I wanted to share my list of 10 things I learned in Bangkok on my first visit. Our year of travel around the world has started off in Thailand. This is our first time traveling to Asia. It has been a real treat for us. There are many differences between Thailand and America. Here is my top 10 list:
I was so surprised when we finished checking out at the local grocery store the clerk handed us our receipt, pressed her hands together at her chest and bowed her head to us as she said “kob khun ka” (thank you in Thai). Huh? That was a new one for me! We looked at each other and turned back to her to return the bow but she had already moved on the next customer.
We learned quickly that it’s not just a custom but respect is a way of life. Children and teenagers greet each other this way. We quickly hopped on board with this custom. It’s so nice to see this lovely act in action from seemingly unexpected people.
They adore the King (Rama X). The city is covered with photos of the King. I even saw people stop walking on the street and bow to the photo. He is loved and revered. The new king has only been reigning for about 2 years. You will also see photos of his father as well (Rama IX). His father reigned for over 70 years, known as the longest reigning head of a state and longest reigning monarch in Thai history. He was still reigning when he passed away.
School children sing the Royal anthem as well as the national anthem at school. You will also be asked to stand at the movie theater while they play the Royal anthem. It’s astonishing to see EVERY person in the theater rise to their feet (without hesitation), no talking just watching the screen and some even sang along with the anthem. They show a tribute video to accompany the Royal anthem. It’s very interesting and I learned a lot from it too. Can you imagine getting everyone to stand for the anthem in a theater in America?
Not much English
I was expecting more English speakers in Bangkok because I saw so many signs in English. I was wrong, lol. There are about 5 words or phrases most people know in English and then you are on your own. You revert to your toddler days of point and nodding to get what you need. It’s funny, we are in their country and we don’t speak much of their language and yet we expect them to speak English. It was sobering and a relief all at once.
I found it almost freeing to not understand and have to rely on non verbal communication to converse. Foreigners from non English speaking countries must also learn English as it’s the only way to communicate in Thailand other than speaking Thai (which is a difficult language to learn for most). Needless to say, we have learned a little Thai but not enough to hold a conversation with a child let alone an adult!! I use my “Tap and Say” app to help get around and in a pinch.
People are generally kind when they know you are visiting their country. But the Thai people are exceptional at this. They go out of their way to make you feel welcome and to help you in any way they can. I’m a big city kid and when walking the big city streets you know to keep to yourself and don’t make eye contact. Rob and I had taken the BTS (train) to a mall area. We left the platform and walked down the street below, it was challenging to cross the streets in that area of town. When we finally got across the street this man came up to us with a big smile and pointed up to a walk way that would help us avoid this problem again.
I’ll be honest, I thought he was going to try to sell us something or whatever (remember big city kid thoughts) but he was so happy to have helped us with a big smile on his face. I have, honestly, never felt more welcome in a foreign land than I have here.
The grocery store is not just a grocery store here
The grocery stores are super centers but not how you would think. Imagine Super Target or Super Walmart had a run in with a flea market on steroids. They are generally 3 or 4 story buildings with escalators for grocery carts. You will find not only the grocery store but individual stands with food, clothing, electronics and other wares for sale. There are many restaurants, mostly sit down restaurants. The food court (usually located on the top floor) is fairly typical of what you would expect with one exception, you need an e-card to purchase food. You go to the e-card booth and load it up with money and use it at the food court restaurants, they do not accept cash!
The staff at every restaurant is the same, extremely helpful and kind. It’s like Chick-fil-A trained the restaurant industry here!! It doesn’t matter if you are at a “fast food” restaurant or a sit down restaurant. They are generally not working for tips. This would make you think they will not care. It’s the opposite! They make sure you have everything you ordered and leave you alone. The practice of repeatedly checking on you is not used here (which I love, I hate having to always tell them I’m fine). If you need something you flag the wait staff and they rush over to assist you.
Tipping is not offensive, it is welcomed but not expected. There are a few restaurants who will add the tip to your bill (it’s normal in nicer restaurants). Regardless of the restaurant, you are given real plates, cups and silverware. They don’t use paper products much in sit down restaurants. If you want a napkin, you have to ask for one. You may get one with your meal even if there are two of you, lol. On the street it’s a different story, you get Styrofoam containers and plastic bags for your food.
Big age difference marriages
You see lots of European and American (Western) older men walking around with their 20 or 30 something wife while holding their child. Most of these guys are here on “retirement visas”. I’m not going to lie, this one is hard for me. I have come to understand that most of these marriages are convenience for both parties. The young women are looking for a way to help their families and the men are looking for companionship or perhaps starting a new family again. I am still not used to it.
I am certain my look of disdain is upon my face. I try hard not to judge as this was a personal choice for the ladies but the “free choice American woman” in me wants to give the girl a hug. The women want to be taken care of, start families, send their kids to good schools and help their families financially. Many of them have stated that marrying a nice, older foreign man saved them and their families from poverty and unhappiness. This was one of the most interesting things I learned in Bangkok.
A country of order
Upon first glance, the city may seem chaotic, it’s actually very organized. The first thing I noticed driving to our apartment from the airport, no honking. In most big cities all you hear is honking and yelling in anger (have you driven in NYC or Chicago?). It was a very peaceful ride to the apartment. There is order and appears to be a rhyme and reason for their driving system. The motorcycles have their own set of rules and no one seems bothered by it.
Let’s talk about the train system, the BTS Skytrain. There are security guards on each platform. But they are not needed, the platform is marked with arrows indicating where to board the train and where to get off. People line up and board in order. Every once in a while you will hear the guard blow his whistle at someone trying to get on the train as the doors are closing.
There is no pushing or shoving (except for foreigners, they are a little crazy). I was amazed, I come from Atlanta and riding the MARTA is insane! If you have been on it, you will agree.The BTS is a refreshing experience. You see people giving up their seats to kids, monks, pregnant women and the elderly. I’ve also seen lots of young men give their seat to women (older and younger). We had someone move over so Rob and I could sit together.
I was impressed as I would not have known how to even ask! Everywhere I look, there is order. People stand in line patiently and wait their turn. I even saw a very long line waiting for motor bike taxi, everyone was waiting patiently.
They are not in a hurry
The foreigners stick out for their lack of patience and unwillingness to wait their turn. I saw a “Western” man yell at a woman who walking at a normal pace (for Thailand) to move so he could speed by with his grocery cart. Everyone around just stared at him, it was crazy. They are calm patient.
If you are in hurry you are out of luck. No one seems to be in a rush. This is so different from my experience in the big city in America. You’ll see people walking to work at what seems like a snails pace but normal for Thailand. It’s a different pace and we are getting used to it. I find it refreshing.
Kids are on their own
I was amazed to see so many young school kids in their uniforms riding the trains alone. You will see them walking into your local 7-Eleven or even walking around the mall with just their friends. You would think they would be wild and crazy but they are always respectful in public. You don’t see Thai kids being loud or obnoxious in public. They are orderly and well behaved. A stark contrast to what you may see in many countries. It was amazing to watch them (without being creepy).
These are the top 10 things I learned in Bangkok in the short five weeks we have been Thailand. We’ll be in Pattaya for about five weeks. It is very different from Bangkok. I will post in a different blog. It’s incredible to be a fly on the wall in this country and experience life from their perspective. We are enjoying the journey and learning something new every day!! Hope you have learned something new too.