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Tour du monde en autostop - Jeremy Marie

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 Travel Diary : The real Thailand

I remember that when I was in France, Thailand was a good value in the tourism area. It was easy to sell, easy to travel, culturally interesting and with incredible white sand beaches...

From Thailand, I do confirm, this is a country that has been “sold” quite well.

When I was reading the books of Andre Brugiroux, who was traveling the world by hitchhiking in the 60's, that was quite a different Thailand that I was discovering. Today the mass tourism is there, for the best (well...), and for the worst.

In this article about Thailand, I will quickly talk about the tourist places, then I will focus on the cultural side of the country. I can avoid the side “mass tourism” because this one influenced my journy in Thailand, and also my interactions with the locals.

Hopefully Thailand has many interesting aspects and it is still possible to get off the beaten tracks. Buddhist temples at every street corner, markets offering everything up to the insects, an incomprehensible language for a beginner, an outstanding cuisine, a very noticeable adoration for the King, the muay Thai, the Thai massages, some very old ruins and facts of life that, at the end, fascinated me.


The mass tourism

Because I had to face it since I entered Thailand, I will start by talking about it.

Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui, the Full Moon Party... As many names as you probably saw on tourism brochures. This tourist offer is not only sold in France, but everywhere in the world, and especially in Europe, Australia and Russia.

The “desert” beaches of Karon on the island of Phuket

I traveled around Phuket, including Patong because this is the most famous beach of the island on which concerns debauchery and sex tourism. Central place of the stupidity, I could laugh two minutes about the level shown by the tourists that are wallowing in this “hole” smelling the vice at every corner.

Young Australians coming by groups of ten, Russian families (sometimes with their kids!), old Western men hand in hand with some young local prostitutes, here is a redefinition of seaside resort version “dregs of humanity”.

Patong, a happy place

I can understand that some people need to relax during their two weeks holiday per year, that they go to the beach, that they redden with the sun or with beers. I can understand that they choose to go to an exotic country. The world is changing fast and this is now possible to do.

What is irritating me, but doesn't surprise me, this is to let the ethics at home. I pass the details, you already know them.

When I was saying that mass tourism influenced my journey in Thailand, this is because I felt that the Thai people got affected by it. The example shown by the tourists in those place doesn't really help the Thai people to automatically smile to every westerner that they see.

Now, I can close this chapter about mass tourism.

The real Thailand

Hopefully, when I went out of the (many) tourist places, I could discover an interesting country. The culture is unique and it is a challenge to try to understand it.

A beloved King
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy since 1932, headed by the current King “Rama IX”. The current King has been in power since 1950, so 62 years. Indeed, he is the contemporary Head of State that is currently governing the longest in this planet.

The Royal Palace in Bangkok

The Thai people are worshiping their King. It is possible to see pictures of the King absolutely everywhere in Thailand.

There are pictures of the King everywhere in Thailand

Before every movie in the cinema, there is a short documentary about the life of the King. There are also rules to respect. For example, never showing a picture of the King with your foot. It is generally very impolite in Thailand to show anything with the foot. The food is considered as impure.

In the other hand, the head is the purest part of the body, the one that is the shelter of the soul. For this reason, it is also impolite to touch it.

Buddhism
Thailand is a country almost entirely Buddhist. It is the first time that I go in a country where this is the dominant religion .

It is possible to find Buddhist temples a little bit everywhere in the country.

The Wat Tepleela in Bangkok

The famous lying Buddha is the Wat Pho temple in Bangkok

It happens very often to see Buddhist monks in Thailand. It is difficult to miss them because they wear orange robes. Sometimes, around six in the morning, I could see the Buddhist monks walking in the street with their begging bowls, asking for alms.

Buddhist monks near the Royal Palace in Bangkok

I could understand that Buddhism was already in Thailand a long time ago. In Ayutthaya, the former capital of the country, I could see many representations of the Buddha, that were as old as 600 years.

The Wat Phra Mahathat in Ayutthaya, built in the 14th century

In Sukhothaï, that was the capital of a former Kingdom before Ayutthaya, so around the 13th century, it is possible to find proofs of the existence of Buddhism at this time

A statue of the Buddha in the Wat Si Chum in Sukhothaï

Buddhism is also associated to some animists beliefs. In front of many buildings in Thailand, I saw some kind of constructions. In the beginning, I thought that those were some kind of fancy mailboxes. In fact, those are the “Houses of the Spirits” of the buildings. Every day, the Thai go to make an offering to favor the blessing of the spirits.

A House of the Spirits near the city of Trang

The Thai cuisine
A real delight!

As we are in Asia and that the food culture is very important for locals, it is possible to eat almost everywhere in Thailand, in the restaurants or with the many street vendors.

Diner time at the “Pad Thaï” vendor in Sukhothaï

The cuisine is usually very spicy. There is also a big diversity. I cannot think to try to make a list of every single dish of the country after having spent only one month. However, amongst the most known, you may have heard of the “Tom Yam Soup”, that I would consider as national dish in Thailand.

