สวัสดี! (That’s how you say hello in Thai.) It’s been a few weeks since I came home from my long-awaited trip to Thailand, which is just the right amount of time to let my thoughts and feelings percolate in my head.
I spent two weeks in the country with my friend Sonia, who is half-Thai and has a large family in Thailand. We stayed with Sonia’s aunt, who lives in Bangkok’s suburbs. This was the perfect recipe for me to really soak in the culture and have an incredible experience.
My trip exceeded my expectations in every way, and I’m excited to tell you all about it.
What I Saw
We spent most of our time exploring Bangkok and the rural areas, taking mini-trips by car or train to see other parts of southern Thailand. This gave me the opportunity to window sightsee – we drove past rice paddies, coconut farms and groves of rubber trees. The whole time I found myself saying out loud, “Look at this!”
One of my favorite parts of the trip was a two-day drive to Phuket, which has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The ocean was amazing, and despite the humidity I loved the weather. For about $30 U.S. dollars, we flew back to Bangkok. The dollar is really strong there ($1 U.S. dollar is about 35 baht), so everything was very cheap.
On the last day I was there, we traveled to Ayutthaya to visit beautiful and ornate Buddhist temples. Most of the country’s population identifies as Buddhist, and the influence is strong. There’s so much to experience in the beautiful country, and I didn’t get to see everything.
What I Ate
I quickly learned how to say ผม กินเจ or “Pom gin jay,” which means “I eat vegan” in Thai. Thailand is very vegan-friendly: I didn’t have any issues ordering in restaurants and finding wonderful things to eat.
Every morning, I would have watermelon, pineapple, papaya, jackfruit and custard apples for breakfast. I ate a lot of vegetables and sticky rice, and learned how to eat it the Thai way. You take the rice, lump it up and use it as a dipping stick in the sauces left on your plate.
The most surprising thing I ate was the notorious durian fruit. It’s a really musky, stinky fruit, and a lot of hotels won’t let tourists bring it inside. But trust me, it tastes better than it smells. When I ate it, my palate was firing on all cylinders. It took awhile for my brain to figure out all of the rich flavors, but I ended up liking it.
What I Learned
If I had stayed another month, I’m sure I would have become fluent in Thai. With the help of a few language books and being immersed in a Thai family’s home, I picked up the language fast. Now when I go to Thai restaurants at home, I can order in Thai.
I also became very aware of cultural practices. You don’t eat off of stacked plates, because it’s meant for the dead. You only use chopsticks for noodles, and instead use a fork to push other food onto a spoon. When you’re done with a meal, you leave your fork and spoon face up next to each other on your clean plate. Pretty interesting, huh?
Accessibility to fresh food is also really important to the Thai people, which I totally appreciated. We visited a place in Bangkok called Future Park, which is five-story shopping mall. One of the floors hosts an organic market, which was really cool.
My biggest takeaway from this trip was embracing the Thai way of life. People were very friendly to me, and I took every moment I could to observe and listen.
Thai culture is much more relaxed. They’re still productive – I saw people working out in the fields and building roads – but they have a fuller passion for life.
What I Discovered about Thai Farming
Whether it was someone’s home garden or acres of banana trees, I noticed that much of the work was hand-done in a very traditional way of farming. It’s also very diverse: In Thailand, you can find hundreds of different crops in a tiny space. They also grow vetiver grass along the borders, which helps to break up soil and make it healthy.
Everything feels natural and open. Thai people seem more connected to the earth, and that really resonated with me.
One thing I want to incorporate into my own garden at home is a spirit house. The Buddhist people believe that there are spirits who live in the land no matter who owns it, and they honor them every day by burning incense or candles near a small shrine.
I already know that I want to go back to Thailand soon, and I could definitely see myself living there. I want to explore the northern parts of the country and see the elephants. In the meantime, I’ll try to incorporate as much of the culture as I can into my everyday life.
แล้วพบกันใหม่! (See you later!)