After a three hour bus ride through the mountains of northwestern Thailand, I made it to the small town of Pai. Though it has only around 3,000 people, it is a major tourist hangout. Even with all the tourists, it has somehow managed to keep it's small town feel, and would be another nice place to spend about a week. I'm going to try to limit my stay to only a few days. We'll see how that goes.
Anyway, having spent a decent amount of time in Thailand, I've got some observations and comparisons to make with the Philippines. First off, is the attitude of the locals toward tourists. Unlike in the Philippines, tourists are not a novelty in Thailand. People don't look twice here. They're polite enough, and don't seem annoyed at the crowds of clueless Americans and cologne drenched Europeans, but they definitely see us as just another source of income. I can't really complain, as it seems like everyone is happy with the arrangement between Thais and farang (as foreigners are called).
The thing that kind of shocked me is that the other tourists are very hesitant to make eye contact on the street. When forced into a cooking class, or small taxi, or something similar, everyone is very friendly, but on the streets, people seem annoyed that other tourists have invaded their space. Maybe I just got too used to having to smile at everyone in the Philippines, but it sure is weird to actually have people try to avoid your gaze here. Passing locals on the street here is much less frustrating here than in the Philippines. In both places, people walk painfully slowly everywhere they go. It's understandable if you're in the mall or at the market, but walking down the narrow sidewalk of a busy street, there is absolutely no reason to be walking heel to toe. In the Philippines, people had no problem blocking the entire path and forcing you to follow behind them until you could find an opening and slip past. Here, people still walk slowly, but are much more conscious, or at least courteous, and let you pass if they notice you behind them.
The traffic is also much less crazy here. Horns are still used frequently, but they're not a constant thing. In the Philippines, people seemed happy to just lay on the horn for no reason at all. I've also heard horror stories about the dreaded tuk-tuks of Thailand. They're pretty much the Thai version of the Philippine tricycle, and everyone complains about how they're so crazy and loud and scary and dangerous. Thai transportation is tame compared to some of the situations Virginia and I encountered in the Philippines.
I'm also improving at using tiny bits of Thai to get by. The main phrases hello, thank you, how much, excuse me, and goodbye are second nature to me now. In Thailand, everyone speaks enough English that those are really all you need to get by. The wai, is the equivalent of a handshake here, and that's one that I'm still working on. It's the thing where you put your palms together like you're praying and do a little bow to someone. I still feel like a fool when I do it, and when saying some things in Thai, but I figure I look like more of an idiot just kind of mumbling to people in English. And not wai-ing someone when they wai you is probably like leaving someone hanging on a high-five. Not cool.
I've got all kinds of plans for how to squeeze everything I want to do into a few days in Pai. Hopefully I can be out of here by the 24th or 25th and maybe have time to make it down to the ocean. Hope you're all well out there.