Travelling towards Thailand is intriguing in itself. Whilst in Malaysia I found many people warning me about overcharging, theft on public transport and rudeness. I must admit, I entered the country a little suspect. It didn't take me long to realise that this is just a small percentage of people who operate in the tourist destinations. Thailand's great!!!
Outside the tourist trail you will find a very calm, friendly and patriotic nation.
I mostly write about our journey and experiences whilst travelling, this time I though it may be nice to cover my observations during my travels across southern Thailand to Bangkok.
I love Thailand, so much so that I've just booked a ticket back!
Thai National Pride
I should begin with the most important person in the country, King Rama IX, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Over 60yrs under his belt makes him the longest reigning monarch in Thai history and currently the longest serving in the world, not to mention the wealthiest. He has captured the hearts of his nation and is well respected by his people.
No one seems to understand the exact roots of his popularity but it mostly stems from his charismatic nature and the care he gives for the development of his country and the well-being of his people. He's forbidden to partake in politics but has helped his country overcome several troubled issues. His love, which is greatly reciprocated by all Thai's, can be witnessed all over the kingdom of Thailand.
An insult to the King could quite promptly land you in jail, and it's illegal to step on Thai money as every coin and note bears Bhumibol's picture. In fact, almost every street corner has his picture or statue, he's on bill boards, stadiums, train stations, the wall of everyone's home, he's all over the place! A swiss tourist once sealed his fate by defacing several pictures of the king, he found himself sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
He's been sick for a while and the streets lined with tear-filled eyes when he came out of hospital to celebrate his 60 years of reign. This ageless relationship is a beautiful love to witness.
The Thai national anthem is broadcast at 8am and 6pm daily via TV, radio and in public places. Everyone stands to attention during the performance.
Thailand is a calm, relaxed nation where each day is lived by the philosophy of 'Sanuk': to inject a sense of enjoyment into everyday life. This principal is witnessed in all daily aspects, including work.
Step outside of the tourist areas and most Thai's speak no English, but their same hospitable nature remains, joke's and all. I once bought soy milk from a guy who then pretended to punch me in the stomach then patted me on the back... why do people always do that to me!?
Thai is a nice soft sounding language. Sentences are ended with a politeness in the form of 'ka' (for women) and 'khrap' (for men). For example, thank you would be 'Khop khun khrap' or 'khop khun ka'. The word for '5' is 'ha' so often kids send messages containing '5555' meaning 'ha ha ha ha'. Cool!
My first memory from Thailand is the smiles permanently etched onto their faces, making you feel very welcomed indeed. A guy once pulled along side me on his scooter whilst lifting the hands of his 3yr old son, making him wave to me. The fact that we were travelling 30km/h and his son was no longer holding on phased him not a single bit.
My second memory is the tasty food. Pad Thai (vegi stir-fried noodles), Chao Pad, (vegi fried rice), Papaya salad and, my personal favourite, Green Coconut curry. The tourist areas will accommodate even further with muesli, porridge, mango shakes, pancakes and sometimes even a fry up breakfast. Hygiene has been no problem so far, although I have heard of a few upset stomachs.
Lodging in southern Thailand is pretty easy to come by and can be cheap, 5-20 EUR for a double room, depending on season, but don't forget to ask for the fan room, they'll first try put you in the most expensive air-con room. It's well advised to find out the high-low seasons in the tourist areas, as prices vary a lot! I stayed in a few hotels where I was told they were full and I had to take the most expensive (10 EUR) room, although quite clearly I was one of very few guests. They never attempt this in a nasty way and you don't mind the odd occasion when the money's going to feed their family.
Camping in South-East Asia is contentious. It's very populated and lots of land is privately owned making it difficult to find a spot. Many places are damp which means (you know what)... mosquitos! The cheap accommodation prices convince many cycle tourers leave their tent at home, and most people wild camping opt for the hammock. This good choice will lift you from the ground and help prevent being eaten alive by any insect with a mouth, mosquito's, ants, leeches, scorpions, cockroaches, snakes, spiders... to be fair, mostly every none parasite will run away when they hear you coming.
You won't be tempted slipping off into the trees in places like Vietnam and Cambodia where you're likely to find a landmine first. Plus, after a long, hard, sweaty day in the saddle the only think you'll want to find is a shower.
There's some crazy fruit and vegetables in S.E.A! Lychee, Durian, Bananas, Coconuts, Jack Fruit, Papaya, Green Mangos, Pineapples, Tea plantations, Rambutan, Custard apple, green oranges, coffee, rice, sticky rice grilled in bamboo, chillies, aubergine and star fruit. All worth a try, well, if you can stand the smell of Durian!
Talking about smells, the stench of rotting fish and chickens will have any cyclist begging for the red light on crossings and will quite often put you off that nice looking roadside cafe.
One fascinating past time is watching the trade move around the countries. Mostly Palm oil, coconut and rubber plantations. The odd man and his monkey are quite common sightings. A morning truck drives around collecting several of these gruesome twosome's then takes them to the plantations where the trainer will watch as his monkey scales the trees collecting the fruit. The poor monkey's look knackered by the end of the day. Obviously tourism is also a strong trade in most of Thailand.
I can't wait to go back!