When people ask how many Southeast Asian countries have I seen in one month, they can’t believe when I say – one! And it’s Thailand. I travel slowly. Time is on my side and I’m not rushing anywhere.
I was two weeks in Bangkok. I should be in the Guinness Book of Record, right? But I lived there with the American-Thai married couple, who brought me into the “Thai” world. Living in a totally non tourist street, they showed me where to eat, what to eat (coconut pancakes, my love), I didn’t know what double pricing is and I learned how to navigate through city and manage the money in local currency. I was prepared for all possible scams. It was a perfect start.
I spent almost two weeks in north in Chiang Mai, with one short trip to Pai (five days). One morning I manically decided that it’s time to leave. Otherwise I’d stay forever. That’s the magic of Chiang Mai. It’s Thailand, but not quite. I stayed at the Mojito Garden where I met wonderful people, I became friends with the local Thai lady Jirawan who makes the best smoothies in the world, and I found my favorite temple.
(Restaurant in Chiang Mai)
Pai was magic and introduction to the jungle. It was love and freedom at first sight. After returning to Chiang Mai, there were still people I met two weeks ago. Almost everyone I met was searching for a job or deciding whether to stay or not. No wonder Chiang Mai is the base for many digital nomads. Life was good back in north. It was hard to leave it.
(Jetlink temple, Chiang Mai)
After I arrived on the bus station in Bangkok, in the middle of nowhere, I ended up on another station – Hua Lamphong, buying the cheapest ticket (14 baht) and going to Nakhom Pahtom, small town in central Thailand, famous for its Buddhist pagoda, the biggest in the world. Ban Chang with its rural surrounding and relaxing vibe was a place where I felt like home. Was I planning any of those cities? No.
(Phayon Beach, Ban Chang)
For some, I didn’t see much but my eyes have already seen more than I can remember. For me, slow is OK. I love meeting new souls, become friends, to hear stories of other, hug people when leaving and have a place to come back. I travel solo and at my own pace but when I meet wonderful souls I get along with – I join!
So, after my first month in Thailand there are things I liked and things I didn’t…
I think being barefoot is being free! I wouldn’t change my Hawaii style flip flops (bought for 59 baht in BKK) that I can take off anytime with winter boots or high heels ever again. My feet have tasted freedom and there’s no turning back. Constantly slightly dirty, and not just the feet, that’s the way to travel in Thailand. Nobody cares about other people’s look. Going to bed with dirty feet is not something unusual. Sweaty, covered in dust, with stains and without taking a shower in a couple of days, is something all Southeast Asia travelers have in common.
(Being barefoot on Phayon beach)
I will write a poem for this international chain because I know I will survive if 7/11 is around and thanks to heaven – this franchise is everywhere! During the period of adjustment to spicy Thai cuisine, when you end up without money or wish to spend less, or when you have sugar cravings – 7/11 is a savior. Its sound reminds me of mother’s call to the table.
The first store in Thailand opened in 1989. My personal favorites:
– Ice coffee and Coke (14 baht cup)
– Chicken burger (29 baht)
– pineapple pie (20 baht) –
– Chang water (7 baht) and all sorts of cookies for 10 baht. Washing powder, beers, rose wine, lockers, tooth paste.. You name it, they have it. I bet travelers would, if 7/11 had showers, sleep in front of the store. And they are open 24/7 and not just from 7 to 11!
Night market, Sunday market, Saturday market, Flower market, daily market… In Thailand every day is a good day for a market. While some might say that you’ve seen all if you’ve seen one, that’s partially correct. If you don’t mind crowds, people walking all over your feet and keep looking at the same souvenirs, paintings and shirts – you’ll find markets exotic. But navigating through the crowd can become exhausting with time. I got over the markets but if I find cheap fried chicken and sushi for five baht, then we’re good again.
(Floating market Lat Mayom, Bangkok)
The story is quite similar as with the markets. Visiting a temple in Thailand for the first time is unforgettable experience. Collection of buildings, shrines and monuments can make head spin. Everything is big and shiny and no wonder people feel enlightened. Bell sounds and resting in a shade makes you think about life. And comes in handy as an escape from the sun. BUT, after seeing one temple after another, you’ll get to the conclusion that they’re all quite the same. Oops?
