Why Thailand? WHY NOT!
So, yes, I keep heading back to South-East Asia, and more specifically, Thailand, but not without good reason. I am not a globetrotter or nomad in the purest sense as most of my travels centre on one particular part of the globe (that’s not to say I haven’t travelled outside of the Far East). However, if I could share with you the motivation behind my love affair with Thailand, maybe this might give some perspective as to why this is the case.
There are several reasons why I go back to the kingdom of Siam, not least of which is the affordability factor. For those of us travelling on ZAR’s (South African Rand) this is especially important.
For the financial equivalent of what it would take to survive for a week in one of our globe’s first world countries, I could easily wine, dine, sleep and party lavishly (“lavishly” loosely defined) for a month, possibly longer, in the Kingdom.
Accommodation is especially affordable and local food (not Western), whether it be eaten on the street or in a hole-in-the-wall place is great value for money. One mantra that I have ascribed to regarding Thailand, with specific reference to the food is that, the “shantier” looking the site, the better tasting and more authentic the food.
As to the beverages, I dare you to walk a couple 100 metres in the more mainstream locations without eyeing a streetside vendor hawking their fruit shakes – for a steal! Beer, a necessity, is a bit more expensive than we are used to back home, although those with a taste for craft beers will be pleasantly surprised. Unless you are being funded, I would stay away from wine and spirits. For those with a taste for ‘hot stuff’ you will come across the local Thai whisky which shares only a name with the more accepted Scotch or Irish brands and is probably better suited to filling up your hired scooter should you find yourself stranded.
If the tourist brochures are to be believed (and there is no reason not to), Thailand has something to offer most people.
My trips have focused on the islands, both those in the Andaman Sea and in the Gulf of Thailand, with a great deal of time spent in the cities as well – Bangkok and Chiang Mai especially.
Hailing from Durban, on the east coast of South Africa, I am often asked why I plan trips to islands and beaches when I live on the coast. The answer is simple really. Without being disloyal to my home town and surrounds, the local beaches can hardly be compared with those in Thailand. Whether it be Kata, Akron, Nai Harn or Laem Singh on Phuket, or any of the islands, you will find white sand and warm turquoise water. Even in the busiest time of the year you can find a secluded spot to indulge your inner Robinson Crusoe. And if people-watching speaks to the voyeur in you – you have arrived. There isn’t too much wrong in checking out the Scandinavians pursuing their quest for an all-over tan or challenging your belief in ‘Western Civilisation’ when watching the Russians splash out their new-found wealth. These factors coupled with the fact that Thailand is one of the only places left on earth that offers premium beachside living without having to take out a mortgage (I am looking at you Maldives!!!), make Thailand a no brainer.
However, as affordable as it is (relatively speaking) and its natural beauty, it is the people of Thailand that keep me coming back! The attitude, smile and general demeanour of the country’s population, specifically in the hospitality industry, is something that we at home can learn from.
To witness people with so little being so eager to give so much is something that for me rings true throughout Thailand – it goes without saying that to witness this first hand is a humbling experience. Thai people carry with them no sense of entitlement, seemingly no qualms or resentment to their western counterparts or a begrudging attitude toward their work, no matter how menial.
A colleague of mine who was on a family trip in Thailand a couple years back recounted to me a story that he claims epitomises his impression of the Thai people, the story, in short, goes as follows: A monsoon had sent larger than normal waves scurrying onto the beach on Koh Samui, breaching the sand and making their way into and onto a beachfront resort and ominously close to various accommodations’ front doors. The staff (the same guys that served breakfast in the morning or your Chang at the bar) at the resort, rather than sit idly waiting for Mother Nature to be done with her temper tantrum, worked tirelessly for hours on end, filling up sand bags and creating a barrier between the waves and the resort accommodation. Tip of the hat to them. A simple story, yes, but I doubt we would see our forces jump into action as quick without some formal mobilising of the labour unions.
I am also reminded of a family member’s experience of having landed in Phuket on Boxing Day 2004, the day of the Tsunami. Whilst many foreigners left the island as soon as they could, they stayed. And after few unplanned days in Phuket Town, they continued with planned itinerary that included a few weeks on the islands. At every stop they were welcomed and thanked for not having deserted the locals who depended on the tourist industry for their livelihood. And every stop was a hive of activity. Instead of bemoaning their fate, the locals were getting on with rebuilding their businesses, their homes and their lives.
I don’t know what it is – perhaps it is something to do with Buddhism and its belief in ‘the middle way’ – but there is a feeling of calmness that pervades the country. Whilst in no way pretending to know anything about the soul of the country, I cannot help but compare it with our own country. There certainly doesn’t seem to the aggression and tension that we have grown so used to. And whilst one needs to guard against naiveté and gullibility (guaranteed to lead to being ripped-off), I get the sense that the locals really do appreciate what you bring to their country.
In short, the moniker of, ‘The Land of Smiles’ is warranted.
Lastly, a mention has to be made of the fact that each visit to Thailand has allowed me to bring back from it something more than just 30 plus vests, three-piece suits and sunburn, but something so much more profound – an abundance of newfound friends, hailing from all corners of the globe and varying walks of life. Thailand breeds a culture among fellow travellers that attracts each single person involved, whether it be just for a day, or in the form of finding a companion for one’s onward travels. One Chang in the right place at the right time can introduce you to a lifelong friend. More than this simply serving to diversify my friends list on Facebook, it develops a network among some of the most organic, friendly and colourful individuals that I have ever had the fortune of meeting, and for that reason alone, I am eternally grateful for Thailand.
The chap in the photos, and also the writer of this Blog is Mr Greig Campbell, attorney by trade in South Africa, a wandering soul by nature.
Click here to have a closer look at his personal blog and to read his personal encounters with the beauty that is Thailand.
All the pictures in this blog are taken during the travels of Greig Campbell.