing and if we could get tickets for that night’s performance.

We lucked out and were fortunate to see “Twelfth Night”… with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh!

Myrtle Kastner
Milwaukee, WI

*The theater was renamed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1961.


Meeting Notable People

While making our way through Southeast Asia in November 2012, my wife, Shirley, and I paid a visit to the popular Wat Rong Khun (often called the White Temple), south of Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Before leaving the temple, I was browsing its gift shop and saw an article about the site from an issue of the Asian edition of TIME magazine posted on the wall. The article noted that the Baan Dam (Black House) complex, nearby, was the antithesis of the White Temple. I tried to find information on Baan Dam in our guidebooks, but it wasn’t mentioned.

Thawan Duchanee in the Reptile House of Baan Dam – Thailand. Photo by Steve Piccolo

Heading out the following morning in our hired car, I asked our guide about Baan Dam and whether we could see it. He said a visit would be no problem, since we were going right past it on our way to the northern hills.

As we approached Baan Dam, our guide explained that it was the work of Thawan Duchanee, an internationally renowned painter, sculptor and architect who had been awarded a prestigious prize naming him as a National Thai Artist. Baan Dam is actually a collection of 15 buildings that served as the residence, studios and galleries of Thawan (who would die nearly two years later, on Sept. 3, 2014).

Our guide was quite excited to report that, several days earlier at the Bangkok airport, he actually glimpsed Thawan as the artist returned from abroad.

Shortly after we entered the Sanctuary Hall at Baan Dam, we noticed a commotion as someone entered. Based on our guide’s description, I recognized the newcomer as Thawan, himself. Surrounded by what appeared to be fawning acolytes, he patiently responded to questions and comments from the intensely interested group.

Although Shirley and I remained in the background, he eventually noticed us and asked where we lived. Our response elicited surprising interest. Apparently, some years earlier, he had traveled overland from California to British Columbia and retained fond memories of the experience.

Inviting us to join him on a tour of some of the facilities, he led us into a building not normally open to the public and to the Reptile House, where the skins of numerous alligators and crocodiles covered the floor, their skulls arrayed on shelves and tabletops. Various horns, antlers and skins were incorporated into furniture.

Thawan took his place on a throne of animal horns and held court for his entranced audience of about four. He was definitely in his element as he held us in his thrall, describing his art, assorted travels, astute business deals (“I don’t even pick up a paintbrush anymore for less than $100,000”) and other events over the past couple of decades.

I’m not sure who was more amazed by this turn of events: my wife and I or our guide. After 30-40 minutes, other demands on Thawan’s time prompted his departure, but not before he had graced us with an unforgettable travel experience.

Steve Piccolo
Seattle, WA



Little Things

In 2000, when we lived in Australia, we took a 3-month driving trip around that huge country. On Christmas Day, just before lunch, we drove into the small town of Port Pirie, South Australia, and checked into a tiny, family-run motel. Apparently, we were the only guests, and the owner/manager told us how sorry he was that we should be at a motel on Christmas, with no family or friends to share the day with.

We were hungry and asked him where we could find lunch in town. He said that we had two “good” choices: McDonald’s or the only Chinese restaurant. He was certain one or both would be open. Wrong!

We returned to the motel somewhat dejected, thinking we would have to tuck into our emergency snack rations. The manager apologized for giving us wrong information and suggested we go to the pool area to relax and have a swim (Christmas in Australia is in summer). We did so and lay down on the lounges to dry off in the hot sun.

Then, to our surprise, the manager came outside with two plates piled high with portions of his family’s Christmas dinner of roast turkey with all the trimmings, followed by plum pudding. He put them on an umbrella-shaded table nearby. “This is for you,” he said. “We can’t let you go without having something to eat.”

We were dumbstruck.

The next morning, as we checked out, we said we needed to pay him both for our room and the generous dinner, but he would not accept payment for the meal, saying it would be like asking Mary and Joseph to pay for the room at the inn on Christmas Day!

We did, however, write a “Thank you” note and also informed the national hotel association, of which his motel was a member, of this man’s extraordinary kindness.

What a perfect example of how a little surprise of such kindness can greatly touch and move a person! We have never forgotten this.

Carole & Marvin Feldman
Jacksonville, FL