Breaking down the basics

Now Playing: “Leaving it up to You” -George Ezra

In between my posts with stories and photos of adventures, I want to talk about some logistics and interesting things I’ve learned after being in Thailand for just about 2 months. I’ll post these updates from time to time.

Food

  • I start with food because it’s my favorite thing and the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make, personally. Thai food is great! I never ate much until I came here, but I love it now.
  • Thai food uses variations of their staples: noodles, chicken, fish, curry, and rice.
  • Most Thai food is cooked with red chili peppers and other spices that are way too spicy for me. “Pet mai = Is it spicy?” and “Mei pet” = not spicy. By now, I know the smells or spot the chilis and know when to steer clear, because even “pet nit noy” = a little spice is usually too hot for me. I’ve spent many meals with tears in my eyes, my nasal passages opening up, and coughing embarrassingly over a small amount of spice. But I hope I’m increasing my palette!
  • Majority of Thais eat out because food is so readily available everywhere you go. There are vendors, markets, and little stands lining the streets with hot food, bags of noodles and soups, meat on sticks, and packaged produce. It’s simply more convenient than having a full kitchen and keeping the bugs out! And it’s cheap. In NY I associate eating out with spending money or getting something unhealthy, but it’s very different here. I eat out or get takeaway almost every meal, but I can get grilled chicken, noodles, salad, fried rice, raw vegetables and fruits, and even sushi on my walk home from school.
  • There are a lot more American chains here than I expected. KFC, Burger King, Subway, and McDonalds are not usually hard to find. Seven Eleven has many products like Lays chips and Nestle chocolates. They also have some prepared food when we are super desperate like these sandwich melts they heat up called TOASTIES! They are cheap and absolute lifesavers if things are closed due to rain or the time of day.
  • My friends who are vegan and vegetarian have had not too many problems finding food. Sometimes tofu is unavailable, but with vegetables, noodles, and rice, there is always something! And if you clearly communicate that you are vegetarian (“jay”), they usually understand.
  • IMG_3487Favorite meal of right now: Pad Khapow Gui + Kai Dow – Fried Basil Chicken with Fried Egg (mai pet, of course)
  • Drinks:
    • Chang beer is great – unregulated alcohol content though can really catch up to you. Leo and Singha are even better!
    • You cannot drink water from the tap so be sure to buy bottled water or fill up at the reverse osmosis water dispenser machines on most streets. Super cheap and handy!
    • Wine is not very common and is therefore expensive. Pinot Grigio is scarce! 😦

Medicine

  • There are amazing pharmacies everywhere! They are organized, plentiful, and helpful, especially since the pharmacists speak English. Prices are better than the US and they have very strong medicine here. Things you may want to bring from home:
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Tissue packs
    • Tums – hard to find the equivalent
    • Umbrella – hard to find / overpriced / need it a lot!
    • Large band-aids!
      • It was very hard to find anything that fit over an enormous gash I got on my leg. I had to buy gauze (only one pharmacy even had those) and adhesive and an ace bandage to cover it. They only have small “plasters” here! 😦
    • Anti-diarrhea –  hope you won’t need it but good to have on hand!
  • Seven Eleven is ALL OVER the place. I had no idea it was like this here. There are some blocks with two, even. They’re more popular than Starbucks in NYC. Seriously, it’s mind-blowing. They offer a small section of first aid and medicine, usually enough to hold you over if the pharmacy is closed. Then of course they have snacks, water, phone data plans, and toiletries.

Climate

  • Hot. Just hot, hot, and hotter. I am here during hot season and rainy season so I can’t say it’s not what I expected. But wow, it’s warm, all of the time. Very humid as well, as to be expected.
  • Bring an umbrella or poncho, rain shoes, and sunglasses; sunscreen and bug spray are easy to find here, but you could bring some too.
  • Mosquitos are everywhere, but they aren’t dangerous inland. You can talk to your doctor about malaria pills if you are traveling to certain islands or coastal regions, but generally it seems to be of low concern. Some hostels in those areas provide mosquito nets.

