3 Cultural Points to Keep in Mind When Travelling through Thailand

3 Cultural Points to Keep in Mind When Travelling through Thailand

I’ve spent over 2 years in Thailand during my 6 year world tour.

Thailand is my favourite country on earth for a number of reasons. The stunning beauty of the place, amazing food, low cost of living and friendly locals all make for a dream destination.

Before visiting the Land of Smiles keep one thing in mind: Thai face saving culture is likely quite a bit different from how things are done in your home country.

Like all things travel this is not a good or bad thing. It is simply a group a people agreeing to live by a certain code, a code you should learn if you decide to spend time in that area.

Thailand

Culture is important within Thailand.

 

Keep these 3 cultural points in mind to enjoy your travels through Thailand.

 

1: Saving Face Is Critical

Thai culture is a face saving culture. Meaning you should never, ever intentionally demean, embarrass or humiliate anyone in a public setting. In a nutshell, be nice. Be courteous. Be polite. Even if you are waiting for 2 hours at immigration, put on a smile.  

Is it easy to adjust to a face saving culture as a new traveller to Thailand when your patience is tested? In most cases, heck no. Even if we don’t regularly abuse each other verbally in Western nations we are accustomed to complaining, whining and starting a verbal tussle or two when we’re having a bad day.  

I made the shift by choosing to smile – no matter what happens – and to say “thank you”, or “kop khun krap” in all situations. Over time, the cheeriness of locals and acceptance of the culture grows on you. To the point where you will eventually be living according to the Thai standard of “mai pen rai”, or “whatever happens, happens.” No big deal. Go with the flow. Accept and smile.

cultural

Even when things don’t go your way, remember your manners when in Thailand.

 

2: The Customer Is Not Always Right

In face saving culture it is all about not offending or humiliating anybody. So if you huff and puff and throw a customer service related hissy fit, at best, you will receive a smile and apology. At worst, you will be completely ignored.

You are probably used to “the customer is always right” type service in Western countries. In Thailand, the locals are kind, helpful and polite in all dealings but beyond a certain point the customer is definitely not always right. I love this mindset. Helps you to face, embrace and let go all business and service related stuff that arises. Enlightening.

I recall one of the first times we flew Air Asia in Thailand. My vegetarian wife ordered a special meal. She received a meat-based meal. After pointing out the situation to the stewardess the kindly woman said “Oh, I am really sorry”, with a sheepish grin, then continued with her work.

Was she supposed to Halo drop 36,000 feet from a plane to prepare and deliver a vegetarian meal to my wife? 

All she could do was apologize and move on, knowing how strict vegetarians almost never eat from dishes where the meat was simply removed/scraped off of the plate.

Thai customer service is pleasant, friendly and engaging. They will do their best to help but in some situations where things don’t quite work out the way you want them to work out, be at peace with the fact that folks will not bend over backwards and contort themselves like a gymnast just to make you happy.

Thai bar

Customer is not always right, even in a Thai bar.

 

3: Don’t Be Offended by Heartfelt Lying 

This point is about the toughest to accept for a Westerner like myself. Especially an American Westerner.

In the good old USA we are more direct and honest in our dealings. Factor in my New Jersey upbringing – where being honest and truthful are even more common – and I had a tough time understanding how Thai face-saving often involves lying to people to avoid disappointing individuals now, only delaying the inevitable disappointment.

Just accept it as not either good, or bad, but simply how it is in Thailand.

Example; someone may promise to meet you for drinks one evening but when the time arrives they do not show up. After 3 subsequent reschedules and no-shows you may think your alleged Thai friend is a real jerk, only to find out from a mutual friend that they hate to drink but didn’t want to offend you by telling you this.

When you learn to see the lie is not meant to offend but rather to be nice it helps to embrace a custom you may see as weird, or outright rude, or thoughtless in your culture so you can gracefully glide through the concept of “heartfelt lying” with a smile.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Thailand is a tourist paradise, but always resect the country’s cultural ways.

 

Your Turn

What cultural points can you add to this list?

