(I have noticed this is a quite long post, FYI: I have each one of my family’s interpretations of Thailand near the end)
Over the Christmas break, my parents came to visit. It was fantastic!! I have learned to value family time; so pretty much anytime I get to see them, it is bound to be fantastic wherever it is. They arrived in Bangkok around 1 am Christmas Eve…Started the Williams’ Family Vacation. It didn’t feel like I had been away for a year, more like a few months at college. For the first day, we did standard Bangkok, going to the temples, the King’s Palace, and getting very frustrated at traffic. The next day, we went to church which was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel…Note: when it is Christmas and church is 10 minutes away, do not leave 15 minutes before. It will be very hard to find a spot for 5 people to sit together. Thankfully though, there was room for five! It was actually for the choir basses, but the choir members said we could sit there since the basses probably weren’t going to show up. Lucky for them, Peter and Alex could and did sing the bass part…they said we could come back any time. After that we went to the royal boat museum, rode around the water canals, and went to a show. Then it was time to come up and visit where I work. They stayed at the big Flintstone Hotel, (Peter and Alex claim they have never slept on a harder bed and were actually in “Bed-rock”). I showed them around Ban Tak and the next day we went to the “New Year’s/Christmas/Children’s day” celebration at the school…hey, if you want to experience REAL Thailand, there is no place better—these things happen all the time.
Then it was back to Bangkok to fly to Laos. For me Laos was what I expected Thailand to be, and probably was 40 years ago. A lot fewer cars, dirt roads, massive electrical wires tied up in bunches that look not at all safe, etc. I would say you could definitely tell that there was a difference in income between Laos and Thailand. Some other main differences were the random faded communist paintings on the wall (even though they operate like a capitalist society), and access to freshly baked bread. Other than that, the lifestyle/culture/people were pretty similar to Thailand. My favorite thing in Laos was this cave was where it was all exploring! You didn’t know exactly if you were going the right way, you would think you were done and then a spray-painted red arrow would be on a rock and you would keep going. All in all, Laos was pretty cool.
Then it was a quick trip to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. I actually liked the other wats (temples) on our tour better than the big one. There was one with many heads and another was where they filmed Temple of Doom with Angelina Jolie.
We did a lot more on the trip that I haven’t explained here. If you want to have even longer explanation or see pictures, just ask my Mom. (She took THOUSANDS of pictures so you might want to ask if she has narrowed them down).
Since I have been the main contributor to this blog, I thought you might enjoy other people’s perspectives. Here are my family’s thoughts concerning Thialand:
*My first impression of Thailand was the people are very friendly and they smile a lot. They volunteer to give you directions if you look lost.
* The rural areas of Thailand remind me of rural China. However, the standard of living in Thailand, at least the part we saw between Bangkok and Tak, is noticeably higher than in China.
*The power lines in the towns are above ground, with lots of wires and are rather unsightly.
*There are two things you see everywhere: Buddhist temples and pictures of the King of Thailand.
*The city of Bangkok and the river, in particular, were like scenes from a Richard Scarry book – very, very busy!
*I also learned my daughter speaks pretty good Thai.
Bangkok was a busy, crowded city but felt very safe. I was impressed with how the drivers negotiated the crowded streets. Everyone seemed to know how far they could push it to pull into a crowded lane – who would yield and who wouldn’t. I remember visiting Boston, Massachusetts and noticing every single car had at least one small dent (because the traffic is terrible in Boston). In Bangkok, I look at the cars closely and didn’t see even one small dent in any car. I don’t know if it’s because the Thai drivers are so homogeneous that they know how the other drivers think so they know when to be aggressive and when to back off. But I was impressed at how they nosed their way through the traffic and never got a dent.
Also, no one honked. I loved that! I think it is an indication of their respect for one another, or they don’t want to appear rude. I also never heard any loud voices or shouting.
While I’m on the topic of transportation, I was impressed with the modern, divided highways and no pot holes.
In the countryside, I was surprised by the fact that the rice fields were in all different stages of development. Some were just planted, others in the middle of their growing season and some recently harvested. I guess there is no one “growing season”, but a continuous growing season.
One thing I thought Thailand needed was a “stop littering” campaign. There were small bits of trash all along the highways. I thought it was extremely ugly – however, Peter never even noticed it (I mentioned it after we got back).
I thought the people were very kind and went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable and enjoying ourselves.
I thought the county overall was pretty clean. I noticed the people are really short. They were good drivers, especially compared to those in China, Belize and Italy. The Thai drivers actually stopped at stoplights and mostly followed the lanes.
I really noticed how there was no inside or outside – it’s all combined. Lots of places simply had open walls and a roof. And there were so many outdoor restaurants without even a roof. That’s unthinkable to me from Minnesota!
Another comparison to Minnesota – there were no bugs in Thailand (when we were there in December), especially compared to summer camp in northern Minnesota.
Thailand had lots of rivers and the rivers ran right up to the buildings. Little cafes were right next to the river. I couldn’t believe how close the river was.
The people were very helpful. If we looked like we were confused, someone would offer to help us.
I also liked the flying lanterns. These are thin, paper lanterns about 24-30 inches high with a burning coil at the bottom. When you light the coil, a fire burns along the flat coil and the lantern lifts off and is carried up into the sky until the coil burns out. You do this at night and the lantern goes up for 5-10 minutes. It’s really cool.
The Thai people are very friendly. Another impression was I felt really tall next to the Thai’s (I’m 6-ft. 2-in.) Some of the students at the school where Amy teaches English came up to me and wanted me to take a photo with them.
I liked the weather; it was not too hot when we were there. And it was certainly a lot warmer than Iowa in December. We wore shorts or thin hiking pants and were very comfortable.
I didn’t like the food that much. It’s a little too spicy for me.
I ate a fried cricket from one of the food stalls in the market. It tasted like dust.
I thought the Royal Palace was really cool.
The canals in Bangkok were also really cool because people’s houses are set right up against the edge of the canal and they use the canal as their normal way of transportation, like to get to school or the temple or around town.
The roads and highways were nicer than I thought they would be.
The family’s overall observation written by Elizabeth:
In general, we thought the Thai people were very nice and the standard of living was higher than we expected. The roads were good, electricity was everywhere – Amy even has internet capability in her little house (although it is not consistently strong) in Baan Tak. The weather was not as hot as we expected and there were hardly any mosquitoes, which was nice (although we brought plenty of bug spray). We used all modes of transportation – private water taxi, group water taxi, water bus, regular taxi, train, bus, mini-van. They were all very efficient. We ate at roadside cafes (our lunches mainly consisted of fried rice or rice noodle soup with our choice of meat – chicken, beef, pork or fish) and no one got sick.
Despite being a developing country, for the most part we experienced very few hassles on our vacation. We were pleasantly amazed.