“Are you going back to Thailand again? When are you leaving? What is it that draws you there?”
These are the three questions I can expect to be asked this time every year as I ready for my big trip over to Thailand. As most of you probably know my answer to the first one is an unequivocal “Yes, I am going back again.” In reply to the second question, I am leaving on December 9th from the Robert L. Stanfield Airport just outside Halifax arriving in Bangkok on the 11th causing me to lose a day. This will be my eighth visit. When I mention this, many then throw out the third question of WHY I would choose to go to the same country for eight years in a row?
The first time I was asked why I keep going back (my first trip was in 2008), I really had to give some serious thought to my answer, coming up with a few obvious reasons such as the warm climate, the Eastern culture, and the friendly people. Over the years my reasons have multiplied so the aim of this post is to help you understand what calls me back each year to this still beautiful and exotic country.
TO ESCAPE WINTER
This is undoubtedly a top priority for me and Thailand offers this in spades. Our winter months coincide with their dry season which is invariably sunny and hot. December and January are the most comfortable months. After that it starts to heat up and can be quite humid as its near the equator. However, I will take this any day over howling winds, sleet and snow which have become a steady diet in Victoria Beach in Nova Scotia. To give you an idea of just how important this is to me, this trip will be the second time I am going solo leaving “hubby” in Florence to shiver in the raw cold that it offers in winter. No thanks! I have been there twice and loved the city but could never imagine spending a winter there.
It was probably after our first whirlwind trip in 2008 when we were on our way home that I knew without a doubt that I would return again and the next time would be longer. The gentle smiles of the Thai people with their genuine greeting of ‘Sa wa dee ka’ accompanied with a wei ( a forward bow of the head with hands together) did it for me. I sometimes wonder where they get all their patience especially with us tourists who are coming in droves often failing to leave a positive impression. We live by the clock over here in our Western world and the Thai don’t. They also don’t understand why we let little things like being overcharged for a tuk -tuk ride get us so angry. The Thai are usually more than happy to help us out if we run into any difficulty, and the ones we have met are honest to the nth degree. Hubby has left his wallet, camera, and glasses at various places over the years and never once did he not get them back.
THE THAI CULTURE
About 95% of the Thai population practices the Theravada form of Buddhism. Unlike all other religions, it does not emphasize how or what we must believe but more on how we can better ourselves in this life by carrying out positive actions in the way of the Buddha. The wats or temples are open all the time and everyone is welcome so unlike our churches which are for the most part only open on Sundays. Buddhism is a way of life practiced every day not just on Sunday. Since time is not the high priority it is in our society, to visitors it appears the country is in a perpetual state of organized chaos which somehow to our utter surprise seems to work. The Thai take things in their stride and simply laugh at those visitors who get upset over things that don’t work out according to their agendas or code of perfection. Needless to say this laid back attitude does wonders for my stress level. This along with the sun improves my well-being considerably.
EASE OF LIVING
Thailand is now considered by the modern-day standards of our world as a developed country making it a relatively peaceful and welcoming country to outsiders. It’s probably the only country in the world that can claim a succession of military coups over the past 20 years which have been mostly peaceful. The two largest cities, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, are now world-class and have all the amenities of the Western world. There is poverty and there is great wealth, but there is also a growing middle class. All of this along with the multitude of gorgeous beaches make this an easy place for ex-pats to live there and for visitors to hang out. People always ask me if I feel safe there. My reply is that I feel safer there than I do at home.
COST OF LIVING
Most people are really surprised when I tell them that I can live cheaper there than I ever could in Nova Scotia. This is especially true in the winter time. I don’t have to heat my home or feed fuel to my car. In addition, my food, accommodation, and transportation are all cheaper than here. I usually rent a fair-sized room with a fridge, TV, and air-conditioner for about $275 a month. It’s much cheaper to eat out than in so I have no cooking to worry about. I get my room cleaned and sheets changed once a week. What more could I ask for? It’s really an extended holiday since I can do all those things such as reading and writing that I never can find enough time for when I am at home.
Thailand is quickly becoming a mecca for those people who seek expert and inexpensive dental and medical services. I have been taking advantage of their dental services every year having had crowns, gum surgery and expert cleaning done to keep my teeth healthy. This time round I am scheduled to have two crowns put in probably to the tune of $500 at most. The last crown I had done several years ago cost me about $200. Here in Annapolis Royal I would have to pay about $1200 per crown. I have never had any medical work done but for my friends who have, they all report having a very positive experience and are highly impressed with the quality of service. It’s not surprising that Thailand is being noted as a good country to go to for a medical holiday.
MARKETS AND SHOPPING
Over the years I have noticed a marked increase in the number of markets available now in practically every town of fair size. Chiang Mai where I hang out for most of my time is a shoppers haven for not just craft markets but for those who have money to spend and are looking for world-class shopping. In the past two years, three new classy malls have opened up, and it’s not just tourists who frequent these malls with their upscale shops and cafes but more and more Thai, especially the youth. The Thai people love to shop as hubby and I witnessed last Christmas while in Bangkok.
ACCESS TO OTHER SE ASIAN COUNTRIES
The Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok is now rated one of the busiest in Asia and the 16th busiest in the world. It is the main link to all other Southeast Asian cities. Because Bangkok is a large cosmopolitan city rivalling all other SE Asian cities, it has become the favoured jumping off point for tourists to other parts of Asia. I think many tourists would agree with me that returning to Thailand after a jaunt to any of the other Asian countries is somewhat akin to returning home. Is it the people who inhabit this country today or the long history of a strong and independent race who have never been under the rule of some foreign power that makes this place a safe haven for all the adventurous souls who roam the world? Who really knows but I’m game to bet that most travellers feel the same way as I do.
RE-UNITING WITH OLD FRIENDS
Over the years I have made friends with other travellers who go to Thailand again and again for many of the same reasons as I do. We may skip a year or two but we all manage to somehow meet up again and share past travel experiences and discuss all the advantages of the kind of lifestyle we have adopted over the years. We aren’t exactly ex-pats because we don’t live there year round but we are becoming close to it. Chiang Mai has probably one of the largest and most active expat societies in the world composed of many people from the US, Britain, Canada, and other European countries. It started off with mostly older retired couples and singles looking for a warm country which isn’t too expensive to live in, but more and more I am discovering many young people who have decided they don’t want to be a part of the ‘rat race’ or simply haven’t been able to find appropriate work in their own country so have chosen to become what is commonly known now a ‘digital nomads’. They are working their way around the world and like the older folk are discovering that Chiang Mai is a nice place to settle for a while.
In just twelve hours I will be heading out for my long journey over to Thailand for my eighth time. I will arrive in the early morning of the 11th after approximately 30 hours of flying time with breaks in Toronto and Amsterdam. It’s too much time in the air, but I always try to make the best of it with the latest movies, reading, and some sleep if I’m lucky. I usually manage to beat any serious jet lag by taking a homeopathic remedy called “No More Jet Lag” which doesn’t help me sleep while on the plane but does eliminate all the side effects of flying long distances, such as fatigue, sleep disorders, and general discomfort. I am usually back to normal after a day or two and ready to enjoy what is becoming a second home for me. I no longer can imagine spending a winter here in Nova Scotia so long as I have the choice to go to some place like Thailand.