I’ve been in Thailand for nearly four weeks now and I already feel so comfortable here and embracing the new cultural differences and lifestyle with a wide smile and open arms! Before I came out here, I was preparing myself for the worst. I watched back to back episodes of Thai Embassy and reading blogs on how to avoid getting scammed and hurt in Thailand. I was ‘preparing myself’. I must admit, I was pretty darn scared to came out here and after numerous warnings from my over protective family not to go anywhere alone or speak to any strangers, I thought I would never make friends out here or leave my accommodation! I thought that all Thai people would not be able to speak a word of English and were out to scam me and that I would be yearning to be surrounded by Westerners. Thankfully, I was completely wrong!! These are some of my first impressions after spending nearly four weeks in Hua Hin, which is a town 3 hours away from Bangkok:
I was leaving a café with my friend Lauren and we were in the middle of a storm. Storms in Thailand don’t last very long but they are heavy, chaotic and loud. We were going to wait out the storm, which had flooded the street, when our waiter in the café came out to us holding two umbrellas. We were so bowled over by his kindness! So out into the streets we go, splashing our way through the streets until we had to cross onto the adjacent pavement. In between us and the pavement was a vicious flowing stream. A Thai lady sees us contemplating jumping or swimming across so she comes out of her shop and places bricks into the water for us to cross. I could’ve cried right there in the street. I have never experienced kindness like it. They’re an amazing bunch of people who will do anything to make you smile and they don’t like to complain or cause conflict. Unless provoked…
Well apparently, we’re in the cool season right now. And I’m hot, sweaty and sticky. My hair feels like straw after sitting under a hot sun all day. Not good. Seriously, I’m sweating constantly. So attractive… For a Welsh Valleys girl who is used to cold weather and only two days or mediocre warmish weather a year, I’m struggling to adapt! My makeup is slithering down my face as I’m applying it. God help me when I’m teaching in a classroom with no air-con and covered from head to toe with clothing! It’s not so much the heat. It’s the humidity. There’s one thing being on the beach on a hot day soaking up the sun. But what the adverts didn’t tell you was the amount of sweat that’ll pour out of your pores giving the sand grains a lovely layer of lubricant to stick itself firmly onto your skin. Everywhere! All I can do is pray to Buddha that there will either be more wind production in Thailand or that I will adapt and get used to this heat…
One of my goals for myself in Thailand is to get my palate used to spicy food. At first, I was screaming ‘Mai Pet Ka!’ at all the street vendors which means “Not Spicy Please!” but the more food I see, the more I want to eat it all! Unfortunately, 90% of the food here in Thailand is spicy. I made it my mission to adore spicy food when I came across a stall in the food market which looked and smelled so amazingly good! The smells, the colours… My mouth was dripping. I asked the market vendor which plates were not spicy. She pointed to the tiny little plate in the corner with grey vegetables on it which did not like appetising at all. I stared at it with disappointment and my mission was born. So I got two random plates of the delicious looking food and blew my taste buds into submission.
Obsessed with street food already! All full of spice… Papaya Salad – one of my faves! Come at me Spice!
CONVIENIENCE & AVAILABILITY
As I was packing for Thailand, I was like a squirrel stocking up on everything I didn’t think would be in Thailand so I was manic buying make up, skincare products and contact lenses as I heard that all of their skin products are full of whitening. Thai women have this bizarre obsession with bleaching their skin white as there’s an opinion amongst Thai people that the more white you are, the more wealthier/superior you are in Thai society. When I arrived here, I felt like a numpty as I waltzed my way through mass stalls of make-up in all shades and an optician store on every corner selling cheap, good quality contact lenses. Yes, they do have a lot of skincare products with whitening but there were normal skincare products available also. However, I am in Hua Hin which is a popular tourist destination in Thailand so there are more westernised products and food available here but if you were to venture into the small towns and villages of Thailand, you may find yourself having no choice but to wash with whitening products after working extremely hard on your Thai tan. Bummer. So stocking up to be safe than sorry was a good idea overall.
I also bought myself a brand new Samsung Galaxy S7 in the westernized mall in town for 7500 baht – the equivalent of £120!! Result!! I highly recommend waiting to purchase a new smart-phone until you get here to Thailand. I had saved myself so much money!
