Oh, Thailand. I had no idea how in a short period of time I would be so smitten with your wonderful kingdom. My visit was only a week long and definitely not enough time to call me an expert. I admit, I didn’t do the proper research before hitting the ground running in Bangkok and Loei Province and in my naivety, here are 10 things that surprised me about Thailand.
Yeah, I’m playing the ignorant card here. I had assumed Thailand would be as wound up tight like Japan. During my month-long visit in the Land of the Rising Sun, everything happened like clockwork and it was very business-like. It seemed to take a few glasses of sake to get anyone to crack a smile. In Thailand, I discovered a very kind, relaxed yet professional setting. Everyone I met was polite and nice and although I was only quasi-proficient in one Thai word (Khob khunka for “thank you”), many people spoke English.
Contrasting with my experiences in Brazil, where it’s been frustrating only speaking English and very basic Portuguese in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and a 2 p.m. appointment really means 3:30 p.m., Thailand restored my faith in international travel. Seriously, after last September’s trip to São Paulo I didn’t want to leave the country again, but the Thai hospitality has reminded me good comes from stepping beyond my comfort zone and immersing in another culture.
No Recycling. No. Really.
I spent three nights with a friend who lives in Bangkok and when I looked for a recycling bin to place plastic bottles, he told me there isn’t real recycling. According to him, everything is taken out to the trash where people will then sort through the trash and pull out things they can sell, like bottles and paper. Ew. Think about what you discard.
Vroom! Keep Your Head on a Swivel
Motorcycles are crazy. No, not just crazy, but CRAZY! My friend was concerned about me crossing the Bangkok streets by myself and repeatedly told me to constantly look both ways because the motorcyclists don’t follow the same rules as car drivers. Told him not to worry because a taxi driver already warned me the previous day.
One of the things I thoroughly researched was what to wear and basically, everything I read was pretty much incorrect, including the wearing of socks. I had read that Thai people do not wear them and look down on others who do wear them. Guess what I saw over and over again? Thais wearing socks! Why did I notice? Because when you enter a temple, shoes must be removed. Other things I read about attire, especially for women, was that women over 40 shouldn’t wear slacks or shorts. And you know what, there were women well over their 40s, both visitors and Thais, wearing slacks and shorts and not being scorned by society.
Relief is Interesting
I’ve traveled to some pretty remote areas and I’m cool with peeing behind trees and over porcelain holes but didn’t realize in Thailand you need to step up on the toilet then squat and go. It’s then flushed by pouring water into the bowl. Obviously, it’s easier for women wearing skirts or dresses than slacks or shorts. Oh, and bring your own toilet paper and toss that in a can, not the toilet. And bring a handkerchief to dry your hands after you’ve washed them. Public restrooms in Thailand typically don’t have toilet paper, paper towels or hand dryers.
Bold and Spicy is Extra Nice
Once I told people I was heading to Thailand, they told me the food would be really spicy. I enjoy a healthy dose of heat in my meals but when something is scorching with spice, it’s just not enjoyable. Maybe my guide sheltered me but honestly, other than a deliciously sour and bold and spicy soup and another dish served at King Dao Restaurant, entrees were pretty much on the tam e side. Even the pad thai at Chatuchak Market was pretty tame.
This soup screams with spicy, bold flavor. Oh yeah, this is Thainess. #TBEXASIA2015 #TBEXTHAILAND #discoverthainess #travel #Fotor #fotorapp A photo posted by Jennifer Huber (@jenniferhuber) on
Grasshoppers Didn’t Taste Like Chicken
Eating roasted insects doesn’t seem to be an everyday thing in Thailand but if you look really hard, you’ll find a food cart searching some crunchy insects. And no, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and whatever else I munched in didn’t taste like poultry but had a nutty, savory flavor.
Spirit houses, or mini-temples, were all over Thailand. They are shrines to a protective spirit of a place. I saw them on street corners, in gas station parking lots, and in front of restaurants, condominiums and hotels. Each was unique and what I found fascinating was how respectful the Thai people are to them. Not only did they bring fresh offerings, such as flowers, bowls of rice and red soda, most made the “wai” (pronounced “why”) gesture while walking by a spirit house. This sign is made as a sign of acknowledgment. I’m sure it’s part out of habit but I’d like to think it has something to do with taking time to show respect. Comparing it to life in the United States, do we have something comparable? The closest thing I can think of is the American flag.
As a solo traveler, I felt extremely safe out and about. True, there were times I was with a small group but there were many times I was out on my own, especially in Bangkok. I’m not gullible in thinking nothing bad happens in Thailand, I know crime has no address, but I kept my head on a swivel and didn’t feel as tense as I have in other countries.
Beyond the Beaches
“Aren’t the beaches beautiful?” people asked upon my return. Just like Florida, Thailand is more than beaches. Truth is, I didn’t even get to step foot in sand. Instead, I experienced some of Northeastern Thailand in Loei where I took a river cruise on the Mekong River, visited Phu Ruea National Park (coldest spot in Thailand) and learned about Thai traditions.
Will I make a return trip to Thailand in the near future? Fingers crossed. There’s a whole lot of Thainess waiting for me to discover.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and this post has not been reviewed by the host. Opinions are my own and reflect my honest experience.