Things that Surprised Me About Thailand

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One year ago today, I landed in Bangkok and began my six-month journey around Southeast Asia — and, though I didn’t know it yet, a life of full-time travel.

I had prepared for Thailand — I had read the guidebooks, perused the photo galleries, and had read hundreds of blog posts on the country.  But no matter how much you prepare, there are so many things that you won’t know until you arrive and experience it yourself.

Like the following:

7-Elevens are everywhere.

Think McDonald’s is the most common chain in Thailand?  Think again.  In a two-block radius from my guesthouse near Khao San Road, there were five or six 7-Elevens.

It’s actually pretty convenient because they sell everything, from 50-cent Red Bull to red bean paste-stuffed cakes.  I ended up in 7-Eleven a few times on most days!

Thais love their cover songs.

I was in Thailand five times in total in the last year — and each time, I knew I hadn’t officially arrived until I heard a breathy Thai girl singing, “Ooh, sweet child o’ mine,” and a flute bleating out the famous guitar riff.

That song is the epitome of Thai pop music.  Just about every song was a cover of a Western hit, sung by a fragile-sounding girl.

You get a plastic bag for everything.  Also, straws.

Even if you just buy a bottle of water at the store, the girl will put it in a plastic bag without you even asking — and give you a straw, no matter what you’re drinking.  And if you shake your head and take the bottle on your own, she’ll look at you like you’re crazy.

Despite this fact, there are no trash cans.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked around in Thailand looking for a place to throw away whatever I have in my hand.  There aren’t a lot of trash cans in the Thai cities I’ve visited — often, I’ve had to find a bathroom somewhere and throw it out in the trash can there.

The one exception: street cart vendors.  But I wouldn’t put anything besides their own disposable dishes in there.

Massages are everywhere — and awesome.

With cheap massages and pedicures everywhere, Thailand is THE destination for spa deals.  The cheapest hourlong massage I had was in Chiang Mai, at 100 baht ($3.33).  Most in Bangkok were around 200 baht ($6.66); I shelled out 300 baht ($10) for a massage on the beach on Koh Lanta.

What surprised me was that they were all over the place, and each spa offers so many different treatments.  A lot of people choose Thailand for spa vacations, but to me, that seems like a waste!  You don’t need spa vouchers to get pampered for cheap in Thailand.

Little lizards climb the walls.

It was one of the first things I saw when checking in at my guesthouse — a tiny lizard climbing the wall.  It turns out that they are everywhere in Thailand, as well as most of Southeast Asia.  With the exception of an ENORMOUS lizard that I saw on a wall in Kampot, Cambodia, they are completely harmless and won’t come near you.

They will attempt to murder you with their cuisine.

I knew the food would be spicy, and I accepted that — but it didn’t hit me until I arrived in Koh Chang after a few months in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.  In those countries, the cuisine was spicy but to a reasonable level — after coming back into Thailand, it felt like my esophagus was disintegrating!

Know this: the concept of “medium spicy” or “not so spicy” does not exist in Thailand.  Be prepared to push the chiles to the side at the very minimum.

So Thailand was full of surprises.

I feel quite nostalgic tonight, thinking back to the girl that I was then and how incredibly happy she was.  Not that I’m not now — I’m still deliciously happy.  But look at that top picture — I was smiling that hard and wide for days.  Nothing could take that away.

Taking this trip was the best decision I ever made.