Thailand - Introduction Page 2
My Different Stages Of Visiting Thailand
Previously, I had written an enormous amount here describing the various stages I had been through, but now is the time to simplify it.
On my first visit to Thailand I had absolutely no knowledge of the country and was as naive as it is possible to be. Consequently, I had a great time! The less you know about Thailand, the more you will enjoy it.
On subsequent visits as a tourist, staying in tourist resorts, my knowledge didn't really increase. It doesn't unless you actually live in Thailand.
After I came to Thailand to live I made a huge effort to learn. I took language lessons, I mixed with Thais as much as I could, I read everything I could, and I observed studiously. As a result, I became increasingly disillusioned with the country and I was so out of love with Thailand after about four years that I started making serious plans to leave.
What stopped me from leaving is that I couldn't decide where to go. I had no desire to live in a Westernised country and when I read about other developing countries they all had problems. I decided just to persevere with Thailand and make the most of it.
After a period of time I also found that I had changed. Whereas I used to love travelling alone, loneliness suddenly became an issue and I started to desire different things in life.
I was married in 2010 and our first child arrived in 2011. The next one arrived in 2014. My life now is completely different, but I don't think I have ever been more content in my life.
Our needs and desires change with age and it is always important to do what is right at the time. I would have hated this life 30 years ago, but now I love it. I would hate to be backpacking in Thailand, but backpackers would find my life incredibly boring.
Thailand still gives me things that were unobtainable in the UK, but those things have changed. When I first visited the exotic nature of things and the availability of so many young, attractive females appealed.
I am so used to Thailand now that I don't find it quite so exotic, and I have also stopped chasing girls. Now, I appreciate being able to live in the kind of house that I couldn't afford in the UK and being able to have a good lifestyle without the need to work.
Welcome to Planet Thailand
It's impossible to hear yourself think above the driving beat of disco music being pumped out at full volume over the on-board PA system. On the TV screen are the images that accompany the music. The video was probably taken at one of Pattaya's Go-Go dancing bars when the American 6th Fleet were in town on an R&R break.
Young Thai girls with bleached-blonde hair and perfect bodies teeter around on six inch high platform boots wearing very few clothes as they gyrate their hips, toss their golden manes in the air and thrust their breasts forward. A Thai DJ interrupts the music to give an excited commentary about what's happening on stage. So, what is this, a rugby tour or something?
No. This is just an ordinary non-A/C public bus in the southern Thai provinces. I am on my way back home from a day trip and the rest of the passengers are locals. Some are people returning home with bags full of groceries after shopping trips and there are quite a few students. It's Saturday but many Thai students work at the weekend. They are easily distinguishable by the smart uniforms they wear.
It's totally surreal but it's a scene I am familiar with, having seen it several times. Some form of entertainment isn't unusual on public transport nowadays but, like many things in Thailand, there is always a twist. In Singapore and London they show adverts or try to promote the country's tourism industry. In Thailand the driver of the bus doesn't think twice about putting on a Go-Go dancing VCD.
This trivial little story actually says quite a lot about Thailand, I think. Firstly, no one ever says a word about the 1000W of music power being directed at them or the content of the video. There are no middle-aged frumps or women's rights activists who object to young girls flaunting their bodies - not publicly anyway. No one is bothered. When you look around there is not even the remotest change in anyone's facial expressions.
No one ever says anything in Thailand. It doesn't matter how objectionably someone else might be behaving, no one ever says a thing. The Thais are a free-spirited people who like to do their own thing and have huge amounts of tolerance towards other people in allowing them to do their own thing.
As a foreigner in Thailand this kind of strange behaviour can be quite intoxicating. Watching Go-Go dancing videos while travelling on buses doesn't do a lot for me but the weirdness of Thailand can be very refreshing after coming from a stuffy country where everything is regulated and controlled.
It's almost like some kind of virtual reality type realm where anything goes and life is just about having fun. It's a temporary escape from the harsh realities, boredom and stress of the real world. For this reason, many foreigners get addicted to Thailand. However, what you see in Thailand on the surface is rarely how things actually are.
It is a land full of contrasts and contradictions. It might look as if anything goes but that isn't the case. Thai society has a very powerful culture regulating it and although certain behaviour looks to be acceptable, it most certainly isn't.
Unlike the dancers in the video, the majority of Thai girls are extremely shy and just the slightest, most innocent physical contact is enough to make them feel very embarrassed. This is a little different to the thousands of bar girls in Thailand's tourist areas who bare their breasts at customers as a joke and are not shy about grabbing a man's meat and two veg if he enters their bar.