A home-made Tom Yam Soup with coconut milk in Phuket Town

There are different kinds of meats that are available. Beef, pork, chicken or even duck are easy to find in many places.

A duck in a little restaurant in Chiang Mai

Sometimes, it's getting a bit more “exotic”. One evening in the town of Sukhothaï, I ended up in front of a vendor of fried insects. There was a bit of everything, little worms, big worms, grasshoppers, cockroaches... I tried some, but I have to admit that the visual aspect didn't help to fully enjoy the taste.

A vendor of fried insects in Sukhothaï

And below, here is a video of the tasting:

Click here to watch the video

Except for this last meal, I have to say that I really enjoyed the Thai cuisine.

The entertainments of the Thai people
The way the people entertain themselves also helps to understand the culture of a civilization.

The Mall
The Thai youth in the urban areas, as in many other Asian countries, like to go to the Mall. Those one are huge and sometimes very modern. The appearance and the financial status seems to be something very important in the Thai society.

A very modern “Mall” in Bangkok (you can note the picture of the King)

The Thai massage
When I got to the border, I could see many place offering to do Thai massage.

Contrary to what is thought in the Western world, the massage in Thailand is a very old tradition. In the Wat Pho temple, where there is the famous lying Buddha, you can also find some drawings showing some acupressure (acupuncture without needle) points on the human body. The idea is to correct imbalances in the meridians of the body, relaxing physically the patient to help him to strengthen his soul. Indeed, the Thai massage is not an entertainment but a form of alternative medicine.

There is nothing to do with the idea of “Thai massage” brought back to the Western world by the very same tourists staying on the beaches of Pattaya. This is like if an Italian was going to “Pizza Hut”, you will see how he will react. There is a big difference between “pizza” and “pizza”. In Thailand, this is the same, there is a difference between “massage” and “massage”.

The Muay Thaï
Thai boxing is very popular in this country. This is a professional sport. I went to see a boxing night when I was in Chiang Mai. The atmosphere is very special. Before every fight, the boxers do a dance called Ram Muay. The orchestra doesn't stop after the dance and keeps going during the fight, giving the rhythm of it.

The Ram Muay, before a women fight

The fights can be somehow violent, because the boxers can use their knees and elbows. The moves are very fast and generally the whole thing seemed to me very intense and technical.

A Muay Thai fight

Some sights of Thailand
Sometimes I see something that looks very different at my eyes. Something that I have never seen before and that surprises me.

In the bus in Bangkok, as the traffic jams are very common, some solutions can be found to help the people getting more patient. At the extremity of a string, a magazine was available at every seat.

At the exit of a school in Sukhothaï, the students who didn't follow the rule were punished. It is an obligation for the boys of the Thai schools to have a very short haircut. Otherwise, the punishment is to make them shorter... But just the example of it.

At the entrance of the Wat Pho in Bangkok, it is recommended to be careful to the pickpockets. Funny enough, the nationality of the thieves is indicated: they are not Thai!

Finally, before to talk about hitchhiking in this country, here is a panorama of the city of Bangkok at night


Hitchhiking in Thailand

As in Malaysian, hitchhiking has been very easy in Thailand. The road are good, specially on main ones and there are many private cars. Thai people stop very easily. It is possible (and this happened many times) to get a ride on the back of a pick-up.

On the back of a pick-up with the cartons near Chiang Mai

Or with the oranges !

Technically, stopping the cars in Thailand is very similar to the other countries in Asia. The best way is to wave down the vehicles with your hand, instead of using your thumb, while of course looking at the driver.

The only difficulty came from communication. Very few Thai speak English or even another foreign language. Also, it impossible for me to read the Thai alphabet, or if it is translated into the Latin alphabet, to pronounce it. This is a tonal language and it is very difficult for me to pronounce the sound in five different ways. In consequence, the communication with Thai people has been quite limited.

Hopefully, I knew about this difficulty before to enter the country, so I organized myself. A friend speaking Thai made me a translation of my project in this language and a list of every cities in the two alphabets. With this, I was ready to hitchhike in Thailand, and it worked.

The translation of my project in Thai

And hitchhiking works also in Thailand

 

At the end, I enjoyed Thailand. Of course, the mass tourism changed a bit my vision of this country and I guess that it's going to get worst and worst. Sometimes, I wonder if the future lack of petrol resources (no petrol so no kerosene) could help for the conservation of the cultures.

I had to look for information and to deserve my meetings with people, contrary to other country (like Indonesia) where everything was happening quite logically. Fortunately, the effort has been rewarded. The Thai culture is very interesting and the Thai people are usually very nice.

The country surprised me by its level of development, a little inferior to Malaysia, but way ahead of Myanmar or Cambodia for example. Thailand is a wonderful country for its landscapes, stunning for its cuisine, interesting for it History and so unmissable for its culture.

I am today in Cambodia and once again in this journey, I have been surprised at the border crossing.

See you soon for the next article,

Jérémy



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