Since I arrived in Thailand at the end of January I’ve learnt a lot about this fascinating country. Now that I’m leaving, I thought I’d share some of the highlights, and a couple of the downs too. (I wrote this at the airport and added photos later, so apologies for the mix of tenses!)
Slash and burn agriculture is alive and well
Throughout February the skies were clear, with not a drop of rain. The weather was beautiful. On the 1st March, the smog appeared, and stayed for the next three weeks or so, making breathing much harder and meaning I wore a face mask for the first time in my life. Visibility was sometimes only a few hundred metres. I was told it’s from the crop burning which takes place to ready the fields for the following year’s rice to be planted.
Road safety is optional
There are often no seatbelts in the back of cars, and although it says that helmets are obligatory on motorbikes, many people don’t wear them. You regularly see people riding along with the helmet hanging off the handlebars where it will be really useful if anything happens to them! Apparently Thailand has one of the worst road safety records in the world 😦 Having said that, I saw fewer accidents there than I did in Sevastopol.
That’s it for the downs…
Scooters and motorbikes are the way to go
Going to a shopping centre or supermarket, you will always find a huge car park full of motorbikes and scooters. As in stereotypes of Asia, you see whole families on a single bike, or they’re piled high with things to sell. There are also all kinds of variants on the bikes, my favourite of which are the food carts which you see everywhere, woth a kind of sidecar on them which doubles as a stall. With the good weather, it’s a great form of transport. I have no idea what it’s like in the rain as it’s only rained three times while I’ve been here, all in the same week!
It feels very safe
People don’t seem to worry about having things stolen and will, for example, leave their helmets on their bikes in car parks. I’ve always felt safe while I’ve been in Thailand, even at night by myself. Cycling along rural roads between the rice paddies was one of my greatest pleasures despite what I said about road safety above (that mostly applies to main roads) The fact that this was how I commuted to work was wonderful – such a peaceful way to start and end the day 🙂
There’s no point cooking unless you have to
You can buy good quality, cheap food everywhere without a problem. My favourite restaurant in Chiang Mai was Taste from Heaven, a vegetarian restaurant near the Thapae Gate. They made me pumpkin, carrot and potato in coconut milk, served with white rice. Delicious!
Wats are infinite in their variety
One of my favourite things to do in Thailand is exploring and wandering in to every wat I come across. Each one is unique, whether it’s the style of the paintings on the walls, the kind of statuary in the grounds, the location, the materials it’s made of, or the architectural style. Here’s just a selection of some of my photos (click on the collages to see them in more detail).
Thai massage deserves its reputation
Whether it’s an hour of relaxation with an oil massage, or getting rid of all of the knots with a traditional Thai massage, it’s definitely worth it! If you’re in Chiang Mai, I’d recommend Mandara – beautiful surroundings and a little off the beaten track, but still close to the Thapae Gate, so very easy to get to.
Chiang Mai night markets are bad for your purse
There are so many beautiful hand-made items for sale, it was impossible not to buy something every time I went. Most of the things I bought had elephants on them! 🙂 It’s probably a good job I left when I did…
The Royal Family
Their pictures are everywhere. The National Anthem is played before every film at the cinema, and it’s also played at 8am and 6pm on loudspeakers in public places and government buildings, like the Walking Street in Chiang Mai and the visa office. When it’s on, everyone stops what they are doing and stands still as a sign of respect.
Thais know how to dress
There were so many beautiful clothes on show all the time. Every Friday in the north (as far as I know) schools have a day where everyone wears traditional clothes, so you got to see all of the Lanna and other tribal patterns every week. The Chiang Mai Flower Festival in February was a particularly great example of this, with some amazing costumes.
A tale of two cities
Bangkok is incredibly hectic, and a lot more built up than I was expecting. There are skyscrapers all over the place, and more shopping centres than you can shake a stick at, including CentralWorld, which is one of the largest in the world. I was also surprised at how easy it was to get hold of international products in Chiang Mai. Whatever you want, you can get. I can see why people come here and never leave!
I had a really good time in Thailand, and I’m sorry that I’ve ended up leaving earlier than planned. I’ve got an itinerary for a two-week holiday travelling around the country which I won’t get to use on this trip, so I hope I’ll be back one day!