Well Thailand, this is it.
The country where I started my South East Asia trip almost three months ago, overflowing with enthusiasm to explore what this part of the world had to offer. I spent 19 days here my first time around, going at a frenetic pace and breezing through eight cities in that short amount of time.
The excitement of traveling was still strong, giving me the energy to hop off of night buses and be able to tackle a full day of activities ahead.
Two months later, I rolled back into Bangkok from Cambodia. Two chaotic months of traveling through Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines.
I was tired. That much was undeniable.
I’m not going to write a love story about Thailand. This isn’t what this is. From a backpacker’s perspective, you can’t just fall in love with a place. You aren’t allowed to.
I’m not going to write a guide about Thailand. This isn’t what this is either. You can’t spend a week in a single place and pretend that qualifies you as an expert. Too many times have I done a couple of things in one city and then wrote a guide about what everyone should do there, as if simply being present in that city suddenly made me a qualified expert to tell you what to do.
After over three weeks spent in Bangkok alone, I realized how little we backpackers truly know about the countries that we go to, and how unwilling most of us are to actually learn. My first time in Bangkok, I wrote a list of ten things to do while you were here. From a backpacker’s perspective, it was perfect. It had a mix of culture, nightlife, and excitement. For someone just stopping by for a few days, you couldn’t go wrong.
Khaosan Road! The Grand Palace! Eat some street food!
I would laugh at myself now, not because I am a seasoned veteran of Thailand, but because I am far from it. The more time I spend here, the more that becomes apparent.
Coming to Thailand should be an incredible, life-changing experience. I’ve heard so often from many travelers that Thailand has become too touristy, is no longer authentic, and that the infamous “Banana Pancake” trail has beaten Thailand’s amazing appeal into the ground.
But Thailand is still amazing, and Thailand is still authentic. People travel for a number of different reasons, and I understand if getting drunk in exotic destinations is the main appeal for some. However, to actively avoid immersing yourself in Thailand’s wonderful culture and then complaining about how touristy it has become is unjustifiable.
A bit hypocritical, right? “The Partying Traveler” lecturing others on partying while traveling.
I can’t put to words how much I love Thailand, but what’s crazy is how much more I started loving it when I slowed down my pace and stopped forcing myself to do what was supposedly “must-do activities” in each city or island. My second time around in Thailand, I spent twenty-four days across only two islands and one city. Whereas I had so much planned for the first leg of my Thailand trip many months ago, I only had one thing on my schedule this time around.
That was the famed Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. It ended up not even being as good as I expected, and wasn’t even close to the best night out that I had while on that island.
The views and the sights will be forgotten, but the emotions felt during your adventures will stick with you. Rushing around at a manic pace numbs you a little bit, preventing you from fully appreciating the fact that you are legitimately in some sort of fantasy paradise beyond your wildest dreams.
There are plenty of guides on the Internet about Thailand. You don’t need me to tell you where to go and what to see. Maybe I will eventually, but I’ll save it for that same generic blog post that every single blogger writes just to try to make a quick buck.
However, I do want to implore you to take Thailand on properly. Yes, go see the temples but understand what they mean and respect the culture and customs. Thailand is so much more than the islands and the temples and the elephants. Go past the sights and the activities and try to experience Thailand. Throw yourself out there and thrust yourself well outside of your comfort zone. That’s what it took for me to realize how much I loved Thailand.
I have been guilty of this for so long and regret all the times I’ve went to different countries without truly immersing myself in the culture or even spoke to the locals. You can get drunk anywhere in the world. You can see cool beaches anywhere in the world. You can get your artsy Instagram pics anywhere in the world.
But this is Thailand. A country teeming with culture, tradition, and amazing people.
Running out of pages in my passport and getting stranded in Thailand was the best thing that happened to me as a traveler. It helped me find my ideal pace and increased my appreciation for everywhere I went.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all to go to Thailand and want to party all the time, but it is an insult to this wonderful country if that is all you choose to do. You can party ANYWHERE in the world. You don’t even have to leave your house for that. If you get sucked into the partying backpacker lifestyle of drinking at hostels and going to the same overplayed attractions, it’s just a wasted plane ticket.
Allow yourself to get lost in the chaos. Experience Thailand. The real Thailand.