- Food. We created a term to describe how it feels like to go to the bathroom the next after eating Thai food: Dragon Breath Poop. Infamously, Thai food burns twice, and it is not far from the truth. However, your taste buds get used to it soon, making it possible to enjoy the spectrum of flavours Thai cuisine offers. Okay, if spicy food is not your thing, the country offers gazillion other reasons to love its cuisine: fresh fruit, exotic flavours, endless possibilities to choose from when dining out, and the absolutely charming way it is served in restaurants. Furthermore, the country is not an impossible place for vegetarians and vegans, either. Mostly Thai kitchen doesn’t use dairy, and eggs are usually ordered separately if you want them. The term vegetarian is acknowledged here and mostly interpreted as vegan and respected as such. The country even celebrates a vegetarian festival around this time of the year! We got lucky, and have been enjoying a ton of vegetarian street food during our visit. The last time we visited Thailand, we hung out mostly in the beaches, and somehow got the impression it’s difficult to find veggie food around here. So could it be that Bangkok and Chiang Mai are just in general easier, or maybe learning how to read and say the word vegetarian in Thai has helped? To cultivate our knowledge of Thai food, we booked a vegetarian cooking class in Chiang Mai with Smile Organic Farm Cooking Class. Our teacher Pukki was an insanely enthusiastic lady, who somehow managed to make about a hundred poop jokes during her class. Somewhere between laughing and admiring the farm we managed to put together real fried rice, curry and soups.
- Language. Mysterious and beautiful, Thai offers a language enthusiastic limitless fun. It has some similarities to Mandarin, such as tones and the need to relearn reading and writing, but it still has a ton of unique features and has really nothing to do with Mandarin. Writing this, the enginerd and I have managed to learn about 7 sentences between us and reading some of the letters and words. We’ve used ThaiPod101 videos on Youtube, and a free Android app called Everyday Thai. The language itself is so complex and deep, that in order to actually learn it, one should spend much more time in Thailand. We’ve settled for knowing the basics of being polite and finding vegetarian food.
- Smiles and laughter. Thailand is the land of smiles, they say, and yes, you hardly ever see anyone moping (except for taxi and bus drivers). On some level, it seems to be linked to the language, which actually seems easier to pronounce while smiling. Or was the sound of it created by the positive and beautiful attitude of the Thai?
- Politeness. The politeness of locals in Thailand seems to be linked to their language. One of the significant features of it is the male and female polite particles, which are added at the end of a lot of sentences, and can be used as independent words, too, as general gestures of gratitude or politeness. What is notable, is the lack of the American style over politeness; it’s just people being genuinely nice (or faking it very very well??). This creates an environment where things go smoothly, there is no such thing as a language barrier and everyone tries to help you without being pushy (except for people in cosmetic stores. I just wanna browse through the face lotion section myself, okay?). Unfortunately, this can bring up very negative side effects, and highlight rude behaviour, when people are too polite to say anything. A very good example are Chinese tourists, who are not unlike Finnish tourists in the early years of cheap and easy travelling abroad. Pushing in lines, shouting, throwing thrash around, but also bringing a lot of money with them, Chinese tourists are not easy to handle and I’m quite sure they’re testing the famous Thai politeness and hospitality…
- Nature. This is our second time in Thailand together, and it seems this country just keeps on giving. Although not always ideal (spiders…), the flora and fauna are just stunning, and any nature lover could easily find activities to fill every day of their stay. Whitewater rafting, trekking, (Pro tip: Check out Indonesia for similar activities), bamboo rafting, platform and zip line adventures, swimming in an old limestone quarry at Grand Canyon water park, you name it, it’s all in Thailand.
- Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Although Thailand is filled with potential tourist destinations, I would any day recommend Bangkok and Chiang Mai to anyone looking for fun and affordable vacation, but wishing to steer away from beaches. Bangkok is a big Asian city, and as such, it might be a tiny bit intimidating for someone visiting Asia for the first time, but Chiang Mai and especially the old city are just perfectly pocket size. And if you’re lucky enough like us, you’ll score yourself an Airbnb with a rooftop pool, so you’ll get your daily dose of swimming without the crowds.
- Beaches and islands. Yes, they can be packed. Yes, they can be dirty. Yes, the merchants have learned every single annoying line of Finnish language and will do their best to use that in order to sell you crap for a ton of money. However, as Thailand has for years been one of the most popular destinations for Finnish travellers and is nowadays (based on the crowds in the street) hugely popular amongst Russians and Chinese, there just has got to be more to its beaches and islands than just annoying merchants. Koh Samui and the James Bond Island are just two examples of the more popular destinations. Unfortunately, some islands are rumoured to be destroyed by tourism, or more specifically, by tourists and locals due to throwing trash around, not picking up after themselves, and just having taken over a place. Keep this in mind the next time you visit Thailand: its somebody’s home, don’t be rude, pick up after yourself, please.
- Shopping. Although we’re not too much into it, it is obvious why someone would spend their holiday in Thailand shopping for cheap stuff: with good bargaining skills, you can buy clothes, souvenirs and other stuff for a fraction of what it’d cost back home. Food and alcohol are relatively cheap, and huge shopping malls offer all sorts of things from local organic food to large international brands. In Chiang Mai, we hung out quite close to the Central Festival mall, a massive shopping centre with 5 floors of quality stores and a big grocery store downstairs, and did pretty much all our necessary shopping there. The old city of Chiang Mai, on the other hand, has streets full of vendors selling those famous elephant pants (if you don’t know what I mean, you’ve never been to Thailand or Goa), food, postcards, Chang beer five beaters, you name it.
- Adventures. We may not qualify as adrenaline junkies, but we do love a good high ropes course, zip lines and jungle hikes. This time, we decided to try Phoenix Adventure Park in Chiang Mai, as well as Grand Canyon Water Park. The former was wonderful, although the course wasn’t especially challenging. We went there early on a Friday morning and were the only visitors at that time. Food was included in the 1900 THB price, plus transportation. We got a private teacher and an amazing two hours high above in the trees! The latter activity, the water park, was a bit surprising, considering it ended in the emergency room :D, Yeah, surely water is soft and a very gentle element, but try falling bad 3 meters into the water from a slide. I hurt my neck and back so bad, we decided to go to the staff. Their solution was to call an ambulance… (the park doesn’t have medical staff on site, so that’s how they roll with even minor accidents) I have never felt so fake in my whole life, as I was riding in an ambulance just because my neck and butt hurt. Luckily, it wasn’t bad, my X-rays were fine and now I’ve got a cool/embarrassing story to tell!
PS: This was supposed to be a top 10 list, but sitting outside, being bitten by bloodthirsty mosquitoes by Mekhong River while writing is not fun, so I decided to make it a top 9 😀 Next stop: a 2-day slow boat trip to Laos ♥