I recently returned from my first trip to Southeast Asia. I had the fortune to visit Thailand (Bangkok and Chiang Mai), Singapore, and Bali (along with dinner in Osaka, Japan, on a seven-hour layover). I will admit that I didn’t do as much research for this trip, as it crept up on me, but it ended up being a truly remarkable trip. And I learned a lot while I was there. Here are five things I learned during my trip to Thailand, the first full leg of my Southeast Asia trip.
#1 Lane Lines are Merely Suggestions
This little nugget also applies to my time in Bali. Listen, if you are faint of heart when it comes to driving, then Southeast Asia is probably not the place for you. I had heard the driving is insane but it is truly something you cannot explain until you experience it. Lane lines—if they even exist—are clearly just a suggestion that riders may (or likely don’t) observe. Between the tuk tuks in Thailand and the motorbikes in Bali, I found myself repeatedly muttering to myself “I just wanna live!” while traffic swerved in front of us or while trying to cross the street and not get hit by a motorbike. Not to mention they drive on the left (read: wrong) side of the street. It’s like a constant game of chicken. In Bali, the motorbikes just create their own lanes, cut in front of cars, dart across the roads in front of oncoming traffic, and generally do whatever they want. In Thailand, our driver had this fun little technique of straddling the line in order to force the other drivers to move over to other lanes, thus clearing the way for him to speed up. It is utter mayhem, and I am honestly not sure how people survive in those countries. Godspeed…literally.
#2 Mango Sticky Rice is BAE
Mango. Sticky. Rice. Is. BAE. How come no one ever told me about this delicious goodness? I feel like I have been deprived all of my life, and like my friends who knew about this have been holding out on me. I am giving every single one of them the side eye. Seriously.
For those of you who don’t know, let me school you on the goodness that is mango sticky rice. This dish, often eaten as a dessert, is comprised of sticky rice, coconut milk, fresh mango, and some crispy things that we never really figured out what they are. Simple, right? So what’s the big deal? I can tell you that I am not sure how such simple ingredients come together to create one of the most magnificent dishes ever but somehow they do. Add in the fact that it is mango season in Thailand right now, and Thai mangoes are 50-11 times better than the mangoes we get in the States, and whoa nelly! In less than two days we had mango sticky rice at least three times. It was absolutely magical. But note that it is better at the street stalls or markets than it is at restaurants for the most part. Don’t say I never did anything for you. You’re welcome.
#3 Humidity in the U.S. is Child’s Play
If you think that Florida or Texas is hot and humid in the summer, well, think again.
The sweltering, unadulterated heat that is Thailand in the rainy season is surpassed by none. Singapore was warm and Bali was hot, but Thailand is a swamp, pure and simple. The heat, combined with the humidity that emanates during monsoon season is a recipe for swamp.
To be clear, I grew up in humidity. I spent a lot of time in a lot of humid places. I have also traveled to many Caribbean countries during peak heat… But nothing, NOTHING, compares to Thailand in May. The humidity I had previous experienced was child’s play, total amateur hour. This is that new age, don’t-turn-your-head-too-fast-or-you-will-start-dripping humidity. My hope and silver lining to sweating through everything I brought to Southeast Asia is that I will have successfully sweated off all of the noodles that I ate on this trip. One can dream.
#4 Thai People Love Their King
In case you hadn’t heard, last October King Bhumibol Adulyadej died after a long illness. From that day on, the Thai people are in a one-year period of mourning their king. The Thai people love their King, with his picture seen throughout the country along roads and in public places. Even on AirAsia airline, there was an announcement about how deeply saddened AirAsia was and how they mourned the death of the King.
And mourn the people continue to do. On our day to the Grand Palace, the area had a long line of mourners in all black who came to pay their respects to the King, and he died over seven months ago. Adulyadej still hasn’t been cremated, as is the Thai custom, as special crematoriums and ceremonies are being planned and it often takes more than a year for the official funeral to occur.
#5 Toilet Tissue Isn’t Always a Given, So Bring Something
Look. Most places we went had toilet paper available for usage but in some instances it had either run out or just wasn’t an option. Luckily, I had a pack of tissues/napkins in my bag for usage. As in many countries, toilet tissue is not an emphasis, and instead they use the bidet wash. That was a no for me, so tissue it was and tissue I made sure to have on me. And I was all good.
Sound off? What were some things you learned on your trip to Thailand or Southeast Asia?