Monday 3 December 2012

Things I thought about Thailand (and which turned out to be complete rubbish)

Last January I went to Thailand for the first time in my life. It was also my first trip outside of Europe. I'm still trying to recover from the wonderful and amazing time I had there. I'm in love with the country, its climate, people, food...everything. I just want to go back and live there forever.
But, before I set my foot on the Thai land, I had a few opinions of the country, created by the stories and stereotypical picture people draw of the country on the internet - and gosh, I was so wrong! And this is what I thought:

1. Thai people smile at you all the time

'The country of smiles', 'the most friendly nation in the whole world' - you read in the guides and on the internet  I imagined that everyone in Thailand will be happy, welcoming and smiling at me wherever I go. In Bangkok I was shouted at by: a security guard at the airport (for not filling in the visa slip - well, I was sleeping when the stewardess was giving them out on the plane, not my fault), a taxi driver (for not packing my backpack in their car fast enough), a boat ticket seller (for trying to board a wrong boat), a bus driver (again, for the backpack). I didn't really care about the shouting, as it was quite funny when they shouted at me in half Thai, half English, but I was surprised that they were not that pleasant, as the Lonely Planet said they would.
Things changed to better when we got to the islands. Had Salad was the friendliest place I've ever been to. Had Rin was less so. I got an impression that tourist were treated a bit like a necessary evil (on the other hand, no surprise here. You see signs like 'do not pee on beds' in hostels, indicating what kind of travelers visit the place).

2. The country is dirty, there's rubbish everywhere, and it's really easy to catch a virus, or something equally unpleasant

I imagined that it would be so dirty, I will have to disinfect my whole body after each time I'd go out. I imagined filthy hostels, with no running water and falling apart beds. Yes, I even considered sewing together two sheets, so I can put that on the blankets I would sleep under.
To my great relief Thailand turned out to be nothing like it. Of course, you can still sleep in some really bad places (like the Coral bungalows in Had Rin), but in general, it is a country like many others. Yes, Bangkok is stinky and dirty (very dirty in some places), but it's a big city, and most big cities are like that.
I saw some really dirty toilets, but they weren't that much different from the ones I saw in Bulgaria, or Poland (or at Glastonbury).
And you don't catch diseases there that easily. It's a different climate, and your body is not immune to some of the viruses and bacteria. Just wash your hands and maintain a good standard of hygiene and you'll be fine.

3. The transport is bad and it's hard to get from one place to another

Yes, unless you're in the middle of a jungle.
The roads are better than in Eastern Europe and you can catch a flight to anywhere in Asia from Bangkok. It's really easy to catch a taxi, or a tuk tuk, which will take you wherever you like. It's really a backpacker's paradise.

4. Squat toilets are everywhere

During my stay in Thailand I've seen only one squat toilet. They are not that common in tourist places. You still need to throw the toilet paper to a bin, but except that the toilets are the same as the ones in Europe.

5. Everyone, everywhere want to steal your wallet and your passport

Before I boarded the plane, I put my money belt under my t-shirt and spent the entire flight, wearing it.
I was paranoid by leaving my possessions in a locker, in a hostel.
A few Changs, a little bit of sunburn, and a couple of good beach parties later, I forgot to worry about my money and my passport. I still put it in a secure place, but I just thought that I'd done what I could and if someone steals something from me, I will worry then.

Yes, I was that naive...And there are quite a few more, but I better not to publish it, so I don't get expelled by the travel blogging community.

When I think of how naive I was and what I was worried about, I just want to laugh! After my post about Burma, I've decided to stop worrying about things I can't change, stop researching all the time, and stop imagining how it would be when I get there. Everything will come with time...

Have you been to Thailand? How did you imagine the country before the trip? Did you perception change afterwards?
Or maybe you haven't been there and you have your own opinion about the country?
Don't be shy! Leave a comment!


