Introduction – Bangkok, Thailand
Thailand is the perfect vacation destination if you’re young and broke but still want it all. If you don’t mind sleeping in cramped seats on a cross-country bus or staying at a guesthouse that has more charm than luxury, your wallet will thank you for spending a mere pittance on travel. You can experience mountain trekking in Chiang Mai, tropical beaches in Ko Samui and impressive temples in Bangkok. From melt-your-guts-spicy curries to exotic Thai silk, it’s the country to come to for a taste of everything.
“Why Thailand?” everyone asked. Well, for one thing, it’s cheap! At 40 Thai baht to $1 U.S., the exchange rate was definitely in my favor. I was constantly gushing over eating a full meal for 20 baht and finding fun T-shirts and skirts for 100 baht. Thailand is great for avid shoppers, and although I missed having girlfriends to browse with, my two travel buddies – both male – bought more than I did! I traveled to Thailand and Cambodia for a month in late June and July 2004. Even though that’s the beginning of the rainy season for Thailand, we were lucky enough to avoid stormy weather.
Thailand’s natural beauty is matched by the friendliness of its people – it isn’t called “The Land of Smiles” for nothing. If you can, make an effort to learn a little bit of Thai before you go. Even when we slaughtered their language, Thai people were more inclined to be nice to us. (“You speak Thai? Oh, then I give you Thai price.”) The Thais are a very respectful people – even clerks at convenience stores sometimes would “wai” to us, putting their palms together and bowing their heads. Both the Michelin Tire Man and Ronald McDonald can be seen outside their stores wai-ing to passing customers.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and everyone loves King Rama IX and Queen Sirikit, who have been in power since 1946. There are pictures of the royalty everywhere – from larger-than-life billboards in town to gold-framed paintings in stores or homes – and the Thai national anthem is played daily. There’s even a tribute to the king, complete with the anthem, shown before the main feature in movie theaters!
I came to Thailand feeling totally unprepared, despite having two guidebooks and lots of Internet research between the three of us. One night in Bangkok, after three weeks in the country, we ran into two Dutch tourists on their first day in Thailand. We talked for two hours, sharing stories, teaching useful Thai phrases and giving advice on things to avoid. As we left, all I could think was, “I wish someone had told us that when we got here.” But that’s part of the fun of traveling – learning as you go. Although I’m not an expert, I hope some of this guide will be helpful to future travelers. If you have questions or comments, feel free to e-mail me.