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My first few days in Asia were surreal. I was in an in-between of half-expecting all of the antics and in complete shock by the reality of it all. You just can’t really prepare yourself for all of the shenanigans that are completely and totally acceptable there. Maybe its the “sign a waiver for everything”attitude that I may have adopted from the American upbringing, but I just couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s not always in your face either. More often than not, I would be most surprised by the smallest of differences in cultures and societal norms. Some of which I thought for sure I would never ever get used to, let alone unconsciously follow by the end of my trip. Alas, after four months in Thailand, I got used to even some of the strangest of habits, and now that I’m on my way back to SE Asia for another three months, I’m happily accepting these differences with open arms.
1.) Curry For Breakfast
To say I wasn’t a fan of spicy food before Thailand is an understatement. So the thought of eating and tolerating Thai curry was a long shot for me. Even more of a long shot was the thought of craving it for breakfast. After travelling around Thailand in hotels with “breakfast included”, you quickly realise that breakfast usually means curries and stir fry. When we finally stayed at a nice hotel with Western and Thai breakfast, I went straight in for the Thai. That’s when I knew I’d never be the same…
2.) No Air Conditioning
Coming from Florida, a state that practically invented the need for A/C, I didn’t quite like the idea of “fan rooms” in 103 degree heat. But after a while, you learn to live without it, and a fan room is cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Sure, there’s no escape from the heat, but you really do just get used it.
3.) Liter Beers
My boyfriend had been there three weeks prior to me arriving in Phuket, and he told me while we were away about how he got really drunk after drinking 6 beers. Now to me, 6 beers didn’t seem right, because he can normally drink quite a bit. That is until I arrived and saw the sheer size of the bottle! It’s like triple the size of a normal beer in Oz or the states. My first time drinking one I could barely finish it because it gets warm so quickly, but after a few weeks, I learned the art of drinking fast and it’s now my preferred beverage.
4.) Street Food and Accompanying Stomach Pains
I don’t want to say you ever get “used” to your stomach constantly in knots, but you learn to look past it and live out your day. If not, you’ll be in bed the entire time you’re there. After a few bad choices with street food, we learned to be a bit more cautious about where we ate and a bit more tough on dealing with stomach pains. We also got reallllll comfortable real quick talking about our digestion issues every day.
5.) Taking Off My Shoes Before Going Into A Store
In many traditional Thai towns, taking off your shoes before entering a store, even a grocery store, is the respectful thing to do. I was really grossed out by the thought of walking around a convenient store sans shoes, but eventually you get used to it. When we were in Koh Samui, I took off my shoes before entering a store and the lady quickly told me that it was okay. Goes to show you how tourist areas are different, and how used to taking off my shoes I got!
6.) Wai-ing To Everyone
The Wai is a Thai greeting that consists of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion. At our first teachers meeting, we were told the correct ways to Wai according to a person’s status or age. We were also told we have to Wai back, even if we have things in our hands. My first few days at school were a flury of Wais and trying to remember which Wai goes to which person, but soon enough it came naturally, and I had to hold back Wai-ing Westerners on the street.
7.) Riding Motorbikes
Never in my life would I ever think I would get on the back of a motorbike. I’ve never had an interest in them, and I’m a fairly cautious person to begin with. As you’ll soon realise, motorbikes are the cheapest and easiest way to get around the cities, and for school, it was a necessity to have one. Nevertheless, I was on the back of a motorbike in a few days, and we ended up riding that thing from coast to coast across Thailand, up the mountains and down to the beach. It quickly becomes a part of your life, and you will most likely see (or God forbid get into, like us) a motorbike accident. Just wear helmets and be as safe as you can!
8.) Almost Getting Run Over Every Day
With that said, you also get very used to almost getting run over by cars flying by every day. There’s really no “rules of the road” here. If you feel like stopping half way in between lanes on a busy highway, go for it. If you want to strap in 30 people on the back of a pick up, why not. If you want to pull out onto a road without looking and proceed to turn/drive 20 miles an hour, of course you can! So it’s up to us, as the farang (foreigner), to be super cautious and never ever ever take a turning indicator as the driver’s actual intention.
9.) Families Eating Dinner At 1:00 am
I must say this was one of the stranger of things I saw while in Thailand. Sam and I would be coming home after a big night out, and stop at our favourite restaurant near our house, 8/1. We would always pull up around 1-2 am, and order our takeaway food, only to find full on families with little children eating dinner at 1:00 am. It takes you a bit by surprise at first, but you realise that some of the families work late and there’s no real “bedtime” in Thailand, like there is in Western countries.
10.) 7/11 Toasties
Ah the 7/11 Toasties. I can tell you for a fact that I have never in my life looked at the food in 7/11 in the states and thought that it would be a good idea to eat it. But there I was almost on a daily basis eating the 7/11 Ham and Cheese toasties. It’s a way of life you learn to love once you live in Thailand for a while, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I’m quite possibly the worst haggler in the world. I just can’t get myself to haggle over a dollar, but after a few weeks in Thailand you realise that the Thais are totally ripping you off and giving you the farang price, which is usually 100-300 baht more expensive than usual. After a few scams, I decided it was time to buck up and get what I deserve. Also, bartering for certain products is a way of life for the Thais so it’s not necessarily rude as long as you are really intending on buying the product and not just mucking them around.
12.) Bring Your Own Bottle
When I first arrived in Australia, I was pretty shocked at the casual attitude toward bringing your own wine to restaurants, since that’s not something I had seen in Florida. But then we arrive in Thailand, and you can just bring your own bottle of liquor… everywhere. To the restaurants, to the bars, to a club, to the park. It’s one of the greatest things I think I’ve ever encountered, and I’m sad it isn’t a global rule.
13.) Nothing Ever Going As Planned
Finally, this last one really got to me quickly. After failed taxi rides, late ferries, plane changes, lost bags, dengue fever, motorbike accidents, etc, you really learn to accept that pretty much 75% of all plans will not go as planned. You just have to accept the Thai way of life, which inherently lacks a sense of urgency and efficiency, and always have a plan B or C on hand.
With all of this, I wouldn’t trade my time in Thailand for anything else in the world. We learned so much about the culture, the people and the language, and I learned so much about myself and our relationship in return. It’s an amazingly friendly country, and despite recent attacks in Bangkok, I’m looking forward to returning to the beautiful and peaceful country this week. Don’t let the differences discourage you, if anything allow it to encourage you to come to the country with open arms and an open mind.