Last week went with family to Thailand. Was expecting gun totting guards at Bangkok airport and saw hordes of eager tourists instead! Thailand, against popular perception is actually a great family destination. Great hotels at great prices, short flight from India and zero visa charges, excellent infrastructure, outstanding food if you are a non-vegetarian and unparalleled shopping, including bargaining. For someone from India it is the affordability and warmth of the people that clinches the deal. And of course the heat. What I mean is the weather which is just like home. And well the political heat, the less said the better. In fact in one trip, when we were chatting with other vacationers about the political scene in Bangkok, the guide categorically instructed us not to discuss politics in his presence during the tour.
The only ones who gave any insights were the expats. Actually, the scariest news we got in Thailand was the AI crash in Mangalore. Going by current news reports the crash seems like a case of an overconfident gora snubbing the experienced desi junior. Some things will take centuries to change.
Going back to Thailand here are my most vivid memories:
Let me clarify, I refer to foot massages. Thailand probably has more masseurs per capita than any other country. Throw a stone and you will hit a masseur. They come in all shapes sizes and prices. From a lowly 200 baht to thousands. What they all have in common is the toughness of their hands. It is amazing how a 5 ft 40 kg schoolgirl lookalike can pack so much power in her hands.
The focus on tourism:
Every person from the government to the smallest individual realizes the importance of the tourist and everything from infrastructure to service is geared to please the tourist.
The grace of the people:
Thai people, especially the women are extremely gracious. Though knowledge of English is poor, they make up for it with grace. The influence of other cultures: Every place we visited had a European who had set up shop/ restaurant and made Thailand his home. People from other countries in Asia of course are to be seen in most markets.
Whether its Bangkok or Patong beach, the place glitters at night. Patong for example is one of the most vibrant places to be post dusk. Even a stroll down the streets is invigorating.
Very few destinations have shops to suit all budgets. Thailand is one of the few. From bargaining on the street side for cheap knickknacks to designer ware, there is something for everyone here. And of course there is the huge category of fake designer ware!
The green cover:
Even before you land in Thailand, you can see the incredible green colour of the place. There are trees just about everywhere. Even the beautiful limestone cliffs in the sea are green. The lush tropical foliage is a sight for sore eyes.
Yes, for most Asian rice eaters, Thai cuisine is the perfect choice. Be it seafood or veg curries, it’s always great! From 5 star restaurants to food courts to the amazing street food of the night markets, Thailand never disappoints.
Inspired by the open kitchen in a joint where we had the best green curry, I went to have a quick chat with the chef hoping to learn some tricks of the trade. The first ingredient she pointed out to in her box of condiments was fish sauce and the second was green curry paste which she informed was available in every super market. I beat a hasty retreat and also bought some curry pastes to experiment in India.
This brought back memories of similar experience during my first trip to Italy. I had picked a restaurant recommended by Lets Go Europe (a travel guidebook which has disappeared from shelves and has been replaced by Lonely Planet series) for my first true blue Italian dining experience. I began chatting up with the waiter and soon realized that he had strong Indian connections because he had spent time in Goa. He wanted me to meet the chefs who also had Indian connections. They turned out to be Bangladeshis. Labor cost advantage is more universal than what we can think of.
The vegetarians need to have less finicky attitude to enjoy the cuisine. Someone like my mother who will insist on person washing the utensils in which non veg food has been cooked before cooking veg food might not be able to survive. Just think you are having cod liver oil but not in a capsule. Once you let go, then you can really enjoy the food. The key is to ask for the right thing and communicate clearly that you want something with vegetables but without fish, meat, prawns and shrimps.