How have you adjusted to face saving culture in Thailand?

Ryan Biddulph lives a life of Island hopping and is a travel blogger/Coach at Blogging From Paradise. Ryan is also an author of many E-books that can be found on amazon.

The Experiences of Travelling Solo

The Experiences of Travelling Solo

Travelling solo was new to me. I had a lot of nervous energy leading into my trip to Bali and maybe a little guilt for leaving my family at home. Of course, any concerns were unjustified and while my family was not physically around, in this modern world of Skype and Facebook, they were only a phone call away.

Now the trip has come and gone, it had me thinking of my solo travel adventures in Bali. What was good about it? The bad bits? and the plain old awkwardness of it all. At the end of the day there were many different emotions, feelings and experiences to take from the trip (most positive) and I will share it with you in this article.

One thing I can assure you that is a fact. If you want to take the plunge and experience an adventure on your own, then do it. The memories will stick with you for a life time and you will appreciate those closest to you a whole lot more upon your return.

Bunbury, South West

Adventures of travelling solo.

 

The Initial Fear of travelling solo

Embrace it, because it won’t go away in the lead up to your trip, no matter how many times you are flying solo. Fear is a great commodity to have, it means you won’t have complacency in unfamiliar environment.

The fear will stick with you right until your arrival at the airport, getting through customs and if landing in a place like Bali, dodging the hundreds of taxi drivers desperate to give you a ride.

 

travelling solo

Embrace the fear of travelling solo.

 

The awkwardness of Dining Alone

Walking into the fine Sakala Resort restaurant all alone, it had me thinking of the Jason Segal movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. You know the scene, where Segal walks into the restaurant and Jonah Hill mocks him big time about being in the magnificent resort all alone and offering him a book to read to combat the boredom. Hilarious and it is how I felt (See the clip below).

It is real awkward feeling about when dining alone. Others are sitting together in groups, laughing and carrying on. Couples are rekindling their love in style and no doubt have further plans later in the night back in the room. It’s all the thoughts that come into your head and a little envy comes your way. You make a point from then on that the next time you dine, you do it when the restaurant is empty to avoid the embarrassment.

 

Learn the real locals

Solo travelling opens up your eyes to the others out there, the locals. It’s natural that when you are travelling with your family, your lover or in a large group, that you keep to yourself. It’s not that we ignore the friendly folk in their own country, but sometimes we do get caught up in our bubble.

Travelling on your own means you open yourself up to the locals and believe me that is a good thing. On a recent trip to Bali, I was able meet some incredible people, learn about their life, their background and culture. The experience in itself was fascinating. They were conversations I will always cherish.

travelling solo

meet the locals.

 

Take the freedom while you have it

Sleep in or wake up early. Drink at the bar and get home when you want. Take a day trip to an exotic location that suits your own desires. The freedom of travelling alone allows you to do whatever it is you want. And why not you have no one to answer to but yourself.

Although, at least for me, the freedom is only enjoyable for the short term. You do miss your family, a laugh with your kids, or cuddling up to the wife who is back at home. I am a family man and I know who I do prefer to take on my adventures throughout the world, even though it can’t always be the case.

travelling solo

Coffee time in amazing destinations.

 

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Dreaming of my Only White Christmas

Dreaming of my Only White Christmas

Don’t get concerned, I am not about to start singing Big Crosby’s White Christmas. I will need a few more drinks before I start singing. But the song does remind  me of my one and  only Christmas in the magic of snow.

I remember it as it was yesterday. The place was Muju, the country South Korea and it was breathtaking, bringing a whole new meaning to Christmas. At least for myself and family.

Fun in the snow.

Fun in the snow.

Why does it mean so much?

I am an Aussie, and that means Christmas is snags on a barbie, beer out in the esky, swimming at the beach as the melting sun scorches your skin and you are dressing down rather than rugging up.  Yes, Christmas in Australia doesn’t sound so bad, it’s great to be truthful. But you know the saying, a change is as good as a holiday.

