I’ve just spent two weeks holidaying in Thailand. It was around my 8th time there and the country never fails to impress. Here’s five lessons I picked up this time:
The bum gun is your friend
At first, you wander into a toilet and wonder what the hell is going on. There’s a scarcity of toilet paper. And then, if you’re lucky enough to be in a cubicle that has paper available, there’s a sign saying ‘no flush sanitary napkin and toilet paper’. That’s when you see the bin, a cursory glance reveals that the paper goes in there. But what about? Oh, the hose next to the toilet is for washing your bum, the paper is for drying it (and maybe helping extricate the smudge that can’t be removed).
You get used to the hose on the road. It starts to become reassuring. No matter what escapes your nether regions there’s an appropriate solution for it. My partner and I also discovered that nice places can have a weak-as-piss hose while out-of-the-way shanties can have a high pressure nozzle. There’s no real rhyme or reason to determining the strength of a nozzle. So simply get to your toilet and spray and pray.
A little bit of language brings a big smile
I’m not sure I can say what it’s like to live in a tourist area. There’s an influx of people from all over the world speaking other languages, making strange requests, and generally complaining. In the Land of the Smiles (as Thailand has been known) a good turn on your behalf can unlock warm greetings from all but the frostiest hospitality worker.
Making an effort to “sawasdee ka” (hello) and “kob kun ka/karb” (thank you) at the beginning and end of your meals isn’t essential – but the extended connection you make with locals as a visitor in their country makes it all the more worth it.
You’ve got to hustle to make it spicy
One thing I noticed when I lived in Asia was the hesitation with which ordered Spicy food is granted. It usually unfolds like this:
“I would like [spicy dish] please.”
“That one Spicy.”
“You want spicy or spicy, ahhh?”
What this means is that there’s a white people Spicy, and then an Asia-level spicy. In Thailand, the Spicy insurance policy seems to index towards the less adventurous. To cash in on Asia-level spicy you’ve got to specifically ask for it. A couple of times some ordered laab moo – which ordinarily takes me to volcano country – barely registered on the chilli scale.
Don’t be a ting tong
It was raining in Pai. It was my third time there. My partner and I jumped in a songtheow (think taxi ute) and started chatting with some backpackers. They quizzed me on my knowledge and I told them to look out for “Ting Tong Bar” having mistakenly remembered those words instead of “Boom” (a great bar in Pai).
Ting tongs are basically stupid people. There also seems to be an abundance of them in Thailand in the farang (white people) form. So please don’t join the crowd. Be courteous and polite and have fun. Do you really need that 7th shot? To the backpackers in Pai around late July that asked for directions to Ting Tong Bar – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to set you up like that.
It’s going to be okay
Mai pen rai – was a saying that my friends picked up in Thailand and took delight in teaching me. It basically passes for: what happens happens, time goes on, it’s all going to alright, and so on.
There’s a lot of things that go on in Thailand that have me scratching me head, but in the end their systems work their way and if they don’t it’s not your place to try and comment or correct it. There were a few times on the road this holiday where things seemed to go wrong, but in the end it worked out and generally people are there to help you. Just embrace mai pen rai and roll with it.
It was an amazing holiday, and one I’m totally grateful for. If you’re a keen reader of this blog, you may have noticed my presentation challenge went awry. I had a few life-things get in the way during the challenge and will get back to a similar project soon – watch this space.