At times on Thai roads it looks like everyone is completely mad and involved in some kind of a motorcycle suicide competition but talk to educated Thais and you will find some very clever and wise people.
This photo was sent to me by a visitor to the site. He taught English in Thailand for a while and the photo is of a drawing that one of his students did. He thought it was interesting and so do I. It seems to sum up the general Thai attitude to life quite well. A country full of space cadets. As individuals, we aren't here for very long so let's enjoy life while we can.
It's a fun country but it can be very difficult to understand and even when you think you are beginning to understand, something happens to show that you don't. I enjoy it most of the time, but at times it frustrates and infuriates the hell out of me.
Welcome to Planet Thailand, there's nowhere else on Earth quite like it.
The Lure Of Thailand
As a holiday destination I can't think of anywhere better. On all of my vacations in Thailand I spent the whole time in an almost euphoric state. The people are, for the most part, gentle and friendly. Everything is cheap. The food is good. The climate is at its best when the European weather is at its worst and it doesn't change much year-round. There are fabulous beaches, crystal clear seas and world class scuba diving. The living is very easy.
And of course, the girls are a major draw for many foreign men.
However, there is something else much more fundamental about Thailand if you come from the Western world. It's like a temporary escape from reality. It's a temporary remedy for all the things that you dislike about home. There seems to be a freedom that you simply don't experience at home.
I will make the point again that what you see as a tourist in Thailand is mostly an illusion and that many of the things that appealed as a tourist can start to drive you insane as a resident.
None of us like the over-enforcement of laws at home and a little freedom to do what we like is welcome, but try living somewhere permanently where laws aren't followed or enforced and your attitude will start to change.
That wonderful food you experienced on vacation starts to get boring after eating it every day, as do many other aspects of Thailand.
And those girls who simply loved you for what you are when you were a tourist only really have one thing in mind.
Don't be put off, but remember that vacationing and living in Thailand are very different things.
How I hate this word. It may have been a revolutionary advertising technique in the 1960's to sell Bounty bars which offered, "The taste of paradise," but now it's just a sad old cliché. Nonetheless, I challenge you to find a Phuket hotel brochure that doesn't use the word.
Not only does 'paradise' not exist but the concept of 'paradise' is very different for all of us. In travel brochure terms anywhere that has white sand, blue sea and palm trees is 'paradise' and sure, Thailand has lots of white sandy beaches with blue sea and palm trees. I have visited lots of them.
They are not 'paradise' for me, however. I don't like intensely hot sun and when I get sunburnt the two things I don't want to come into contact with are sand and salt-water. And what is there to do on a beach? I find them very boring places to be after about an hour.
Another thing to think about is if Thailand is such a 'paradise' why are there so many Thais who are so keen to move abroad? Thailand is not a 'paradise'; nowhere is. Like everywhere else on earth there are good things and bad things about the country.
The wonderful thing about Thailand is that it offers an alternative to Western lifestyles (for the time being, anyway). Can you imagine how awful the world would be if everywhere was the same? Fortunately, countries aren't the same and different places suit different people depending on personal values and preferences.
Thailand is by no means perfect but I have travelled a fair amount and after weighing up the pros and cons I find it to be much more to my personal liking than anywhere else I have been to, including my native England.
It's a very personal thing. Thailand will suit some people very well but others not at all.
Although I have some knowledge of Thai history it seems pointless to add anything here. All I would be doing is repeating information I have obtained from other sources. A web search will bring up lots of facts. There is some excellent information, including historical facts, at the Country Studies web site. Information on this site is sourced from the U.S. Library of Congress. The one problem is that it only goes up to the late 80's and then stops so there is nothing about recent history but everything else is good.
Reading about Thai history brings home the fact that Thai society as we know it today is still a fairly recent phenomenon. The basic constitution and social structure of most Western societies has been in place for hundreds of years even though technological advancements have completely changed the way people communicate and do business. This is not so for Thailand.
Up until quite recently (1932) Thailand was ruled by an absolute monarchy with the military and an elite band of noblemen holding the sway of power. Peasant farmers made up most of the population, living in villages and given direction by village headmen.
The concept of a strict social order within society, which is still ingrained in the minds of many rural Thais, can help to explain certain behavioural traits. In this age of globalisation and incredible technological advancement (the last 15 years of the 20th century especially) it has been difficult for people everywhere to keep up with a changing world but I think it presents an even greater challenge to developing countries such as Thailand.
Due to its location - surrounded by several other Southeast Asian countries - and also a history of European colonialism in the region, Thailand's borders have been rather fluid over the years. Thailand has given away territory to appease colonial powers and has also had territory taken forcefully. Various attempts have been made to recapture territory.
