Thailand has shocked me in the best of ways and here is how…
Thai people’s appearances are all different. If you ask me to describe a Thai person’s features I couldn’t classify them into one category. As many Asian countries, women and men see white skin as a sign of beauty but due to genetics, sun exposure and what whitening products people use, there are Thais that are snow white and others that are darker than. From the immigration of many Chinese people over the centuries there are Thais who look somewhat Chinese, Thais don’t all have jet black hair and with the popularity of tomboys and ladyboys the whole population is a mixture of different looking people.
Thais love their food and they have good reason to. Before coming to Thailand, I’d never tried Thai food (I don’t think a readymade Thai curry from a jar counts) and I was most wary about the coconut as I really despise Bountys and other coconut related desserts. But I should have been more wary about the spices used. Thais seem to love strong flavours, food can be really sweet, really spicy but never really plain or bland, even the white rice tastes nice! The Thai spicy is different to any type of spicy food I’ve had before, it seems to get up into my sinuses and I don’t know if its the chili peppers or some other ingredient used in their sauces. Despite the abundance of Tesco Lotuses, local markets are always full of people as the prices are low and the produce is fresh. Thailand has so much to offer food-wise, it’s climate offers weird and wonderful fruits – mangosteen, rambutan, pomelo, lychee, longan, dragon fruit, tamarind and not forgetting the famous durians, mangoes and coconuts. The lush rivers provide fresh fish and the warm waters of the gulf of Thailand offer up a great variety of fish and seafood. It’s definitely a foodies paradise with so many tastes and flavours, you can even make your own flavours as many street side noodle vendors will present you with a bowl of noodles and meat. The extra garnishes on the table are for you to make it how you like it, chilli peppers, oil and powder, sugar, fish sauce, ketchup etc, it’s all there for you to experiment with.
I’ve found Thai people to be incredibly respectful, a custom that stems directly from the Buddhism as my friend explained to me that one of the fundamental parts of Buddhism is respect for all living things as we are all equal and people want good karma. In Thailand I haven’t been stared at, nobody has taken a photo of me because I look different and I have witnessed first hand how respectful people are, regardless of age. When passing an elderly person, the younger person will bow their head so that the grandfather is never looked down on (difficult if he is sitting down but it’s the gesture that counts). This is a habit I’d already picked up from being with my Thai friends in China. I would bow my head to our dormitory doormen, my teachers and anyone with authority or more status than myself. Me and my friends as young people have slept on the floor to allow other people to have the bed and it’s not been an issue for me at all. My friends grandmother may often complain she hasn’t studied enough or they will disagree on a matter but my friend has never and will never answer her back or disrespect her which is something I greatly admire. Buddhism teaches its followers to respect their parents and ancestors. The family ancestors are never too far from home as a small type of dolls house is stood perched at the corner of family homes. These can be simple or very intricate and colourful, inside there stand statues of little people and animals. Offerings of food and drinks are often left out, including what looks like strawberry fanta that birds often sneak a sip of.
Of course there are many sides to a country and it’s people and different subcultures mean that you cannot explore and discover it all within a few weeks. Not knowing Thai language has also been a slight barrier but from what I’ve experienced of Thailand – the blue pools at Erawan falls, the noodle man selling from a small cart on the street, the prevalence of animals in Lopburi, the holy Buddha statues seen in and out of temples, the warm playful waves at Pattaya and the smell of burning incense at the Wats (temples) – Thailand is a great country. The Buddhist influence can be seen on every street and they use Buddha’s death as the start of time (543 years before Jesus’) so I publish this from the future, year 2557.
Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country to not have been colonised by us Europeans during history, but just because another country didn’t settle within its borders, affect the language or rule over it’s government it doesn’t mean that Western culture hasn’t entered Thailand. I’ve read that during the Vietnam War, American soldiers would spend their leisure time in Thai beach resorts such as Pattaya; since then the tourist industry has boomed and small fishing villages have turned into cities as the tourism industry has expanded to offer something for everyone and not just what the American soldiers were seeking in the sixties. Our Western influence is seen as bars and entertainment clubs litter the infamous Walking streets. Many Western people associate Thailand with Ladyboys, ping-pong shows and big parties but these are things I find very un-Thai after making my Thai friends* in China and seeing their version of Thailand.
When I was in Pattaya browsing the nighttime Walking Street I was very overwhelmed with everything being shoved in my face, bright lights, dancing kids, ice cream tricksters （see video below), girls wearing daring outfits and cigarette magic shows on the street. This was a very different side of Thailand to what I’d seen previously and although I knew these streets existed, I never thought I’d feel so uncomfortable being there. As Falang (Thai for Westerners) were being beckoned into the bars by scantily clad girls and free tequila vouchers from one side, someone on the other side was approaching with a list of different shows I could “enjoy”. I was really glad that my friend’s Dad was with us to scare off all of the punters. When I’ve been out for drinks with my Thai friends, we’ve gone to a small local place, had some beers maybe shisha and always lots of snacks – fried shrimp balls (my favourite, lol), pork intestines to dip in sweet chilli sauce and even simply sunflowers seeds that you have to bite open like a parrot. The bar I went to in my friends’ university town was half in/half outside, there was a live band playing popular Thai songs and it wasn’t a big affair with bass pumping out of huge speakers. People were dressed casually and it wasn’t about looking good, finding somebody to swap phone numbers with or taking potential Facebook profile pictures. The Thais I know aren’t big drinkers like us Westerners, pre drinks aren’t a thing and the Thais that have been sick on nights out are the ones who have an alcohol allergy.
In these past two weeks I’ve seen many places in Thailand and met many people on the way. I really like the country and its weather and people have treated me incredibly well. If you want to travel in Thailand and see it’s natural beauty and local culture, I urge you to stay away from the Ibiza type streets and beach resorts where the Russian mafia may or may not be hiding. Thailand is much more than that.
*My friends are all Chinese language students in their early twenties so I know are not representative of the whole of China, this is just my experience of spending time with them both in and out of Thailand.