(Buddha, Nakhom Pathom)
Ambiance and atmosphere are incredible so give yourself some time for exploring them and find your personal favorite. Mine is Wat Jetlink in Chiang Mai.
A few notes:
- Entrance is free
- Take off your shoes before entering
- Never point at the Buddha statue with your fingers or feet
- Women should never touch a monk (though they can chat with them), and should cover their knees and shoulders
I could stay forever in Thailand just for the smoothies. Exotic yet affordable fruits make my stomach dance. Passionate fruit, coconut, mango, rose apples, pineapples.. 30 or 40 baht for this piece of colorful paradise after which I feel more healthy and more energized is all what they ask for. In most smoothie places you can only pick one fruit but I found a place in Chiang Mai where Jirawan made me smoothies from four or five different fruits. Sugar is also added but you can ask the seller not to put it (so much).
(Jirawan & I)
I loved long walks in Bangkok with my friend Edi, laughing with Irene from Barcelona in our “gay hut” in Pai, drinking coconuts with Greta while sitting on the street in Chiang Mai, and playing with 9-year old Ben.. Though I travel alone, people are who make the most of my travels. There’s nothing more beautiful than sharing road stories over a Leo or Pad Thai. We are all far from home, we come in all shapes and walks of life but when fellow travelers meet – it’s seems as we know each other for ages and would do anything to help one another, even if that requires spending three hours in a hospital with a guy from Germany, telling him funny stories from Istanbul while he receives infusion.
(Eating at the Land split, Pai)
Sharing a chocolate with a Thai girl on a bus station. Hugging my masseuse on the streets and laughing with the fruit vendor though we don’t understand each other… These are what I call “sweet moments” – meaningful moments that occur unexpectedly and make me love my travels even more.
EASY TO TRAVEL
Though not always speedy and on time, traveling within Thailand is an adventure. Whether you want to reach the north or go all the way to the south, every route is reachable. You just have to pick your preferred vehicle – train, bus, minivan, minibus, inter-town songthaew, tuk tuk, plane, ferry, boat, taxi… Buses are fast and cheap while trains are safer but slower. I tend to avoid tuk tuks as they charge too much. When in a taxi, always ask to turn the taxi meter on and avoid paying the highway toll.
(Night bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok)
I love long distance buses and trains. When wheels start turning I feel as euphoria is growing within my body. Music flooding into my ears and falling easily into a dreamy haze while wonderful scenery changes with every kilometer… It’s like a meditation and one of the reasons why I travel.
Exotic fruit is cheap, comes in all variations and can be bought at every corner – coconut, passionate fruit, rose apple, mango, papaya, different bananas (namwa is my favorite)… Plentiful and diversified fruit was one of the main reasons why I chose Thailand. And then papaya salad, pad thai, coconut pancakes, chicken in coconut soup… I have to admit I wasn’t a big fan of Thai food when I arrived. Everything was too spicy and too “eggy”, but I made progress. After first two weeks in Bangkok my body craved for french fries so I pronounced one sentence I thought I’d never say out loud: I want McDonald’s!
(Grilled squid at the market)
When I have my food crisis, I go to 7/11. Street food is amazing and cheap. And no, I haven’t tried insects. Quick note: May and June are the two months when most of the famous fruits are on sale in Thailand, so you’re lucky if you’re here.
Though I arrived in winter time, the temperature was never below 26 degrees. I thought hot weather would annoy me. I’m freckled and can’t get a tan easily. But oh my, was I wrong. I absolutely enjoy it. I don’t mind neither high temperatures, neither humidity! Bring it on!
TUK TUK AND TAXI DRIVERS
I try to avoid tuk tuk and taxi drivers whenever possible. They get annoying, want to take you to shops and tourist offices where they get provision, and they charge double. I prefer driving in a public bus or walking, even long distance, just to avoid them wasting my time. Though driving in a tuk tuk can be an unforgettable experience if you have a local by your side. They know how to deal with them. I will never forget crazy ride I had in Bangkok. Tuk tuk driver was swerving through the streets like a maniac. It was a real Fast and Furious experience, but the Thai way.
(Driving in a tuk tuk)
Two more months to explore the islands of Thailand are yet to come!