It’s been a long time since my last post. Like, a really long time.
But in that time, a lot of pretty awesome things have happened, and a lot of equally awesome things came to a bittersweet end. Such as… finishing my Master’s degree! Yes, please refer to me as Master Amber at all times now, thank you. And more importantly (is this weird to say?), I said goodbye to Thailand, the wonderful country that became my amazing and gorgeous home for the past year and a half. For the last couple of weeks, I took off to some places that were on my wish list around the country because I figured, if you’re going to go out, you gotta go out in style, right? There will be posts coming up about all of that soon.
But today, what would be more fitting than a post in honor of the past year and a half spent in such a lovely country? And that’s why I’ve put together a list of the top 10 things I learned living in Thailand…
1. Street food ALWAYS trumps restaurant food.
A lot of people who have never been to Thailand always tell me how much they just looove Thai food, and I kind of just nod and smile, nod and smile. Look, I know you love the pad thai at your local spot—you know, the sort of bland version that’s been perfectly altered to match your Western tastes?—but you just don’t know Thai food until you’ve sat sweating at a street stall crammed onto a foot and a half high red plastic stool. You just haven’t.
There are so many different foods you can find on the street, and every single thing is just as tasty and full of flavor as the last. It’s incredible, and definitely one of the things I will miss more than anything about my life in Thailand. Just remember—follow the locals. If there are a ton of foreigners eating there, it’s more than likely Westernized and overpriced. Even if your Thai is less than mediocre, pick the local-est of local spots and just go for it! Pointing surpasses all languages! And dare I forget to mention the price? I always expect to pay from 30-60 baht for a hefty meal. Not too shabby, Thailand…
2. Nothing beats the local buses. Except maybe trains.
Your average travelers might pick up overnight VIP bus tickets on Khao San for a thousand baht or so and think they’ve got a deal. Don’t be fooled. I learned in my experiences that these buses are generally cut out for the VIP indeed—“very ignorant person.” In general, it’s a total rip-off, takes freaking ages to get anywhere as you’re shuffled around like cattle and switch buses in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, and hey, it’s pretty common for your things to be stolen while you sleep. But… they look cool.
Not so with the less than glamorous local buses. They’re usually a bit dirty, with broken fans, half-open windows, wooden slat floors, and the odd chicken or two… but so worth it. You can get just about anywhere you want to go on these buses, they stop nearly everywhere, and they are as cheap as dirt. For about 30 baht, we got as far as a four hour trip! Besides that, riding the local buses gives you an actual authentic experience. You get to interact with timid teenagers dying to practice their limited English, witness the monks on their iPhones, and smile with that funny toothless lady who keeps staring at you. Whatever, it totally beats sitting around in a foreign country with … more foreigners. And trains—same story. Plus the sleepers rock.
3. Songkran is the best festival. EVER!
In the West, New Year is usually filled with ridiculous expectations for some glittery, glitzy event where everyone looks perfect, the food is perfect, the drinks are perfect, and you have the perfect kiss at the stroke of midnight. In reality, it usually ends up with a bunch of people not really knowing what to do, mulling around a dingy bar, and then waking up with a massive hangover the next day swearing next year they’ll stay at home with grandma and watch the ball drop on television.
Enter Thailand. This New Year falls in April, and foregoes all the snooty stuff for a down and dirty party that hits all the right spots. Basically, the whole country shuts down for the most enormous water fight—Super Soakers at the ready! Sorry, but nothing—I mean NOTHING—beats that!
4. Learning a little bit of Thai is the quickest way to save a buck.
Self-explanatory, I guess, but probably one of the most vital things about living in Thailand long-term. I know that Thai is like so hard to learn, but putting a little work into memorizing things like numbers and phrases such as “how much” makes life a million times easier and cheaper. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that everyone in Bangkok speaks English (they don’t). Adding a little of actual Thai language to your expertise at charades will benefit you greatly. I pay at least half the price I would without a bit of Thai, on average. Besides, at least trying to learn the language demonstrates a respect for the country that will indubitably gain a few more smiles than usual.
5. 7/11 might as well be the national symbol of Thailand.
