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The 11 things I will miss most about Thailand

April 30, 2012 | Featured, Thailand, Travel | 46 Comments
Longtail on the beach, Koh Nok

I can’t believe it’s over.

175 days after I flew to Thailand last year, I’m finally leaving.

All going well, as this post goes live my plane will be on final descent into Melbourne.  While commuters inch towards the office on congested highways I’ll be collecting my backpack from the carousel.  By the time the suburban mums are finishing their school runs I’ll be sitting at my sister’s house fielding a million questions from my little nephew.

After six months in the hot, sticky wonderfulness of Southeast Asia, the weather will be a shock.

So will everything else.

Sunset at Lonely Beach

I’m going to miss the hell out of Thailand.  Even just thinking about it now, sitting in a cafe in Chiang Mai, my stomach clenches and my mouth gets suddenly dry.  I’ll probably need the driver to physically kick me out of his tuk-tuk when I get to the airport on Sunday.

I feel like a giant sponge at the moment.  I’m trying to soak up every little thing that I look at, every sound, every smell, every experience for when it isn’t there any more.  It’s not the big things I’ll miss the most.  It’s the small stuff.  The little things that are insignificant by themselves, but combine to make me love this country so, so much.

Things like:

 

The geckos

Thai gecko

Image via audrey sel

I don’t have a pet – they don’t really fit with this lifestyle – but if I did it would be a gecko.  No questions asked.  Their loud chirps have formed a soundtrack to my time in Thailand.  No guesthouse or restaurant seems complete without a resident family of them hanging out halfway up the wall.

Quietly eating the mosquitos and other bugs that lie in wait to bite me overnight, those little green dudes hold a very special place in my heart.  Cute, helpful and self-sufficient.  What more could you ask for?

 

The prices

My bank account is going to take a hammering in Australia.  The price difference between the two countries is quite staggering.  It is easily possible to have an amazing life in Thailand for under $1000/month.  Eating out for every meal, a scooter to ride around on, movies, drinks, travel, the lot.  If I didn’t have family in Melbourne my two weeks back there could easily cost as much as two months in Thailand.  There’s just no comparison.

 

The food

I am completely, hopelessly in love with Thai food.  The soups, the curries, the desserts.  The uniquely delicate blends of tastes and heat that you just don’t find outside the country.  I could happily survive on a diet of khao soy and mango sticky rice.  I never would, of course, because that would mean missing out on all the other incredible options that are served up on the streets and in the restaurants every day.

I can’t identify many of the things I put in my mouth here, but it really doesn’t matter.  I know they’re going to be wonderful.  They always are.  My stomach is crying already.

 

The beaches

Perfect beach, Koh Hong

Thailand’s beaches are rightly famous all over the world.  Golden sand, clear waters, you know the drill.  While some of them are being slowly ruined by tourism, others (like Koh Hong, for instance) are absolutely stunning – the kind that sell a million postcards.  Hanging out at St Kilda in Melbourne or rock-hopping on some of the Mediterranean beaches later in the year just won’t be the same.

 

The people

Away from the tourist hotbeds in the south, Thai people are among the friendliest I have ever met.  The smiles and laughter are infectious, the willingness to help a stranger remarkable after having spent a lifetime in the West.   Thailand markets itself as the ‘Land of Smiles’, and I’d always assumed that was just a cliché until I lived here for a few months.

It’s nothing big, nothing amazing – just a series of small kindnesses every day that makes a world of difference.  I love these people.

 

The weather

I enjoy hot weather.  I don’t enjoy cold weather.

Ergo, I enjoy Thailand.

It’s pretty simple really.

 

The landscapes

Sunrise at Phu Lang Ka

Before spending several months in Chiang Mai I had no idea that there was much more to Thailand’s landscape than the ubiquitous beaches.  The winding roads to Pai suggested otherwise, and a week on a scooter a couple of months later confirmed it.  Towering mountains, misty rice paddies, rushing waterfalls – and not a grain of sand for several hundred miles.

I loved my time on the beach as well – I mean, who wouldn’t? – but when it comes to sheer variety you just can’t beat the north of the country.

 

The fruit shakes

Before I first came to SE Asia, fruit shakes were reserved for a special treat.  At well over five bucks each in Australia or New Zealand, they had to be.  Since being in Thailand, I’ve changed my view.  Fruit shakes are a necessity, a vital part of a balanced diet.

As often as possible.

When you can pay as little as 20 baht (~70c) for one that is simply incredible, why on earth not?

