Wednesday, June 13, 2012

7 Travel Tips for Thailand: Summer

Photo Credit: Creative Commons Thai Soup
Photo Credit: Goya Brand Sugarcane Juice
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Thailand Travel

Have you wondered what you'd tell your teenage self if you could time travel?

These are the 7 travel tips for Thailand that I'd share with my 1995 self:

1. Don't be embarrassed.

2. Don't try too hard.

3. Make bug bite prevention a priority.

4.Carry mace if permitted.

5. Pack hand sanitizer.

6. Don't feel guilty dining away from the group.

7. Create food memories.

Hi SmartyGirl of 1995,

You are embarking on an awesome hiking and culture trip to Thailand.

Photo Credit: Open Cage Pad Thai
Here are some of the good things:

  • Food photography that you do with your SLR camera won't be considered weird in 17 years. In fact, there will such things as food and travel blogs where digital photos will be displayed
  • In 17 years, you will be even more fit that you are now and you will do 5 hour-plus hikes with your husband. Though the 5 hour hike may feel like a trek of death, know that you will be even stronger later in life. You'll even take up year-round swimming to improve your cardio for such hikes.
Your Thailand journal will include:
The two blankets smell stale. I slept all night with the sleeping bag over my head to avoid what the Australians call the "mozzies". They mean mosquitoes. I saw a tree burning. This dry part of the hike with red dust used to be a rainforest. It's a trek to the death. Still 5 more hours to the Karen hilltribe village. We smell because we ate fish, onion and tomato on bread, a lunch made by our guide named Sing. 
  • You are training your "explorer eyes" in Thailand. You will use this same perspective to travel within your home, the United States, and gain a deeper appreciation of New Orleans. The New Orleans that you know will be greatly changed so when you are there relish every bit of your stay.
  • Travel journals that you keep will be useful to you for the rest of your life. Be free. Don't censor yourself and capture what you think and feel. The details you write will trigger vivid, useful life lessons for adulthood.
Here are some notes in your travel diary:
..back in room 305.  A couple of ants don't bother me much. And the lizard's so little that as long as it doesn't crawl in my stuff I'm fine. Went down to Songkran Road and bought groceries to tide me over. I settled on crackers and soymilk. I paid 30 Baht instead of 60 Baht. So soymilk is about $1.23. Crackers were $1.80. I ate crackers without cheese because cheese was way too expensive. On a different night, I ate delicious fruit salad with banana slices with seeds that looked as large as peppercorns. Had some Pad Thai with veggies again. 

Here are the things that will challenge you:

  • You may feel self-conscious having fountains of nosebleeds during the hike. Don't be scared. This is normal considering the physical strain of the hikes in hot weather. Don't mind the laughter. Laugh with your hiking group as you walk with tissue plugs in your nostrils to stop the bleeding. You'll also learn how to stop a bloody nose. 
You will write a journal entry that includes: ..I almost choke myself on my own blood. I splutter and turn my head to keep from dying while Fiona talks about a map and a place I can't see. 

  • You may feel uncomfortable being called the non-white farang or foreigner. You will be met with incredulous looks when you answer that you are an American and you are not a Korean national. However, think of the advantages that you'll experience because you blend with the native population. You'll see and hear things that the obvious tourists won't experience.
  • Don't feel pressured to accept every invitation with the people in your tour group. Don't feel guilty about saying "no" to some invites to dine alone to process all the stimuli you've witnessed during the day. This is a good opportunity to journal.
  • Oftentimes, scary men will approach you. Some will mistake you for a sex worker because you are travelling without a male companion as a single gal. Use your voice and facial expressions to enforce your "no". The scissors that you carry in your pocket, for self defense, will not be as effective as your confident voice. Because of this trip, you will care about the victims of human trafficking. Back in the United States, you will live in cities where it will be wise to carry mace on jogs, when you are on a Girls' Night Out and to and from your parking garage at work. By that time you'll also be a green belt in Krav Maga self-defense. 
Photo Credit: BabaSteve Flicker Thailand Hilltribe

Your travel diary will include this: ..I think the moustached letch propositioned me. For 200 Baht. Hey! At first I didn't get what he meant. The friend that he was with smacked him upside the head when I showed my annoyance. Did he think to try it with me because I was the only non-white farang in the group. Probably. Rude and crude joke. 

This is how the trip might change you:

  • You will set out on this trip to Thailand as part of your anthropology college studies to experience field work living with two hilltribes. However, uou'll discover that the city violence will not spare the countryside. Don't be overly heartbroken when you see on CNN that hilltribe girls will be kidnapped to work in the sex trade by armed men from the city. All is not lost. You will meet nonprofits and friends in the state that help these children. You may be saddened by the world but don't lost hope. 
  • Don't feel bad about switching your focus to your college English journalism classes. You will become an English major and teach underserved youth for 6 years in social work nonprofits and in the ESL classroom. This will appeal to your sense of adventure though you will sacrifice income for this cause. What you witnessed at the hilltribe school of a teacher with only a fifth-grade education will stay with you forever. 
  • On a lighter note, you will crave the following foods every summer because of your Thailand trip: nutty sesame seed crepes cooked over a campfire, large pink slices of sweet-yet-bitter Thailand papayas, cilantro chicken with lemongrass, and sugar cane water box drinks. The photo above is from Open Cage Creative Commons "Thailand lunch"
I haven't traveled to Thailand for over a decade but every summer, I make sure to eat Thai food that triggers my travel memories. You can find a decent recipe for Green Papaya Salad through Unfortunately, I have been searching for 17 years and I haven't found Pad Thai close to what I ate in Thailand. 

Thankfully, Vietnamese cuisine is available in California and its flavors come close. I've discovered that some Vietnamese restaurant food tastes closer to authentic Thai food than orders at American Thai restaurants. Share your summer travel story by adding your comment below.