The land of smiles portray a county whose people are serene and polite. But as recent images of the civil unrest has demonstrated, this is all in the marketing. Like any other destinations, one have to take caution in respecting local cultures and norms.
In recent years, we have seen much influx of western tourists who seemingly assume that their choice of dress sense is widely accepted in a deeply Buddhist country.
Just as much as folks in Europe would expect incoming visitors and migrants to respect their culture, it has to be reciprocated when folks from the west come a visiting to other countries too. Here in Thailand, is here that politeness and smile makes visitors assume all’s fine.
Our own journeys to this neighboring country has been limited to the urban centers as the map suggests. Perhaps someday we will take the time to get off the “beaten” paths. But for now, we are “limited” by the fact that our annual journey to Thailand is related to using our timeshare property.
Resorts world southern Thailand
In this geographical southern limits of the country, there is more Islamic influence than Thai.
It may surprise you, but this region’s inhabitants are more closely related to their cousins in Malaysia than to the people in Bangkok.
Because of the favorable climate and natural geology, this southern end of Thailand has spawned a tremendous number of seafront resorts. Coming in sizes large or small, super luxurious or simplistic, these resorts compete feverishly for the tourist dollar.
Sometime back in 2007, Mel and Suan chanced upon an opportunity to buy into a timeshare with a reputed hotel developer and invested into a 26-year deal. This affords us the use of a resort on Phuket and affiliated sites across Thailand (and even Bintan) for a week every year. This has been the driver for our annual journeys to the land of smiles.
And it has been to Phuket for quite a few times, though each had been spent lazing in the resorts. We did venture out a little but that was strictly limited. Actually snorkeling here was not as spectacular as we had experienced elsewhere. But we did complete the checklist of must dos… So it has been a promise to ourselves that for the next journey we will rent a car and drive all over. Watch out for that in our journalogs!
Tribal northern Thailand
As part of the timeshare we bought, it was possible too to stay in an affiliated property in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Here in the distant north, it cannot get more contrasting to the sun drenched resorts of the south.
Here though it was not a resort but simply a condominium complex. Good enough, because it is situated right next (almost) to the permanent night market along Chang Klan road. So, every night is an adventure exploring the little stalls that sells almost the same things…well not quite. We also had the pleasure of spending many a day here looking for good yet affordable (read cheap) food.
Not far from Chiang Mai is the famed, or rather notorious Golden Triangle. Since the last world war it had emerged as the center of a very intense drug trade, and has the reputation for being unsafe in the past. Fast forward today the only thing that is “dangerous” about this area are the touts who recommend restaurants, gem shopping etc.
Today the region has settled down into ‘normal’ commerce, especially with a booming China. Frontier villages have become towns and mini cities (such as Mae Sai). But the highlight of coming around these parts is to visit the tribal peoples that still cling onto their traditional lifestyles – the older ones at least. Seeing the ‘long neck’ tribe was an eye opener.
Yes, many condemn it as nothing more than a dog and pony show. But these folks have been displaced and unless the ones throwing stones at this arrangement can help broker a return of their homeland from Myanmar or finance their displaced living costs, then all we can say is – please don’t practice ‘no action talk only’. That’s for hypocrites.
City of Angels?
Yeah, Bangkok used to have that sleazy image of “go go” bars etc. But this commercial heart of the country has burgeoned within the last 20 years into a large Asian metropolis. It combines old and new, religious and secular, plus a whole lot of in between to explore.
It’s funny that we had never really been to Bangkok. Well at least not more than once. Mel’s limited experience with Thailand prior was coming only from military service R&Rs. Short and controlled, it wasn’t much. Suan on the other hand had been to Bangkok with the parents as part of a tour. Being so long ago, we could not even easily call up the grainy film photos!
But this will change, as we shall spend nearly a week in Bangkok in the spring of 2017 and escape from the revelry of the lunar new year. Definitely have more to say about the city sometime then.