The ‘Squirrely’ Side of Thailand

I thought it only fair since I posted ‘Things to Love about Thailand’ that I should also have a little ranting page about things I find squirrely about the country as well.  Again, they are in no particular order 🙂

#1: Whitening
Ok, now I understand that this is 100% a culture thing.  Unlike many people in the Western world and many Europeans, Asians want white skin.  White skin is a sign of wealth.  For if you are wealthy, you spend most of your time indoors and don’t have to work or labor outdoors, hence you stay out of the sun, hence you have white skin.  On the flip side, having dark skin is a sign of poverty.  So ok, I get people here want white skin, but what I’m not a fan of is the whitening products and not having a real choice outside of it.  Deodorants, body washes, lotions, basically any product for your skin has chemical whitening agents in them.  As a falang who prefers a little color to my skin, and as a person who doesn’t want unnecessary chemicals put on my skin, it’s really, REALLY hard to find any skin products without whitening chemicals in them.  They are all “whitening”, “extra whitening”, “white and firm”, etc….  What’s worse to me is so-called skin care product experts like Nivea, Oil of Olay, Dove, and so on are on the whitening bandwagon.  They are just out to give what the culture wants despite what damage it may do.  All about the $$$$… Again, I get it’s a culture thing to want white skin, I just wish there were options that didn’t have the whitening chemicals in them, that’s all 🙂
#2: Electric Lines
I don’t know why it is exactly that electrical poles have what sometimes looks like hundreds of lines coming off of them stretching along every road and side road.  It’s as if they had poles with a few lines at first, then as demand for electricity increased they just added more and more and more.  It’s sometimes scary as when you walk by many of the poles you can hear them literally buzzing with electricity!  And between some of the poles the electrical lines stretch from the top of the pole to at least half-way down allowing the lines to sag almost to the ground.  Now, I’m not an expert in electricity by any means, so I may be way out of my depth here, but I would think there would be a “neater” or more organized way to get electricity where needed without just adding more and more to already congested poles… Hmmm…

#3: Sugar
I learned very quickly that sugar is super popular here in Thailand.  They put it in EVERYTHING!!  It’s even a condiment on the table for your meal!  They have the chili pepper powder, fish sauce, a vinegar sauce with sliced chili in it and sugar.  Nope, that’s NOT salt!  I’ve heard that Thailand is way up there for diabetes and obesity, though to be honest I haven’t noticed that many obese Thai’s, so while that part came as a surprise to me, after realizing and tasting that yes, everything does have a ton of sugar in it, it’s not so shocking after all.  Bread, coffee, “all natural juices”, potato chips, the list goes on!  If shopping on the street at the various vendors, if it looks like it may be tart or not have sugar in it, you really won’t know for sure until you take that first bite.  As someone who is trying to watch sugar intake for personal health benefits, I literally have to read every ingredient on what I pick up in the store to check for sugar.  I’ve done this action so often now, I even recognize the word in Thai (since the majority of ingredient lists are 100% in Thai).  Such a bummer!

#4: Visas
If you enter Thailand via air, you automatically will receive a tourist Visa for 30 days.  If you want to have a Visa for a longer period of time, you can apply before going to Thailand to the nearest Thai embassy for a 60 or even 90 day Visa.  It is possible to get a year Visa if you are doing some sort of education while in the country such as learning to speak Thai or Muay Thai training.  If you arrive in Thailand via land (bus or train) you get a 15 day Visa!!  Seriously???  What in the world would anyone actually be able to see of Thailand in 15 days!?!?!  I understand that there are many expats and travelers that get jobs while originally just visiting Thailand and aren’t being legal about it (paying the appropriate taxes and such) so the government is trying to limit the amount of time people stay in the country to make it harder for those who get jobs and aren’t legal about it.  I get that.  It’s just unfortunate from the perspective of regular travelers who just want to explore the country without having to leave every 30, 60 or 90 days (yes, even 90 days is a pain to have to do!!) especially with some borders being closed (well, you can leave, but you can’t come back).  I’m spending my saved earned money in this country… Wouldn’t they want me to be here for a longer period of time without having to leave?  Then again, maybe that’s part of it too… Paying for transport in and out of the country to be right by the Visa is also stimulating the economy… Hmmmm….  The rules do change quite often apparently and many expats who have been here legally for many years simply say that “that’s what happens when the government is ruled by the military”.  (Sigh)