I am going to smuggle Mrs Pa – and her blender – into my backpack when I go.

 

The sounds and smells

The smoky tang of stir-fried pork from a market stall.  The croak of real frogs in the morning – or fake ones at the night markets.  Crowing roosters.  Overloaded sewers.  Singing that spills out of the Buddhist wats, or the call to prayer from the mosques in Muslim areas.  The twice-daily playing of the national anthem, when everyone stands still for a minute or two.

Exhaust fumes from thousands of scooters.  Noisy longtails.  Fish ripening in the sun.  Frangipani wafting on the breeze.  Babies crying.  Crickets launching into their nightly crescendo as regular as clockwork.  People singing, in a language I don’t understand but with happiness that I do.

Oh Thailand.

 

The monks

Monk painting, Doi Suthep

Monks are everywhere here.  On the back of scooter, talking on an iPhone, walking in small groups, the bright orange robes marking them out from half a block away.  They are just a part of everyday life, treated with respect but not put up on a pedestal.  Seeing them is a gentle reminder of the importance of the Buddhist faith in this country, and I love it.

 

The ease of life

Life here is easy, in a way it just isn’t elsewhere in the world. Want to go somewhere? There’ll be a bus, car, scooter … something … heading your way for a buck or two. Almost nothing needs to be booked much in advance. If it needs changing, no drama (and no fee!).

There’s free wi-fi everywhere for those who need it. Scooter got a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere? Wait five minutes and the guy walking past will be able to sort it out – or know somebody who can. Need some food at midnight? Same applies. Pretty much anything is possible, and it’s not hard to find someone to help you do it.

The stupid little regulations that suck the joy out of life back home just don’t exist here. Ride with five people on a scooter. Set up a food stall on the sidewalk. Run a red light. If you’re not hurting someone else, nobody gives a shit.

I’ll probably miss that most of all.

I genuinely love this country. As I start to pack my bags I feel like I am leaving a piece of me behind.

Of course I’m looking forward to what the next six months holds – time with friends and family on four continents, exploring several new countries, sailing a yacht off the Turkish coast and so much more.  It will be an incredible, albeit expensive, period of travel.

I have a feeling, though, that I’ll be back here again before the end of the year.

Home is where the heart is, after all.

My heart remains in Thailand.

 

46 Comments

  1. Reply

    Steve

    April 30, 2012

    I can relate to this post completely...except my heart belongs to Ecuador. Traveling has become the reason to work. Life is just time in between trips sometimes. It is when I feel the most at home, and when I am content with life. J'adore Ecuador.

    And I hope my travels take me to Thailand in the very near future, thanks for the beautiful post.

  2. Reply

    Lisa

    April 30, 2012

    Oh god... every point in your (and I mean EVERY point!) is exactly why I want to get the hell out of there, and over there! I'm working on it....but it won't be til next year for various reasons. My quest at the moment is to make it in March now rather than September. You've described everything that I also love my Thailand - and I have enjoyed reading of your insights and exploits. It's nice that you've embraced the country in the way that you have.

  3. Reply

    Nice post! I Thailand is one of my favorite countries. I agree with you on several of your points even though I've only traveled there a handful of times. I'm not a foodie but I LOVE street snacking. My fave are the fruits! Love them and miss them, bagged up for 50 cents and all.

    You had me laughing with the sounds and smells though. I guess that's the layer you'd have to get to when you become an expat.

  4. Reply

    Marc d'Entremont

    April 30, 2012

    My wife & I have all the feelings you express about all of Southeast Asia. Stunning landscape photo.

  5. Reply

    SO great that you'll be returning so quickly! I love everything you listed about Thailand as well. Amazing country!!! :)

  6. Reply

    I can sympathize 100%. Going back to Australia or New Zealand always feels like a rip-off.

    After being in Oz for the past two months I'm enjoying the feeling of freedom, now that I'm in Bangkok again, that comes with not living in a "nanny state".

  7. Reply

    Christine

    May 1, 2012

    Bahhhh I want a fruit shake ON THE BEACH. That is all.

  8. Reply

    Cody Markin

    May 1, 2012

    The shakes!! cant wait to gran another one...and the pancakes... so good. great post.

  9. Reply

    David - GeoPosted

    May 1, 2012

    Geckos! I love those too. They're so funny.
    They immediately bring me back to my trips to the tropics...

