Hello from Thailand!
It is currently Saturday, June 9 and my 6th day here in the Land of Smiles.
I’m not going to lie, the second I said goodbye to my boyfriend at the airport back in Oregon, my heart began to race.
My brain screamed, “What the hell are you doing, girl?”
To which I replied, “I’m living.”
Traveling to the other side of the globe completely on my own has taught me a lot in itself. I came with no plan, just a craving for adventure and a yearning for growth.
My journey is not even halfway through and I have already learned many things, both big and small. It’s amazing how drastically different one place can be from another, and how “set in our ways” we get when we stay in one place for a prolonged period of time.
Some people don’t like change, but I love it. I get bored doing the same thing day in and day out, and every once in a while I want something to happen that completely erases and rewrites my definition of normal.
& so far, this trip has done just that.
Here are 10 things I have learned from being in Thailand so far…
1. It’s totally normal for people to give without expecting anything in return
Thai people are by far some of the nicest and most selfless people I have ever met. The waves of kindness began before I even arrived in the country, with the man sitting next to me on the plane from Guangzhou to Bangkok. To be completely honest, I was not very fond of this man at first. He had made me uncomfortable while sitting at the gate waiting for the plane by repeatedly walking by me and smiling and then whispering to his family. I was exhausted at that point ( I had been awake for over 24 hours and had just gotten off a 13-hour flight) and was feeling very alone and annoyed at people pointing, staring, whispering and laughing at my sore-thumb status. When I sat on the plane, I was relieved to see that he had not sat in the seat next to mine. However, that feeling barely had time to sink in before he walked back up the aisle and sat down in his assigned seat…the one right next to mine.
Karma, I thought. This is what I get for being a grump, huh?
I decided to work on changing my perspective, so closed my eyes to meditate while the rest of the plane’s passengers got on board. After a few moments I was feeling better, so I opened my eye and smiled at the guy next to me. He then began to ask me questions in some broken English, many of which wanted to know if I was related to any of the other white people on the plane…he, like many other people, could not believe that I was traveling alone.
We kept trying to talk, without much success, and then finally settled on smiles, head nods, and hand gestures. He gave me a piece of gum, which I was extremely grateful for, and having had noticed that I couldn't eat any of the plane food other than the banana offered with dinner, he gave me his. I had been craving fresh fruit all day, so I graciously accepted. With a shift in my thinking, this man went from being a thorn in my side to becoming my plane pal.
The kindness shown to me by the Thai people has only amplified since I’ve gotten to interact more with their society. People treat each other like family in a way that shows that they know no other way. This is something I want to work on in my own life, for we are all connected. We are all family on some level.
2. When entering a home, take your shoes off, wash your hands and your feet.
This is the first Thai custom I learned. I was a little shocked when I entered my friend’s home and she pointed me to the bathroom and showed me how to use the shower.
I thought, “wow, do I really stink that bad?” but she explained to me that in their culture the feet are seen as the lowest part of the body and that they (as well as your hands) should be washed whenever you enter the house from the outside.
It’s something I have gotten very much used to and have actually grown to love. I figure it’s a good habit to have, especially when you’re someone who prefers to spend the majority of their life barefoot. I think I’ll be bringing this one home with me.
3. Don’t touch the monks
Usually, monks are only out and about in the morning time, but you may see them throughout the day if they have an activity or appointment to attend. However, no matter what time of day it is, you want to make sure that when you do cross paths with one that no part of you, or anything on you, brushes against them.
Also, you may give a monk something – money, fruit, etc. - but they will never directly ask you to do so. My Thai friend told me that if a monk asks you to donate, they are most likely a fake.
4. Don’t talk about the Thai government
5. Prepare to be stared at and own up to your foreigner status
Unlike in America, it’s quite easy to tell who is originally from here and who is not. Remember that sore-thumb status I mentioned earlier? Yeah. As a 5’1”, baby-faced woman with light hair and light skin in the middle of Thailand, I am quite the traffic-stopper. Nobody tries to hide the fact that they are staring, either. I’m weird, plain and simple.
Also, if you’re a foreigner visiting Thailand, be prepared to pay a higher price. Admission fees for temples and other attractions are usually free for natives, but not for foreigners. These can sometimes be a bit hefty, so make sure to leave some wiggle room in your travel budget.
6. Coffee comes pre-sweetened
This one took a few times for me to figure out. After trying several times to order a medium Americano and getting a random sized, very sweet (in my opinion) drink I learned that the “medium” I was requesting referred to the level of pre-added sweetness.