Safety

  • I have felt extremely safe throughout my entire stay so far, whether in Bangkok, Koh Chang, or Ayutthaya. I am still taking the usual precautions and being mindful of my belongings, but I am not as nervous as I was before coming.
  • Thais are culturally respectful people so as long as I am acting appropriately, dressed respectfully, and using my best manners (I try to only speak Thai when possible!), they are extremely welcoming and kind to me. Our neighborhood knows we are the teachers and are happy to see us, feed us, or greet us. I feel very safe in my town and in my apartment. Way more than NYC!

Technology

  • Wifi: I learned this in Turkey, but the US is extremely spoiled when it comes to wifi. We are whiny brats with coverage and speed. Honestly, I get very frustrated when the wifi is unavailable when I “need it” (i.e. when I’ve planned a FaceTime call or need to do something for work or just want to stream Netflix). I am trying to let this slide off my back because the signal usually goes out a few times a day, wherever you are, and coverage can be spotty to begin with.
  • Phones: My phone data plan, on the other hand, is amazing! I have a cheap package ($12/mo) through the True network that gets me 4GB at 4G speeds, and then 3G speeds after that until the month’s cycle expires. Essentially, it’s an unlimited package! I can also use my phone as a hotspot, so my laptop and iPad can connect to the network if I absolute need to connect on those devices.
    • Caveat: I bought a Thai SIM card because my phone was unlocked. Be sure to check if yours is unlocked if you need to do this. Otherwise, you may want to purchase an international roaming plan through your US network to avoid buying a Thai flip phone.

Transportation

  • Oof. Getting around here is a bit tough and probably the biggest deterrent for people who are hesitant to travel. I really don’t LOVE traveling in a small capacity anywhere in the world (Australia – tiny, uncomfortable, rough riding mini buses for hours on end, Turkey – hot, smelly, kinda scary vans that I wasn’t sure of the destination, NYC – never being able to rely on a subway or bus…ever). Essentially there IS accessibility to get anywhere you need to go “easily” but not necessarily “simply.”
  • Vans, buses, and trains don’t always stick to schedule and some don’t have a schedule. Or they do, but they don’t communicate it. And they make a lot of random stops so you really have to pay attention to where you need to go.
  • Most of the time we take vans that are very inexpensive (about $2) to go 60-90 mins into Bangkok. However, finding the right bus terminal, communicating the destination, and knowing where you’ll be dropped is not always easy. Now that we know the route from our town to BKK, it seems super simple. But as we plan to go to many places that are not familiar, we know there will be some anxiety.
  • Metered taxis are very affordable, just make sure to insist that the meter runs, because when they offer a flat-rate, they are usually ripping you off.
  • Tuk tuks (small wheeled carts) can be expensive but handy for shorter distances or a fun ride! You get fresh air and they can sometimes wiggle around cars.
  • Motorbikes are definitely the way to travel when you’re on your own! They aren’t much more expensive than a taxi and they can weave around traffic! Just hang on and enjoy the ride.
  • Song-taews (modified truck taxis) are great for getting around outside of cities. They are usually shared and you can hail them and jump on, then buzz when you need to get off. Caveat: Hard to tell what route they are taking! If you have a big group, you might be able to ask your accommodations to call for one.
  • Lesson: Stay calm. Be extremely patient. Know where you are going and make sure someone understands you before you pay. Ask how much before you get on. If it seems shady or expensive, it probably is. You will be fine and get to where you’re going, but it may not be at the pace you want.

