Things I love about Thailand? Hmmn… sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint; it’s more of a general feeling about the place. I went in 2006 for a football match and never really left, or at least part of me didn’t. I lived in Thailand, mainly in Bangkok, for 5 years and absolutely loved it. Like all countries there are plusses and minuses about living there. But what were the things I love about Thailand that caused me to stay as long as I did.
1. Food: the best on the planet
Thai food is my favourite on the planet. It is easily the freshest, most diverse that I have come across. That it is one of the things I love about Thailand goes almost without saying. The standard of street food is absolutely amazing. I used to stroll down Sukhumvit road in the early morning or last thing at night and there was always an abundance of amazing quality, great tasting food. I rarely ate in restaurants. Even the food halls in the shopping malls like Terminal 21, by the Asok BTS station, serve great food at incredibly cheap prices.
Personal favourites were the Larb Moo (pork salad) sold by a little old lady just inside Sukhumvit Soi 33, by the 7 Eleven. When I first started buying it, she would tone down the spices, because “farangs cannot!” When she grew to learn that this particular farang, “can”, it was fearsome stuff. Delicious and has remained one of my firm favourites.
Late at night the Khao Ka Moo on the corner of Sukhumvit 22 took some beating, this pork knuckle is cooked for hours until it falls off the bone. Plah Ninh (a whole fish coated in salt and barbecued) was also another favourite. I really love the fresh Thai style Som Tam, this papaya salad is delicious, though when the fermented mud fish is added a la Isaan style I couldn’t cope with it. Tom Yum Goong, the shrimp spicy soup, was another favourite, though often it would go through me like a dose of Epsom’s. The Thai beef salads are great as well. In fact I just about loved it all. Whether from a scruffy street stall, a food court or a good restaurant, it was always just right and just what I wanted.
Thai food is possible the best of all the things I love about Thailand.
2. The Islands: so beautiful, so welcoming
Anyone who has ever visited the islands of Thailand will know exactly what I am talking about. They are so beautiful and have some of the most idyllic beaches imaginable. It was actually a couple of years after I moved to Thailand that I visited my first one, but once I started there was no stopping me. I love them all, even the ones that people cite as having been ruined, hold a charm for me.
Koh Samui is fantastic, once you get away from Chewang. I have a friend who lives there and runs a bar, I went to visit him and spend a few days relaxing. It was a fantastic holiday. The Fisherman’s Village is great at night for food and entertainment, the other beaches are really beautiful and the dead monk is certainly a talking point. The time I spent there provided all the right things I love about Thailand
Koh Phi Phi is adorable. It suffered terribly when hit by the infamous Tsunami on Boxing Day 2004. However, the astonishing resilience of the local people saw it rise like a phoenix and recover remarkably quickly. Koh Chang is another beautiful spot. My many friends in Thailand visit the islands all the time and the general consensus is that these are among the most beautiful places on earth. Hopping between the islands in the south of the country is great fun and presents incredibly beautiful scenery.
Even the tourists traps like James Bond Island do it for me. Yes they are too busy and yes the water is polluted and yes there are too many boats but I can’t help it, I love the Thai Islands.
3. The Weather: One of the Things I love about Thailand
Thailand has a very enviable climate, especially when you were raised, as I was, in the north of England. Day after day, week after week, month after month the sun shines, the skies are blue and it’s as hot as a vindaloo in the desert. I really love the certainty of it all. Back in the UK, anyone who promotes an outdoor event deserves a medal for bravery. Here, pick the right month and you are guaranteed blue skies sunshine and happy days. I also adore the year round temperatures, the same with all of Southeast Asia. You get up, throw on a T shirt and shorts and that is you set for the day and night!
Even when the wet season comes, it is but a minor inconvenience. The rains tend to come in the afternoons, announced by a change in the light and the winds that bring them in. It then pours down for an hour or so, stops, clears up and gets back to being sunny again. I love the monsoon rains, they are definitely one of the things I love about Thailand.
The way in which the locals and indeed the expats deal with it is hilarious. Everyone just heads for a bar or a street cafe, relaxes for an hour then gets back to what they were doing. The monsoons are astonishing, not like anything that one could ever witness in Europe. Bone dry streets turn into rivers in 20 minutes, it is utter chaos, then the rain stops the floods disperse and the streets go back to bone dry within 30 minutes or so of it stopping. Night-time lightning storms are fabulous.
The rains also, of course, bring a freshness to the air. The city streets of Bangkok can get stiflingly hot and the pollution gets worse year on year. When the monsoons come, the air gets cleaned, the streets get cleaned and the smog disappears. The idea of a Mancunian welcoming the rain, is still a novel idea to me.