Now I am not a winter fan, I despise it. The part of Australia that I live in come winter time gets cold, wet, windy and just plain miserable. But it doesn’t snow. And to me snow adds something extra to an occasion. A tinge of excitement, even happiness. I know it did for me and my family.

Others who live in such a climate may tell me I am crazy, perhaps you are sick of the snow, sick of the freezing cold and maybe you have the endeavour of having Christmas in the heat of summer. Not me however, how I would long for another White Christmas.

Family fun in Muju

Family fun in Muju

What is about Muju?

Muju was something special. Tucked away in the middle of South Korea, the scenery was divine. Mountains saturated the region with blissful white snow covering the peaks. It was a site to see.

The township was friendly, laid back and unique. It didn’t come with the hustle and bustle of capital city in Seoul, or the modern features. It had a small town feel about it, where all the locals knew each other and everyone wasn’t in a hurry.

Old ladies would stand in front of their own restaurants, willing people to come and eat at their shop, almost begging. The town itself offered plenty of little guesthouses, restaurants, ski shop and general stores.

Muju is spectacular in the white snow and ice.

Muju is spectacular in the white snow and ice.

Hiking is the number one thing to do in Muju along with skiing in the winter. And for good reason too. The breathtaking scenery as you slug your way through the thick snow, into the forest, up the mountain and along the valley was pure delight. Make sure you bring your camera as million pictures wouldn’t be enough in Muju.

Your only sense of modern in Muju is the Deogyusan Resort. A European style resort it is where you go for the ski slopes, fine dining and your only escape of Western food, not that you particularly need it when Korean food is so good. The resort is expensive but if you like being where the action is, you will be in the right place.

Deogyusan Resort

Deogyusan Resort

Christmas time in Muju?

It is different. You could easily be forgiven that Christmas doesn’t exist. There is little celebration going on in the township and decoration are limited. Still, it didn’t take away from the romance of a very merry White Christmas.

How could it? Everything was white, from mountain tips, to the trees, to the railings and houses. Then you add the enjoyment of making a snowman with the kids and of course snowball fights, it brings family fun goes to another level. The only type of fun you can only enjoy when snow is involved.

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If you do want a little Christmas touch, all you need to do is head to the resort. Decorations are on show and at night the resort is well and truly lit up and looking spectacular in its Christmas lights. Carols can be heard throughout the resort, belting out popular Christmas carols, whether it is in Korean or English, it doesn’t matter you still know the song and sing to the tune.

Now maybe other regions in the world do their White Christmas with a little bit more passion. I am sure it is the case. But it won’t stop me from having a very special attraction towards Muju and my only ever Christmas in the freezing snow.

Merry Christmas to all you travellers from your Fair Dinkum Traveller.

Muju lights up in Christmas

The day I met A North Korean Defector

The day I met A North Korean Defector

A pretty girl, aged around thirty. That was my first recollection of the North Korean defector when I first saw her on a bus tour in Seoul, Korea. I certainly couldn’t speak to her, but my South Korean wife certainly could. So this is her story, which is one of bravery, but also very sad.

She (her name is unknown) triumphed and risked everything to give her daughter a better life. She lost so much also, forced to leave her native land. However, the end result was freedom, a better world and a better life. This is the story of the first and only defector of any kind that I have ever met. It’s the day I met a North Korean defector.

Leaving North Korea

It was at least twelve months of planning. To find the right authorities, a secret group so to speak, and escape North Korea to the borders of China. She kept it all a secret to those close to her, including her husband. She explained that he would not have had anything to do with such an escape and would forbid it at all cost. So secrecy it had to be. I can only imagine how difficult that would have been for her.

In the middle of a night, after months of preparation, secrecy and fear. She left her house with her daughter in tow, forced to drug her daughter with sleeping tablets so she would be quiet during the escape When all appeared safe during the still of the night, this brave woman, her daughter and a group of other hopeful defectors they headed for the borders. The escape went smoothly as they made it to China without hiccup and freedom was so close.

