I’m currently in Sukothai, half way between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Sukothai dates back to the 13th century and was the ancient capital of Siam. There’s temples to rival Cambodia’s Angkor but today it’s raining and I’m sitting in a cafe thinking about how this is my penultimate day in Thailand.
Yes, the end is near! I am leaving for Sri Lanka on Wednesday. I was only meant to be in Thailand for two months but one thing led to another and I’ve been here for three. I’ve compiled this top ten Thai things that I’ll miss.
1. Dodgy car stickers
Seriously, why would Thai people feel a need to dissuade others from certain activities in their cars by using stickers? Take this example on a privately owned vehicle:
– No smoking is fair enough.
– English readers may think the next image suggests no in-car conker matches. But no, this refers to durian fruit. A stinky, big, prickly fruit that people seem to either love or hate like marmite.
– And onto no sex.
– No weapons allowed in this car… because it’s naturally ok to have them in any other car.
– Now it gets very interesting. Does this suggest that women aren’t allowed to whip men in this car? But can a man whip a woman? It’s all very Fifty Shades. When I was doing my teacher training on Koh Samui, Abu Debbie and I hired a taxi to go to the visa office. It displayed a sticker that crudely told passengers that oral sex was off the menu.
– The final one baffles me totally. No livestock? No hypnotised animals? Answers on a postcard please.
2. Smiley happy people
I would say that nine times out of ten, if you smile at a Thai person, you’ll get a smile in return. You can’t guarantee that they’ll have any teeth, but it’ll be a big beaming smile. The people are so welcoming and if you look lost (like I did in Chiang Mai’s bus station the other day), they’ll ask you if you need any help.
3. Things that go bump in the night…
I talked about the night time noises when i was first at The Sanctuary in July. That was in the jungle but even in Chiang Mai, a bustling city with close to a million people, there was a resident vocal bullfrog that I’m sure was sitting next to my ear as I tried to sleep at night.
4. Hello you want massaaage?
If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you may have gathered that I’ve really enjoyed getting massages here. They’re so cheap and so good. Who would have guessed that I would end up doing a Thai massage course . And who would have guessed that it’s so difficult to do well. I take my hat off to all the Thai ladies who have massaged me over the past few months.
5. Hopelessly devoted
Thailand is a devout Buddhist kingdom. There are shrines everywhere – at the sides of the road, on top of hills, outside wreckers’ yards, and outside people’s homes. On shrines are offerings including flowers, cans of beer, plates of food and incense.
On my bus ride to Sukothai, we passed a giant gold statue of a meditating monk perched high on a hill. It must have been about five stories tall. As we approached, the bus driver honked his horn and he and all the passengers brought their hands to prayer at their foreheads, bowed, and ran their fingers through their hair. Even the bus driver. Fortunately we were going straight at the time.
And it most definitely is a ‘kingdom’. Man alive, they love their King and Queen. They are everywhere. The national anthem is played twice a day on the radio and you’re expected to stand for it. Stepping on a coin is sacrilegious as you’re stepping on His head. If you’re Thai, it’s likely that you’ll have a photo of them above a doorway in your home and their image sits alongside those of Buddha on altars.
6. Dude looks like a lady…
Nowhere in the world have I seen such convincing transgendered people. I think I’ve used the correct terminology there. Here is a photo of me in Chaweng with a beautiful young lady. I told him that he had better legs than me.
And of homosexuality, when my sister Katharine was with me, we went for a massage at a place run by a bloke from the West Country and his Thai wife. He was telling us that apparently 30% of all Thai men are gay. He then started talking about hormones and why levels of oestrogen may be higher in Thailand but he lost me there. Basically there aren’t enough men to go around and that he’s had Thai women asking him if he wanted a second or ‘lesser’ wife.
7. Beach and boats
When I was growing up, Katharine would talk about wanting to visit ‘see-through sea’. I was so happy to spend two and half weeks looking at the stuff with her. The sand was white, the sea was warm and crystal clear.
I also have particularly enjoyed arriving on these beaches on beaten-up, brightly painted longtail boats. The boat speeds into the shallows and the driver cuts the throaty engine. Whilst bobbing on the gentle waves, you jump over the side into the water and lug your stuff off the boat. You then have to wade ashore trying to look as graceful and elegant as possible with wet shorts whilst avoiding stepping on the occasional stones on the sea floor.
Scooters are the life blood of this country. Everyone drives one… normally at the same time. The cities are very two-wheeled friendly (as I discovered in Chiang Mai) and people also manage to earn their livelihood from them. Some have umbrellas and food stalls attached and owners set up shop and start cooking wherever they fancy.
9. Did someone mention food?
Oh the food. Where to begin? Probably with a fried egg on top. Whatever you order – be it pad thai, yellow/green/red curry, tom yam soup, noodle with cashew nut, sticky rice with mango, banana in coconut, black rice pudding… sorry got carried away there. Where was I? Oh yes, everything’s better with an egg on top.
10. Pleased to meet you…
And last but by no means least, I have had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful new people. Even back in July and going to yoga classes with Aurore, Julie and Mathieu at The Sanctuary – that was just the start.
My time on Koh Samui was truly awesome because of the great yogis with whom I shared the experience. I love you all. I well up just thinking about it.
I had the chance to meet more people back on Koh Phang An, and Jay, a Mancunian urban radio DJ and vortex and reiki healer, stands out for sure.
My time with Katharine was brilliant and thanks to my seven massage buddies and Dot Po in Chiang Mai. It was a giggle and at times rather ragdoll-ish.
And so on to Sri Lanka! I have a week there where I’ll catch up with my Sivananda teacher training room mate, Sherylee, and then onto India until just before Christmas when I’ll fly home to London.
Have you been to Thailand? Any thoughts or memories that you’d like to share? Just enter your email address below to post a comment.