4. Gender and sexual equality is well advanced
This is quite frankly amazing compared to so many countries in the world. Whilst there is a certain amount of politically incorrect language surrounding the LGBT community, it is never delivered in a hateful way. It is just language. Lesbian women will be referred to as tomboys, for example; but it is quite innocent.
Thailand of course is famous for its third gender. Ladyboys are completely accepted here in a way that should cause the West to hang its head in shame in many instances. When they built a new comprehensive school in Chang Mai the toilet blocks had three rooms; boys, girls and kathoeys. If 12 year old kids in rural Thailand can accept transgender people so readily, how difficult should it really be for North Carolina to get their heads round the issue. And, before someone points out the obvious, that they have built a third toilet, these are children. In adult life, ladyboys just use whichever one they want and nobody gives a shit (pun intended).
The fact is, that not all relationships are of the nature of one young boy meeting one young girl and living happily ever after; it simply isn’t like that. Some boys love other boys, some girls love girls, old people fall in love with young people, some people live happily in a ménage à trois, some stay alone and on and on and on. It has nothing to do with me, you or anyone else; deal with it! The only people I’ve ever heard issuing disparaging comments about people who are different from what some consider the ‘norm’, have been expats. Thai people are very accepting and it is to their enormous credit and one of the things I love about Thailand.
5. The Nightlife: it doesn’t get any wilder
Bangkok nightlife is quite simply unique and not for the faint hearted. It is wild, whacky and just about as crazy as it gets. Things happen in Bangkok that just don’t happen anywhere else. It is a glitzy, seedy hotbed of sexuality and brash entertainment. It is though, great fun and when you get to know it from the inside it’s hilarious. Bangkok has its dark side of course, but it is infectious, sure one of the things I love about Thailand.
It is impossible to ignore the sex industry in Thailand it’s simply enormous and cannot be ignored. There are more working girls in Bangkok and Pattaya than probably in most countries on earth. It is though, not the scene that many in the West wish to believe. The vast majority of the girls are not forced into anything. Yes there are financial pressures, but they generally enjoy the lifestyle. I knew many of the girls and indeed some worked in my bars.
I tried to make a moral stand when I first arrived and said to them that I didn’t want them going out with customers. They promptly all quit. When I asked what I had done wrong they simply informed me that they WANTED to go out with customers and if I didn’t want them to, they would go to a bar that did. I grew up fast. We reached a happy medium where they did what they wanted and I kept out of it.
Even when I moved away from the more girlie bar type of establishment and just ran a sports bar, the girls would often often have ‘friends’ hanging around as they finished work. It is a different world and listening to Westerners who have no idea about it comment, can be extremely funny.
I had ladyboys working for me and they were lovely people; incredibly friendly and just great people, full stop. To be in amongst it, living it day and night was quite honestly, amazing. I would meet friends for a quiet early evening drink on Soi Cowboy, right in the heart of go-go land. All the tourists would be walking round with eyes like dinner plates and it was just a normal early evening drink for us. Just like any bunch of blokes going for a pint after work in Manchester, but then again, maybe not!
Bangkok must have one of the best restaurant scenes in the world. The standard and number of high class restaurants is astonishing. I had more fine dining experiences in Bangkok than I have at any other point in my life. My involvement with the Beefsteak and Burgundy Club meant that once a month, I would eat the finest of foods and drink the finest of wines imaginable. These were happy days indeed.
6. The Expat Scene
The expats in Bangkok are many and a pretty close knit bunch. I have made some great friends living in Saigon, but nothing like the numbers that I made whilst living in Bangkok. I suppose weight of numbers has a lot to do with it, but I had more close friends in Bangkok, than I probably did in Manchester. There were some real twats, for sure, but that’s life.
Expats tend to stick together, it’s understandable of course; everyone is in the same boat. There are more Western expats in Bangkok than there are in the whole of Vietnam, or at least there used to be. After 5 years living there, I could walk into any one of a hundred bars and know people. It really was a fantastic and one of the things I love about Thailand.
It is not an exaggeration to say that some of the friends I made in Bangkok are some of the most respected I have ever made in my life. I can’t quite explain it. This is in no way a criticism of Vietnam life, but the expats seem closer to each other in Thailand than they are in Vietnam. For a start, I think they stay in the country longer. The vast majority of my friends in Saigon are teachers, and transient by nature. They come on a two year contract and clear off when they are done. The vast majority of my friends in Bangkok are businessmen, in for the long haul.
It has been more than three years since I left Bangkok and I think could just stroll into town tomorrow and meet up with loads of guys, picking up where we left off back then. My friends in Bangkok are amongst the very best of things I love about Thailand.
These are just some of the things I love about Thailand, it is neither a definitive nor a compete list. It does though I hope, explain why I fell in love with the country in the first place. Thailand is not perfect and in my next article I will write about the things I don’t like about Thailand… just to give both sets of trolls something to write about.