TRAFFIC & TRANSPORT
So Thailand in general feels pretty safe and friendly. The traffic on the other hand… Uh uh. The sidewalks are treacherous and the traffic is bonkers. It’s like playing a constant game of Chicken when crossing the road. There are no traffic lights or pelican crossings and drivers will treat pedestrians as an inconvenience and will very rarely offer you to cross the road. Instead, you find an opening and run for your life! Pedestrian traffic lights do not exist and pedestrian crossings are treated as road decoration. Pedestrians also find themselves walking on the road a lot due to the non-existent sidewalks, or sidewalks taken up by electricity poles, food carts and even trees.
FACT: Thailand is number one on the list for road fatalities in the world. There are no road laws, rules or expectations when it comes to getting around on transport. One of the first sights I saw was three people and a toddler all riding on the same motorbike. I was mortified! Three weeks in, I’ve noticed that motorbikes are the vehicles of choice and I’ve realised how common it is for multiple people to be riding the bikes including young children to be standing on the front of the bike with no helmets or any form of safety. They’re so used to this way, their eating their breakfast hanging off a motorbike on their way to school!
They also have ‘tuk tuks’ and ‘songtaews’ which are like public buses – extremely cheap! You can be dropped off anywhere on the route for only 10-20 baht a time (20p!!). I might forget how to drive at this rate! You can also rent a ‘truck taxi’ for long distance travelling (1 hour+) which is basically the back of a truck with seats installed into it. No seatbelts. No windows. No helmets. Chaotic driving! We experienced the joys of a truck taxi on our way to the caves last week. Motion sickness made an appearance after a year in hiding…
Culture and the way of life out here is what drew me to Thailand in the first place. It’s so different to western culture and continues to fascinate me. They live their life using the term “Mai Bpen Rai” which means “Don’t Worry” which is so refreshing and I am well and truly living the Mai Bpen Rai life right now but I can see why it can frustrates westerners that are not used to or not willing to accept that way of life. It can mean that public transport will turn up when it turns up – Mai Bpen Rai. A restaurant will only have enough stock to serve certain meals – Mai Bpen Rai. Safety is not so much a priority for the Thai people as I’ve already stated that it’s pretty normal to see four people piled onto a motorbike with no helmets. They will wear flip flops whilst hiking and rock climbing – a sense of danger and risk just doesn’t seem to be as overpowering as it is for some of us westerners. I was wearing proper hiking boots, clinging on to hanging vines for dear life as I crossed slippery rocks and the Thai people in sandals are skipping past me without a care in the world! The best part about Thai Culture is the fact that they love a good massage! I’ve had about three foot massages, one head, neck and shoulder and an oil. They really are the best massages and so cheap! It’s going to be a regular thing in my weekly schedule for sure!
Thai people are very respectful and it is customary to “Waii” to superiors and as a sign of respect. To ‘Waii’ is to place your hands together by your face and depending on the status of the person you are “Waii-ing”, will determine the bow that you give. So for the king or royal family, you give the biggest ‘Waii’ of your life! You better be almost touching the floor! For a simple ‘Waii’ of respect, a simple nod or bend to the back will suffice.
Speaking of the Royal Family, the Thai people adore their royal family, especially the King. So much so, it is illegal to talk out of turn or disrespect any member of the royal family. ILLEGAL! The law is called ‘Les Majeste’ and if you are caught disrespecting the royal family from talking out turn to standing on money (which has the King’s face on it) will result in you being thrown into a Thai jail – Bridget Jones style! But some of us aren’t lucky enough to have a Mark Darcy to rescue us… Unfortunately, King Bhumibhol passed away during our time here which has affected the whole of Thailand and our time here. We have to wear black for the foreseeable future and music is not being played from the bars and clubs at the moment. Thailand is about to change… Watch this space.
Paying my respects for the King outside his Palace in Hua Hin. Thousands of Thai people congregated outside the palace and sung the most heartfelt, emotional song. It was incredibly moving… I have so much respect for this people.
Thailand has an overwhelming amount of street dogs. We got to visit the charity ‘Rescue Paws’ here and learnt about the different ‘packs’ of dogs on the street and how mistreated they can be without a home. Was so sad and I hate seeing all them dogs lying on the street emotionless… We had a ‘pet dog’ at our accommodation that we named Ronald. Beautiful baby!!
Thailand is incredibly different to westernized life and that’s why I love this experience and I’m still learning and embracing this life. I’m sure once I settle into my new hometown and start my teaching English placement; I will come across a whole new load of differences and bizarreness to embrace! It can become overwhelming at times and all you want to do is cwtch up in your bed, air-con blasting whilst you watch western films and snack on pizza, chips and chocolate and feel at home again. But the best thing I have been advised to do is throw yourself into this amazing culture, make friends with your Thai neighbours and eat spicy food that may or may not contain any form of pet…