Apparently, sugar is to Thai people as salt is to Americans. It’s added to everything. All coffee comes with sugar, syrup or some kind of sweetened condensed milk already added, so I had to learn how to order with “no sugar” (Mai Sai Nam Tam) and learn how to ask for no dairy (jay = vegan).
To make things easier I just began bringing my own little snack-size cartons of non-dairy milk to add to Americanos, because many places do not carry any dairy alternatives. Milk alternatives have become so popular in the U.S., that it didn’t even occur to me that a place may not even any non-dairy options
I guess it just goes to show how quickly the vegan/non-dairy movement has spread.
7. The lines on the road are merely suggestions, and crossing the street is the literal definition of playing chicken.
Having had been awake for about 30 hours straight when I finally landed in Thailand, I thought there was nothing that could keep me awake for the ride home in my friend’s car.
Boy, was I wrong!
The best thing to compare driving in Thailand to would be pushing your way through a giant mosh pit at a rave.
You basically go wherever you can fit and if there is room to make your own lane, well you better go right ahead and do it before someone else does. Everyone cuts everyone off all of the time, so nobody gets mad when it happens to them. Four cars can be going for the same spot until the very last second, but it’s the car who has their nose an inch further than all the rest that ends up getting it. Also, there aren’t any clearly posted speed limits and you don’t have to wear a seatbelt if you are riding in the back seat.
Perhaps even sketchier than driving in Thailand is crossing the street. Cars don’t have to stop for pedestrians…and they won’t, so you better cross your fingers and hope you make it in the two-second traffic break. The first time my friends had me cross the street, it was at night and we had to cross several busy lanes of traffic.
Needless to say, I about had a heart attack. Look up the definition of “playing chicken” in the dictionary, and you’ll see a photo of me crossing that street, desperately gripping the arms of my friends.
8. How to say, "Thank you"
“Khob Kun Ka,” means Thank you in Thai. It’s the very first thing I learned how to say, and it has served me very well.
Here is a list of some of the other phrases I have learned so far:
Chai – yes
Mai Chai – no
Mai Khob Kun Ka – no, thank you
Mai Nam Tam – No sugar
9. Families stick together
In America, 18 is the age at which most parents and children prepare to begin living separate lives. In Thailand, however, it is not uncommon for families to stay together in the same home until the children are married and ready to have families of their own. Even then, they may still choose to live with their parents.
This is especially common for the women, for the oldest daughters are believed to be the ones who should care for the parents in their old age. I asked my friend about this and she said that they don’t have to, but that it’s sort of ingrained in their minds from the time they are little because it is what they see growing up. She also said it’s not uncommon for parents and children to live together their whole lives.
10. Dragon fruit has a flavor
Up until now, I thought dragon fruit tasted like a whole lot of nothing…with maybe a subtle hint of dirt. That’s why I was totally taken aback when we went to a salad bar on my first afternoon in the country and I tried a flavorful piece of the funky-lookin’ fruit.
It’s actually very sweet and does taste quite a bit like the hot pink, dragon fruit flavored Vitamin Water! If you ever get the chance to try a locally-grown dragon fruit, please do. It will change your opinion of the fruit entirely.
By no means is this an extensive list, but it does cover some of the fun little things I’ve been able to add to my bank of knowledge since leaving the comfort of my home country. I expect to continue learning each day and shifting my perspective as I continue to have new experiences throughout my time here in Thailand.
Traveling outside of my own country has been such a life-enriching and rewarding experience.
Has it been nerve-racking at times? Yes.
Uncomfortable? A little.
Worth it? Absolutely.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone does not have to be as extreme as leaving your home country. It can be asking someone on a date, going to a different type of restaurant, learning a language or deciding to sign up for a new type of exercise class.
So often we stop ourselves from doing the things that excite us because they also kind of scare us. But, right on the other side of that fear is a place much more safe and comfortable than where we are at at the moment.
Fear can make cause us to expand, or it can cause us to contract. Fear that makes us expand promises the possibility for growth, while fear that makes us contract warns us of potential danger.
What’s something that you’ve always wanted to try?
Does it excite you...but also kind of scare you?
What’s stopping you?
Is it fear?
If it is, does that fear make you expand, or contract?
If it’s not the latter, then do yourself a favor and go for it.
Schedule a time and place RIGHT NOW to take the next step in expanding your horizon, and tell me about it in a comment below.
I dare you.
I promise you won’t regret it.
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