I first visited Thailand in my mid-twenties. My friend Candice and I had just gone through serious breakups and decided that we both needed to get away. We traveled for three weeks, from Bangkok, to Ko Chang, down to Ko Pee Pee and then back up the mainland by rail. It was the first time I had traveled in a non-western country, so there was a ton of culture shock, but it will always be one of the most magical trips I’ve ever gone on.
Now, 20 years later I’m back here with adult money and my wife to experience Thailand again. We’re in Ko Samui, which was one of the many islands I found to be full of adventure, good food, friendly locals, gorgeous landscape and fun.
So, before I get into my thoughts on my Thailand experience, here are some pictures of the food, fun and beauty of this beautiful country.
- After being in Japan, where everyone is so polite and considerate I am reminded that non-Japanese people, in particular people of European decent (of which there are many more here in Thailand as tourists), are horribly rude when it comes to staring. I get it, I’m a 6’3” lesbian who wears men’s clothes, but this is getting to be ridiculous. Perhaps they don’t understand that staring is rude to Americans. Perhaps they do and don’t care, but everywhere I have gone I have been the subject of people’s uninvited glare and gawking. I didn’t see this in Japan, probably because there are not many western people visiting and the people in Asia were so wonderfully polite and considerate they wouldn’t dare make anyone feel anything other than welcome. It’s something I love about Asian manners, and something I know I’ll need to adjust to as we move further and further west.
- When I was last in Ko Samui it was a less developed island. Well, no more of that! There are luxury condos, villas & 4-star hotels everywhere you look. No judgement on that, as I am someone taking full advantage of the beautiful buildings and air conditioning. There is something special, however, about coming to someplace where you won’t find a McDonalds or Starbucks. I’m sure those places still exist in Thailand, but Ko Samui has fully embraced tourism and the new luxury amenities reflect that embrace.
- Regardless of the above statement, everything is still shockingly affordable for those with western money. Our driver, Yo, is someone we already adore and would love to host in San Francisco. He made the comment to us that he’d have to save for 10 years in order to travel to the US. Going on this incredible, life changing trip is something I never want to down play. This is a luxury afforded to only a tiny percentage of the world, and as someone with that level of privilege it’s my responsibility to be respectful and appreciate all of those who will not be in that same position no matter how hard they work.
- There is a HUGE ex-pat community here. They’ve taken over! Ko Samui is no longer a hidden gem.
- It’s as beautiful as it ever was and will always be here. A landscape unlike any other I’ve seen, with large monstrous boulders surrounded by jungle. Humid and damp, but not suffocating. It really is no wonder so many ex-pats live here.
- You still need some serious bug spray, you still need to check your shoes for salamanders, and you still need your sunblock. Somethings never change
- There’s something uniquely special about the friendliness of the people here. It’s not just that they’re respectful (i.e: Japan), or they’re welcoming (i.e.: Canada); they’re authentically warm, friendly and interested in sharing their lives with you. Once you get past the initial politeness and you start asking questions, they’re just as interested in welcoming you into their lives as they are interested in learning about you.
- There’s a special smell here. It’s a combination of humid salty air and campfire smoke. It’s distinct, unique and immediately took me back to 20 years ago when I stepped off the plane.
- The income disparity is huge. There are little huts that are off-grid, with tarp doors, hodgepodge wooden walls and plastic chairs as furniture directly beside a newly built villa with marble countertops and private infinity pools.
- My privilege is showing. As much as my heart feels more full when surrounded by those authentically Thai neighborhoods, restaurants and homes, I work hard to recognize that I don’t live in those neighborhoods, and that life for people who live there isn’t a tourist attraction.
- Don’t leave the air conditioning on overnight when your floors are made of stone. We learned this the hard way, waking up in the morning to a home that was completely drenched in water. Not just the floors, but the ceiling, the walls, the doors and windows. It didn’t matter how much you wiped the floors, the walls just kept dripping onto them. The floors may as well have been made of ice as we slipped around. Just to keep ourselves safe we had to use all the towels to create pathways between spaces.
- Don’t mess with the electrical systems. They are a tangled web of crazy, and you don’t want any part of it.
- Finally, I need to visit Thailand more often than once every 20 years. It’s a special place with wonderful people, and it’s good for the spirit to be someplace this relaxed and friendly.
Next post, Singapore!