Thailand: a very pleasant surprise

I had some hesitation coming to Thailand. I thought it would be too touristy, full of drunken English and angry locals. After a week I can say that’s absolutely not the case. At least not where I am, up in the north, and I am enjoying myself immensely.

I arrived in Bangkok on Sunday to spend a few days checking out the city. On the first day I must have taken over 200 photos. Everything was so new, so different, and so very interesting. The place was unlike anything I had imagined. Its temples and palaces are absolutely stunning with such fine masonry and rich in details. With the sun setting across the river on a hot afternoon and bells chiming softly in the breeze, it blew away all my expectations.

After getting the main tourist spots out of the way I explored the city randomly, wandering around, being lost without feeling lost. Together with a guy from the hostel, Clive, we went long stretches without running into a single other white person. We walked into temples, markets, schools at will, choosing our directions impulsively and haphazardly. And around every corner we were greeted with new sights, sounds and smells, and friendly happy folks everywhere.

Off to Ayutthaya next, the once mighty capital of the Thai empire, now a big set of ruins. I had planned to go straight for my own jugular and overdose on temples, and it almost worked. But again it was so easy to fall off the tourist trail. I rented a bike and set off into the countryside, knowing only ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’. But the people here are exceedingly nice and they will do everything to help you out. In return they will come up to you and ask you about everything and anything. I had an old man poke my belly and tell me I was fat, which was very nice of him. I had five buses full of school kids storm out to say hello and shake my hand. It’s something I’m still trying to get comfortable with, but it’s heartwarming.

I’d found out that near Ayutthaya was a town populated by a large group of monkeys, so of course I had to go see that. And they were indeed all over the place, mostly on the temple grounds but also in the town itself. They clamber across powerlines and hang out on shopfront overhangs. Unfortunately they do a lot of damage, so the local shopowners consider them pests and try to shoo them away. They use a large homemade whip (basically a long stick with a tough rope attached) to swing at the monkeys who are sitting just out of reach. I offered my help, and I’m quite a bit taller than the average Thai, so my reach with the whip was also greater than the monkeys were expecting. I didn’t hit them (of course), just sent them loudly scampering every which way.

Now I’m in Chang Mai, in a cafe where they play acoustic covers of modern pop songs. In the last half hour I’ve heard soft, smooth renditions of Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Rihanna. I’m completely stuffed because I’ve spent the whole day at a cooking class learning to cook my own Thai food. Tomorrow I head further northwest, towards the border with Burma, where I’ll be riding elephants and perhaps doing a hike with a detour through Burma.

So everything is wonderful and amazing and incredible: have I turned into a wishy-washy hippie type? Oh no. You can rest assured knowing that every time I see some dreadlocked dude with a tribal tattoo on his shoulder attempt a Buddhist prayer, I chuckle loudly and derisively. And I glare at every old white guy as if he’s a potential sex offender.

Here are some photos!

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