Tongue Thai’d : Typical Thailand or So I Thought

FOMO (fear of missing out) was at the core of my decision to visit Thailand. I’m not usually an advocate of overseas beach holidays. I’m South African and our coastline is one of the most scenic in the world. Secondly, I’m part Irish so the beach feels like a melanoma waiting to happen and I spend most of my day lathering on sunscreen. Lastly, humidity is not a friend of my curly hair, and the constant hunt for an air con and cold water sour my mood.

Although, I did spend my holiday doing all of the above, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Thailand exceeded my expectations. The truth is I would go back to Thailand in an instant and recommend it to others. I learnt so much in retrospect, although at the time I was unable to put into words the experiences that I had.

Culture Shock

I had never been culture shocked before Thailand. It was my first taste of Asia and I soon became aware that the fairness of a person’s complexion was of great importance. I soon found that my Irish skin was of great beauty to the Thai people who stopped and asked me for pictures or would randomly touch my arm. I eventually started taking selfies with them as well to give the interaction some form of equality.

To the Thai people, pale skin is indicative of being Western and wealthy. Pale skin means one does not spend the day in the field in the sun. One is of a higher class and does not have to resort to manual labour. We see the Thai people as exotic due to their practices of Buddhism and the wilderness of their surroundings. However, they too make us exotic by our appearance that stands in opposition to their own. This realisation pointed to the colonialism of this region and how ideas can be ingrained generationally long after colonisers have left. The national psyche is a product of the past.

Not Quite the Orient Express

I was expecting a glamorous nightly stay on the night train we were to take from Bangkok to Surat Thani. The trip was nothing like what I had envisioned, and I found myself guilty of romanticising the journey. I do not regret the journey at all; sleeping was futile but what I could do and see instead was worth sleep deprivation.

Initially our beds were not made up and the cabin appeared to look like a normal train except the corridor running down the train was narrow, making limited space for suitcases.  Storing suitcases in the corridor created an obstacle for passengers heading down the aisle. We decided to then zig zag our bags on alternating sides to make a twisting maze so that people could navigate their way through the train. This was semi successful and a few us had bruises at the top of our legs the next day due to bashing into suitcases overnight. 

A New Night-time Routine

When the staff arrived to make up the beds we were flushed out of our seats wordlessly and carelessly thrown a pillow and a blanket. Each compartment slept two people. My roommate took the lower more spacious bunk whilst I settled for the top bunk. The top bunk was narrow and short in length, necessitating sleeping in the foetal position so that my leg didn’t hang out into the aisle. The bunk curtain was missing hooks leading to gaps where light filtered through and disrupted my attempts to sleep.

The curtain however, was not the only hinderance to sleep as the waiter serving our carriage would loudly shriek: “MEMEMEMEME” as he delivered orders. This eventually got too ridiculous not to observe and he revelled in our attention and chuckled heartily under his breath as he passed us. The food he was serving was stodgy and in most cases people would pay him some more baht just to take it away. Unsurprisingly I ate a green tea Kit Kat and ice cream flavoured Oreos for dinner.

Avoiding the train toilets, I brushed my teeth in bed with the use of bottled water and a plastic bag. I also popped an Imodium for good measure. I had started treating them like sweets to be honest, as the fear of water poisoning was very real.

Further Character Development Aboard the Train

It all amounted to a great bonding experience for the group who stayed up overnight chatting about the trip to date and what was to come. Occasionally we would stop at stations and what we saw out of our windows made us rest assured, knowing that we were having a better night than most people. Questionable characters lurked around these stations as well. Each stop seemed to produce a new oddity and we kept our eyes peeled as a group playing a sort of Where’s Wally game to try find the strangest individual on the platform.

My brother Andrew (right) and his friend Mark (left) looking shattered after a night of very little sleep. They had just been woken up and their beds had again been made into seats.

Finally the tiredness of the last few days overcame me and I managed to fall asleep at about half past four in the morning. I was then awoken by the “MEMEMEME” waiter opening my curtain saying: “Hup hup hup”. So I got up only to have my bed folded back into a seat and have my bedding taken away. It’s certainly a night I won’t forget, barely believing my eyes at the scenes unfolding in front of me. If you’re up for a laugh and a great bonding experience, this train is for you.

Thai It Out

Undoubtedly you will experience the beach, snorkelling, a massage and island hopping, but don’t let your holiday end there! Be adventurous and venture to a jungle lodge for a couple of nights, go tubing down river rapids and enjoy local cuisine. Monsoon season brings daily showers that cool you in the heat of the day. Bring motion sickness tablets; speed boats on choppy water produce sea sickness and you don’t want to make yourself famous amongst other tourists. Don’t just settle for Phuket; try Koh Samui and the mainland – they have temples and night markets and do not hike up prices. Thailand is what you make it. Grab some good mates and be spontaneous, Thai it out!

From typical Thailand to the not so typical Thailand, experience it all on one of our Thailand tours.

You can read more about Ann’s travel experiences here.

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