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.
I feel like a giant sponge at the moment. I’m trying to soak up every little thing 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.
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 mosquitoes 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?
My bank account is going to take a hammering in Australia. The price difference between the two countries is quite staggering. It’s easily possible to have an great 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.
I am completely, hopelessly in love with Thai food. The soups, the curries, the desserts. The uniquely delicate blends of tastes and heat you just don’t find outside the country. I could happily survive on a diet of khao soi and mango sticky rice. I never would, of course, because that would mean missing out on all the other incredible options 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.
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.
Away from the tourist hotbeds in the south, Thai people are among the friendliest I’ve 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’, that I’d always assumed 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.
I enjoy hot weather. I don’t enjoy cold weather.
Ergo, I enjoy Thailand.
It’s pretty simple really.
Before spending several months in Chiang Mai I had no idea there was much more to Thailand’s landscape than its 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.
Before I first came to Southeast 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 an incredible one, why on earth not?
I am going to smuggle Mrs Pa – and her blender – into my backpack when I go.
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 I do.
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 on a pedestal. Seeing them is a gentle reminder of the importance of the Buddhist faith in this country, and I love it.
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 tire 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’m 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, 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.