Well, I’ve done it again: I’ve broken my own record, and am now officially farther behind on blogging than I’ve ever been. Although the current trip’s posts have barely covered my first week in Bangkok, I have in fact already spent a week each in Ko Phangan, Phuket, Krabi, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore, plus nearly a month in Melaka and a second month in Bangkok. That’s over three months behind for the mathematically impaired, and still there’s no end in sight.
Will I ever manage to catch up? I sure hope so, but until then I guess all I can do is chip away a little at a time. I’ll start off by jumping the gun a bit and writing a preliminary “Thailand Observations” post – most likely I’ll have more to add later, but considering how much time I’ve already spent in the country, I figure I might as well toss out some general thoughts while they’re still (relatively) fresh in my mind 🙂
• Before saying anything else, let me say this: Thailand is, quite simply, amazing. Throughout all my years of travel, I’ve written more than a handful of sparkling reviews – places that left such positive impressions that I simply couldn’t bear to leave. A pretty recent post, “Regional Favorites,” mentioned just a few of these. Well, Thailand goes above and beyond. Nearly every day of our stay in Thailand Herb and I found ourselves pausing to comment something along the lines of “I f*cking love this place.” It is now unequivocally my favorite part of the world, after Japan (which I’m pretty sure will always remain at the top). It’s got everything you could ever want: fantastic food, unequaled nightlife, modern cities, tropical beaches, gorgeous women, friendly locals, efficient transit, safety, and virtually every convenience of home – all at a tiny fraction of the cost. Never before have I found somewhere that offers all of these simultaneously; everywhere else there’s always been a tradeoff. But not in Thailand. Thailand has it all.
• Of every country I’ve seen throughout Asia, Thailand also seems to have by far the most foreigners – both traveler and expat. Granted I have been staying in more touristy areas, but still, the number of Westerners roaming about is nothing short of shocking – even more so than Hong Kong. I suppose it’s not hard to understand considering the points mentioned above; I’d imagine that quite a few people come here for just a short trip, but upon falling in love with the country just decide to stay. I know that’s what’s happening to me 😉
• On a completely unrelated note: Durian fruit smells like farts.
• Most of you already know that one of the first things I notice about a place is cost. As someone who travels fairly continuously, the overall cost of living has a huge impact on my perception of a particular destination – after all, working 3 days a month and living like a rockstar (i.e. Thailand) is certainly a different experience than working 3 weeks a month and barely scraping by (i.e. Japan). And while I’ve already described in my previous post how easy it is to eat fantastically well, I feel I should elaborate just a bit more on the “fraction of the cost” concept mentioned above. To put it plainly, given a Western salary, Thailand is more or less your playground. Even if you party every weekend you can live quite comfortably on $1k/month – luxuriously on $2k. Just try doing that in New York, where you’d be lucky to cover your rent; here, you can get a fully furnished, fully serviced top-class apartment in a prime central location for less than $600 (i.e. with an infinity pool, fitness center, 24/7 security, cleaned 6x a week). “Normal” apartments go for less than half that. A cab across the city is no more than $2 or $3, and a ride on the skytrain virtually never breaks a dollar. Just about the only thing that isn’t cheap is drinking in a nightclub – but that’s easy to fix with a bottle. Bottle service in Las Vegas will set you back $800 or more, but here you can get a fifth of Johnny Walker for barely $50 – even at the nicest clubs, i.e. in the Windsor or Mariott. Better still, if you don’t finish they’ll actually hold onto it so you can come back the following weekend with a group of friends. Admission free, of course.
• Thailand is absolutely full to the brim with two particular types of businesses: guesthouses and massage parlors. Every street and alley seems to have 2-3 guesthouses, plus maybe a hotel or two, and at least a half-dozen massage parlors. I guess that says a little something about what all those tourists are up to? 😛
• Taxis here run on compressed gas rather than regular unleaded. To refuel, they actually pop the hood and connect a hose which looks like something that’d be used to fill a propane tank.
• Is this really supposed to be the cool season? I’d hate to imagine what it’s like when it’s hot by Thai standards…because even now, after less than a minute outside I’m already dripping sweat. I’m definitely going to need more tanktops.
• One thing that surprised both Herb and I about Bangkok were its women. Despite the fact that Thais do have somewhat of a reputation for beauty, my general expectations really weren’t all that high. Boy was I wrong. Almost like Japan, they really do themselves up over here – especially all those 20-year-old knockouts who are mysteriously dating fat, old, bald white men…
• Alternative sexuality – as well as prostitution – are both remarkably prevalent and remarkably open here. I’ve never seen a place with so many women wanting to be called men, men converting into women, butch lesbians, flamboyant men, or a general attitude of acceptance towards alternative sexual lifestyles – no matter how outlandish they may seem. This ain’t Kansas, I’ll tell ya that.
• For a supposedly “developing” country, I have to say that Thailand’s infrastructure is nothing short of amazing. The public transit is clean and efficient, there’s nearly ubiquitous WiFi, 3G cellular service is lightning-fast, and in the more central areas, most everything provides comprehensible English translations. It’s certainly a hell of a lot easier to get around than, say, China.
• …On the other hand, traffic in Bangkok is a nightmare. A nightmare. Thank God for the moto taxis, which zip you between the lanes at breakneck speed…while everyone else is stuck picking their noses in gridlock.
• I’m sorry, but the Thai accent is absolutely hilarious. Herb and I can’t seem to get enough of it – when pronounced by a native, some of the words sound so funny as to almost be like a joke. Blahh means fish and Poo means crab? OK, so I guess I can’t quite convey this through text – especially because Thai, like Mandarin, is a tonal language. But just try keeping a straight face the next time someone looks you in the eye and asks if you’d like your fried rice with poo 😆
A small afterthought: if you’ve checked out my Travellog, you may’ve noticed that this isn’t my first time in Thailand. Indeed I’ve been here before, with my dad when I was 16. Upon reading some of these observations you might therefore think, “But you knew that already!” Well, not really. Not only does a developing country change a lot in 12 years, but when I was here in the 90’s I was really just “following daddy around.” The way I see things now, as an adult with countless more experiences under my belt, is very very different from how I saw them back then.