On August 19, 2018, my now husband and I embarked on a month long adventure to Thailand for our honeymoon. After spending the most incredible wedding day with our family and friends on the 18th, we crashed and hopped on a plane the next day at 4 pm to start our lives together on the other side of the world.
My husband, Jared, was fortunate enough to spend four years living in Thailand while his parents worked in missions in Chiang Mai. After being home schooled for two of these years, Jared attended an International School in Chiang Mai for the last two years of his high school education.
As someone who grew up in one place, only leaving the all-too comfortable Canadian borders for family vacations, the concept of life in another country (especially Thailand) was always difficult for me to wrap my head around. Jared’s stories of Southeast Asia were full of adventure, exploration and oftentimes downright bizarre encounters. I was always intrigued by this piece of his life that I didn’t understand yet so desperately wanted to.
Now that I’ve had a chance to explore and live life alongside Jared in this beautiful country, I can honestly say that the opportunity to spend a month in Thailand has been the most incredible experience of my life. I’ve tried flavours I didn’t know existed, met people who told stories coloured by experiences much different from my own, and have seen sights that I thought only existed in films and dreams. I have truly fallen in love with the place, the people, the culture.
Some of the reoccurring questions I’ve been asked since being here are, “did you get culture shock?” and “was Thailand everything you expected it to be?”
Put simply, no and no. The country far surpassed my expectations on all levels, however, I did learn some interesting things along the way…so much so that I decided to create a list to document the oddities (from a Westerner’s perspective) that constitute what normal means in Thailand.
Here’s what I recorded, in order of realization throughout the trip:
1. Drinks are often served with bags to carry out.
2. Outside of Bangkok, you will rarely find paper towel or hand dryers in a public bathroom.
3. Don’t expect a knife when you go to Thai restaurants — it’s customary to eat with a fork and spoon.
4. Many store owners will require that you take off your shoes before entering.
5. Almost all skin care products have “whitener” in them to bleach skin (even sunscreen!).
6. Because it’s so hot during the day, a lot of businesses and restaurants don’t open until the evening.
7. Mango salad is often called “papaya salad” in Thailand even though it’s still made with mangoes.
8. Beef in Thailand does not mean the same thing as beef in Canada (it’s usually water buffalo).
9. Bathroom stalls have next level privacy—there are no gaps in the doors and they are much lower to the floor and higher to the ceiling than they are in Canada.
10. Resort and hotel instant coffee are a big no… but the coffee actually grown in Thailand is incredible.
11. If you hold hands with your partner, people will know you’re foreign. You rarely see PDA from locals.
12. Thai people use actual tomato sauce as their ketchup.
13. The monkeys aren’t as friendly as they look!
14. Instead of salt and pepper on tables, you’ll see chilies, sugar and fish sauce.
15. It’s the norm to take selfies in public.
16. No fruit or vegetable is off limits when it comes to smoothies… including avocado.
17. Thai people are quite thin. What they consider an XL is vastly different from sizing in North America.
18. Monks travel all over the city using public transportation just like everybody else.
19. Food comes out at different times at restaurants, and it’s not customary to wait for friends to be served before you start eating. Food is always eaten hot.
20. Almost every Thai person you look at will smile at you—it’s why they call it “the land of smiles”.
21. It’s necessary to stand for the national anthem before your movie at the theater—and some areas in Bangkok will actually pause entirely while it plays over loud speakers in the morning.
22. Western food in Thailand isn’t the same as it is in Canada. Even if you’re missing home, hold off on that burger… relative to Thai food, it will cost a lot of money in Thailand and likely won’t be what you’re expecting.
23. Thailand is safer than you think. People love to talk about the horror stories but day to day life is simple and quite peaceful… just don’t forego your helmet on a motorbike.
Although I’ll carry all of these little lessons with me beyond our honeymoon, I think the greatest thing I’ll take away is an understanding of how Thailand shaped and formed the man I married. Closing the door on this trip is bittersweet. Although I’ll miss our mountain motorbike rides, late night trips to the market and the sweet “smell” of Thailand that I can’t quite describe, I have a feeling that our greatest adventures are still ahead of us.