Seriously. There’s at least three 7/11s on every street block, or more! Thai 7/11s aren’t your average stop and shop joint. No, these stores have been my savior on many occasions. Walk in and in just a few minutes you can pay your electricity bill, put some more minutes on your phone plan, and have the cashier grill you up a delicious ham and cheese toastie. Presto. I’m happy. Now will someone please tell me when we’re going to get that kind of service at 7/11s in the US?
6. Embrace the mai bpen rai attitude. AKA don’t sweat the small stuff.
Mai bpen rai basically means something like “never mind,” “it’s okay,” or “no worries.” Or as I like to put it, it’s the “hakuna matata” of Thailand. If you know me personally you know that I’m slightly (okay, moderately?) OCD. I like things to run smoothly, efficiently, and on time. Things in Thailand, though, rarely fit such strict standards. I’ll never forget the first time I was in a minibus running 5 hours behind schedule… I kept trying unsuccessfully to mouth at the driver, pouted, crossed my arms, sighed, and by the time I made it to my destination, was near tears. I can only laugh at this reaction now, because this is truly one of the biggest ways that living in Thailand changed me. I learned to say, “mai bpen rai.” Guess what? You and I can’t control everything. So why freak out about it? This is one of the things I appreciate the most about Thai culture… even though I would still prefer not to be 5 hours late on a bus trip!
7. I can do without a proper toilet, but I really, really like hot showers.
I can go without a lot of modern conveniences. No toilet paper? I’m prepared! Squatty toilet? Bring it on! Heck, I’ve even peed in a shower… but I’ve learned that a steamy, hot shower (for bathing, not peeing!) is one convenience I’m VERY reluctant to forego. A couple weeks up North in Thai winter with no warm clothes and no hot water was not exactly… comfortable… Oh well, we all have that one little thing, right?
8. Thailand is seriously tolerant of alternative sexualities.
For all our freedoms in the US, sexuality is still an incredibly divisive subject (speaking of, I was shocked to see how huge this Duck Dynasty debacle has become since arriving back in the States). In Thailand, however, sexuality is openly portrayed and integrated along with everyday culture. This is the product of an impressively progressive and nonchalant attitude about an individual’s choice regarding gender and sexual expression which doesn’t necessarily compromise other more conservative aspects of the culture.
But simply put, it makes for great people-watching and hilarious stories (how many of your friends accidentally fell for a lady boy?) that will almost make you forget the bigotry going on back home…
- ladyboy pageant from Pattaya Picture
9. But not so accepting of alternative appearances… don’t take anything too personally.
Nothing will cut you down to size like trying to buy a shirt at a market and the lady grabbing it out of your hands saying, “No! You too fat! No! No sell!” Yes, that’s happened to me. Fighting back the urge to either yell or cry, I politely pulled my loose sweatshirt as close to my skin as possible and said, “No, see? Fit.” Whether she believed me or not, I finally got the shirt. But guess what? The shirt was too small. The truth is I reacted out of pride and anger, and had this crazy desire to just prove her wrong. In the end, sometimes you just have to learn to accept it. Many Westerners are foreign to Thais on more than one level, and mainly we look a lot different. For me, I’m lucky in that I’m Thai height and fairly small… but my boyfriend experienced this to a much higher degree–he was scary because he had a beard, weird because he was tall, and people even refused to sit by him on public transportation. But getting upset doesn’t help anything. So, we both learned to laugh it off, roll with the punches, and move on to more important things.
10. Never take a single sight, smell, or moment for granted!
There were days when I thought I couldn’t stand another sniff of fish sauce… days when I just wanted to walk down a street without clambering over a million stalls and tourists… weeks where I prayed for anything other than rice!
But the truth is I already miss every single one of those things, and more. I even miss the annoying tuk-tuk drivers hassling me day and night for a ride! Somewhere in there as the leaving date loomed, I realized how amazing even the most gross and frustrating things were, what amazing stories and experiences this city and country had offered up to me. So what, I once stepped on a bloated rat. Who else can say they did that while splashing away from a table full of fresh-cooked Thai food on the way to pick up mango and sticky rice on a random night in Bangkok? So what, my a/c broke and I spent the day eyeing monitor lizards in the park. So what, so what, so what… I was lucky to be able to soak in the chaos of Bangkok and beauty of Thailand for so long, and I’ll always hold those days very, very close to my heart.
I miss you and love you, Thailand!!!