Having lived in Thailand for a long period of time, I feel as well placed as anyone to offer a few of my top tips for making the most out of any trip there. Although these tips could essentially be applied to pretty much anywhere in the world, I know how valuable they can be in one of my favourite places on the planet - Thailand.
Tip 1 - Learn some of the language:
The Thai language may sound pretty complicated to our Western ears, but when it boils down to learning it there are only a few basics that you would need to know. It is a tonal language with 5 different tones, so one word alone can mean 5 different things. One amusing example being "suay" which can mean both beautiful or bad luck, so be careful with your chat up lines! This may seem overwhelming, but even if you get the tone wrong, which I did for the majority of my efforts over there, everyone will understand from the context. Indeed, this may well even save you money as Thai shops have been known to have two price bands for tourists and locals. As soon as the shops heard me ask "tao aray?" which means "how much?" they ensured I paid the local price. It is a bit sneaky on the shop's part but once you bluff your way through with some simple phrases you will see how far it can get you and really improves the experience.
Tip 2 – Immerse yourself in the culture
If you follow the first tip then you are already halfway there, but Thailand has some cultural habits and traditions to be aware of and ideally involve yourself in. From the "wai" greeting which is performed at different levels depending on whom you are greeting (a monk being the most respected and therefore the highest) to the "krap" and "kah" ending to a sentence for men and women. There are so many to understand, with many localised traditions in various regions. When you dip your toe into these you really see a new side to Thailand and enjoy a more rounded experience of the country.
Tip 3 – Try all the food
This could be a tip for life in general, and I am certainly guilty of not following this at times on my travels. Thailand has some surprising delicacies (and some horrendous ones!) but they all form memories you will look back on and smile about. I never thought I would actually enjoy the intoxicating crunch of a deep fried scorpion before I lived there, nor gag on the pungent odour of a fermented duck egg. I am happy I will never have to taste the latter again, but just the thought of it evokes some great memories for me. There are also the classic Thai dishes that should take no convincing to try. My favourite is Paad Ka Pow Gai, a spicy chicken dish fried with basil. However, it can pack a punch so remember your Thai phrases from tip one. "Mai Pet" may sound like Geordie slang but it means "not spicy" and could save those of you with delicate stomachs some serious issues.
Tip 4 – Get off the beaten track
Thailand has some wonderful tourist destinations with some truly fabulous resorts. It is also excellent value considering how far your money can go out there. Regardless of your reasons for visiting, I implore you to spend at least a day or two visiting some of the lesser known areas, the hidden gems and forgotten islands. For those hedonists amongst you I would recommend avoiding the full moon party and heading instead to Haad Yuan. Only one beach along from Haad Rin yet it houses a place called Eden that any reveller would be loathe to leave! There are so many stunning islands to choose from in the Andaman Sea alone and I have a few personal favourites that I have written another blog about, or I am happy to chat to you should you want some ideas. Failing that speak to locals, ask around or just see where the wind takes you. Thai's are exceptionally friendly and fiercely proud of their country so will happily give you the inside track on local gems. Believe me it will all be worth it when you feel like an entire beach on a paradise island is all yours and yours alone.
Tip 5 - Relax - "Mai pen rai"
Thailand has its very own attitude to life, which means life moves at a very leisurely pace, things are not always done in the most competent fashion in our minds, but to them, "Mai pen rai". Mai pen rai sums up life in Thailand and the attitude there in general. There are lots of different opinions on the direct translation, but mai pen rai literally means “No worries” or “It’s nothing.” The expression can also be used as “You’re welcome” after someone says “Thanks”. It generally sums up their attitude that whatever happens doesn't really matter, and at one time was even inscribed on their bank notes. You will enjoy your trip exponentially more if you adopt this local attitude as well. The next time the waiter gets the order wrong, your bus breaks down, or you step in a pile of water buffalo poo – don’t freak out as you would at home, just smile and say “mai pen rai“.