It’s hard to explain to people that you’re chasing something that’s hard to even define, but that’s how things happen at Smiling Albino. Character is a bold word with broad definitions, which is why it’s a bit strange that it’s come to define who we are, and what we chase.
You see, character is a two-way street.
In one lane you have the character that we, Smiling Albino, must have in order to operate as a leading voice in experiential travel. It’s easy to put up a website full of big promises and cool graphics. But ensuring that our ethical foundations and corporate objective are not only explained to every staff member, but embraced and displayed by them, is something that sounds easy to accomplish but, in fact, requires constant work and revision.
In the other lane are the places that we take you to see and the people we take you to meet. The memories you make and the stories that you tell after your trip are a direct result of these things, so they had better be good! We work hard to avoid the places that, through over-tourism or over-exposure, lose the character that made them so special, and peel back the layers on the stops on our own adventures. Be it sharing a drink with the locals, collating historical tidbits heard in passing, or refining a trip so often that it requires a change of name (see our recent blog: Keeping Things Fresh in Chiang Mai), we do it until it’s perfect.
A cool old building becomes even more interesting when you learn the intriguing history behind it, and then meet the individual whose efforts and vision have ensured its survival. A beautiful temple ruin is just another ruin until it comes alive with the story of the king who built it as a memorial to his mother, and the thousands of workers who carved the rock out of mountains 50 kilometers away and floated the stones on rafts down rivers.
Even in a bustling modern Asian city, there’s lots of character secreted away amongst the sightseeing crowds and chain stores. Our favorite bar in Bangkok isn’t a posh rooftop or a warehouse vibrating with the bass of EDM, but an old corner shophouse creatively decorated with an eclectic collection of art, tastefully furnished with antiques and spot-on mood lighting.
Owned by David, an ex-New York photographer who made his mark shooting on Hollywood movie sets before opening legendary bars and clubs in Vietnam and Thailand, his well-told and varied stories attract an intellectual crowd. You’ll find this bar a regular with writers, correspondents and restaurateurs. Passing Hollywood celebrities and London journalists stop in to say hi to their old friend. This bar is not for tourists, but it’s perfect for travelers who want get a feel of the local pulse.
And that is what we look for in every place we visit; the type of character that cannot be created, only unveiled, and we believe it comes through splendidly in every element of a Smiling Albino trip.