Thailand is easy… really easy… smiling faces everywhere, relatively cheap, good food, the ability to buy western products in stores, easy to travel from place to place, tourists and expats everywhere… I can honestly say it’s, by far and away, the nicest place I’ve been in the last 6-7 months. As you may recall, I wasn’t really planning on coming here, but a spur of the moment invitation gave me a chance to break-out of my Goan vortex… and I’m glad I came. It’s been very nice to escape from the (seeming) chaos that characterizes India and East Africa for something a bit closer to whatever you and I would consider “normal”. And yes, for those of you wondering, I am including my time in Bangkok in there as well, which, after even just a little time in Bombay, was an amazingly nice, clean and orderly city. I know it’s all relative and all via my empirical impressions, but Thailand feels far and away ahead of most of the other places I’ve been so far in the “economic development” scale. Maybe it’s because I’ve really only been in heavily touristed areas..? It’s not exactly Europe mind you, but it does have the ease and convenience of daily life that I think most of us are generally acclimated… and that’s been very refreshing.
My little Thailand sojourn has been interesting for me in that it’s been the first time (in quite sometime) that I’ve actually been playing the role of a true tourist… bouncing from place to place rather quickly, not getting off the beaten path, checking off must-dos and must-sees left and right and generally kind of speeding through the country. While it has been great, there is a downside… I don’t really feel like I’m Thailand… I kind of feel like I’m in a bit of a tourist Disneyland… like being in Thailand is simply a convenient backdrop for hanging out with a bunch of Europeans, North Americans and Australians (a similar feeling to what I’ve experienced the one time I went to Hawaii as an adult). It’s like the Thai’s simply provide the sandbox for everybody else to play in… but maybe that’s just me failing to put the effort in to get off the tourist trail and see what else is out there? Because readily admitted, I’ve really just gone with the flow here (as I said above, it’s nice and easy)…
So what have I been doing you wonder..? Well, my first stop was in Bangkok… so I did what I generally do in most major cities, I walked all over the place, ate and drank everything new I could find and enjoyed the good nightlife available… plus, thank you Bangkok for being so modern, I went shopping to replace a lot of things I was running low on (think western brand grooming products) and to replace many of the electronic items that were stolen from me in Goa (only in Asia would there be a six-story electronics mall/showcase complete with everything from display girls to guys putting illegal copies of windows onto newly bought computers in the back… simply amazing). I think many Americans, thanks to The Hangover 2, have an impression of Bangkok nightlife as being very seedy, but in general, it was pretty much like any other large, modern metropolis… the exception being the two of three cordoned off streets containing the vast majority of Bangkok’s prostitutes (be they girls, boys or lady-boys)… but after, literally, having to sprint away from prostitutes in several other countries, these places were also much nicer and more laid back than I thought they’d be. Some photos:
After Bangkok, my friend and I headed south to Phi Phi Island. Phi Phi (pronounced pee-pee… yes, really), in general, is one of Thailand’s party islands (unfortunately not the home of the infamous full moon party… that’s on Pha Ngan, which is off the east coast of Thailand). The setting is spectacular… a vaguely barbell-shaped island, with the main town being on the neck of the barbell, so there were beaches to the north and south, each being about a 10-15 minute walk from the other. However, since the actual buildable area of he island is rather small, Phi Phi tends to be quite crowded… and since it’s a party island, many of the people crowding in on you also happen to be drunk… so, very fun for 3 to 4 nights, but pretty much the same itinerary every night (it’s a small island, so there’s just not that many places to go out… “same same” as they are fond of saying here). Of course my friend and I stayed for a week. Some photos:
After Phi Phi (and the departure of my travelling companion), I took the ferry over to Lanta Island… Lanta is much more relaxed… some relatively deserted beaches, not many places to go out and frequented by people just looking to chill (which was perfect for me). I had some fun reliving a bit of my Goan experience by staying in a beach shack and driving a scooter all over the place (everyone warned me how crazy it was driving a scooter on Lanta… little did they realize I had been driving one in India for almost two months, which made Lanta feel like it didn’t even have any traffic at all). Some photos:
After a couple of days in Lanta, I decided I wanted to get off the beach and see a bit more of the country… so I took the night train back to Bangkok (much nicer than Indian trains… and there’s a bar car), spent two nights there hanging out with a friend of a friend who happened to be in town, then trained up to Chiang Mai for a bit (where this happened)… and I’m still there at the moment… enjoying the very easy life of a tourist in Thailand.