In every country we've visited, we've noticed some recurring, consistent themes which give each place a unique national flavor. We thought we would share these "Country Impressions" with you all to give you a better idea of what our day-to-day life is like in each place we visit.
Impressions of Thailand
- Southeast Asia's best destination for first-timers. We've been to many countries in the region, and we still think Thailand is the best place for first-time visitors to Asia (especially Southeast Asia). A major tourist destination and well accustomed to dealing with us picky Westerners, Thailand has a solid tourism infrastructure, efficient and convenient transportation options, excellent food, friendly people, and is very safe. There's something to suit every taste in this diverse country -- from some of the world's finest beaches, to beautiful mountain scenery with unique ethnic groups, to Bangkok's wild nightlife, Thailand doesn't disappoint. Our suggestion to those of you coming from far away: don't plan on spending less than two weeks here, it's a big country, with lots to see and do.
- It's good to be da King. Thailand's king is a revered figure throughout the country. And with good reason...as the world's longest-reigning monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has ruled through over a dozen government coups and too many social and economic ups and downs to list. It's probably hard for a Westerner to understand the god-like stature of the King of Thailand. But he certainly deserves the attention. In the past 50+ years of ruling, the good King has contributed a great deal to social causes, has dedicated a lot of time to charity work, and has acted as a mediating factor for the country's often-tumultuous political machine. Though he has no official powers, the King commands such incredible respect that everybody listens to what he has to say -- including the Prime Minister and top military brass. He's truly an amazing man.
- It's hard to get tired of Thai food. Most foodies would agree, Thai cuisine ranks up there in the "top four" world cuisines (along with Italian, French, and Chinese). (Why people think French food deserves the accolade is beyond us, but hey, that's just our opinion). The use of fresh ingredients and a wide variety of spices makes every Thai dish unique and exciting. Even though we spent over a month in Thailand, we still found ourselves craving Thai food after being out of the country just a few days. Lucky for us, Thai food is popular throughout the region, so we could always find it, even in Cambodia and Vietnam. If you like Thai food at home, you'll love it even more in Thailand!
- Bangkok nightlife isn't as sinister as you might have heard. Ever since the US military used Thailand as a base for their war efforts in Vietnam in the 1960s, Bangkok has had a bad reputation as a "city of sin." Yes, Bangkok has its fair share of red light districts, but there's a lot more going on in the City of Angels than shady massage parlors and "beer bars" filled with hookers. Bangkok is just like any other big city -- it's got its high and low points. But aside from a couple of high-profile red light areas like the Patpong district (now tamed down and a mainstream tourist attraction in itself), Bangkok is a pretty normal city. The Thais are in general very puritanical people. But there are a lot of nightlife options here -- you can dance the night away, listen to live jazz and rock bands, or chill out in a super-hip wine bar -- all without having to worry about being picked up on by transvestites or drag queens. In most cases, anyway.
- Don't come here only for the beaches. Yes, they're some of the best in the world (we're not lying -- the beaches are awesome!), but it would be sad to come so far and only hang out on the beach. If you just want a beach vacation, go to Hawaii or the Caribbean. If you want a real cultural experience, come to Thailand, spend a few days on the beach, spend a few days in Bangkok, and spend a week or more in the mainland towns and (ideally) in the north. That way, you'll get a chance to really see the country and get to know the people. More than anything, it's the people that make Thailand a special place to visit. The Thais are friendly people and are very happy to have visitors in their country -- just show up and take off in any direction, you'll be in good shape!
Back to Thailand pg.2 On to Cambodia!
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