Going to a country that is completely different culturally, economically and socially forces you to step out of your comfort zone. Thailand has a completely different way of life that has subtle cues in every movement or word you speak. Although Thai people are very welcoming, these social variances can make you feel uncomfortable. Here are some dissimilarities I noticed when I arrived in Chiang Mai.
Flying from Hong Kong, China, where most locals knew or understood some English, to Chiang Mai, Thailand where nobody spoke any English was the most difficult and still is the most difficult encounter I’ve experienced on my trip. Instantly, I noticed that I was unable to communicate with 90% of the people around me.
But everyone speaks a little English right?
I thought they would at least understand even just a simple English word like “food” or “drink,” but no. Most places in Chiang Mai have menus and signs in English, however the general population solely speaks Thai.
So how do you know how to ask for directions? Or order food?
Eventually you begin to pick up that pointing to locations on maps or food items on the menu helps but it’s uncomfortable when they begin to ask questions to you in Thai. Just like your initial thought on them understanding you, you don’t understand them.
1 USD is 33 THB. The currency in Thailand is very different than the currency in America. Immediately you notice that it is way cheaper. Although it seems as if your total of 1,000 baht is quite high, in reality, it only converts to $30. You go to buy a meal for 50 baht and when doing the conversion, realize that it is $1.50. Every meal in Thailand ranges from $1 to $6 USD (50-195 baht). It is very rare that you would find a meal over $6 unless going to a higher end, Americanized restaurant. The baht (in bill form) is in 20’s, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000. The coins are 1’s, 5’s and 10’s. It is unlikely that there will be “cents” anywhere, however, there is a .5 half coin.
Strangely enough, the traffic flows. And I say strangely because of the lack of stop lights and signs. Thailand road laws are more suggestions than rules. The roads are endless streets that run for miles. People in Thailand are very relaxed and unpunctual which makes for no road rage or speedy drivers. Considering the amount of cars driving these roads I have not seen any accidents thus far. And unlike America, where there is roadkill everywhere, there is none here. One of the most dangerous maneuvers on these roads, is crossing the street. Drivers do not stop for you. THEY DON’T. They keep driving towards you and expect you to move in enough time for them to pass. Besides that, by means of transportation, there are red trucks and tuk tuks everywhere. Red trucks (pictured below) are taxis that have a roof built over the bed of the truck with park style bench seats in the back. There are no seatbelts in Red Trucks and the back doesn’t close. Red Trucks are my favorite form of transportation in Thailand. It’s a very communal way of transportation since everybody can sit together in the back. It is also rather cheap to take a Red Truck from point A to point B (usually around 20-30baht, or .60-.90 USD). There are also Tuk Tuks. Tuk tuks are usually more on the expensive side (200baht or $6 USD) and are more common late at night for people leaving the bars since Red Trucks rarely run that late.
YOU CAN’T FLUSH TOILET PAPER. The plumbing system in Thailand is way different than that of America. The sewer systems aren’t developed well enough to hold toilet paper. Although most of the toilets are “normal” American structured toilets, it is required that you throw the toilet paper in the trash can located on the side of the toilet. With that being said, it’s very unlikely for there to be toilet seat covers but instead, may be a sanitizer to wipe down the toilet. You will also notice HOSES. Yes, hoses…They are used, commonly, as a way of cleaning off after using the restroom. In rare instances, you will run into a Squatty Potty which doesn’t even have a flushing system. Instead, there is a bucket full of water for you to dump over your excretions in the toilet bowl. This has probably been the most uncomfortable difference for me in Thailand.
There is notably a great amount of stray dogs and cats in Thailand. Despite the great amount of roaming animals, they seem to be pretty well fed and the majority of them have collars on. I found this interesting! As I continued to observe the relations between the locals and the animals, I realized that they have a type of understanding with each other that respects the values of nature with human life. The Thai people give the animals food from their stands which explains how well fed they are. They also seem to understand the idea of traffic. The dogs will move aside from the road when an oncoming car is close. But, in return, the people will also slow down in order to allow the animal to cross the street peacefully. I’m not sure if the majority of these dogs/cats end up going up with their “owners” at the end of the night, but they seem to be livin’ the good life.
Vendors & Bargaining
The most popular type of business in Thailand is vending. Vendors are everywhere. They sell many products that compliment Thai tradition and culture. Most vendors are expertise in areas of handmade products or home cooked and grown food. There are many markets that have a variety of foods and items to choose from. In addition to the many traditional Thai dishes common to most people, there are others that are unknown. For instance, fried chicken. I’m not really a huge fan of chicken but this, in fact, is the most tender and juicy chicken I’ve ever had. The fruits in Thailand are incredible. Pineapple is sweet and soft unlike in the United States where it can be sour, acidic and hard to bite into. Most products have set prices, but in Thailand, prices are never nonnegotiable. New for many Americans, bargaining is very common here. Although the exchange of currency is much cheaper here, once you learn what normal prices are, you realize that a lot of vendors tend to “rip you off” since they know you are an American. However, if you stand your ground on what price you are willing to pay, most sellers will agree with your suggested price.
Lack of Trash Cans & Use of Plastic
No toilet paper, toilet seat covers, no trash cans? This may bring the thought to many people that the Thai are more sustainable. But despite that, Thailand is one of the top plastic polluted countries. Instead of using “to-go” boxes, they will put your food in a plastic bag that looks like it’s used for holding a goldfish that was just bought from Petco. Interestingly, the streets are more clean than any street I’ve walked or driven on in the United States yet, there is a massive lack of trash cans. I’ll buy food from a vendor on one block and there won’t be a trash can in site for another mile or so. I’ve tried to research why this is quite notable here. However, I’ve found little information on why it is. Maybe they just pocket it until they get home like tourists do. In conclusion, I’m actually not sure why there is a lack of trash cans or what they do with their trash.
No Traditional American Breakfast
Although not really a top uncomfortable difference since I’ve been in Thailand, it is unusual for Thai people to have a traditional eggs, bacon, and toast breakfast. Really, they just eat rice or noodles in the morning. It has been difficult adjusting to this dissimilarity but it’s not incredibly hard to find a more Americanized Thai cafe that does serve a semi-traditional breakfast with eggs and bacon. I suggest if you plan to indulge fully in the Thai culture, it doesn’t hurt to eat noodles and rice for breakfast in the duration of your trip.
Always S M I L E
The Thai people are very welcoming to Americans. I’ve never had an encounter where I’ve felt as if they were ashamed I was an American in their country. Thai people are nice and they appreciate you trying to communicate with them. Always be respectful and know that there are many subtle cues to their language and gestures. Just keep smiling, they always are.