Thailand was fantastic. On all levels, it delivered – from the picturesque ruins and villages of Sukhothai, to the Wats and shops of Chiang Mai; from the colorful streets of Bangkok to the outdoor adventures across the country. We ziplined, rappelled, tuk-tuk’d, innertubed, trained, and biked our way around this amazing kingdom. It is a fabulous place full of diversions, but you have to be careful. There are sides of the culture that you really don’t want to support. We proudly did not ride the elephants, pet the tigers, or contribute to the child labor issues. I’ll let you google what else you can do in seedier areas of the big cities. Here are a few notes for those considering a visit to Thailand:
- Everyone speaks English. I am pretty sure this is to help separate tourists from their cash, but you can’t blame them for trying. Of course they have their own language, as well as their own script, but most signs and advertisements are in English as well.
- The king is everywhere. His likeness is at every public building, every Wat (temple), many intersections, etc. It is illegal to speak ill of the king (3-15 years, in case you were wondering), and there are times when you are required to show respect – like during the homage reel that runs with the previews of all movies, during certain songs, and before various events.
- The people are very nice. I can’t explain it. There is just something about it when a stranger puts their hands together and bends their head a bit to thank you for talking with them. It makes you want to smile.
- The needs are real. The gifts we saw being passed around at the Elephant Camp really brought a reality check to us. No trinkets or throw-aways. They didn’t have to wonder if the gift would be liked. Blankets. A skillet. A rice steamer. A fan. All gifts were functional and necessary, and many could have been the first one (or certainly the first new one) that the recipient ever had their hands on. It was powerful, and important to remember as you interface with these nice people.
- Don’t flush the paper.
- Don’t forget the mosquito net.
- It’s gonna be hot. Don’t think that a non-air-conditioned train car will be OK because you are travelling in December. Our wasn’t (A/C’d) and ours wasn’t (OK). On to costs…
We found great places to stay again. Our hotel in Chiang Mai was comfortable (after the mosquito death match), and the receptionist/ maître-d’/ handyman/ tour-planner was great. Our hostel in Bangkok was really a fairly posh hotel, once we found a cab driver willing to drive around town on the phone to try and find it. And we roughed it a bit in Sukhothai, what with the pool, 2 bedroom/2 bath suite, and fresh fruit and coconut water on arrival. But hands-down the most unforgettable accommodations were the ones within about 20 meters of a gigantic concrete structure, the gate of which had recently been replaced since one of the fulltime residents had a go at it. It was noisy, because the trumpet calls were so loud they felt like they were in the room with you. We sometimes felt rushed, since the incredible 30+ item spread would be wiped out by the other hungry volunteers if you missed the dinner bell. And without a doubt, we felt honored and humbled to be a part of the Elephant Nature Park’s mission. When you check out the costs, make sure you look at “Ele Camp” with the understanding that $350 per person (would be the same for singles or families) bought a week of food, lodging, and enchantment. It also changed how many people that we met saw the world. We made real friends (both 2 and 4-legged), and that’s a splurge I’d repeat in a heartbeat. -ALaff