I’ve been to 7 countries since leaving New York almost a year ago. But, Thailand has been my home. Really Chiang Mai has been home, even though the only full month I spent in the city was November. Actually, I camped overnight at Doi Inthanon. So technically, I never spent a full month in Chiang Mai. That, together with the fact that I’ve mostly stayed in hostel dorms, makes me reluctant to admit that I live in Chiang Mai when asked.
Despite being there for almost a year, I didn’t learn a whole lot of Thai. It’s a tonal language, which is very difficult. Each word can have up to 5 meanings depending on how it’s said. And I have trouble differentiating between the tones. There is also such a large expat community, and so many people speak English, that it’s fairly easy to get by. However, people always smile when I use what little Thai I do know.
Here’s what I know:
I can say: hello, how are you, thank you, excuse me, how much, and I don’t want that. I can count to 9,999. I can say chicken and pork. I know the words for mango, passion fruit, and banana, which are the ingredients of my regular smoothie. I can ask for a large, hot coffee without milk and sugar. And I can say one glass of red wine please.
Smoothies, coffee, and wine; I got all of the important stuff down.
Since arriving in Thailand I’ve also gotten better at spicy food. I still don’t see the appeal of being in pain when you eat, but I can tolerate more spice than before. But, I learned how to say “not spicy” in Thai, just in case.
I think I compare every city I visit to New York by default. Is it a city if there are no tall buildings? I never thought I’d miss being stuck underground in a stalled, crowded, smelly subway car on my way to work. But I do miss the subway. Negotiating with song thaews (the red trucks that are the primary mode of getting around town if you’re not driving yourself) seems to be an art that I’m not always sure I’ve mastered. What do you mean you won’t take me where I want to go because you don’t feel like making a u-turn at the big, busy intersection? 4 times the normal price because it’s 10pm?! And why does it seem like when I’m content to walk 10 song thaews honk at me offering their services, but when I’m actively looking for one, there are none to be found? I’ve also missed real bagels. Sorry family and friends, the things I’ve missed most about home have been public transportation and bagels.
I’ve recently (sorta) mastered the Asian squat: when you squat, but instead of putting all of your weight on the balls of your feet, which isn’t comfortable for long, you can rest your whole foot on the floor. It’s a much more stable and comfortable squat.
I saw and did pretty much everything I wanted to do and see in Thailand. I saw temples, tried meditation, ate a lot of mangoes, ate a lot of pad thai, ate a lot of other really yummy things, I made friends with elephants, ziplined, learned to cook, went hiking, swam in some perfectly blue water, snorkeled, learned a little Thai, got a tattoo, didn’t get dengue, traveled to 6 other countries, participated in Loy Kratong and Songkran, met a lot of great people, met some ridiculous people, and made some good friends.
(If you’ve been reading my blog, you know what I’ve been up to.)
Thailand seems to be a popular starting point for people on their SEA (that’s how people in the know talk about Southeast Asia) adventures. It makes sense, the tourism industry is more developed than in a lot of neighboring countries, and people are so nice and helpful. It’s a great way to start your journey. And, with quality health care, it’s a more comfortable place to get sick while your body adjusts. Southeast Asia can be, well, hard. It’s far away, loud, hot, “exotic”. But, it’s also incredible. People are kind and so excited to meet you, everything you see is different and beautiful, and everything you eat is…well no, some stuff I just can’t bring myself to say nice things about. Bugs are a definite no. Fertilized chicken eggs, also a terrible idea. Durian smells like feet, or trash, or feet that have walked in trash. Jessica Chastain brought Jimmy Kimmel some durian to try on his show. Go find the video online for an idea of what it’s like.
So, thanks Thailand. Thanks for taking care of me. Thanks for teaching me. I’m sure I’ll be back someday.
And now onto Malaysia and Sri Lanka!