At about this time tomorrow, I’ll be on a bus heading for the Laotian border, and I’ll be in Laos by early evening. I’ve spent about 7 months in Thailand: 4 months in Bangkok, 1 month on Koh Tao, and 2 months in Chiang Mai. It ranks fifth on the list of countries I’ve spent the most amount of time in, behind the US, China, Ukraine, and Mexico.
I’m not sad. I don’t think I’ve ever really been sad to leave a place. There’s nothing to be sad about. Going to a new place means learning new things and having new adventures. I’m ready.
Thailand has been a great place to live. It is a very easy place to be as a foreigner. For the most part, I can get anything I want there. I mean, I recently found a place within walking distance that sells focaccia olive bread. I can’t ask for much more than that. My standard of living in Thailand has been high. I’ve lived in nice places in good locations and eaten better than I ever have before in my life.
Pretty much everyone I know in the US likes Thai food, as did I before I came here, and I can say that it’s even better (and so much cheaper) in Thailand. As far as I’m concerned, green papaya salad and mango with sticky rice are two of the world’s great dishes. And the curries here? Amazing.
I love Bangkok. A lot. It’s not my #1 favorite city in the world (that’d be Istanbul), but it’s pretty high up there. I love big cities, and Bangkok is a very big city. In terms of population, the city of Bangkok is the same size as the city of New York (~8 million). If you broaden the scope a bit to include the population of the metropolitan area, Bangkok is the size of Los Angeles (~15 million). This is even more remarkable when you consider that the second-largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai, has a population of only 170,000. (I recently learned that there’s a term for this kind of size discrepancy: primate city.)
I love Bangkok’s chaos, the grit and the energy. It’s a hot, steamy, hectic, dirty, bustling place. When I told people before I went to Bangkok that I was going there, a lot of them wondered why. They said that I shouldn’t waste my time, and I heard a lot of not-so-great things about the city. It was the same reaction I got when I told people I was going to Mexico City (another mega-city that I ended up loving). I think that big cities like this either energize you or give you a headache, and they definitely do the former for me. I never had a bad day in Bangkok. I made good friends, ate amazing food, and just had a great time overall. It’s a city that I can definitely see myself returning to live in again at some point in the future.
Koh Tao is an island in the Gulf of Thailand, and I spent a month there. It was about as wonderful as you’d imagine living on a small tropical island would be. I rock climbed, rented and drove a scooter for the first time, hiked, swam, snorkeled, kayaked, lounged on the beach, went stand up paddle boarding, jumped off a couple different cliffs into the sea, got very tan, and drank my weight in mango smoothies. It was fabulous.
Chiang Mai is the one place in Thailand that everyone told me I had to visit. I think every single person I’d talked to about Thailand mentioned Chiang Mai as a highlight. I first came here for a few days back in February. I met some friends here and went climbing, river rafting, and elephant riding, among other things. I had a great time doing all of those things, but I didn’t really like Chiang Mai itself. It felt like a vessel that existed solely to be filled with wannabe hippie tourists. The city is dripping with the dirty and dreadlocked.
I returned to Chiang Mai a few months later. For some reason, coming here felt like the right decision for me, plus I wanted to give it another chance. But after having lived here for a couple more months, my opinion didn’t change much. I’m still not a huge fan. I think it’s boring. But I’ve enjoyed my time here overall (I tend to enjoy every place I visit), and coming here was the right decision for me at the time.
And now it’s time to move on. Thailand deserves its popularity. It’s beautiful. It’s cheap. It’s fun. It’s easy. The food is amazing. The people are great. It was the first country in Southeast Asia that I spent any significant amount of time in, and I’m sure I’ll be back. Before I came to came, I wasn’t sure how I felt about being back in Asia, but Thailand reminded me of the things I do love about this part of the world. I’m grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend here, and I’m excited for future adventures. Onward.
(Oh, and I still definitely have a lot of Thailand photos and adventures to post to the blog, so stay tuned.)