Most of us have our perceptions of what each of these areas of Thailand are about. But with an open mind you might just see something different.
After 21 hours of flying from L.A., I was instantly awoken by the humidity, the chatter of the Thai language and busyness of Bangkok, even though it was 2 a.m.
Still jet lagged, I decided my first adventure was a bike ride through the unseen parts of Bangkok along with a long boat ride through the river ways.
Along with visiting the usual interests, the beautiful temples and great shopping markets, I like to step out of what is comfortable, to embrace the culture as much as possible. This can be challenging at times, but with some research and talking to locals, you can learn other ways to experience different cultures.
I found the Thai people to be very welcoming and a gentle culture.
Starting in Bangkok, I got on my mountain bike following my guide, who is obviously used to the crazy traffic, the narrow alley ways where chances are you will find one of many obstacles coming at you from scooters, young children, cats, dogs, elderly cooking or peoples belongings just being placed on the narrow pathways.
Families live in very small concrete or correlated iron shacks where they cook, eat, bath, and socialize on the pathways that are maybe 18 inches wide.
The smell of the sometimes rancid fish and chicken that they have sitting outside makes your stomach churn to the fact they live in such small and crammed spaces, and left me feeling a little overwhelmed and wondering why I chose to come to Thailand.
I also got to see the passion and dedication that the people have for their faith, for their families and for their country. You can see how Europe not recognizing Thailand as a country affects these people, along with the influence the Chinese and Indian cultures have had on these people from their customs to the stories they tell.
You can see the struggle for these people to earn enough money with the minimum daily wage of $10 per day.
Then there is the food.
There are many American style restaurants, but I chose to eat Thai while I am here.
It was difficult to embrace it for breakfast, as typically it consisted of rice and vegetables in a soup, or rice porridge. Mmmm–some French toast was very tempting. However I did not indulge in the deep fried scorpions or crickets. Or the roasted rats that come from the rice fields.
I also used public transportation as much as possible, which meant, boat taxis and skyway train system. I was limited a little due to the protests. It stretched me with the language barrier at times but it felt great when I had figured it all out. People were very helpful and often went out of their way to help.
So why look beyond the obvious tourist spots?
Because to me I learn more about life and myself by understanding others. It is easy to become cultural-centric; however by exploring how others live helps us truly see our own way of living and if it works for us.
When we have nothing to reflect our lives off of, we tend to live with limited options of how to be in the world, often leaving us living without consciousness of our own bias, which can limit our thinking about how to be in the world.
So what have I learned from my visit to Thailand so far?
Firstly, I so appreciate where I live and what I have, and how easy it is to access my needs. We are very fortunate to have the basics of running water, a washing machine, food–quality food. Second, I am going to waste less. Thai people waste very little; pretty much everything gets used and reused.
Finally, I want to understand and have the same passion and dedication for what is important in life to me. We so easily get distracted or make excuses for not staying true to our priorities, but I did not see that here in Bangkok. People are committed to their families, to their faith, to their jobs, and it is not simple for them. They often work long hours, have large families and limited financial resources, yet they make time and use their finances to support what is important. What are you committed to and how are you going to stay committed?
There is a quote that says by getting lost we learn who we are. I believe this is true when we travel, but not just by getting in a bus and taking photos, but truly being open to experiencing another’s culture, understanding their history, we learn who we are.
I embrace the uncomfortable from having a large python round my neck, to having monkeys jump on me, to eating foods that make me cringe (fried silk worms), to trying Thai dancing, along with trying to bridge the language barrier by talking to the people about their lives.
What did I learn, or should I say, affirm what I already knew but can always be reiterated?
It is not the things in life that matter but your experiences on a day to day basis, holding true to your values, your family and your faith.
That is happiness. That is what is important.
In my next column I will share my adventures from Chiang Mai and my continuing desire to learn.