Thailand is 13 hours ahead of us. When you travel there, however, you go west. The way I traveled, this means that I first backed up my watch 6 hours, then all of sudden it was the next day (forward 24 hours), and then I backed it up 5 more hours.
This is quite complicated to think about, so instead, I just pretended that I actually traveled east and went forward 13 hours. When I arrived, luckily it was evening and I could just go to bed. From the time I left my door at home to the time I reached the door of my first stay in Thailand (which was my first stop) took about 30-32 hours.
I landed at the Chiang Mai International airport, and the first thing I did was go to a cash machine and get myself some Thai Baht. Ten thousand Baht will take you a long way. The exchange rate when I went was about 30 Thai Baht = 1 USD. So, we took out about $333 in US dollars.
A decent hotel costs 1000-1500 Thai Baht, which is in the $33-50 range. To send a postcard to the US costs 15 Baht, or about $0.50. For two people to get to the airport via Tuk-Tuk cost 100 Baht, which was about $3. It seemed that the cheaper something was the closer it was to what I would expect to pay. As things got more expensive, they didn’t seem to get expensive fast enough.
Important Thai Phrases and Gestures
My first stay was in the old city of Chiang Mai which is surrounded by a square moat. I stayed at a hotel called The Postcard. Before I arrived, I read up on several cultural things that I needed to know.
To say hello, you say “Sah-Wan-Dee” followed by an ending phrase that depended on your gender. If you were female, you finished with “Khaa” and if you were male you finished with “Khrap” where the “r” is nearly silent.
To say thank you, you begin with “Khap-Khun” followed by the same gender ending described above.
Both of these were usually coupled with placing both hands together (without holding anything) and bowing your head toward your hands slightly. Not necessary to know, this gesture is called the wai.
Shoes are taken off everywhere. If I had not known this when I got to the Postcard, I would have been OK since there was a sign that reminded me.
My personal favorite phrase was Mai Pen Rai, which is something you could say when someone bumps into you or something of that nature. It loosely means “no big deal” or “no worries.” Later, my tour guide let me know that this is more of a southern phrase and that Bo Pen Nyang was more locally acceptable (I was in the north). So, both became part of my vocabulary.
When eating, I was surprised to find out that chopsticks were not used that much (only for some noodle dishes). A fork is put on your left and a spoon on your right. You use the fork to move all of the food onto the spoon, and then eat from the spoon.
The left hand is considered “dirty”. So don’t eat with the left hand. When people give stuff to each other in Thailand, especially during an exchange of money for goods, I noticed that the item was placed in the right hand and the left hand would sometimes touch the elbow pit of the right arm just to signify that this dirty thing is way out of the way and has nothing to do with this transaction.
There were a surprising number of western toilets in Thailand (the ones you sit on). However, the plumbing there does not allow for the flushing of toilet paper (minus a few western resorts and other modern places catering to tourists). If toilet paper is an option, then there will be a trash can right next to the toilet where you dispose of your used toilet paper.
When toilet paper is not an option, there is a spray nozzle almost identical to the ones that you pull out of many kitchen sinks to rinse dishes. Except you’re rinsing… well, you know.
Every now and again (especially if you’re on a bicycle tour and a distance from big urban areas), you encounter the squat toilet. In this type of bathroom, you can expect a large tub of water with a dip bucket inside. Next to the squat toilet is the spray nozzle. Once your business is done, you dip the bucket in the tub of water and wash down whatever mess you made. Definitely no toilet paper.
One of the first things that I was introduced to was amazing. It is called Khao Lam and the process of making it is quite complicated. Bamboo is packed with a mixture of sticky rice, coconut milk, black beans, sugar, and salt. It is then roasted on a fire and corked. When purchased, a couple people shave off the skin of the bamboo and you take your bundle. When you were ready to eat, you peel the bamboo away similar to a banana and gorge on deliciousness.
Some fruits that were readily available at the market were Rambutan, Dragon fruit, bananas (right off the tree), green mango (interesting!), orange mango, mini pineapples, and coconuts. I was able to try all of these. The bananas were not like the ones purchased in the states. You can’t break an individual one off to take with you on a hike for instance. Once you break it off the bunch, you need to eat it since the flesh will get exposed.
In every village, and in the case of a city, in every district, you will find a Wat. A Wat is a Buddhist temple. These are usually where we would break from cycling, and have some food, get blessed, have a tinkle, and be on our way. They were beautiful. Here are a couple that I stopped at. I’ve included one of our amazing tour guide with a few monks that gave us a blessing.
At the very end of our trip, we toured the largest and most elaborate Wat of them all: The White Temple in Chiang Rai. This was created by the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat and is crazy cool. Here are a few pictures of the White Temple and the surrounding grounds.