As the plump little woman sat on my thighs and punched me repeatedly in the back, I felt more than heard her low laughter and the words “Relax, free body” for what must have been the tenth time in the space of a half hour. It was my first full day in Thailand, the first day of a month-long trip, and I was receiving an authentic Thai massage from a masseuse who found me utterly hilarious. I couldn’t quite get through to her that I was, in fact, as relaxed as I had been in a long time, and she should have seen me before the massage! It was my first experience of culture shock, and as a restrained Scot, I was more than a little surprised about the kicking and massaging of the butt cheeks.
Travelling though such a vibrant, diverse and, frankly, bonkers country is bound to give you a metaphorical (as well as literal) kick up the backside, and it is absolutely an experience that you’ll carry with you the rest of your life. It’s stuffed with jaw-dropping sights, opulent temples, scrumptious food and the biggest-hearted people you can hope for. To help you take full advantage of any time spent there, these are some handy suggestions and a few DOs and DON’Ts because everyone loves lists.
DO – get a Thai massage. It is an absolute must, even if it does end up with you making some funny noises. It is, essentially, getting beat up in such a skilled way that you feel reborn. I discovered more about my muscles in those two hours than in years of P.E. class.
DON’T – underestimate monkeys. They might look cute and innocent, but they are the Artful Dodgers of the animal kingdom. If you have something they want, might as well give it up before you get jumped.
DO – embrace the local cuisine. Western food there is no match for the fresh, divine Thai food that can be found literally everywhere. Just double check that you haven’t accidentally ordered goat’s head instead of soup.
DON’T – make jokes about the royal family. They’re more beloved than Beyoncé.
DO – venture outside the cities. They’re vibrant and exciting, but there’s so much more to be experienced, from dazzling mountain-top temples through dense and lively jungles to paradise evoking beaches.
DON’T – take public transport in the cities during rush hour. It’s not worth the aggro. You’d be faster walking two steps forward and one back.
DO – take a tuk tuk taxi when out and about. It’s like a rollercoaster that’s run off the rails. Nothing makes you feel more alive than nearly dying a bunch of times.
DON’T – expect to live like you’re in Scotland. It’s not like back home; then again, that’s why you go in the first place. It isn’t always 5 star living. We lived in a charming home in a teensy tiny village where you could watch the tide go in and out through the floorboards in the kitchen. We shared not only with 6 family members (9 people in total), but also a lizard who stayed in the kitchen, a very timid crab in the bathroom, and a cockroach, which I did not befriend, in the hall.
DO – be bold. Otherwise you’ll get very little done. Health and safety is a concept utterly alien to Thai people. Of course 12 people can fit into a taxi designed for 8, just hold on to the back and you’re all set. Helmet and harness when going bungee jumping? Nah, Velcro wrapped round your legs will suffice. Lanes are just decorations on the road, and motorbikes are ideal for a family of four. It might be a bit hippy but you just gotta go with the flow…
DON’T – forget to smile! Everyone smiles all the time. It was a struggle for me, a chronic sufferer of resting bitch face, to turn on the beaming grin 24/7 at first, but then you’re having such a good time that it comes naturally.
If you happen to spend any time in Bangkok, try to visit the Wat Pho, or Temple of The Reclining Buddha. Tucked behind the high temple walls are rows and rows of glistening life size buddhas and fearsome figures of guardians who I wouldn’t challenge to a square go. But the real star of the show is the Reclining Buddha himself, a gold figure at a not-so-shabby 46m long. Yes, that’s metres – if he were to stand up, he would be a little taller than the Titan crane. Thankfully, he’s chill and prefers to stay lying down.
Visiting Chiang Mai, the capital of the north? If you’re a big spender then you’re in luck, everything is cheap as chips! Except for chips, ironically, which are actually a little overpriced. The nightlife is excellent, and to be honest I’ve never seen a busker with a literal goat skull on his guitar case before. Maybe I haven’t ventured out enough.
That’s all well and good, but what about Phuket? I was just getting there, calm it. Phuket is stunningly beautiful, not one, not two, but THREE beautiful bays side by side (by side). You’re spoilt for choice! The viewpoints of the city make the best cover photos to make all the folks back home jealous.
You really can’t go wrong in Thailand, there’s something going on everywhere, and everything’s going on somewhere. Just relax, free your body and dive in.