We’ve just arrived in Kuala Lumpur after 2 months in Thailand.
After the relative familiarity of Hong Kong and Japan, it really does feel like we’re experiencing travel again, as we take in these amazing new places. At first I found it quite unsettling being in Thailand, particularly Chiang Mai, but after 6 weeks I didn’t really want to leave.
I’m starting to find that the more you travel to exotic places (particularly ones that you’ve never been to), the more you get a buzz from it. New food, new languages, new cultures – being the “minority ethnic” – it puts you outside your comfort zone, and I think this is good for you.
Chiang Mai is a fine balance between chaos and common sense. Yes, people pack their families onto a single scooter with no helmets. Yes, electric sockets are unearthed. Yes, there are rats, cockroaches and geckos everywhere. But with the lack of health and safety regulations, you also experience a sense of freedom and the ability to use your common sense rather than being dictated to as you would be in more “civilised” countries.
It takes some getting used to, but I found I began to love the spirit of the city. It helps that everyone is always smiling. That said, there are some more unsavoury things you notice just below the surface. Thailand is now one of the most visited countries in the world and you can’t help but feel that the Thais are perhaps being exploited somewhat – you wonder if the night markets and massage parlours etc. are only there to put on a show for the tourists.
It’s interesting that shops shut at 9pm in Chiang Mai – this felt strange as it’s not like that in other parts of SE Asia. I actually think Thai people aren’t motivated by money in the same way that Hong Kong or Chinese people are. Or maybe the influence of Buddhism and the strong leadership of the previous king has tempered it.
Though you do wonder if perhaps more and more tourism will begin to make people bitter and greedier. It always bothers me that traders or taxi drivers will automatically charge tourists more than locals. Tourists may have more money, but they’re offering exactly the same goods or service to local people for less. And there’s a fair amount of exploitation too – we saw tigers drugged up so people can take photos with them, elephants that had been forced to learnt to paint, and a whole tribe of people (Karen) who are compelled to practice an old way of life that they otherwise would have left behind, because it draws tourists in.
Some people I spoke to say that Chiang Mai is becoming like Bangkok – busier, more polluted, and less like the small city it used to be. For now it’s still a rather charming and lovely place, and I think there’s a good chance we’ll be back in the future.
Anyway. Here are the things that I loved about Thailand:
- Meeting up with Oli, an old friend from uni who I hadn’t seen in 15 years or so. He came over and we all watched Robot Wars on iPlayer.
- Getting over my fear of needles to have no less than 5 injections in 6 weeks! I’m now protected against rabies, Japanese encephalitis, tetanus and bubonic plague.
- Seeing huge monitor lizards in Lumphini park, Bangkok.
- Taking part in the Songkran festival a few days after arriving in Chiang Mai.
- The amazing Art in Paradise museum.
- Working out in the Shangri La hotel’s gym.
- Amazing mango smoothies in S&P (next to Rimping supermarket).
- French breakfast at L’opera.
- American breakfast at Butter is Better.
- Just, like, ALL thai food. The food court at Airport Plaza was great (even local people eat there).
- Volunteering at Care Corner Orphanage.
- That day we did a tour of the museums and the park.
There’s probably loads more. And Suewan and Roobs have even more to share, like the friends she met at Kids Yoga Garden, and going to an elephant sanctuary together.
Community, isn’t it?
Actually, the other reason this feels more like proper travelling is because we shared it with so many more people. We met loads of other worldschooling families in Chiang Mai – from London, South Africa, Poland and America. Plus we had Suewan’s parents visit, plus our friend Sachiko from Japan. Community, isn’t it?
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