OTHER SIDE OF THAILAND

 

…or Things you didn’t know about Thailand.

(And let me tell you: there is a lot you didn’t know.)

What do you think of first when someone says “Thailand”? Sandy beaches? Turquoise waters? Partying with neon paint on your face? Lady boys? What ever it is that came across your mind first, you were right. Thailand is indeed heaven on Earth. Unique and simply awesome.

Long tail boats are so much fun! Especially if you want to avoid the crowds, which are often around Koh Phi Phi.
Picture taken from a long tail boat cruising around Phi Phi archipelago.

Yes, those colors you see in pictures are real and they are not photo-shopped. Yes, parties are crazy and wild and so much more fun with your feet in the sand aaand… Yes, if it is your first time in South-East Asia, you will be surprised about a thing or two.

I have just returned from a six weeks long trip to Thailand and Cambodia. My main reasons to go there were volunteering, getting my TEFL and, afterwards, taking some time off, to make big decisions and plans. Ha! Talking about killing quite a few birds with one stone! (I love, animals, I swear. But check my Bucket list on top and you will see what I mean.)

In so many ways, Thailand was a perfect choice for these things I wanted. I will deffo write about that later on. I am still not quite “there” with the whole sinking in part. But if Thailand is on your list and you don’t want to be just another tourist and you want to grow and learn from this experience (soul searching, anyone?), I suggest you include some other parts of this amazing country on your list, not just the typical touristy ones. I guarantee you, that you will learn a lot about Thailand and, through these experiences and a bit of real cultural immersion, you will end up learning about yourself, too.

Monkey beach attracts many tourists. For a reson as well! But be carefull, because even though they are cute, monkeys can be very mean little creatures. Especially when they get agitated.
Famous Monkey Beach. This is the closest I got.

Wow, this was a loooong introduction.

So, let’s say you have decided to travel a bit different. Of the beaten path. To some rural parts. Maybe you want to do a bit of volunteering as well. What ever it is that you’ll be doing, I made a list of things you need to expect. List of things that probably will surprise you.

FARANGS, FARANGS!!! PICTURE, PLS.

Farang (or Falang) is a Thai word which you will hear a lot if you go to literally any place that is not touristy. It pretty much means “Westerner” or just a foreigner. A non-asian person. It is a mere statement about your background and it is not derogatory at all. But, my my my, be prepared to hear it all the time.

Here is the thing. In Phuket, Bangkok, majority of the islands, etc people are so used to seeing people that are “different” in comparison to them, that they don’t even pay attention to you. Try going somewhere else, where people are more humble and live an ordinary, typical Thai life and you will feel like a superstar. Majority of them have seen a farang only on Tv and they are so stoked about your blue eyes or you pale skin, or how tall you are (ok, not me, obviously, but other fellow volunteers), that they want to take pictures. They really do.

First few times I was surprised and confused but their curiosity is genuine and once you  realize how they feel about these encounters, you are happy to pose. Every day, multiple times.  You get used to the fact that they stop their cars to wave. That they walk up and offer you a sip of their beer. That really small children start to cry because they don’t understand the color of your eyes (sigh).

WHEN YOU GOTTA GO… (TOILET BUSINESS)

This would not be an honest post if I did not mention this little thing. Since I have never been a person to talk only about rainbows and flowers, let me tell you straight away: You can’t flush toilet paper in Thailand. 

I mean, in few places I suppose it is okay, but in general you will see many signs saying not to flush so don’t. I know it sounds a bit ewww from a Westerner point of view, but really: don’t. Use the bin. Their plumbing system is just a bit different and you can clog the toilets real bad. No fun. Especially because Thai people are rarely in a rush, so you might wait and wait and wait some more until that gets fixed.

Also, they have these magnificent things called (taaa-daaa) bum guns. If any one you traveled to Middle East before, you will be familiar with what it is. If not, Google it. Fun times.

Another thing… Every now and then, you might come across squatting toilets as well. Especially on the trains.

Now, truth to be told, I was struggling with all this in the beginning. But at the end of my first week, I was more than fine. Like I said, the whole point of this trip was not to be a spoiled tourist and adapt. Talking about cultural immersion!

 

GO BURI RAAAM, GO! (FOOTBALL)

If you are  (like me) from a country where football (or soccer) is a sacred activity, you might want to go to Buriram. Yep. Even if you are not into football all that much.  I am not, but going to the game is now one of my favorite experiences from this trip.

Buriram United is their national champion (Thai Premier League and all) and, boy, are they proud of them! In my life, I have been to quite a few football (soccer, tomato, potato) matches but I have NEVER seen anything like this. The atmosphere was just unreal. Singing, chanting and clapping with absolutely no breaks. You can literally feel in the air the love they have for their champion. Up until this game I considered Thai people very laid back. This game thought me they can be very passionate about things they love, too.

