Thailand is an amazing place. Beautiful scenery, lovely people, relatively cheap prices, awesome parties, relaxed atmosphere… It’s difficult to imagine how people can be stressed here (the vast majority of people are certainly not!) However, there are certain ‘differences’ let’s say between the way things are in the western world and the way they are here in Thailand that could lead some shorter fused westerners to get a bit hot under the collar at times because they do not understand the way of life here.
Below are a few examples of some of the things that we love to hate about Thailand that can be annoying at first but sort of become in a strange way endearing after a certain amount of time here. If you come across any of these remember to keep cool and smile through it, you will always get to where you are going in the end and losing your s*#t in Thailand never helps a situation as in Thai culture it is seen as an embarrassment to all involved and is more likely to get you ignored than served faster.
There are two sayings used a lot by Thai people which we really like and which we feel really capture the general atmosphere and attitude of most Thai people. “Jai yen yen” (literally meaning ‘cool your heart’ or calm down) and “Mai pen rai” or no problem.
There aren’t many places in the world where restaurant staff seem to go out of their way to avoid being tipped, but Thailand along with some of its surrounding countries seem to be so laid back when it comes to serving your order that they’re almost horizontal. This obviously depends on where you are eating, in more Hi-So places or up market tourist places the service is obviously impeccable and even in more traditional, family run places the service is perfectly friendly and fine, just don’t expect anyone rushing to clear a back log of orders or get everyone in your groups food out at the same time. In most cases it aint gonna happen…
For those who have been to Thailand will know that things seem to run by their own timetable, most of the time a good 30 minutes or later than they are scheduled, after which time you ultimately find yourself falling into the exact same habits….but hey why rush? You’re in paradise! Just relax and remember you will get to where you are going eventually (but leave plenty of time for flights etc..).
No matter where you find yourself in Thailand, even in the dirtiest back alleys of Bangkok with no form of life around you still won’t be far from someone hounding you by resonating the word “Maaaasssaaaaaaagggggeeeeeee”. Don’t get me wrong you may wake up late at night in a cold sweat hearing this like some kind of bad dream, but I could think of worse things to be offered 24/7, and there’s not many places in the world where you can get a massage for a fiver!
They’re never too far, there’s never a shortage and you’ll CONSTANTLY be offered a ride, among other things! If they can’t get you to where you want to go, they’ll have something else up their sleeve to offer, from suits, to cooking schools to ping pong shows, it still amazes me each and every day what the Tuk Tuk driver will say to get your business! They are everywhere of course….. Until you really need one at which point they all seem to simultaneously disappear until such time as you no longer really need one. Another thing to not about the cheeky chappy tuk tuk drivers is that they are not all 100% trustworthy and may sometimes tell a fib or two to get people in their cars. The vast majority are still friendly and not aggressive in any way, in fact if you know the scams and have a joke with them, they will often laugh with you at their cheek. For example they will tell you the temple you are heading to is closed today and that he will take you to a different one for cheap… Or that you can get a ride round Bangkok all day for 10THB – this is not quite accurate, what it actually means is, “I’ll drive you somewhere but I’ll stop at several shops (jewelry, suit shops etc) which you have to go into and pretend to be interested in buying something so I can get petrol (gas) vouchers from them…” You really do only have to pay them 10THB cos they get much more than that in fuel vouchers but it will take you a hell of a lot longer to get where you’re going. Not the end of the world to get caught by one of these as in worst case scenario you get an impromptu tour of Bangkok and if you don’t have anywhere to be it may even be fun, it just helps to know.
It’s a pain, but it is expected in many places and on occasion may even go on for some time. Once you get your bartering skills down to a T though, you’ll be able to knock a bit off of most items from street stalls which can save you a fair few Baht over time. Lots of people told me before I came to Thailand the first time that I would be arguing over the equivalent of 20p and my reaction was always ‘don’t be silly, I would never do that.’ However, when you are haggling, what starts out as a bigger difference in prices ends up as relatively little after several price exchanges (often using calculators the stall staff keep for exactly this reason) so in the end, you are arguing over the last 10 Baht or 20p and you realise and think to yourself ‘sh*t, I am haggling over 20p!’.
It’s easy to lose your mind in paradise, and a good few people you meet along the way (mainly backpackers, some who left home 20 years ago…) may be a few sandwiches short of a picnic, irritating or not they’re people on your trip you won’t forget!
You’re in a tropical climate and sometimes even with a Mozzy net and a gallon of Deet, you’re still going to get munched on by the buggers! Each and every person will have their own unique (sometimes amusing) remedy for the little bloodsuckers, best thing to do is to grin and bear it and remember, don’t scratch!
Quite possibly one of the worst cities on the world for traffic, what should be a twenty minute journey can easily take an hour and a half if the traffic is bad (or normal) and this is not even during rush hour (which lasts about 3 hours usually). However, this is another thing about Thailand that surprisingly, you sort of get used to. You start leaving more time for journeys just in case, you stay calm in the worst of traffic jams, jams that in western countries that would have caused fist fights and high blood pressure and most amazingly, if you look around, you realise that everybody else is also calm. No swearing, no horns going off, no middle finger or v’s shown to people blocking the way or trying to cut you up. In the midst of all this chaos, somehow the Thai philosophy “Jai yen yen” (literally :cool your heart” or chill out) reigns supreme.
Not so much an issue in Bangkok but sometimes on the islands the power has been known to just cut out for a few hours for no apparent reason… Once I was in a travel shop and a bird flew into a transformer on a power line causing a huge bang and loss of power to the whole street for the rest of the day! This is fine if you are just chilling and have no need for power but it always seems to happen just when you’re about to send that important email or save a document you have been working on. Usually it comes back on between half an hour and two hours after going out but in some cases it has been longer. On Koh Phangan it was once out for 2 days over full moon. Manic but quite fun at times, all it really meant was getting ready in the dark and heading somewhere with a generator to party! One thing to remember though if you are on tour and you experience a power cut… Your group leader, whilst being extremely cool, sexy, charming, fun, amusing, entertaining and almost all knowing, is probably not going to be a psychic and so most likely will not know when the power is going to come back on. So, spare a thought and save him/her the pain of being asked for the 9 millionth time. (Apart from if it’s Luke. He likes being asked questions to which he can not possibly know the answer, make sure you remember to ask him where the toilet is and what the wifi code is in every place you set foot in.)
That’s it. Until next time,
Peace and harmony