If you like traveling as much as I do, you should consider Southeast Asia as your next destination and especially Thailand. I hope that I can raise your interest in this region with the following posts. If you have questions, just post them in the comment box, I will try to answer as soon as possible. Other feedback is of course always welcome and desired.
- Suggested Tour: Thailand Tour Packages
Introduction: Introduction into what this whole blog will be about
Thailand, when you drop this word in a conversation, you will be bombarded with clichés and myths, most of them spread through television. I personally heard mostly that I obviously am a sex tourist or would like to eat some cats and dogs. In the upcoming posts I will give an insight as a non-tourist about which clichés are true and which cultural treasures most tourists will miss. Thailand itself, such as most of the Southeast Asian countries is a mostly still touristic undiscovered treasure with whole-year tropical weather. But within these words lies a Paradoxon, because those still undiscovered and beautiful things I am talking about are not necessarily physical places you can visit – it is mostly the culture itself. Anybody who has been to Thailand already might now say “Yes, I also talked to the locals and they are very friendly”, but these people are the ones being used to talking to tourists. The true cultural richness solely opens up when visiting the countryside and in interaction with the real local inhabitants. When you get this far regarding the personal interaction with those people, you can really see why Thailand is always called “the land of 1000 smiles”.
General Behaviour: The dos and don’ts
Talking about personal interaction with those people who might never seen tourists before, it is essentially to know the basics of intercultural interaction with south-east Asian locals. It all starts with the greeting. Often tourists are holding their hands together and bend deeply to anybody they consider Thai, laughing with pride on their impressive intercultural skills, most likely even paired with a “Hello” or “Good evening”. This is far from a proper way of greeting a local, but more like a derision of their culture. They won’t be able to speak your language so they are overwhelmingly glad for any piece of Thai that you can pull out of the hat. Furthermore, just nod friendly with your head and smile, but don’t use your hands. When you then sit with, let’s say a family, you never sit down before the eldest person in the room sits. Then, when you sit, never ever rest one leg on the other so that the bottom of your foot points onto one person. This is a strong insult and doing this to a monk might really get you into trouble. After the meal, tell the cook as often as possible how good the food was (and it will have been)!
Food: You just cannot get sick of this – literally!
The best reason to go there and probably the source of most of the clichés. Before going there, I was often asked if I really wanted to try a dog or a cat, not knowing that this is common in Vietnam or Indonesia, but not in Thailand. The Thai food itself is generally pretty basic, mostly a soup, rice or noodles with meat and the typical south-east Asian vegetables and spices plus a lot of chili. Mentionable are all those street kitchens you will find anywhere, also where there are no tourists at all; this really is true Thai culture. At first I considered them cheap because tourists buy there but even deep in the countryside, this is the best place to get food – freshly fried in front of your nose and as cheap as maybe one of the ingredients in Germany. You have to trust them though, because all those ingredients have been lying in the sun for the whole day already. Also worth to notice are the insects you can get as bar snacks in local bars, sometimes even without asking. Fried maggots or grasshoppers might be strange first, but are good against the alcohol, especially because in Thailand you don’t eat any breakfast.
Drinking Culture: Or, “a small guide to alcoholism”
“Asians can’t really drink alcohol.” That’s what most of the Germans think. So did I when going out the first time with Thai students. With the plan in my mind to show them what a genuine German liver can take, I realized after half an hour, that the evening would end differently than I expected at first. The fact is, that Thai people love to drink and they are extremely proud of their local brewed alcoholic beverages. But, local bars don’t have fridges so they serve all drinks warm and give you a bucket of ice, filled up from the next supermarket or gas station. I would have liked to see my face as the first student but ice in my beer! Also, drinking together is socially highly valued and if you as a “farang” (foreigner, literally “long nose”) drink with them, they are extremely proud. So after cheering countless times with everybody (“Chon Kaew”) you will always hear somebody scream “Mot Kaew”, which announces everybody to neck the glass. And this with warm beer and 6,4% alcohol, which can be even more because it is so rich that in gains alcohol after time inside the bottle. Cliché reverted!
