This is going to sound like something I will start every other country summary I write, but I like Thailand. With a tropical climate and lovely scenery and kind people what’s not to like?
One of the main reasons I enjoy being in Thailand by the way is something that harks back to my childhood and visiting Hungary every summer- I’m too young to remember the communist days but have vivid memories of the rapid Westernization that followed it, when going to see what the “new” things were was a highlight from the first McDonalds to the first shopping mall. Thailand reminds me of this- globalization coupling with old culture
in odd ways one wouldn’t expect (see photo below!), so that I’m sure if I return in a few years many things will have changed. Hopefully for the better, but the jury is out on that for now…
– The awesome hotel and hospitality at the first place I stayed in Thailand
– Coconuts: Always less than a dollar, chopped in front of you, and handed over with straw and spoon for consumption. I have been on a coconut binge since I got here because I hate coconut back home but love it here when it’s fresh, and am taking full advantage.
– Having my cousin Judit here for two weeks! Can’t wait to make it to Hungary come April so we can go out again, even if Hungary doesn’t dispense alcohol in bucket form…
– And Adrian, our other great friend we made in Thailand. We parted a few days ago as he headed on to Myanmar (Burma), where there’s no real Internet but I hope all is well.
– Learning to scuba dive. It’s awesome, and you should all learn how to do it. We particularly lucked out as we ended up getting one-on-one instruction- a definite bonus- and we made so many great friends at Buddha view. I am looking forward to going diving again later on my trip!
While talking about diving, by the way, my favorite dive was a night dive we did on our last night on Ko Tao (where we were given a torch and plunged into the darkness). And while diving during the day is best described as snorkeling 2.0, night diving is so magically different from anything I’ve done. I felt like I was an astronaut exploring a faraway alien world- in fact, it was hard to believe the underwater world is the same as ours. I got to thinking about this a lot- I spent last summer working at The SETI Institute* of course, where you spend a lot of time thinking about communicating with alien civilizations, and I spend some time now wondering how we expect to converse with aliens when we know so little about communicating with the other species on our own planet.
*Hi to all the SETI people who have “The SETI Institute” in Google Alerts and are now reading these words!
– Ko Tao: I almost don’t want to mention this island lest it become another Ko Samui, and in fact the main beach is heading in that direction, because it really was idyllic from its pristine beaches to jungle interior and its magnificent diving and laid-back style. Trust me, if you’re looking for an ideal island, head to Ko Tao as you won’t regret it.
– Beach barbecues: On the islands every night you see the day’s catch placed out at restaurants with prices, and you pick whichever one looks tasty and it’s slapped on the grill for you. I will never forget the magnificent giant grilled garlic prawns of the Buddha View barbecue.
– Prices: These are definitely anyone’s friend in this part of the world- right now we’re at 35 Thai baht to the US$, meaning if you spend more than a few dollars at a meal it’s probably because you bought others a few drinks!
– Bangkok I will remain neutral on, though if you want to go shopping you should head here.
– The River Kwai area. If you only have time for a taste of the jungle, head here even if you’re turned off by the allegations of how the animals are treated in Thailand.
Chang Mai: I am so glad I came here because it’s really the city where I feel like I’ve met more “normal” Thai people than anywhere else- from seeing what the non-touristy normal is to conversations with monks, students, and several others in between. If you come here I also recommend staying in Micasa Guesthouse- great place close to the action for a good price compared to what you get (~$15 for a single).
Pattaya- Beyond the nice digs I had there, I really have nothing good to say about this place. I mean I’m sure it’s not so bad in itself, but compared to the rest of Thailand I don’t know why you would bother to go there.
Chaweng Beach, Ko Samui- To specify, the beach itself is very nice. What isn’t so nice is the rapid development on the road right next to said beach which is nearly more crowded than Bangkok and smells worse because the sewage system wasn’t keeping up to the development. I’m told even fifteen years ago there was nothing on this beach but that definitely isn’t the case- and as eluded to before with so many other great places to go I don’t know why you would choose this one.
Mosquitoes- If I thought the ones back home loved to bite me they have nothing on the ones here- Thai mosquitoes love to bite me to the point where if I only spray repellent on my feet they will bite several of my toes within hours. Thankfully no malaria to worry about in the places I go, but they’re still quite annoying.
Traveler’s diarrhea: If you’re my age in Thailand the general rule is to worry about what you’re eating for about a week- then throwing caution to the wind within reason (still only drinking bottled water for example) and relying on the fact that immodium is one of the best inventions of mankind. So I’ve had this problem once or twice, mainly just in the form of abdominal pain because once you take drugs you’re back to feeling normal in an hour at max. Travel hazard I guess.
Seedy Thailand: I met a traveler in NZ once who told me there is awesome Thailand and seedy Thailand, but if you ignore the latter it won’t come after you. That might be true but there’s no way to avoid the fact that Thailand is the only country I’ve been to where the welcome folder at my first hotel included a helpful pamphlet reminding me how sex with children is illegal. (Really now, does anyone not know that?) It’s also hard to ignore all the sexpats with their little Thai “girlfriend”- this is particularly true in Pattaya which is filled with old white guys trying to have a conversation with their, erm, dates who clearly look bored and would rather get on with it. (I resisted the urge to shout “dude, she’s not even that pretty!” a few times.) And it didn’t stop me from getting tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok asking me “ping pong?” which I never got, as from what I understand a “ping pong show” consists of girls doing things with those balls that frankly never would have occurred to me.
It’s also odd, by the way, was how each of these guys is convinced that his girl is different, and makes a point to mention how humble said girl is compared to Western ones back home. This leads to an odd question on my part- what exactly do I ask for in relationships that make me so demanding, except perhaps respect and equal footing? Not like I would go for a guy who comes to Thailand for sex, obviously, but I heard this repeated often enough that I found it interesting.
Ok, that’s it! Talk to you all later from the other side of the border, in Laos…