#5: Thai’s Don’t Sweat!
Ok, this one is obviously just meant to be humorous… It simply astounds me how the Thai people never seem to actually sweat!!!  Seriously, if I’m sitting indoors without a fan directly on me I start to sweat profusely!  And even then, while the skin being hit by the fan is dry and cool, my backside is not!  Walking anywhere and well forget it, I’m drenched in sweat so often just walking about that my clothes change color from being sweat soaked.  I’m constantly peeling clothes off soaking wet clothes and setting them outside to dry after my walks and when they do dry they are streaked with white marks across them (from the salt in my sweat) so into the wash they have to go.  Yet watching Thai laborers in the sun constructing a new building, carrying materials and such, not a single drop of sweat anywhere!  Their skin isn’t glistening with any sign of stress!!  Ok, now of course this is a teeny bit of an exaggeration because of course they sweat, otherwise I’d think that was a major health issue, but seriously compared to how I and other falangs sweat, it’s night and day!  What is their secret???  I’m off for my third shower of the day now to rinse off the sweat from simply writing this post. 😉

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Smack First, Ask Questions Later

I’ve noticed recently that I’ve been practicing what I’ve now coined as the “smack first, ask questions later” action… It really has nothing to do with the recent Muay Thai training I’ve been doing (just finished session 5 today and it’s a real rear-kicker!!).  And when I think back I’ve been “smacking first and asking later” since arriving in Thailand last December.

So what am I referring to exactly?  Well, you see, not every place has a mosquito net covering the beds.  And even if they did, they don’t prevent 100% of whatever night critters decide to come out and join you bedside… And since I’m arachnophobic, I would rather not actually see what it is that’s crawling on me, because if I ever visually found it to be a spider I would absolutely lose my mind.

Enter the “smack first, ask questions later” motto.  It’s a simple concept that I use more often than not.  Whenever I feel something on my skin while in bed or hanging about, without looking to see what it is, I simply smack the area where I feel the unknown critter.  Sometimes that’s the end of it.  But sometimes I do feel a body beneath my hand in the area I’ve just smacked so just as quickly as I’ve hit the unknown creature I swiftly grab the body and chuck it as far away as possible from where I am.  It’s become such a common movement that I don’t even notice I’ve done it sometimes.  And yet I wonder where that bruise came from the next day, lol!!

Thankfully I’ve never come across the body of whatever I’ve hit and thrown off me the next day, which really means one of two things: either the creature was just stunned by the hit and limped away after recovering OR its body was eaten by another critter during the night.  Neither of those scenarios are very comforting really, but that’s jungle living for ya!  All part of the joys:)

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Bang Saphan

On the Gulf coast of Thailand, halfway between Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chumphon (where transfer to Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand can be found) is the beautifully picturesque and quiet town of Bang Saphan.  I had heard of this place as a recommendation from Sai and Charlie in Sangkhlaburi and am so grateful for it!

I will admit right off the bat that I barely spent any real amount of time in the town itself, and well basically the reason for that was because once I had arrived at the bungalows I’d chosen, I simply didn’t want to leave!  That and I was about 4 km south of the actual town, and since I didn’t have a motorbike, there was no real big draw for me to go into town.  But I’m getting ahead.

I took the mini-bus from Prachuap, which was only about 80 baht and an hour and a half or so later was dropped off on the side of the road for Bang Saphan.  The drop off location for the mini-bus was about 4 km west of the town, so I had to get a ride in.  There was a motorbike taxi standing by, so I hopped on and asked to go to Lola’s Bungalows.  I had read up on this guesthouse from a posting on Travelfish and since it said it was their top pick and cheaply priced, I thought why not?  But as the bungalows were 4 km south of town, it ended up being quite an expensive trip there via motorbike!  Frankly there could have been a cheaper way to go, but being in the heat of the day and not very many other options just hanging about, I went ahead with the motorbike.

