Thailand is a remarkable country. We learned so much about ourselves and travel from just a few weeks there that I wanted to share. Here are the lessons we learned in Thailand.
1. Massages are amazing. I didn’t think I would love massages as much as I do, and always thought they were for the fluffy, latte drinkin’, Mercedes drivin’ types. It’s a part of everyday life there, so they are cheap, strong and good. We paid anywhere from $4-$8 for an hour massage around Thailand. Now, when planning another trip, finding cheap massages is on my list of criteria. Turns out I don’t hate a little pampering every now and then.
2. Relax. Not in a beach sort of way, in an overall sort of way. Things will go wrong, get lost in translation, etc. If you are not Thai, you will almost definitely overpay for things. Nothing is ever on time. Ever. Don’t lose your cool and remember that a smile goes a long way. On our way to Sukhothai, we asked about 20 times if the bus went to the new or old city, and were told “yeah, yeah, Sukhothai this bus!”. We got dropped off in the new city and had to take a separate bus to the old city. On the way from Koh Tao to Bangkok, the ferry was over 2 hours late, thankfully our flight was delayed… it was a little stressful. That’s when I’m thankful for #1 above.
3. Pack Light. For flights, ferries, buses, and trains – it’s less luggage to lose, and less money spent on checked bags. Plus, once you get there, there are less options and less time fussing over what to wear. When we got dropped off in Chiang Mai in the middle of the Sunday Night Market and overly crowded streets, I’m pretty confident I would have had a meltdown if I was carrying loads of stuff with me (take a peek inside my bag here).
4. Even a few Thai phrases with a very poor accent can go a long way. We could almost always find people who speak English, but it still makes their day when you try. A simple “sa was dee ka” (hi) or “kap kun ka” (thank you) really goes a long way. A taxi driver we had in Bangkok spoke no english, so conversation was, obviously, pretty minimal. No matter what I did the man wouldn’t even smile. Finally, when we got to the airport and he got my backpack out of the trunk, I smiled as big as I could and said “kop kun ka!”. A smile grew on his face, and he chuckled and said back “kop kun krap!”. It was a great moment for me, I felt like I won him over.
5. Keep an open mind. Many things won’t turn out the way you expected. The food will taste different, the smells will be different, the sounds, etc. There are squatty potties with no toilet paper, my nemesis. I am a firm believer that with an open mind and good attitude, you can truly make the best of anything. If not, try #2 or #1.
6. Finding the right place to stay is worth the effort. Unfortunately, animal cruelty is all over Thailand (the world, really), especially since animals are a big part of the tourism industry. It is important to me to spend my tourism dollars mindfully. It took hours of research to find a humane Elephant Sanctuary, but, ultimately, we felt like we got a more intimate experience, and didn’t contribute to the brutality. Do your research, read reviews, ask around. Please, please do not ride an elephant.
7. Always try something new, which I have never regretted. We chose to get our Open Water Certification while in Koh Tao, and it was such a memorable experience. Did it go perfectly? Um, no, not even a little. But it was all part of the experience and I’m glad it happened, even if it was a rocky start to a new addiction.
8. Spend some time just being there. Put the camera down (a hard one for me), start a conversation with the locals, and walk the streets without a destination in mind. Some of my favorite days were spent moseying the streets, taking in all of the sites and sounds, eating, getting a massage, all with no sight-seeing.
9. Dress appropriately. It will be hot, and likely pretty humid (depending on where you’re going and when). Wear loose fitting clothing that dries easily. Thailand is also a conservative country (except for the beaches), so remember to bring pants or capris and tops that will cover your shoulders. Only tourists wear tiny tank tops and shorts.
10. I am capable. Although I’ve been traveling for years, I still find myself doubting my travel skills. What I realized (finally) in Thailand is simply that it will all work out, sometimes even for the better. I think I’m secretly hoping we will miss our flights back home one day…