9 Surprising Truths About Traveling in Thailand

June 3, 2017
9 Things that Surprised Me about Traveling in Thailand

There are loads of impressions, observations, sights and feelings that can have an impact on the way you perceive a new place. Some of these are expected; you’ve read about certain differences, or been warned by other travelers, and you can easily prepare for the jolt of culture shock.  But other things can take you by surprise, and these are the things that truly test your capabilities as an adaptable traveler.

To help assuage any initial discomfort for future Thailand goers, I have put together a list of some of the things that took me by surprise when traveling in Thailand.

9 Surprising Truths About Traveling in Thailand

1. “Same same”

There are loads of touristy t-shirts with the phrase “Same same, but different.” It is used by Thais to describe similar things: “This price, that price–same same.” This has been deemed Tinglish, a mix between Thai and English, because the Thai word for similar, khlai, is often doubled. Thais assume you can also double the word in English, thus resulting in “same same” being used fairly frequently.

2. Lady boys

My preconceived notion, which was solely based on rumors from other people, was that lady boys were akin to drag queens, only appearing in extravagant costume and make up at the night clubs, or the seedy streets of Bangkok. And, like most preconceived notions, this one was wrong.

Being a lady boy is a lifestyle! Thailand is very open towards homosexuals. I’ve seen loads of men occupying normal jobs as servers, hotel clerks, transportation servicemen, who just choose to resemble women. Some cross-dressing conversions are more obvious than others, ranging from wearing tighter, more feminine clothing, donning make up or breast implants, or stuffing one’s bras.

But don’t worry, there are still many places throughout Thailand where lady boys are decked out in sparkling ball gowns with painted on faces.

You’ve read about certain differences, or been warned by other travelers, and you can easily prepare for the jolt of culture shock. But other things can take you by surprise, and these are the things that truly test your capabilities as an adaptable traveler.

3. Transportation

After living in India, I fully expected getting around the country to be full of perilous roadways, signs impossible to decipher, unhelpful workers, and other unpredictable annoyances. On the contrary, getting around thus far has been so easy I feel like I’m cheating. I’ve traveled from my home in San Diego and ended up in Krabi, in southern Thailand, without a hitch despite multiple stops and transfers along the way.

Lomprayah is the travel service I have used most, and it includes ferries, buses, trains, gypsy vans, long wood boats, and I’m sure others that I haven’t yet experienced. As soon as we make it to one stop, the staff kindly and knowledgeably shuffles us to the next mode of transportation, shepherding us lost sheep, so far from our homes.

I’m beginning to feel like part of the backpacker experience is being lost. And sometimes I’d like the opportunity to use my expert traveler’s savvy and intuition. But then I think, this is nice too.

4. Clothing

I have been shocked about the lax dress code in Thailand. India was supremely strict about this. And I felt uncomfortable exposing anything from my neck to my knees (and sometimes I still felt gawked at). But in the few cities and towns I’ve seen so far, women are allowed to dress however they please, and I’ve seen some overly skimpy outfits.

Most older Thai women still wear long shirts or pants, even on hot days, but the younger generation is gaining majority with their teeny skirts and tank tops. It’s common for travelers to wear crop tops, or even their bathing suits when walking around beach towns. I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened to me if I attempted this in India.

5. Language

Learning Thai is totally unnecessary, and I feel like a huge jerk for only learning one word so far. But that one word makes for an interesting bullet point. The way to say hello differs depending on if you are a man or woman. A man will say “swasdi” and a woman will say “swadika.”

The last syllable of both forms of these words, just like most words in the Thai language, are extremely long and drawn out, giving the impression of singing a song. I’ve also noticed that women tend to talk either in a very high-pitched and nasally tone, or extremely quietly and demurely.

I have been shocked about the lax dress code in Thailand. India was supremely strict about this, and I felt uncomfortable exposing anything from my neck to my knees.

6. Heat, Humidity and Rain

I don’t remember what it feels like to be dry. There are some moments when I’m more dry than others. Basically I’m in a constant state of dampness, and this damp feeling encapsulates everything. Even my bedsheets are moist.

Another downside of this is that the various cuts and scrapes I’ve accumulated are taking forever to heal. Blisters from the first day of walking around Bangkok are still present. But have taken on a strange raw appearance that I’ve never seen before.

9 Surprising Truths About Traveling in Thailand

7. Toilets

I have been surprised at the presence of western toilets, and the accessibility of toilet paper. In India, these were extremely difficult to come by, and I ended up deciding it was easier just to make like an Indian and use my left hand and a hose.

Here I have only seen two holes for toilets, and toilet paper has been just about everywhere, although you still have to throw it in a trash can instead of the toilet. Of course, there will always be the occasional rancid hole in the ground you have to squat over, after paying 20 baht to use, so be prepared for that.

8. Animals

For some crazy reason, many of the cats around Thailand have nubs for tails. I can’t figure out if they were purposely chopped or born that way since some look clean cut and and some look gnarled. For some animal lovers, this may be a discomforting sight.

In addition to the stray cats ambling around and napping where they please, it is common to see roosters strutting around. In fact you’ll see the in groups of three or four. This is a pleasant cultural difference, until their early morning cawing happens right outside your window.

9. Pad Thai

The food here is delicious, as long as I avoid the spicy curries that make me cry. But pad Thai is above and beyond my favorite. My friend and I have taken to ordering two dishes. One dish of pad Thai, and one dish of something we haven’t tried. We’re eager to expand our palatable horizons, but reluctant to go a day without this scrumptious peanut-y noodle meal. What’s curious is that all of the places we’ve tried have their own slightly different versions. Which somewhat diminishes our guilt somewhat for not trying more things.

9 Surprising Truths About Traveling in Thailand

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Have you traveled to Thailand? What were your impressions? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear  from you.

9 Things that Surprised Me about Traveling in Thailand top photo by Farsai C. on Unsplash

About Mandi Schmitt

I am a world wide traveler currently calling San Diego, CA my home. Dissatisfied with typical vacation traveling and the conventional lifestyle, I have endeavored to teach, study, intern, and live abroad as much as possible. No matter what comes along, I am determined to sustain my nomadic tendencies.

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