Thailand evokes beach and coconut trees, golden temples and Pad Thai. Fortunately, there are other reasons to visit this exotic country
Thailand… The evocation of this name transports us to white sandy beaches, a turquoise sea, golden temples with fine gold and massage parlours. It is the most popular country in Southeast Asia, the one whose photos can be seen on one of the glossy covers of travel catalogues. Thailand is full of promises of exoticism, exhilaration and rest. But what is it really like?
สวัสดีประเทศไทย ! S̄wạs̄dī Ka, S̄wạs̄dī Khrap ! Hello Thailand!
Thailand is a country that has understood everything about how to exploit the manna of tourism
The reputation of the country is not without effect on what really awaits you as soon as you arrive in Bangkok: it is the country of business, tour operators, factories for tourists.
Transport is perfectly organized. They stick a sticker on your chest and let’s go. They drive you from minibus to bus, from boats to taxis to your final destination. You become a real package. It’s great, it’s practical and it’s unattractive. But the important thing, isn’t to discover the country?
Thailand’s appeal to Westerners also brings its bundle of disappointments. Scams are frequent as well as theft. Tourist traps are particularly well established. A certain caution is necessary: luggage theft on night buses, inflated prices, hidden drugs… Not enough to become paranoid but don’t do anything stupid.
Forget about drugs, prostitution, advanced drunkenness and shady tricks, the seemingly relaxed attitude is deceptive and can cause you a lot of trouble.
Bangkok, capital of all superlatives
Kao San is one of the capital’s must-sees. It is the district of the backpackers, tourists of the city center who flee (or do not have the budget for) the luxurious hotels. This district appreciated by the tourists concentrates with him only the quintessence of all Thailand. One buys grilled scorpions on skewers (I hate it. I prefer to leave them alive), some drinks far beyond reasonable, other gets a foot massage at every street corner or a manicure for peanuts. The music is thundering, the permanent crowd is exhausting and the pollution asphyxiating.
Bangkok is huge, oversized. Everything is mixed: small local markets next to skyscrapers, gigantic supermarkets, boats loaded with fruit, parades of monks in saffron sari and tourists everywhere.
Take a trip on the canals of the city, the Klongs, in a boat. On the quiet banks you can marvel at the architecture of the houses on stilts, discover floating markets and be boarded, but not bored, by a fruit seller. It’s quiet, it’s restful and beautiful.
Get off the beaten track by travelling Thailand as a local
Once Bangkok has been surveyed back and forth, by foot or aboard a tuk-tuk slaloming between cars, it’s time to step back and get lost in less hectic territories.
And if you have the spunk and spine, get off your Pullman bus and try an overnight trip by train or boat. These are unforgettable trips. It takes a bit of guts because you have to get lost in crowded stations, find the right train on the right platform. It is better not to be worried about your belongings and especially not to be prone to seasickness. But what an adventure!
Northern Thailand is still not very touristy. This region offers beautiful human and animal adventures
It is in the north of Thailand that this country offers the best of itself. It’s easy to get lost there. Just take a bus, stop at a hostel and set off every day adrift on the roads, on a scooter or a bike, without trying to get anywhere.
Farmers on the edge of fields, oxen bathing in the ponds, rice fields, jungle, rivers… and elephants are waiting for you at the end of the road.
Thai cuisine is divine and surprising.
Thai cuisine no longer needs to be presented, praising it is a pleonasm.
Hot, spicy, sweet or sour, savoury and unexpected, every bite is a surprising delight. A little cockroach at dinner? A green mango salad with chilli pepper? A spicy lemongrass soup? With or without chopsticks, try it all! Street food is plentiful and cheap, with fewer “health risks”. No excuse for reserving meals only for tourist restaurants.
Thailand is rich in culture and beautiful nature
Discovering the temples of Thailand
The temples alone are worth every detour. You can spend hours admiring the goldsmith’s, the architecture, the frescoes teeming with characters, messages and frightening or soothing faces. From the ornaments on the doors to the roofs crowned with golden dragons, everything is precious, delicate, detailed as possible.
And if you are lucky enough to have the chance to talk with English-speaking monks living in a nearby monastery, the visit is an incomparable enrichment.
The beauty of Thailand is also found in its inhabitants
It is in the remote provinces that one can marvel at the richness of traditional dress. The shimmering colours, the elegance of the women, the glittering jewellery of extreme finesse and the neat hairstyles. Both men and women are affable and very kind.
Always be smiling even if you are not in the mood. Be elegant and discreet. You will thus be able to have beautiful exchanges with the Thai people and enrich yourself with their culture.
The beaches of Thailand are as beautiful as on the postcards
Thailand is very popular for these seashores. It will surely come, for the traveller, the time to explore these islands sheltering secret beaches and to spend an infinite amount of time scrutinizing the coral bottoms. Head in the water, looking for clown fish and stingrays, we will also get to know the reef sharks. The beaches are as idyllic by day as they are by night. As soon as the sun sets, musicians, eccentric lady-boys, dancers and fire-eaters arrive. You can enjoy the spectacle while drinking a Thai beer or a sophisticated cocktail, stuck in a footstool, feet in the sand.
If the purpose of the trip is to enjoy the beach, the visitor will be fulfilled
Thai people are very attached to their culture: be careful to respect it!
Travelling requires an effort of integration and to pass in chameleon mode. It is important to adapt to the habits and customs of the inhabitants.
Thai people are very polite and smiling. They practice a very strict restraint in language. In Thailand, we do not shout, we do not get angry, stay calm. Therefore, it is imperative to avoid confrontation and keep smiling while negotiating.
Be careful not to joke about certain subjects: the lèse-majesty crime here is still punished
It is sometimes difficult for us westerners to realize that there are some subjects that it is better not to discuss in Thailand, and more generally while traveling.
Here, we do not criticize the king. The monarchy does not suffer any crime of lese-majesty. Any offence (criticizing, mocking loudly or on social networks) may invite you to visit the prisons during your stay.
We also do not criticize the national religion, Buddhism and observe the code of (good) conduct
Whether it is about monks, nuns or a visit to the temples, observe the greatest respect. Dress decently, clean, well groomed and be of impeccable hygiene. Do not show your feet to the statue (or anyone else) by extending your legs in front of you. Imitate the position of the locals: kneeling slightly at an angle. Be discreet and observe a respectful attitude. Religion is important to Thai people, here we do not joke about it.
Do not touch monks or nuns in any situation. If you are a woman, change places in the transport if a monk comes to sit next to you
Finally, don’t make fun of Thai people (losing face is a real affront) and don’t criticize Thailand!