At one time, what is part of modern-day Laos and Cambodia belonged to Thailand but the French seized a lot of territory in Indo-China while they were colonial masters in the region using a great deal of aggression. The crisis of 1893 resulted in the French sending gunboats up the Chao Phrya river to blockade Bangkok. They forced an ultimatum on King Chulalongkorn - who was very ill at the time - to hand over all territory east of the Mekong to France.
When, in 2003, a Thai actress declared that Angkor Wat actually belonged to Thailand, the remark started riots in Cambodia and led to strong anti-Thai feelings.
Territory was also ceded in the south when, in 1909, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) transferred part of southern Thailand to Malaysia, then under British rule, to form four Malay states (Kelantan, Trengganu, Kedah, and Perlis). While Southeast Asia was under Japanese occupation during WW2, the Japanese returned these to Thailand in 1943 for Thailand's assistance in the war but after the Allies won the war the land was once again returned to Malaya.
Five Shan states in Burma (Muang Tuen, Muang Hang, Muang Chuat, Muang Tha and Muang Sat) were once part of the Lanna Thai kingdom and this is another source of contention for Thailand. In the 1850's two unsuccessful attempts were made to recapture this territory. In November 1885 the British annexed Upper Burma and claimed this land.
Again, with Southeast Asia under Japanese occupation during WW2, and Thailand allied with Japan, it seemed an ideal time for Thailand to once again attempt to recapture territory it believed rightly belonged to Thailand and an operation to do so was led by Field Marshall Phibun.
The mission was successful but the Shan States were abandoned and reoccupied by the Chinese at the end of the war.
Obsession, Addiction and Reality
Some people get addicted to substances like drugs, nicotine or alcohol, some to certain types of behaviour (such as spending ridiculous amounts of time on the Internet or playing computer games), and others get addicted to people. The object of the addiction or obsession normally doesn't do them any good but they cannot stop themselves. I do not have an addictive personality. Even at times in the past when I have become infatuated with girls that are bad for me, common sense has prevailed eventually.
However, Thailand became a bit of an obsession for me. I had visited seven or eight times for vacations, spending no more than a month at a time but it was never enough. I always left wanting to stay longer and it was always hugely depressing returning to my routine life again after I'd spent time in Thailand. My real wish was to be able to spend an indefinite amount of time in the country.
Due to a change in my circumstances and, more importantly, to a conscious decision I made to simplify my lifestyle the opportunity to do what I had wanted to do for a long time became a reality. I left my job, sold my car and gave away many of the things I owned. I rented my house out to provide me with an income and left for Thailand.
My objectives were very different compared to previous visits where I had just visited as a tourist. I wanted to discover the real Thailand. I wanted to try to learn some of the language, meet as many Thais as I could and understand what makes them tick. It definitely was not going to be a holiday and I had no intention of staying in tourist resorts.
Initially it was like a holiday and I experienced the euphoria of just being in Thailand but that feeling disappeared after a while. I don't think that on my previous vacation trips to Thailand I ever had a bad day but I started to have bad days actually living in Thailand. What surprised me most about Thailand was how different the reality is to the image that most people get when they visit for a short time. I had worked and vacationed in the United States and although it is obviously different working somewhere to vacationing, there were no major revelations about American society or people.
In Thailand so much is just image. I've tried to understand a little about Buddhism and although Thais go through elaborate rituals at temples, they then go away and contradict everything that Buddhism teaches. For a land of Buddhists who are supposed to eschew material goods there is an awful lot of 'grasping' for mobile phones, cars and other material goods.
Thailand isn't necessarily a bad place, but the reality of living in Thailand is completely different to spending vacations there. After visiting as a tourist, many people want to return to live. I did and I can understand completely why others wish to do the same.
I've had difficult times, but overall things have worked out quite well. Partly this was down to luck and partly down to intuition. When I meet people I have quite a good 'sixth sense' and can tell if they are good people, or not. I always distance myself from Thais if my feelings about them aren't good.
If, like me, you are tempted to move to Thailand permanently the best advice I can give is not to burn all your bridges. If you are male and get involved with Thai a Thai female you will be expected to hand over a lot of cash in various ways, but always make sure you hold some back, just in case.
Lots of foreign men have sold everything in their home countries and handed over everything to their Thai partners, only to be left with nothing when she decides to kick him out a little later.
The girls can be ruthless and Thai law doesn't give foreigners any protection. On the contrary, the reason that foreign men hand over large amounts of cash and buy properties in the name of their Thai partner is because of Thai law.
Don't burn all your bridges and, no matter how good life is at the time, remember that things can go bad very easily and very suddenly.