Sometimes it's hard to believe I haven't been to Asia yet!
Several friends have traveled there in the last few years,
and I'm becoming increasingly anxious to go. Today, you
all are lucky enough to hear my best friend's experience
on her recent trip to Thailand!
Ashley has been my best friend since 7th grade.
We've been through just about everything together, but
we've never been to another continent together
(thankfully this should be remedied soon!).
|Ash and I. On an adventure.... pretending we were rich at the Breakers Hotel:)|
Ashley is one of my favorite writers EVER. No, she doesn't
write professionally (or even recreationally!) so this is a special treat (mainly for me), as she agreed to write a guest post about
her adventures. I hope you enjoy her experience in Thailand,
and check out her helpful tips if you're planning a trip!
“You just got back from Thailand!! Was it so nice?!”
Canoes lined up in Railay West.
I hesitate for a second. I’m not inclined to say yes, but saying "no" doesn't seem to suit it either.
“Yeah, it was nice,” I settle on, because somehow, saying no just feels unfair. It took me a few days after returning home to realize that no, Thailand isn’t nice, and that’s ok. Its people are friendly, and its landscape is breathtakingly beautiful. Thailand is relaxing and outrageous, delicious and nauseating, fun and overwhelming. It’s so many things, but it isn’t nice.
If you want “nice,” go to Hawaii.
I’m pretty sure the Thai government has some sort of deal with foreign tourism agencies, because between the time I announced I was going and the time I actually left, at least 8 friends of mine suddenly visited Thailand. My theory would make sense if you’ve been paying any attention to the recent protests going on there. The ruling family (not the King – they have both King and Prime Minister, woo!) has been accused of amassing a lot of wealth, exploiting their country and people to do so. They actually impeached the Prime Minister on corruption charges back in 2006, but then elected his sister as his successor. I like to attribute this to a very trusting and forgiving nature, maybe.
Anyway, people are going to Thailand by the handfuls. The country’s infrastructure can’t really keep up, so you have 5 star luxury resorts next to slum apartment buildings, and fancy restaurants on shorelines that reek of sewage. I’m not complaining; this is their reality now. I just wouldn't recommend Thailand to my friends who like their “creature comforts” – familiar foods, attentive customer service, guaranteed safety, air conditioning, sleeping without bugs or creatures paying you visits, etc.
If you are still interested in going to Thailand after all of that, great! It is going to be such a fun trip! Below is some basic geography to kick off your planning. It is a diverse country, with all different types of landscapes, foods and experiences, so you can really have a little bit of everything there. For best results, combine! Flying in-country is affordable and time efficient.
· Bangkok – chances are you will fly into Bangkok. It’s a gigantic city with plenty to do. We spent a total of 3 days here to bookend our trip, and for us it was a good amount of time. If you can swing it, I’d recommend being here on a weekend to get to visit the Chatuchak (also called JJ) Weekend Market. It’s a massive labyrinth of clothes, bags, bowls, street food, etc. This is not just a tourist trap – it’s a well-known spot for snagging trendy clothes and tasty foods on the cheap.
Doing a little Thai Silk shopping at the Weekend Market!
· The Southern Beaches – it is islands aplenty in southern Thailand, so do a little research and pick what sounds the best. You can choose between your tried-and-true tourist haunts (Phuket, Ko Samui), your quieter-and-thriftier beaches (Railay Beach, Ko Chang), or your drug-fueled-rage (Ko Pha Ngan, home of the Full Moon Party).
· Northern Thailand – this is where you can ride elephants, visit some of the most stoic temples, and see colonies of orange-clad Buddhist monks. We didn't go here because we didn't feel it would be a time efficient decision, but like everything in Thailand, it sure looked beautiful.
Once you know where you’re going, keep these tips in mind that should be true no matter where in their great country you find yourself.
· Don’t bring a big suitcase. This rings especially true if you are going to an island by boat – you will most likely get dropped off in water. Yes, in. Not on a dock. Literally in the water. Thank the Lord for hiking backpacks!
Cait walking to shore from our boat.
· Don’t expect them to know a lot of English. Maybe this goes back to tourism expanding so rapidly there, but they aren’t like many other countries where everyone just knows English as a second language. I was pretty surprised by how little English they understood or spoke. It made for a lot of shrugging and laughing all around.
· Tip if you want, but not based on percentage. You don’t have to tip in other countries, but people know that Americans do it so it is almost expected. Plus they’re all just so dang nice there! But don’t ever give based on percentage, it’s embarrassingly high. Custom is to give 20, 40 or 60 Baht, depending on the type of service and your generosity (at the time of writing, 100 Baht is about $3 USD).
· You will probably get sick. In fact if you don’t, call me and tell me your secret. Like many places, the tap water is not good for drinking, but there’s no way to guarantee it isn’t being used to cook with or will otherwise sneak its way into your digestive tract. And there were flies on everything, so… (Note: you should still eat everything! Food from carts, food from noodle shops; we even ate one meal from a boat vendor!)
· Put your hands at heart center and bow low. This is one thing I wish I would have really gone for while I was there. Being from a culture where we don’t bow, I felt silly or somehow like a fraud when bowing. Turns out I just looked disrespectful, because they bow to everyone, and the lower you bow the more respect you are showing the other person. Except don’t bow to kids, because that makes you look dumb (I read that somewhere). “Thank you” is “khob kuhn ka,” and should be said liberally.
kayaking through the waters off Railay beach
Going to Thailand wasn't on the top of my travel list. In fact, it wasn't even in the middle of the list. I am so glad I went, though; it’s a trip I’ll always remember and I still find myself wishing I was back, kayaking through crystal blue waters with towering rocks overhead. If you’re Thailand-bound, enjoy! And feel free to comment or reach out – I’d love to hear your suggestions or answer any questions!
Khob khun ka, everyone.