  10. Reply

    Charles Rahm

    May 1, 2012

    Really nice post. Congratulations! :-)

  11. Reply

    Tanapat Dangmeon

    May 1, 2012

    You swung it out of the ball park on the last one. Living in the US for 12 years make me realize that rules and regulations are half bull$hit. Thailand needs more Farangs like you, seriously :)

  12. Reply

    dtravelsround

    May 1, 2012

    WOW. I love how in love you are with Thailand. You make me fall in love with Thailand, too. I have only spent a little bit of time there, but knowing this is what I have to look forward to during my year there ... just blows my mind. I already love the geckos, the chirping of the frogs, the street food, the fruit shakes ... and can't wait to experience the rest of this!

  13. Reply

    Mike

    May 1, 2012

    When you were at Elephant Nature Park where Michelle and Chaz still working there?

  14. Reply

    Mary

    May 1, 2012

    I think you're last point rings the most true for us as well. Countries that simply "don't give a shit" about the small things are just more pleasurable to be in. There is a peaceful feeling that comes along with that attitude and Thailand as well as Laos, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, etc all share this and are the things we often talk about missing the most.

    Here in Malaysia they seem to play by the rules far more and in all honesty I do not like it:)

  15. Reply

    Angela

    May 1, 2012

    Couldn't agree more, especially on the fruit shakes! Sooo good!

  16. Reply

    I totally can relate about the laid back atmosphere. People are sitting on the curb of streets, just hanging out, and no one bats an eye.

    And the fruit shakes... loved 'em!

  17. Reply

    Dima

    May 1, 2012

    I couldn't agree more with every single point you made. I only spent three weeks there and I cannot wait to go back and stay longer.

    And as far as fruit shakes go... I got my parents hooked on them now, my mom keeps the steady supply of fruit coming and everyone that comes over gets to try this special treat. Sadly, even making my own simple shakes here, they are still more expensive than what I paid in Chiang Mai :/

  18. Reply

    dianne

    May 2, 2012

    thankyou for sharing hope you get back to thailand someday if thats what you want but you might fall in love with somewhere else or appreciate other places .Australia is warm too with lots of nature and animals . you will like it . i have never been there but you will get used to it and fall in love with it .the $$$ though would keep me away because i wouldnt be able to afford it. good luck Dianne and Gillianne

  19. Reply

    Lauren

    May 2, 2012

    This made me want to cry.

  20. Reply

    Juno

    May 2, 2012

    The ease of life; I agree. It is reality but it doesn't feel like reality when you are living in SE Asia.

  21. Reply

    Ray Meyer

    May 3, 2012

    What a fantastic article. The Thai government should put you're blog on their tourism site!

  22. Reply

    Doungporn

    May 4, 2012

    Nice to hear about Thai from your post.I agree that and think so.

  23. Reply

    bernie

    May 19, 2012

    yeah i agree! its a great place! went last year for the first time and loved it! Chiang Mai is a great place! cannt wait to go back!

  24. Reply

    Ryan

    May 22, 2012

    Great post Dave. I'm looking forward to getting back to Thailand early next year. Thanks for all of the reminders!

  25. Reply

    You summed up Thailand so well! I was only there for about a month on my RTW but I could have stayed much longer :) The beaches are amazing and the prices are crazy affordable.

  26. Reply

    Sally

    August 6, 2012

    My friend and I are planning a backpacking trip to Thailand next summer. Now i know there are lots to see in Thailand, but what would be the top 10 places that is a MUST-GO?
    We both truly enjoy nature, culture, and history - we're not much of shopping or entertainment kind of people!

  27. Reply

    awww, I can't wait to get to Thailand! I am seriously considering living there in the near future. I only hear great things about it, plus I absolutely LOVE their food!

    - Maria Alexandra

    • Reply

      Dave

      September 6, 2012

      It is truly an amazing part of the world ... I miss it so much. So much so, in fact, that I'll be back again in November. :)

  28. Reply

    Pattamawadee

    October 1, 2012

    สวัสดีค่ะ Sawasdee Ka, Hi there,

    I am glad that you like my country. I love Thailand too and I really enjoy reading your stories. I used to live in Chaing Mai when I was young untill 5 years old then my parents moved back to Bangkok. Hope you enjoy Thailand when you return back again.