  1. Ah... You got bitten by the best virus in the world.. The Thailand virus.. :-) Thailand is my favorite place in the whole world. I went there solo myself in 2006 and had no idea what I was getting into. I have been back many times since; have married a Thai and we have been together now for six and a half years and I have never been happier.
    I love the Thai people, their culture, and the way they bond together in times of need. If you want to see squat toilets you have to go to rural areas or in places tourists don't generally go visit. I still can't figure them out and was 'introduced to them actually the first time in Venice, then Iraq, Kuwait, and even here in Kosovo. I can't figure out how you use them so I avoid them. LOL
    I find Thailand to be very clean especially for its size. There are road crews out every day sweeping down the streets and major roadways. The one thing I do find that is unfortunately is some like to throw their trash and plastic bags in the canals... It's unsightly and smells. I read somewhere this is an old practice of when goods were wrapped in banana leaves and the leaves would get dumped. I would kind of hope they had caught on by now that the plastic bags don't go away like the leaves probably did.
    Transportation. I usually take taxi's with my wife or we drive ourselves. We'll take a Tuk Tuk for short hops on occasion.
    I am glad you enjoyed Thailand. There is a lot of blanket stereotyping that is negative and wrong, but show me a place that doesn't have some kind of problems. If they have to put signs up no to "pee on the bed", that is probably because drunk foreigners wet themselves. Also, not all women work in the bar scene. I dislike that blanket belief and stereotype. I sometimes wonder what the many foreigners who do the bar scene to 'score' would do if all that went away. Would they still travel to Thailand?
    Very nice blog post! :-)

    1. Thanks for such insightful comment!
      Yes, it's true that there are stereotypes for almost every country in the world, and the only way to get rid of them is to travel and find out what the truth is by yourself.
      I didn't add the one about 'working girls' because I didn't really believe it. I heard so many bad things about women there, but for some reason I thought it was just bollocks - well, I found out that it is.
      Unfortunately, I have Thailand bug now. I'm saying unfortunately because no holiday will be the same ever again :)

    2. I love Thailand and could talk 'about 'her' all day. :) My heart is there and to me when the aircraft breaks the clouds and I see the villages and rice paddies and eventually the busy city below, I feel I am home.

      I know what you mean as far as the bar girls go. I will never post anything negative about them because even though they exist, there's a reason and that reason may be a blog post I do sometime. The biggest mistake is for a foreigner to think ALL Thai women work that 'industry'. Make the mistake of touching one who isn't and see what happens...and even one who is! Oi ! :) The other sad part is that Embassies stereotype them all too. My wife's Visa process was a nightmare... Granted there are people who are involved in human trafficking and may try to create the illusion of love and marriage just to get the woman somewhere 'to work', they need to look at the whole picture and character of the person they are with. Yes... I am talking about me! ;-) My job should have been a HUGE clue, but still got the run around..

      Anyway, Thailand is calling... You're almost there... Me too! :)

  2. I was surprised, too, by how *not* like my expectations Thailand turned out to be. All the squat toilet warnings ahead of time had me braced for the worst, but overall, the places we stayed and visited had regular bathrooms and available sinks and soap...

    The colors, the architecture, the sounds in the streets - I found myself fascinated.

    And I'm already missing those delicious meals...

    1. I don't know what the case is with squat toilets gossip - it's really just a gossip.
      Oh, I miss the food as well. I went to so many Thai restaurants in London, but none of them matched the delicious flavours of the street food in Bangkok.

  3. Going back in Jan 2013 having been a few times now. I really adore it there.

    I first went to Thailand as a newbie traveller in 2007 and I too was expecting it to be a little more squalid. The brash commercialisation, the fact that everyone has a car or a bike/moped and that tourists are really well catered for made me realise that they really were making the best of their own tourism industry.

    As a consequence of this though, it's depressing to see how much plastic and rubbish litters the roadside and it's not just the fault of locals who don't know better - the tourists need to smarten up about how if they trash a beach for a full moon party, someone has to clean it up and that costs money. We all need to look after Thailand! :)

    1. I think it must be the nature of Asian people and the commercialisation that's taking over the country mixed together.
      I was also surprised how accommodating towards tourist Thailand was.

      And the rubbish after the parties in Had Rin? don't let me start on that...

  4. Great post. But, I've been here for quite a while, and I've never been yelled at for anything, by anyway (well, maybe a girlfriend or two!)

  5. Awesome - I'm heading to Thailand for the start of a similar adventure, though mine doesn't have a return date and it's hopefully going to include a lot more than just South-east Asia, though that's where I'll start. Maybe I'll run into you trekking around the far East - this has definitely answered a few questions I had about the country.

    1. Glad you liked the post and you found it helpful. Enjoy Thailand. It's the best country in the world!

  6. thanks jo - Thailand is on my list too - just published your blog about travelling without your partner at

  7. Roots of Asia is a great women's tour company specialising in tours in Northern Thailand, some friends have just done one.

  8. Reading your list reminded me of Java, Indonesia - lots of squat toilets. Unfortunately the people there are not environmentally aware (yet) and there is a lot of rubbish. Comparing it to Thailand, Thailand was much cleaner, better toilets, and yeah... not so smiley. :)

    It's important to reflect on preconceptions... great post Jo!

    1. Thank you very much, Angela. I'm glad you enjoyed it!