Settling in South Korea

Transition was quite smooth into her new life in South Korea, with The South Korean government helping her and the daughter get on their feet and well settled in Seoul. She received grans such as getting an apartment, education, money and a job.

The sacrifice she made and the bravery she showed had been rewarded with a life away from poverty. She now had a job of portraying her story to tourist and to top it off, her daughter was well educated in a modern school. While I only saw her this once, she certainly appeared to be happy, go lucky person and a sure sign that her life’s brave decision had been the right one.

Sacrifices

Sacrifices were plenty. The risk of getting caught could have meant death or years of hard labour in a North Korean prison. No doubt losing her daughter who would have been taken from her.

Through it all, she lost her husband, he never knew of the escape and if he did, it would have been forbidden. She knows there is no hope that she will see her husband again, “he would never have understood,” those were her words, in Korean of course.

She lost her parents, although she communicates with them regularly by telephone, using a Chinese telecom service, it means her calls can’t be traced and she has to be very careful not to put any harm on her family in the North. Her Hope remains she will still see them again but that is all it remains, is hope.

It is a story of bravery. She went through hell and she ended up with freedom. There is many like her who have attempted to flee the country, some have succeeded, many have failed. But this woman triumphed over adversity and that is the story of the only North Korean defector I have ever met.

The North Korean Defector now lives in freedom in Seoul, South Korea

The North Korean Defector now lives in freedom in Seoul, South Korea

It is well known that the South Korean government are always keen to help those who are wishing too free themselves from the north and receive a little information from the neighbours in the north. For security reason pictures were not allowed taken of the North Korean Defector.

Piss Off Winter, Spring Has Arrived

Piss Off Winter, Spring Has Arrived

Words I use for winter, long, wet, depressing, cold and bloody freezing and that is being nice. It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. It’s hard to get motivated and most of all, winter is just a pain in the you know what. Am I being negative, well perhaps I am, but it’s the way I feel now that September has rolled around.

So Piss of winter, Spring has arrived.

Don't see tulips in full bloom in winter.

Don’t see tulips in full bloom in winter.

Spring means the birds are chirping, the flowers are beginning to bloom and looking beautiful indeed, but the best part is the days are getting longer and the weather is warming. Which means the barbeques are coming out, the clothes are getting lighter and summer is nearing and that’s when it all heats up.

Now all you readers in the Northern Hemisphere must be thinking I have got my seasons crossed and I have gone completely mad. Not quite, not for this fair dinkum Aussie in the Southern Hemisphere, who has had enough of the miserable winter and is getting excited about what lies ahead as the weather begins to sizzle and the beer is cooling in the ice cold esky.

Wildflowers at King Park, WA

Wildflowers at King Park, WA

 

So here it is, 5  little reasons I am excited for spring.

  1. The obvious, the skies are clearing and the sun is out. Which means spending more time in the great outdoors with friends and family. Just how life should be.
  2. Camping season is back again. So get your tents dusted off it is time to put them back up, start a fire a roast some marshmallows.
  3. Everything looks better. Blue skies, wild flowers, gardens with their flowers in full bloom and lawns are lush and  full of green (until it all goes dead in summer).
  4. Barbeques. The steaks are sizzling and the sausages are turning, everyone loves an old fashioned barbeque.
  5. Beach weather is nearing. Therefore so is sunbaking, sunburn, beach cricket and beautiful women.

Now last winter wasn’t all doom and gloom, so perhaps I am being harsh. I do remember two wonderful weeks I Koh Samui, Oh that’s right it was hot in Thailand. Never mind then, winter sucked or maybe it was just me and my own opinion.

Happy Travels.

All smiles in Spring

All smiles in Spring

Am I being Harsh? Is Winter really that bad? What is your favourite season? Tell me in the comments below.

 

A Soju experience I would rather forget

A Soju experience I would rather forget

Howdy Travellers and welcome to my new segment, Travel Tales. And why not a little soju to kick it off.

Classic tales about true travel stories that has happened while gallivanting around the globe. Whether scary, embarrassing, funny or plain old stories that just need to be told.