Money

  • The system of money here is a bit hard for me to get my head around. They use Thai Baht in increments of 1, 2, 5, 10 (coins), 20, 50, and 100 (bills) – seems normal so far – and then 500 and 1000 (bills! whaaat?). There is also a satang, which is 1/100 of a baht, and those coins are in 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50, but I literally never encounter that.
  • 100 THB = $2.93, 1000 THB = $29.34
  • Most meals at a restaurant cost 100 baht or less. A filling meal at the market can be between 30-50 baht.
  • Toiletries and medicine are less expensive than home! A huge bottle of L’Oreal shampoo was under $6, which I would put at about $12-14 in the US.
  • Travel is generally inexpensive. A 40 minute metered taxi is usually under 100 baht. The average BTS (above-ground rail) swipe is 42 baht, depending on how far you’re traveling. There are vans available to go from city to city, usually 50-100 baht.
  • For bigger costs like rent, electronics, a bunch of clothing, using your 1000 THB bill is common. Just crazy to me because I am stuck on thinking one thousand is so much!preview-2

Cultural Differences

  • Attire: Like I’ve said over and over, Thais are very respectful and what we would call “conservative” people. They do not allow public affection, outwardly expressing anger or confrontation, laughing or speaking loudly to draw attention, or exposing your shoulder and knees (unless you are on an island or big city).
  • Respect: The head is the highest part of your body and most respected, so you are not supposed to touch people on their heads. Whereas the foot is the dirtiest part of the body, so you should not step on things, slide things, or point to things using your foot. You should especially not step on money, which has the king’s face on it, which is a big offense. Shoes are removed in some establishments, but so far I’ve seen only about 30% of places doing that.
  • IMG_3259Sanitation: Bathrooms are another huge adjustment for me. Asian toilets are low to the group, so you stand and squat over them. You then use a hose (we call it a “bum gun”) to clean off and scoop water from the bucket in the toilet to flush. There is no toilet paper or handsoap. AH! My nightmare. I carry a little pack of tissue and hand sanitizer (which was hard to find but I tracked it down!!!). Handsoap is generally hard to find too, though they do have liquid body wash or bars of soap. Also, garbage cans are randomly hard to find when you’re out in public, so get ready to hold your trash for a bit.
  • Attitude: Thais are very laid back and do not have any sense of urgency. You may wait a long time for a server to take your order or deliver the check, you may wait a long time for your van to fill before it leaves, you may ask a driver to wait but he takes off because he sees someone else, they just kind of do what they please in each moment and let the bad or frustrating things roll off their back. It is a HUGE adjustment for this type-A New Yorker, but it has been inspiring to witness. I have to take deep breaths and remember things are not as big a deal as I am usually making it, and life is not meant to be rushed through! Their saying “mai ben rai” is their form of “no worries!”

Speaking Thai

  • I love speaking Thai! The structure makes sense to me and it is essentially simpler than English and even Latin and Turkish. I’ve picked up the language faster than any other that I’ve attempted, and feel confident in most greetings and conversation! It is still a struggle to get the enunciation and inflection just right, but I enjoy practicing and they usually enjoy it too.
  • Thais have many words that sound the same to me but mean different thing based on tone and inflection. That is the hard part! It’s incredible that “near” and “far” are essentially both “gao” (which also means desk and the number nine) but pronounced differently.
  • Instead of using “please,” a suffix can be added to anything you say for it to be polite and well-manner. Females add “ka” to the end of their sentence and males add “krup.” It’s remarkable! So hello is “Sawadee” but I say “Sawadee ka” Sometimes “ka” and “krup” can be used alone as a casual “ok” / “yep” kind of thing. “Sawadee” is also used like aloha, meaning hello and goodbye!

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Time Zone

  • Thailand’s time zone is called ITC, which is UTC/GMT +07:00
  • Thailand is 11 hours ahead of EST, 14 hours ahead of PST, and 6 hours ahead of BST
  • This is my usual World Clock on my phone to figure out who I can communicate with and when!

Hope you found this post informative and maybe somewhat enjoyable! I will keep sponging things up over here and share the fun facts!

Sawadee ka!

 

 

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