    • Reply

      Dave

      October 1, 2012

      I can hardly wait! I'm flying back to SE Asia in a week, and will be in Thailand again in late November. Very, very excited... :D

  29. Reply

    Eddy Rogers

    October 30, 2012

    I'v been there too, but discovered what really is hidden behind the so called - and famous - smiles.
    Everyone should read the book ; "Behind the Smile": Voices of Thailand (by Sanitsuda Ekachai) and get another idea about the truth.
    As I was married with [removed] ( a Thai - from Phichit-),
    I had my personal guide. I learned to speak some Thai too.
    In the end I know that the Thai smile...simply, beacuse they are shy. As they follow the rules of Buddhist religion (or philosophy) their attitude is so different from our Western habits. They also have much less a feeling of guilt, when they do something wrong. It's regarded as unpolite to remind them of mistakes made in the past. So they haven' t got the same problems as most Western people, because the Thai has a conscience that is less loaded with guilt.
    I have been 16 times in Thailand (mostly for periods of 6 up to 8 weeks) and even owned a house in Phichit.
    After 7 years of lies and cheating, my marriage broke up. The main goal of many Thai girls and woman is to get married with a foreigner ("Farrang") to get permission to enter a foreign country. And afterwards to gather as much money as possible (by stealing from and cheating on their husband) to forward it to their family at home. In the end the documents that entitled me to my house were fake too. I've lost more than 30.000 US $ and look at Thailand in a much different way.

    Sawasdee khab,

    Eddy Rogers
    Belgium

    • Reply

      Dave

      October 31, 2012

      Note: I've kept the comment, but removed the name - this isn't the place for airing dirty laundry about an individual.

  30. Reply

    Marysia @ My Travel Affairs

    December 20, 2012

    I would add the diving :)

  31. Reply

    Roisin

    July 15, 2013

    I'm so excited to visit Thailand and to live there for a few months. I cannot wait to experience everything you've written here.

  32. Reply

    Leandro Thomas

    July 24, 2013

    Ease of life is the one that got me, agree with that one so much. God I miss the place, almost shed a tear reading this! Nice one Dave!

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 24, 2013

      Thanks Leandro! And yeah,the rules are the thing that I always notice first - and most - about Western countries. Sigh.

  33. Reply

    Jamie S.

    November 20, 2013

    "The stupid little regulations..." I loved that one! So much truth in it. I never realized this aspect of life there, but then again I spent only a short period of time in Thailand..I always wanted to try water soloing and I couldn´t imagine more idyllic place for that than Railay. So, Thailand was a dream come true for me this summer and I can totally relate to your praise for this place. Maybe next time I ´ll get to spent more time in the city absorbing the culture..And I´m pretty sure there will be next time.

  34. Reply

    Sam | Travelling King

    December 30, 2013

    I love to hate Thailand. I hate it because everytime i plan a trip i wish it was Thailand!
    Thailand was the first OS trip we ever did and that was it for us, everything we do is compared to Thailand.
    Its in my thoughts almost everyday - its an addiction!

    We recently went to QLD, QLD is an expensive version of Thailand, the whole time we were there I Kept saying to Pete (my husband), this is just like Thailand, why did we come to QLD and not Thailand or we could have done this cheaper in Thailand!

    I feel your pain!!!!

  35. Reply

    Ian

    January 22, 2014

    Your post makes me want to hop on a plane right now and go to Thailand. After graduation perhaps! Great site!

  36. Reply

    Maya

    March 6, 2014

    Hi Dave,
    it really makes me smile when you mentioned about gecko, I have couples of them at home in Bangkok ;-D

    • Reply

      Dave

      March 8, 2014

      They really are my favourite 'household' animal! ;-)

  37. Reply

    Selma

    March 15, 2014

    I hear you on the beaches ... Railay truly is in a class by itself!

  38. Reply

    Bora

    August 6, 2014

    I just returned from Thailand after a short trip to mostly touristic places but I cannot believe how much I am missing it! I cried reading your post remembering the people, the smells, the freedom... I was so HAPPY there, no logical way to explain it! Simply, endlessly happy. The smiles, the culture, the feeling of peace and tranquility during the day, rush of adrenaline during the night time and an overall feeling of being connected with LIFE.... I am searching ways to move there at least a year with an education visa to learn their language! Moving or starting a small business being step 2... Feel free to contact me if you can assist with this (I am a mobile game designer so dunno how viable a profession it is in Thailand :( )

    • Reply

      Dave

      August 9, 2014

      It's a wonderful country. Regarding setting up a business there -- it's not necessarily all that straightforward, but I'm not an expert on the subject. With the recent crackdown on visa regulations, you definitely want to make sure you have the right visa for your situation.


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