It all begins with my first ever trip overseas. First trip, first day and in the end just plain embarrassing. But what’s the point of being a travel writer if you can’t take the piss out of yourself? So let it begin.

Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul.

Seoul, South Korea. The setting of this embarrassing story.

Setting the scene

My first trip overseas and I am heading to Seoul, South Korea. The year is 2005 and it’s fair to say I am a green traveller at this point of my life. I am heading to Seoul, all on my own and meeting up with my then Korean girlfriend, who travelled home a couple of weeks earlier to spend extra time with the family.

I have caught the red eye on a Malaysian Airline flight via Kuala Lumpur and arrived in Seoul mid-morning. Of course my girlfriend has arrived late to the airport and I am waiting at the terminal all alone. All the while waving off pesky taxi drivers willing to take me away. Finally, she arrives, all apologetic and we’re off.

First is meeting the family. The mother in law, sister in law and anyone else required and have some lunch at a fancy restaurant. We take it easy for the rest of the day as the first night was going to be a big one. An engagement party of some sorts is on the agenda for another sister in law. That is when the shit really hits the fan. But I’m getting to that real soon.

Korean BBQ

I have gotten a little more familiar to Korean food over the years.

 

What Happened?

It’s an engagement party but the Koreans do it different. Hahm, it what the Koreans call it. A group of men on the groom’s side are in the street and the women on the bride’s side need to persuade them into the house, then onwards to the treasure. Which is naturally the future wife waiting in the house.

At this point I am a confused little Aussie as I watch these guys charge up the street and make a lots of noise. I am naturally standing off to the side of the street, watching these shenanigans go on, in the freezing cold and quite confused. Finally, after about an hour, the goal is complete. The men are persuaded into the house and it’s time to party.

Being the only English speaking bloke in a room, as well as my girlfriend, who is naturally pre-occupied with other commitments, is awkward. I take my place on the floor, around the table looking at different Korean dishes that are quite unfamiliar. The atmosphere is loud and everyone is gossiping and having a good time. While digging into the unfamiliar food that I will admit at the time didn’t look so good. Some still isn’t.

I haven’t eaten much, I am bloody tired and I can’t socialise. That is until finally the conversation comes in my direction and curiously the young Korean men in the room want to know about me. Like it just dawned on them a foreigner has been in their presence this whole time.

They bring out an alcohol drink called Soju, in fact there are hundreds of bottles of soju around the table. I get poured a glass and have toast with the guys. I remember the first taste, a smooth, sensational taste, that is easy to drink, one of the finest spirits I have ever had without mixing.

I want more and soon enough one soju turns into two, three and probably fifteen. This stuff is easy to drink and in quick time. By now the bubble has burst and the language barriers doesn’t seem to matter. Drunk only has one language.

I don’t remember much about the night except from the house, we next went to Karaoke bar. The microphone went into my hand and I remember singing Boyz II Men’s, I’ll make love to you. The microphone was ripped out of my hand before I hit the chorus. Apparently I was all over the place. But I don’t remember. There was no making love on this  night.

I must have been out like a light because my next memory is getting woken by a rather large smack to the shoulder, several times. It is my girlfriends mother and I don’t think it is a good thing that I have fallen asleep on my sister on law’s bed. Great first impression hey.

Anyway we catch a taxi to the house where I am staying and when I get out of the taxi, and I remember this part vividly, the vomiting begin. I spew up in the gardens outside the apartment and the worst bit is, I was spewing my guts up for the next four-days. I had got alcohol poisoning. No one to blame but myself I suppose.

My first trip to Korea was not one for the highlight reel. Although it makes for a great embarrassing moments that can be forever retold. Oh yeah and whatever happened to that girlfriend at the time? surely her family didn’t let me stick around. Nothing further from the truth. I made her my wife and to this day we are still going strong and I have never ever had a drop of Soju again.

 

Don't doubt it, it's great to travel with kids too.

Better times years after Soju experience.