Parting ways is such sweet sorrow. Well, kind of.
My month in Thailand was filled with delightful adventures and equally wonderful people that I had the pleasure of meeting along the way, but I was ready to move on. It seems that most people can’t get enough of Thailand and speak incredibly highly of it, so unfortunately I represent the minority here. I definitely can see the appeal for others; it is considered the gateway to Southeast Asia for being well-traveled, has plentiful pad thai and boasts beautiful beaches. So why didn’t I love it too?
I’m hesitant to voice how I truly feel about Thailand, or any country that I don’t have wonderful things to say about, because it feels like I’m making generalized and ignorant statements, so let it be noted that I recognize that it is a huge country and I saw very little of it in the grand scheme of things. However, in my defense I also recognize that I may not love every place I go to and that is okay. Thailand I just didn’t click; maybe it just wasn’t our time and we can try to make it work later down the road. It’s not you Thailand, it’s me. I hope we can still be friends.
The overarching culprit for why we didn’t get along is that it has sort of sold itself to tourism. It seems like it’s cultural roots got lost somewhere between the piles of elephant pants and desperate tuk tuk drivers, but with 29 million tourists flocking to their land each year it’s hard to blame them. And let’s be real, you can argue that this is the case with a lot of places in Southeast Asia. But with Thailand I also found myself turned off by some of the little things, too.
Mind on the money. Money on the mind.
Like many places, Thailand has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and people are always looking to make an extra dollar, but here it seemed to be an all-consuming value of people working in stores, restaurants and transportation. Most were just down to business, seemingly distracted as if I interrupted their day, with forced smiles that were quickly dropped once the interaction was over. It all felt insincere and saturated with indifference and annoyance. More than any other country I’ve visited, I felt like Thailand just wanted me to fork over money and get out.
Yet despite their concern for wealth they tend to disregard ways to actually save it. For instance, they have a minor obsession with plastic but could save by not putting everything they can think of into small individual bags and double-bagging loaves of bread. I get that plastic is a universal issue, but it seems that Thailand brings it to a whole new level. When they do decide to be frugal it’s almost embarrassing, like when you pay for a bed and get a massage table covered in a sheet. I’m looking at you Raw Hostel…
It also appears to be a place that relishes in the glory of doing things the easy way. It is perplexing to me that they get taxis to go two blocks down the road or will wait to take an elevator for one floor up, even if an escalator is only ten feet away. For some reason they also have a strong distaste for the rain and will go to great lengths to avoid it (refer to “taxis for two blocks” above).
Not animal friendly. Most of all, I am incredibly saddened by their treatment and indifference towards animals. Most notably is their exploitation of elephants which, as you can guess, has become popularized to due tourist demand. I will say that there are many places that you can visit where riding isn’t allowed and you can help bathe and feed them, which I respect. Particularly upsetting for me though is how many people unflinchingly poison or harm dogs because of their mere annoyance and dislike of them, which I saw first hand on many occasions and it breaks my heart to pieces. Oh, and let’s not forget about the dancing monkeys.
I will say that I did meet and work with several wonderful Thai locals (although even they sometimes voiced their qualms to me about their own people), but overall, most of my interactions didn’t point to Thais being a generally friendly bunch. It is possible that I stayed in too touristy of areas and elephant pant wearing tourists are the bane of their existence. Or maybe I ran into everyone on their off days and they take some time to warm up. Maybe it’s just my face, I don’t know.
Am I being too harsh here?
Was my experience the exception? I am a notoriously unlucky traveller so the possibility is definitely there… I also understand that all countries have their oddities and quirks and I’m sure Thailand has many redeeming qualities that I did not give adequate enough time to see properly. I think that if I do find myself here again I would like to explore the beaches and islands that are a little further off the map. I could probably benefit from learning the language a little more too considering that I’m leaving with an impressive two-word vocabulary: sawadee ka (hello and goodbye) and kup kun ka (thank you), the latter of which I continuously butchered because it sounds a lot like krumkake, a delicious Norwegian dessert best by my grandma.
On the bright side…
Of the few cities I did travel to here I am glad that I spent the most time in Chiang Mai which is tucked near the mountains and is a little quieter (by Thai standards at least). It was also an amazing experience to volunteer at the Santisook Dog & Cat Rescue, even if a good portion of the time I just wanted to cry from being surrounded by so many sad and abandoned furry friends. Luckily I found that just hanging out with unconditionally loving animals remedies the sadness real quick and proved to be a foolproof cure throughout my stay. Chiang Mai also has many national parks, caves, waterfalls and other places to adventure off to, which you can read more about here.
Thailand didn’t make it on my list of favorite countries but I am still happy to have explored a little bit of it. I’m taking home with me an abundance of memories, many new friends and some handy skills I learned (I can officially put pig wrangling on my résumé). So as I bid farewell to Thailand I eagerly said hello to Myanmar and the opportunity to explore a new place filled and many (mis)adventures to come!