Once I arrived, I was already in love!  The property didn’t even have a sign up but it was evident how popular it was.  About 20 or so individual bungalows were on the property that were situated only several dozens of feet from a stunning beach!  I was shown to a bungalow and for 300 baht a night, set my things down and got ready for the beach!  What I thought was cute about this place (other than the amazing location) was how when I tried to pay for the bungalow, they simply waved me off and said to do so whenever I decided to leave.  I like that kind of trust in people!

In any event, I had only planned on being there max 5 days, but ended up staying 2 full weeks!  Most of the bungalows were occupied by couples or families that had been staying there already for weeks themselves and or were planning to be there for a month at least.  I guess that’s why the property owners didn’t want money up-front as they were probably used to people coming in and then wanting to stay on!

Along the beach were several eateries, including my personal favorite called Roy Tawan all of a 3 minute walk along the beach south from the bungalows, that had THE BEST chicken club sandwich I’d tasted in a very long time!!  I was seriously addicted to it!!  And for every meal they would start you off with fresh bananas and give sliced mango for dessert!  So for about $1.50 I was very fully and quite healthily satiated!  Another favorite spot I had was the Why Not Bar just a bit further south along the beach where about the only nightlife could be found.  The people there were so friendly and welcoming, I just adored it!

I spent my two weeks at Lola’s getting myself back into an exercise regime, lounging on the many hammocks along the beach reading books, walking daily anywhere from 2-6km through the lush and beautiful land filled with a variety of life to various stores for my food needs (they had a fridge in the room) or to the Thursday and Saturday evening market at the nearby Wat, hanging out at the Why Not Bar, eating a ridiculous amount of Club sandwiches from Roy Tawan, taking brief dips in the ocean (only brief and I will explain why later), gazing at the night sky, eating yet another ridiculous amount of ridiculously fresh and juicy mangos on my front porch, exploring new ways to walk to the neighborhood stores (one dirt path included cutting through a cow pasture), chatting with neighbors and making local friends, enjoying the sights and sounds of approaching storms, listening to some guided meditations on YouTube before falling asleep nightly and generally otherwise relaxing and unwinding.

I saw my first flying squirrels there and though they were impossible to take images of, since they only came out at night and moved too quickly to capture, they were still a delight to watch!  Another thing I’d heard about but had never witnessed before Bang Saphan was coconut collectors using monkeys to cut off and throw down the coconuts!  Some workers also had long bamboo sticks with a knife at the end that they would use to cut off coconuts, but far more had several macaques with them that would easily climb to the top and chuck down several coconuts.  I hope and could only assume the animals were treated well!

I mentioned above that I only spent brief time swimming in the ocean, and the reason for that was first because there were several jellyfish in the area.  Every time I walked out into the ocean I could spot several bobbing along looking harmless enough, yet I wasn’t going to test how much their sting might hurt!  Of course I could have simply walked past the area they were bobbing in as the deeper you got the fewer jellyfish there were, however once getting past the gauntlet of jellyfish, another gauntlet of sorts had to be passed.  See, this particular beach had hundreds upon hundreds of sand dollars in the sand.  You could feel them under your feet as you walked, their little bodies crunching under the weight of my feet and I just couldn’t stomach damaging them just so I could get out deep enough to where I could start to actually swim or float.  So, between the jellyfish and not wanting to potentially kill dozens of sand dollars with each trip in and out of the ocean, I simply opted to hang beside the ocean instead:)