Also, many pictures of farangs wearing Buriram jerseys were taken. #farangforlife

CATS. EVERYWHERE.

When I say everywhere, that is exactly what I mean. On my first night in Bangkok, we went for a dinner at this nice little outdoor restaurant. There was few very nice cats that did not pay any attention to us (made me totally sad) and they were minding their own business the entire time, doing crazy stunts and rolling around. Little did I know, this will become an every day situation. Even less did I know, that these cats were super well behaved.

Later, in the islands, number of cats increased. On my very first lunch with a beautiful view of Tonsai Bay (Koh Phi Phi), a little tiger jumped onto my chair and then onto my table. Server came up and asked if I wanted him to remove the cat. I said it was fine. And he? What did he say? Well, he said: This is Bob.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not stupid. I know it is not the most sanitary thing to be having cats jumping on your table. But once you get there, you will realize how they are just part of the ambient. If you don’t want them around, they will make sure that they get taken away. But if you are a crazy cat lady (I mean this with love), get ready for cuteness overload every single day.

If you are a cat person, you will love some of the places in Thailand.
Just one of many cats that can be seen in Bangkok.

LAND OF SMILES… Just not all the time.

As my trip was approaching, I started to do my research about Thailand (I know, so proud of myself!) as I figured it is going to be different from any places I visited until that point. Very often it was described as land of smiles. Great, I thought. I love people who smile!

Right. Don’t get too excited on this one. But then again, don’t get too discouraged too soon.

When I landed in Bangkok, I had to go through immigration (obviously). Later on, as I was flying to other domestic destinations, I had to go through security (obviously). Let me tell you this: I have taken dozens of flights in my life and I am used to airport staff smile. But, a-ah. Not in Thailand. Not even a grin. Actually, lady at Don Mueang Airport almost made my cry (but that’s should be a different post, I guess).

If you are visiting Bangkok, don’t expect too much of smiling either. It is an awesome city, but like every other… It is a city. It is dynamic, busy, rushed, loud… And people mind their own business.

To experience Thailand as a land of smiles, you have to get out of cities. To villages. To smaller towns. To schools. I guarantee you, as soon as a child sees your farang smile, you will get a smile back. But not just ANY kind of smile. A smile that warms your soul. Shy at first and then bigger and bigger. So genuine and beautiful, it will make you feel like you are a better person.

Regardless of the age, they always smile and show respects. Look at the size of these smiles!
Thai kids are the cutest kids you can ever imagine.

I would get it from and old person at the market, selling thai pancakes. It would brighten up my morning while getting my ice coffee from a lady that spoke zero English but we understood each other perfectly. Most certainly, it felt life changing when I would play with children and I would be given the biggest, the most innocent smiles you can ever imagine. Every single time.

So, if you ask me if Thailad IS a land of smiles, I would say: Yes. You just need to know where to look.

 

SAVING FACE

I’ll put it nice and simple for you: Don’t ever shout or get angry with Thai person. Ever.

Here’s the thing. All their life, Thai people are thought how to NOT lose their temper. This IS why they ARE the land of smiles. They have been brought up not to shout, not to argue, not to get into conflicts. Raising voices or being incidental is considered embarrassing. (Ermmm, I suppose we could learn a thing or two from them.) So, why would you embarrass yourself when you can save your face?

Therefor, if you actually shout, they will completely ignore you. I am not joking right now. They will literally pretend you are not there. Seen it with my own eyes. Saving faces. Yours. Theirs. This is not just a phrase. They take this seriously. So do yourself a favor and stay calm no matter what. Because once they hit that ignore button… Things will just get worse for you.

Unfortunately, this sometimes apply if they don’t understand you when you talk. To save themselves from embarrassment, they will just nod and smile. Or if you are really unlucky, you will get the ignore situation again. I had really hard time dealing with this on my bad days, as I am quite an impatient person and I talk fast. The trick is to understand that Thai language is so so SO different from English and sometimes, if you do talk too fast, no matter how hard they try, they won’t understand you. Just imagine yourself in their shoes. And remind yourself you are there to learn and grow from these new situations and this is exactly what that is.

So, that’s all, folks! You learn as long as you live and when you travel you learn just a bit faster. Have you been to Thailand? What did surprise YOU? Would love to here more about this fascinating country as I deffo plan to go back one day.

I fell in love with Thai temples. This one, Phnom Rung is just one of the many that are not so famous, and yet so beautiful. Phnom actually means a mountain and this one is quite elevated. Worth every step you have to take to the top!
Picture of a monk taking a picture of me while I am taking a picture of him. Temple Phnom Rung.

Until next time, stay good and don’t forget to smile!

A.

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