I’m sure you’re aware that Thailand is an exceptionally beautiful country with a wealth of natural wonders, mouth-watering cuisine that you’ll long to replicate and a people so quick to open their hearts and make you feel at home. There are deep jungles to explore, tropical islands to escape to and waterfalls to swim in. It is only once you’ve lived here for a little longer than two weeks that you’ll discover the side of Thailand that no one told you about and wasn’t advertised in your dreamy brochure. Living or holidaying here is idyllic but here are a few things no one may have have told you…
1. Toilets cannot flush toilet paper.
While this may seem like an obvious function of a toilet, toilets and their pipes cannot handle toilet paper. Restaurants and public toilets all have signs pleading with you to throw it in the open bin instead. I’ve been reprimanded by an old Thai woman manning the toilets at a gas station for not bringing my used toilet paper out with me and throwing it in the shared bin beside the sink. Even if I had known, I would still choose her wrath over the unhygienic act. If you try defy this rule and flush it down, know that your toilet will need regular plunging.
A friendly reminder in the toilet of our favourite coffee shop.
2. It is not as cheap as you think.
Ok, if you’re coming here with the power of 90 baht to the pound, life is going to be easy on you. Prices will differ depending on your location; inland Thailand will be way kinder on your wallet than say Koh Samui where I live. Whilst there is a lot of cheap Thai food (60 baht) up for grabs, you have to be willing to share the outdoors with mosquitoes in the make-shift wooden restaurants. If you move indoors to a place with air-conditioner, prices increase greatly ( 200 baht- 2000 baht per meal) and become so expensive if you live here. One visit to the doctor has set me back 3000 baht for a shot and tablets. Visa runs every 90 days ( at least) will set you back 1100 baht (tourist visa) plus 1900 baht to extend it by 30 days. If you leave the country you’ll need to pay for transport,accommodation plus the tourist visa. If you want to live and work here, the non-B visa will set you back 2000 baht ( single entry) and 5000 baht ( multiple entry) and that’s not counting the work permit fee that will follow.
3. Tourism has taken over.
Because Thailand has become one of the world’s most marketable holiday destinations with great deals on flights and travel packages, it is constantly filled with tourists. The islands especially have become home to more Europeans than Thai people. Thai people have sold their beach property only to have luxury resorts and restaurants along the coastline. Koh Lanta is known to some as the Swedish island to the large amount of settlers making a living there, Koh Phangan Israeli with many kosher outlets and Koh Samui is what I like to call tropical Russia. My class consists of Russian and Thai kids, My husband teaches English to Adult Russian students, my yoga instructor is Russian, most restaurants have Russian in their menus and nowadays I hear more Russian than Thai.
One of the many signs on the island aimed at Russians.
4. The King is everywhere
At 85 years old, the Thai King is the longest reigning monarch. He is deeply loved and respected by Thai people. Old and recent photos of the King and his wife will be found in every store, restaurant and school. They speak very fondly of him and school children have to sing the Royal anthem alongside the Thai anthem at least once a week. At the cinema, when the King’s tribute comes on the screen and everyone stands up, you will have to stand up too as a sign of respect for their King. I warn you, the tribute is an emotional one to watch.
5. Couples with the largest age gaps.
I doubt there is a place on earth where you will find as many European men over the age of 60 married to women in their 20’s. When people first visit here, they are shocked to see Thai girls with men old enough to be their grandfathers. If you live here, it becomes a norm to see grey-haired men holding their new-born babies. European men settle here on a retirement visa, marry Thai girls and start second families. A Thai friend of mine *Soi is 32 and explained that many Thai girls do it for security, to be able to send their kids to good schools and to be able to look after the parents and send them money every month. She says that for many years her Thai friends do not learn English and their husbands do not know Thai resulting in lots of fighting and misunderstandings. She says she refuses to marry an old man for these same reasons and wants to marry for love first.
6. You will always be sweaty.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a true sun seeker and love heat but never before have I been this hot all day, every day. Like any humid tropical place, there is no reprieve from the heat when in the shade, indoors or in the ocean (about 28 degrees Celius). You will sweat while you sleep, when you wake, right after you shower and even sans clothing unless you have a fierce air-conditioner that never leaves your side. There are no cold days in the south of Thailand and the coolest I’ve ever been outside is on a scooter. If you wish to not change your clothes at least three times a day do not visit the island in April and May.
7. Thai people cannot drive…cars.
When it comes to scooters, Thai people rule. They drive scooters from a school going age up until they can barely walk anymore. Moms ride with their babies and toddlers and families fit four people on one scooter including their dogs. But as my male Thai friend admits, Thai people including himself cannot drive cars. On the island, there seems to be a trend of buying big Hilux vans and SUVs. But after years of only driving scooters, that’s exactly how cars are driven…like scooters. Drivers will frequently accelerate and decelerate throughout a drive and when turning, most vehicles come to a complete halt before turning into a driveway. On a scooter you can zoom in between cars at speed, but here massive vans overtake cars by veering completely into the lane of oncoming traffic seemingly forgetting their size.
8. Mosquitoes and other tropical life forms.
If you think you know what’s like to live with a lot of mosquitoes, think again. You can burn all the citronella oil, dot your house with sprigs of lemongrass and layer your skin with repellent and you will still get bitten daily. And if you’re lucky it won’t be a dengue fever carrier which gets its victims during the day. Ants are everywhere, but here there are big red ones which have a stinging bite which causes swelling and intense itching. Even the small ants bite into thick bags of coffee, rice, muesli and creep into containers of peanut butter. Anything edible has to stay in our fridge. Oh and we have pythons in our garden.
Five mosquitoes killed in the space of a few minutes with the powerful mosquito lightsaber.
9. When it rains…
You’ll be without running water, electricity and wifi. These are the extreme days which come around at random intervals. Otherwise on any rainy days the roads will flood and going anywhere without a plastic poncho is complete lunacy. During monsoon season, can rain for a full week without ceasing at all…stock up on candles and save water for teeth brushing and basin washing.
10. Thai bar girls.
We all know about the ping-pong shows, lady boys and dodgy farangs ( foreign men) visit Thailand solely for the burgeoning “flesh” trade, but you may be surprised to see how socially accepted the practice of a Thai bar girl really is. Prostitution in Thailand was first legalized in 1960 to generate more income from the US troops stationed in Thailand and Vietnam. Thai people do not view the bar girls as prostitutes in the same way as the Western world does. On one hand these girls come from exceptionally poor areas, are uneducated and work to support their families in the villages. They are bound to the bars they work for and fined if they don’t make a certain amount of money per day. Their only key to leaving is if a farang buys them out. On the other hand, many foreigners fall for bar girls and become one of many men to send monthly amounts to their ‘devoted’ Thai girlfriends which in turn is sent home to the girl’s parents.
There are even hotels where guests can order a girl along with their room for the duration of their stay. If all you want is a massage, steer clear from the parlours where the ladies are wearing hot pants and heels. This is where they offer a whole lot more than just a massage.
Every few steps you take you will see bars and massage parlours with “happy endings” as the main offering on the menu.
At the time of publishing, 1 US Dollar = 30 Thai Baht and 1 Euro =39 baht.
All photographs are my own and subject to copyright.