Another first that I witnessed one Saturday when I went for an early lunch at Roy Tawan was a bird singing competition… A bird  singing competition… Yes… Let me set the scene: I arrived at Roy Tawan and sat at a little table awaiting my food when I spotted in the grass section nearby a metal structure with about 12 cages hanging.  Each cage had a bird in it and there was even another bird cage (with a bird inside) hanging in the shade about 20 feet from the other 12 on the metal structure.  One man was sitting under the shade with the bird and he had a cylinder vase filled with water that he would drop the shell of what looked like half of a coconut that had a small hole in the bottom.  Once the coconut shell filled with water and sunk to the bottom, he would blow a whistle and retrieve the coconut.  At this point, two men whom had been standing on opposite sides of the 12 hanging bird cages would approach a cage and make a mark on a piece of paper hanging from the bottom of each cage.  Then they would step back and seemingly watch the next cage.  The whistle was blown again, the coconut shell was dropped (their way of timing!) and the whistle blew again to signal time, the men would make their mark on the next bird cage and move on.

Now, mind you during this entire time all the birds were singing away.  The air was filled with birds singing as well as with some people on the side lines making sounds that sounded like encouragement to one bird or another.  I asked the local woman at Roy Tawan what on earth was going on and she simply said it was a bird singing competition!  The birds in the 12 cages were trying to mimic the song of the single bird in the shade.  The two men making marks were judges and they were scoring which birds sang the best in comparison to the one bird!  Just as I was wondering how in the world these judges could hear only the sound of the one bird they were supposed to be watching for judging and drown out the other 11 birds singing their hearts out, she added “I don’t understand this competition, it seems very silly to me”!  LOL!!

I honestly could have stayed another 2 weeks at Lola’s but alas, it was time to move on!  I think I had gotten my fill of relaxation and was ready to try a new spot.  My next destination was for the island of Koh Tao:)

On To Koh Tao Island

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Things to Love about Thailand

I’ve been traveling in Thailand now for over 5 months now, so I thought perhaps now is the best time to break out with a few things I love or at least find the most interesting about Thailand:)

It will be a working list and isn’t in any particular order with the exception of the first one.  🙂

#1: NO SHOES!!!
I absolutely adore how before entering any building, home or place of work you must first remove your shoes!  This goes for just about every place, with the exception of some grocery stores (though no one would squawk if you didn’t have your shoes on) and with some restaurants as well.  But for the most part (including in the vet clinic where I volunteered) you have to kick off your shoes before entering.  I will admit sometimes it’s a pain to do so (if you are wearing anything other than flip  flops) but otherwise, the no shoe rule is my favorite cultural behavior and one that I will be using wherever I end up for good:) I love, love, LOVE it!!

No Shoes
No Shoes

#2: Nature
The diversity of the landscapes here are extraordinary!  From the beaches to jungle to islands, mountains, rivers and lakes, Thailand seems to have just about every kind of terrain one would want to find.

#3: House Geckos
I just adore these creatures!  They are simply a much larger version of regular geckos and they are quite beneficial to have in the home since they take care of the majority of other insects in the home (including spiders, yay!!).  They also make the cutest and most interesting sound.  They start off with a quick series of chitters, then make a series of staccato sounds in repetition.  When I first heard their sound I thought I was crazy because it sounded like they were saying “F you” in slow repetition.  However, I’ve come across many other travelers and very-well-spoken-in-English-locals who have also pointed this out, so I guess I wasn’t as crazy as I thought, LOL!

#4: Animals
I know I just wrote about the geckos, and they technically would qualify in the animal section as well, but I just love those little buggers so much that they got their own section.  However, I do also adore the large variety of other kinds of animals here in Thailand.  From elephants, street dogs and cats, variety of monkeys, flying squirrels, regular squirrels, lizards, birds, the diversity is so rich!  You just never know what you are going to find!  The sea life is also beautifully diverse and lush!  From corals to sting rays, sharks, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, and a huge variety of fish, it’s amazingly impressive!

