Having never been to any part of Southeast Asia before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. There have been so many things that made me go “Wow” or “Oh my” or “Hmmm” or “Ha!” Here are just a few of my favorites.
1. The traffic is utter chaos but no one honks
If we were in America, everyone would be complaining about the traffic between bouts of road rage. I know. I do it myself. The road here is ruled by tuk tuks and motor scooters and small cars, which are all zooming in and out of lanes, making new lanes when necessary, sometimes going against the flow of traffic to make a critical turn. People just accept that here and go with the flow. It is a great life lesson, and not just about driving.
2. Thais love dogs as much as I do
I am so used to going to other countries and seeing starving dogs roaming the streets, scavenging, and no one seeming to take notice. This always bothered me on our trips to tropical destinations closer to home. But Thais really seem to love the concept of the family dog. It is rare to visit a home or business that doesn’t have a beloved dog. Even some of the temples have dogs!
3. Four on a motor scooter is normal
Back to the traffic-since motor scooters are the quick and accessible way to get around, they seem to be equivalent to the family car in some cases. We have seen whole families, mom with three kids, three or four friends, squished onto a motor scooter getting where they need to go. Very common to see a parent with their two or three kids all straddling on the way to or from school.
4. It really is as affordable as they say
We chose Thailand in part because it was said to be very affordable to travel and live here. I am always a little skeptical though until I experience something for myself. And it is true. Most things, including meals, we pay no more than $3 for. Then there are the splurges, like a massage that costs $6 or $7, or the Thanksgiving feast that costs $17 each. Our basic little studio apartment in Chiang Mai (think dorm room) costs $17 a night. It has air conditioning and is in a great location. We could have splurged on something bigger and less basic for $30 a night, but we are trying to save our money for experiences.
Far and away the most expensive things we have done are the tours, and they are still cheap compared to what they would be in the U.S. $30 or less for a full day tour, with the exception of our visit to the Elephant Nature Park, which is costing us $75 each. That is the absolute most we have spent on anything except our plane tickets. In-country plane tickets can be purchased very cheaply as well, $50 or less one way in many cases. It is going to be very difficult to go back to paying American prices for things after this…
Mango sticky rice with coconut ice cream 40 baht (just over a dollar)Nice dinner at the Riverside Restaurant in Chiang Mai $10 ($12 if you include the beer)Jeans for $9-$12 negotiable of course. I bought a cute linen blouse for $4.
5. The Thai people love to laugh
When my tuk tuk driver got lost trying to get to my apartment the other day, and he had to go the wrong way down several one way streets, past a policeman (he looked at me and smiled and said “shhhh…”), stopping and turning around several times, he just kept laughing. I was not in a laughing mood because Trent was locked in the apartment waiting for me to get home, but his laughter was infectious. The Thai people love to laugh and smile. I see how it earned its name “Land of Smiles.”
The other night Trent and I were lured into this bar called The Castle. It had a haunted house and an escape room, but we just sat at the bar and had a beer. Next thing I know there is a bloody hand on my shoulder. I screamed and the four young women and one young man who were all dressed up like Halloween just laughed hysterically. That got us in the mood and before long we were playing jokes on each other and teaching them silly parlor trick games. Gotta love a land full of people who just want to laugh and make you laugh too.
6. So many people speak English
As a native English speaker who is only partially proficient in Spanish, I am reminded every day how far we lag behind other countries when it comes to speaking and appreciating the value of other languages. I am also reminded of my privilege as a native English speaker that I can go almost anywhere and get by without having to know anything other than my own native tongue. Everyone we have encountered both in the city and in the country knows enough English to interact with me the American tourist and make their living. Many people know English quite well and hold a great conversation. Trent and I are trying to show our respect by knowing a little bit of Thai to say thank you and hello, and other phrases we pick up along the way. When a Thai realizes that you have put in the effort to learn a little, they want to teach you more. I love that, and that leads me to my final thought.
7. The Thai people love their country and want you to love it too
It is so nice to spend time in a country, surrounded by kind people, who are so proud of where they live. They revere their king, who just passed a little over a year ago, and there are pictures of him everywhere, on buildings, in temples, on shrines throughout the city. The Thais want to tell you about the wonderful things in their country, where to visit, what to eat, how wonderful their homeland is. I just love that, to be reminded that people can be proud of where they come from without being arrogant or self-serving but rather giving and gracious wanting to extend the best parts of home to include you. So refreshing, and I a so grateful.
This is Pom. She gave me her scarf after I complemented her on it! She refused to take it back.