Politics: What to wear and which places to avoid
Thailand is a country of political instability and disturbances. Since 2006, supporters from the two main parties are getting into fights over and over again. There are multiple reasons for this, but mostly it is because the current opposition wants to see a man empowered, who is the brother-in-law of a former chief of the government who got discharged because of his high level of corruption. They often try this with violence as well. The results have been victims on both sides, also in 2014. The biggest part of the population stands behind the currently ruling party, which is also the party of the current king, Rama IX. This party has the color yellow, whether the opposition uses red. In Thailand, wearing these colors is interpreted as a political statement, so this is also important for foreigners to know. When you are at a touristic place, it usually will not matter, what color you are wearing, but if you are in one of the bigger cities, especially Bangkok, where the two parties are mainly located, you should definitely try to avoid wearing those colors, in particular red. In times of riots, big places and large groups of people should be avoided at any time anyways.
Religion: The perfect place if you want to know more about Buddhism
I thought, the image of a Buddhist monk is quite clear for most of the people. But when I hear questions afterwards if I saw them fighting with sticks and swords, I really was confused. The truth is, that the monks are the most peaceful people I have ever seen. Always wearing their safran colored robes and moving slow and somehow majestic, they truly represent the lessons of Buddhism. They have the highest respect from the population and are often asked for advice or for blessings. They even have their own seats in buses or trains. But the Thai Buddhism does not only consist out of the pretty and colorful temples that tourists are really attracted to, but also contains some kind of shamanism. In front of every house you see something, most likely translated as a “ghost house”, that the inhabitants had built to calm the earth ghosts for ‘stealing’ a piece of their ground. The importance in the placement of the ghost house is, that it shall never be touched by the house’s shadow, or the ghosts will get angry again. Furthermore they always need sacrifices, which mostly is the red Fanta, that the ghosts somehow prefer – with a straw in it.
- Also Read: Major Thai Festivals and Events
University Life: If you ever have the wish to go back to “School”…
When it is close to 40°C outside, the last clothes I would wear would be long black pants, black leather shoes and a shirt with a black tie. But, this is the university uniform everybody is supposed to wear when entering the campus. So shadows become really valuable on campus and on the way to university. That also means that walking becomes almost unbearable, so hiring a motorbike taxi is always a good option. Inside the university, the professors are not called “Prof. [last name]”, but “Teacher [first name]”. The fact, that the students also cannot speak proper English doesn’t really make the communication easier. The student’s behavior also differs a lot from the German. The girls are too shy to speak to you and run out of the room giggling when you ask them something and the guys often had a lower English level. Besides that, the Thai presentation style is definitely worth mentioning. To copy and paste whole Wikipedia articles in single slides is rather common and the presentation is often made prettier by putting in random animated GIFs. The lack of skill in the English language then often results into having the whole Wikipedia article being read to you instead of being presented freely.
Nature: From the mountains to the sea…and back
One of the main reasons to visit Southeast Asia and especially Thailand is the nature. After talking about all the clichés that exist about this country, the stories about the nature are probably the most fitting ones I have heard before going there. Thailand combines multiple kinds of nature and also climate zones in one single country. Most tourists prefer the islands and the beaches in the south, which I would also consider as some of the most beautiful ones you might ever find. Important is here to select islands with lesser touristic traffic, because otherwise you might just find yourself on some kind of Southeast Asian Mallorca. There are plenty of islands, which do not have those touristic resorts and are just inviting you to leave civilization and stress behind. Yet, the more sensational part of the Thai nature cannot be found in the south of the country, but in the north. In the mountains close to the border to Laos, the rainforest simply consumes you. Going trekking for a few days through the raw jungle to find fresh water lakes with amazing waterfalls reveals the true beauty of the country, with which no beach can compete at all.