#5: Kind & Honest People
The people are generous and kind, patient and welcoming.  I have yet to run into a rude local here and though I’ve heard from other fellow travelers that it all depends on where you go, in my opinion and experience the people have been nothing but kind.  In addition to the generous and kind nature of the people here, they are also very honest.  In particular when it comes to money.  I’ve been other places where I’ve handed over too much money (from being tired or just not thinking the correct exchange rate) and they’ve gone on their way with the extra money in hand.  Here, there have been several occasions where I’ve handed over too much and they immediately return whatever over I’ve paid, even if it’s just a single baht!  I’ve gotten so comfortable with their honesty that there have also been several times when my mind wasn’t working properly to understand how much I owed in Thai that I’ve simply held a bunch of bills and let them pick what they needed.  I love that kind of honesty as it makes one feel more comfortable in their surroundings!!  Now, that’s not to say some people won’t try to overcharge you for something (cab ride, etc) but if you ask upfront what something will cost, they stick by it.

#6: No sleazy men
Traveling in Latin American countries, one thing I had to get used to that also really annoyed me at times, but just had to learn to ignore, was the cat calls, whistles, stares and hissing sounds (they literally sounded like snakes to be honest) men would constantly make toward any female as you walked by.  Here, no such behavior exists!  The men are much more respectful in that way and even to the point where I sometimes wondered why I wasn’t getting any looks from locals, and it simply is because their culture, unlike others, is to not display emotions of affection in any way in public.  Hence, no cat calls, uncomfortable stares or hissing sounds!

#7: Packaging with plastic bags
This one I personally struggle with from the environmental perspective and really wish they would cut back on their use of plastic bags, but I do also find it interesting and entertaining how they package to-go food or drink items.  Coffee, sodas, rice, soups, and more are packaged in a plastic bag tied off with a rubber band for take away.  Other items like rice and pad thai are put in styrofoam containers, so it’s one evil for the environment versus the other… While I can understand the simplicity and ease of using plastic bags, I wish in general they would cut back because they insist in using a ton of bags for very few items.  I’m always refusing bags (as I generally bring my own or just don’t need one) but you really have to be on the ball to say you don’t want a bag as they are very quick to snatch one out.  The straws also drive me nuts (though technically from the hygienic perspective it’s better) as they will give you one for each can or bottle purchased (including for beers) so if I walked in and bought 2 bottles of water and a soda they would put in 3 straws!

#8: Built to last
Another thing that really impresses me about Thailand is the construction of their homes and buildings.  Yes, there are several homes that are made entirely from bamboo and other wood (though bamboo is a very highly resilient wood to begin with!) but many homes, stores and general buildings are built to a very high quality standard and are built to last!  It’s amazing watching them construct a home or other building because their scaffolding is simply rickety looking pieces of wood that you wouldn’t think would hold people walking or working around them, yet the finished product is brick and concrete with tile throughout.

#9: Muay Thai
Whether it’s enjoying an evening out watching fights or joining in training yourself, Muay Thai is entertaining, engaging and a real real-kicker!  Granted not all fights are created equal as some are much more entertaining or gruesome than others, but all the fighters have a real sportsmanship about them that isn’t as easily found in countless other sports.  What I love the most is the fights where it’s evident that the competitors are friends.  They encourage each other between fighting rounds but when the bell goes off, all bets are off and “may the best fighter win” kicks in.  Another thing I love about Muay Thai is the sense of tradition and culture.  The fighters respect the ring, the judges, their opponent and their God.  The more I train in Muay Thai, the more I understand the fights as I watch and questions I had before while watching fights are now answered because of my own training.  I won’t go into that here, but will in a future post for sure!

To be continued…

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Ao Manao

One of the nicer and calmer beaches in Prachuap Khiri Khan is that of Ao Manao.  It was located about 4 km South from the Ban Thai Hut Bungalows where we were staying.  It is well worth the walk (as we did) or a taxi can get you there much faster otherwise 🙂  If you plan to walk, make note that you do have to cross a military checkpoint and sign in as a guest and part of your walk will include walking across an airstrip!  Rules state that you can’t take pictures of it (go figure) so I of course ignored that… Kidding!  Best part about this beach is that for 10 baht, approximately $0.31, you can rent a comfy lounge chair (all day!!!) completely shaded under umbrellas right on the beach.  They even serve food and drinks (for an extra charge of course) right to you.  It was quite the relaxing and pampering day!  In any event, enjoy the pictures from the walk there 🙂

On to Bang Saphan

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