I bought a flight ticket to Bangkok simply because it was the cheapest way how to get out from cold New Zealand to warm Asia. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Thailand and I didn’t become one after hearing all the stories about parties and prostitutes. But, as always, you’ve gotta experience it yourself to make a statement. And I say Thaink you Thailand, I’m your fan now.
Upon the arrival I was granted a 30-day tourist visa. That’s how it all happened. Airfares and the immigration officer made the decision to visit Thailand for a month. I let them to do so. After all, it was my vacation, I didn’t have to do anything.
As I was a bit scared from all the new Asian experience, I called in action some helpers. This time I thank the US government and its J1 visa program (hey Trump, don’t screw it all up!) while working in Wildwood, New Jersey (read more) I got to meet some Thai kids a couple summers ago. It was Tom who picked up the exhausted tourist (thanks Air Asia for no food and no movies) from the airport, fed him, stored his bigger backpack and took him to the city center (thaink you Tom). When Ice joined us, I felt like I’m the only tourist with Thai friends. Great welcome. The second day I spent with my Czech friend Misa around temples and hidden streets of Bangkok. On the third day I went solo and after taking a 14-hour train to Chiang Mai in the 3rd class wagon the adaptation process was successfully over.
I have to say that without all those McDonald’s’ and Starbucks’ the culture shock would be much more influential. I soon observed that the standard of living isn’t high but the cheap availability of smartphones or cars is surprising. Tom said it best: “I told you, luxury but cheap, that’s Thailand!” The only disappointment was the price of one beer which was more expensive than a single meal in a restaurant. Otherwise no complaints. It led me into serious thinking what’s worse for my belly, cheap beer or cheap food?
In Chiang Mai I was told I must go to see elephants. Alright, if I must… I really didn’t expect that, but it was, I’m looking for the right word… It was legendary. They (the guide and the elephant owner) took us (me and two Dutch tourists) for a long walk with two giants (mother and daughter). That’s it, five people and two elephants, the atmosphere was private and thus very special. Since using elephants for pulling heavy logs in northern forests is banned, this Burmese owner had to find the elephant sanctuary for these giants where they get fed and are the main selfie targets. But also, they are free. The mightiness and spirituality of these creatures left me speechless. You must go to see elephants. Please don’t ride them, just watch them. And then go and buy all sorts of elephant-themed t-shirts and loosy pants. Same as I did. I’m so tourist here.
After all, that’s the only status I can reach. What I mean by that is the difficulty to get in touch with locals as in their eyes you are more a walking dollar sign than a person. You will always be a farang, a foreigner. For Thai people not an enemy nor a friend. In fact, this was the only thing that I didn’t like in Thailand since the connection with locals is a big part of every journey. In Thailand we are touristing. On the other side, the food, the second big part of every journey, is amazing. It’s so tasty and so cheap and that makes it an endless pleasure. Fried noodles, seafood soups, red or green curry with rice, you name it, or actually point at the picture in the menu. Thai people generally don’t speak English, usually they only know numbers, after all everyone needs to know how to ask for the farang’s money.
Following six days I spent in Pai, a backpackers’ liar of the north. I worked on the blog, ate a lot, watched sunsets and finally absorbed the end of my New Zealand experience (read more). I became one of many lazy backpackers just chilling out doing nothing, spending hours and hours with the smartphone, lazy to develop any kind of activity. I didn’t find it cool as many others did. The idea of backpacking in southeast Asia for months is cool. The reality that most of that time you spend online is not. Since I didn’t want to pay for a guide to do some hiking in the surrounding mountains I was trapped in my own unproductivity. So I got into reading books and over Tomislav Perko’s 1000 Days of Summer (read more) I started collecting notes. Notes for the book, my own book. It’s too early now but I hope with coming adventures one day I will have enough words to write one. For fun, for my kids (future kids), maybe for the public if anyone shows the interest… Pretty much in the style of Perko’s book. Again, traveling is not an enlightenment, it can even start killing your brain cells when you allow yourself to be unproductive and uncreative. There is always something to work on, in offline mode.
Go out there, enjoy your life and challenge yourself aye? (Tomislav Perko)
The second part of my Thailand trip was about meeting Anastasia, my Russian friend from the same US summer 2014 when I met Thai kids. We arranged to spend ten days together and we did it in the most touristy way possible. Starting in Pattaya, Thai Russian capital and the center of so-called sex tourism.
Thai people trying to talk to me in Russian language together with seeing many ladyboys and prostitutes and drunks on daily basis pushed my experience way beyond the line. Oh well, that’s also Thailand, one of its dark faces. And then it’s sad to see the hordes of tourists coming only for sexual stuff. Stories about too many older European guys walking with young Thai girls in streets of Pattaya suddenly became true. First thought – yes it’s disgusting. Second thought – they both get what they want right? The older guy gets the love and the young girl gets the security. Final thought – no it’s disgusting. I saw it in their eyes. I saw the satisfaction of the man, the ego-boosting fake reality that someone loves him as he is. I saw the despair of the woman, the inevitable true reality that she needs to take in search of security. As a European guy, and as a guy, I think I would get it only if those girls were incredibly beautiful. They’re not. Don’t get me wrong, Thai girls are beautiful, but I’m talking about those you cannot buy. Of course, all generally speaking, I’m full of prejudices, subjective opinions and cynic. However, I saw it, I saw it in their eyes.
We escaped from tourists and prostitutes to absolutely secluded Ao Nuan beach on Ko Samet island which was our little paradise for four days. This was Thailand and its shining face. White sand, sound of waves, little bungalow on the beach, peace and food. It was this recharging station I rarely come across since I like to move all the time and can’t stop thinking about something. Here it was about no thoughts and no outer world. FYI, the phone is charging much faster in airplane mode, so do we. Just pretend there is no outside world for a while and you’re on 100% pretty soon.
Before Anastasia left we quickly visited Bangkok and old ruins in Ayutthaya – cheap to get and great memorable must-do in Thailand. Than I came back for my last days to Bangkok again. Altogether I spent in Thailand four weeks and surprisingly most of the time in Bangkok. It became my favorite place in here for very simple reason – I could easily hide from tourists, could get lost in countless side streets and meet and interact with local people. Unlike smaller places like Pai where locals represent the minority, the Bangkok’s crowd counting many millions made it an intense experience. Maybe this will help someone in planning his or her trip.
Thaink you Thailand for this unexpected visit. I heard a lot about you before I even met you. And quite frankly, it wasn’t that bad at all. I didn’t get a diarrhea, I wasn’t raped by a ladyboy and nobody even offered me any drugs. As a bonus, for four weeks it didn’t rain on me. Fabulous. Conclusion? Don’t trust everything what people say unless you see it, taste it, experience it yourself. On the top of that, traveling in Thailand is so easy. You don’t have to book anything more than one day in advance. You don’t need to know where to go, because people will tell you what’s really worth seeing. You don’t need to understand the culture (although we should always try) to admire the beauty of the temples and buddha statues. And for many other reasons you will surely love it. Just don’t get too lazy and challenge yourself aye?
We can get where we want to be without a map, but it’s not worth doing it if your heart isn’t in it… (Tomislav Perko)