History never repeats. I tell myself, before I go to sleep (oh oh).
Well maybe that’s true, but I feel like my life recently has just been Thailand travel on repeat (and that’s not a bad thing at all). I have just returned from my third trip to South East Asia in two years. The first time was for a University internship, teaching English in schools for five weeks over my summer vacation (I know, pretty freaking lucky right? I got an A for it too!). Before then, I had never really been interested in the area (I considered myself more of a “Europe girl”, what a laugh hey hindsight!).
I <3 Thailand
I have now seen bits and pieces of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore (not that I am an expert on the area, by any means!). Yet Thailand, for me, was both first in time and first in my heart.
I have my absolute favourites, places I can see myself going back to with friends and family for the rest of my life (here’s looking at you, Krabi and Koh Samet). I also have places I would reeeeeeally like to never return to (sorry Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya, you’re out). But overall, Thailand just wins and I wouldn’t want to have missed out on any of my experiences there, even in the places that I am not so keen on returning to. This is despite the many things about it that irked me about Thailand when I first visited. The dirt, the delays, the sometimes overwhelming humidity. Despite the cultural differences, that occasionally leave you offended that a Thai stranger just told you you looked like you could be pregnant, or like you need to take a shower after someone has cleared their throat all over you. There is just something about the place.
Why, you ask?
Compared to many parts of South East Asia, Thailand is actually very efficient and reliable. If you’ve never experienced travel in the Philippines, you might think the fact that your bus ride from Koh Samui to Bangkok takes an hour longer than anticipated is completely unacceptable and a deliberate waste of your time. While that is a very natural reaction for a Westerner, trust me, that’s nothing. At least in Thailand you know you will eventually get where you intend to go (and if you’re not in the mood to deal with overland travel, there are cheap(ish) domestic flights to get you there in no time). After travelling around South East Asia for a while, your idea of time changes. You understand that things are slower, and an hour could mean anything from 15 minutes to three hours, depending on who’s talking to you. It just seems that out of everywhere I have been so far in South East Asia, the Thai ideas of time most closely align with the Western sense of punctuality is all I’m saying. You’re also less likely to be getting scammed, in my experience anyway!
Thai people are also some of the loveliest I have ever met. The contrast between the smiles you receive from passers by in Thailand, and the blank stares on faces in Laos, is stark. Not only that, but once a Thai person meets you, you will be under their wing forever. I found this particularly as a young female travelling with one female friend (let alone alone!). My Thai host mother from two years ago is constantly checking in with me when I travel to make sure I am OK, as well as offering a room, should I ever want to visit. At the school I taught at in Rayong, I was given Thai language lessons, dancing lessons, Muay Thai sessions, did some Thai painting and cooking, and was taken out to so many social events they are difficult to recall. There was no end to the Thai’s generosity. One occasion I will never forget was a huge cowboy party, somewhere in the middle of nowhere near the Cambodian border involving hay bales, horses, whiskey and hundreds of people from who knows where. Classic Thailand.
I am not saying the rest of South East Asia is not similar. I have friends in Cambodia who barely let me spend a dime when I went to visit them, so excited were they that I was visiting their home country. But Thailand is something special. Its that combination of beautiful people and places, and possibly being “just Western enough” to make travelling there easier and more relaxing (not that challenging travel isn’t enjoyable. I found Laos and the Philippines both quite difficult, but I will never forget either of them). It also helps that Thai peoples’ English is generally pretty reasonable.
It can be anything you want it to be, if you just believe!
Yes, I may have just paraphrased Pippi Longstockings, but the point is that Thailand really just offers something for everyone, and it is just a matter of figuring out what you want from your trip and from the country.
Phuket & Other crazy towns: worth it?
I think there is definitely some merit in seeing places like Phuket, Koh Phangan and Pattaya – the hyped up, tourist crazy places everyone instantly thinks of when they think Thailand. They are beyond words, see it to believe it kind of stuff. Am I glad I had the experience of seeing a ping pong show in Phuket? Yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely not. It is important to realise that these places are not authentic Thai culture; they are Thai culture on overdrive, to bring in the crowds. But probably still worth seeing.
Now, a Thailand trip for me means something quite different to all that crazy. It means quiet little Koh Samet, with a vibe so chilled out you can actually feel it, Thais and tourists hanging out together, and some of the best beaches I have discovered. It means night markets, cooking classes and mountain treks in Chiang Mai. It means lapping up every minute on Railay Beach. Through multiple experiences there, I’ve made Thailand my own, and that’s why it is such a winner for me. Your turn!