I think the thing that struck me most about Thailand was that people love to eat..something that suited me absolutely fine. The food here is a far cry from the rice and bean staple that I have been used to. Not that I dont love rice and beans. It is a dish that is usually served in quantity rather than quality, which is another thing that suits me absolutely fine! The Thais seem to eat and eat but strangely dont seem to get fat which I am determined to discover how. Eating here is great as you can have a mini adventure at the same time. The language here is so different from English that sometimes the point and hope for the best strategy must be adopted. Its a menu roulette that can sometimes work hugely in your favour and sometimes not. Chang Mai saw me order a beautiful looking parcel that was wrapped up very neatly in banana leaf. The end product turned out to be green and slimy and tasted of rotten tea bags. Not even the dogs wanted it. Thats how to tell its bad. The dogs in Thaialand feast like Kings on street leftovers which as an animal lover is always good to see. Although one can never be sure that they are not also served up for lunch but seeing so many living happily on the streets goes to indicate that they dont.
My favourite food incident involved me trying to ask for a spoon with my noodle soup. After several attempts at asking, pointing and mime I thought I finally managed. 'Ahh Cow pat' (or Thai sounding equivalent) said the lady. So whilst I thought I had learnt the Thai word for spoon, she then bought me out a whole new lunch. Didn't quite know how to get out of that one so I ended up eating most of it thinking that this certainly isnt the way that the Thais keep thin!
Another problem one has as a tourist is that its really hard to get spicy food. A friend and I tried every meal to go as spicy as we could but I think that they assume that westerners cant handle spicy food and so keep it mild. We managed once with a fish curry which saw me get through a whole pack of tissues and several whisky and cokes to try and cool down. A very fun experience and one I hope to repeat. Chang mai was great for food. Our hostel was very conveniently located near the markets and everone know all the stall owners as 'shake lady' or 'spring roll lady' or 'papaya salad lady' (all very original names!).
My first impression of Thailand was 'where are all the Thais?!'. I stayed on the infamous Khao San Road, the tourist hell hole that is a must to endure. Hundreds and hundreds of westerners walk the streets to shop, drink, eat and sample the neon lights, 7 elevens, palstic fantastic world that is this part of Bangkok. Arriving from sleepy Africa I can genuinely say that I got culture shock from the polarised differences between the 2 continents. It was initially quite hard to get used to. I hated the fact that I was back in a world of tesco's and service stations, or fast food bars. You soon get used to it though and before long I loving it like the rest.
One of the best things I discovered is that you can rent a motorbike for less than 5 UK pounds. They dont even ask if you know how to ride one! I spent an awesome 2 days on a trip from mae Hong Song to Suppong up in the north cruising along a winding mountain road that takes in some majestic views as you twist and turn through the hills. It was a fairly fuel consumoing trip that saw me get ripped off by the same roadside fuel lady twice. You can always tell if you get ripped off as they laugh as you walk away. Always convert back to your home currency is a golden rule when this happens. It was an incredible few days though and a moment of real travelling freedom feeling. I did however forget about windchill. Having only taken a small overnight bag I had to invent a roman style gown out of my sheet sleeping bag to try and keep warm.
Temples are a huge presence out here. Again I think there may be more temples than Thai people as they are pretty much around every corner; big ones, old ones, modern ones and every one requiring a photo stop. You get very involved in the peacefulness of them and observing the monks as they go about their calm existence. I found an opportunity to go to a meditation retreat whilst in Chang Mai which seemd like a great chance to discover my inner peace and happiness. As it turned out, my inner happiness had no desire to be found and my outer happiness was perfectly contect on its own. Upon arrival you find out that the whole experience is to be conducted in silence with every movemnet you make to be conciously noted as you do it. All I really saw was a lot of people shuffling around like zombies, whilst gave me a real urge to do star jumps. As for sitting cross legged and trying to only observe breathing for 20 minutes, it wasn't for me. I felt glad that it hurt to sit still as at least I could be consciously aware of time ticking away and that this would end at some point soon. I think I have discovered that backpacking does not in any way constitute a hectic or stressful life and thus the benefits of meditation are very diminished! If monks had their way I think we would still be monkeys having thought of nothingness for thousands of years. I will say it was a very good and interesting experience despite my cynacism. I did have to escape the retreat along with about 6 others who also felt the same as me. There is too much that is interesting out there in the world rather than sitting still for too long.
I did absolutely love Thailand. It grew and grew on me and I find it hard now to really give it the blog space it deserves. Thailand is a land of peace. Its very different to the world of Africa where every day people suffer the harsher reality of survival each and every day.In Thailand there is more of a gentle way of life where you can enjoy a world of beauty and kindness. I never made it to the islands where life is very different but in the parts I saw, this was true. I cant even say I really touched the sides but 3 weeks saw me take in mountains, trekking, elephant riding, the bridge over the river Kwai, enormous caves, fish that suck your toes and even a reggae festival. Good times!