My passports British and I live in England although on equal opportunities forms I’d be described as “other white”, British of mixed European descent is a good description. I’m in my early thirties and I've been visiting Thailand regularly for 7 years. My interest in the place was cultivated by my involvement in Thai Boxing or “Muay Thai” to use its correct name. I’m currently writing a novel about a guy who falls in love with a Thai girl, runs away with her and does the sort of things you wouldn't want your mother to find out about. As soon as it’s finished and published I’m going to go and live there. I suppose my piece falls into the “how to prepare” category.
A couple of years ago a female colleague of mine had decided to take a career break and spend some time in South East Asia before taking up a new job in Australia. Stop number one on her journey planner was Bangkok. As I was the office aficionado on all matters Siamese she asked me what she should take. I sucked my lips, thought for a moment and replied, “It’s more what you should leave behind”. She gave me a look that said, “What sort of answer's that? He's finally gone gaga.”
Thailand is a country of many faces. Wherever you go in the country they'll all be smiling at you. Bangkok has some very wealthy inhabitants who spend their time sat in very expensive cars with the windows up and the air con on full while they watch their poor cousins scooting by. It also has some seriously impoverished rural parts, and the whole gamut of socio economic grades in between.
There are no material things I can think of that you can’t get in Thailand. Most of the things one might need are considerably cheaper over there than they are in the West, the only exception being up to date electronic goods. So if you really can’t live without your twenty-six inch wide screen TV or intelligent washer drier, take it with you. I’m not sure on the charges you'd incur at the airport but I’m sure the airline would be happy to supply you with that information.
You can buy most things that you'll need when you're there but people like to feel prepared and take things like toothpaste, sun tan oil, mosquito spray etc with them although you'll be gutted when you see the price of them there. I think the only thing that's more expensive over there is deodorant. I’m told the tampons available there are a bit like hand rolled cigarettes if you're used to buying them in packets, but being a bloke it has rarely been of any great consequence to me. The condoms available in Thailand are at best described as “a bit iffy”. Westerners may well find them a little “snug”. A friend of mine who isn't well regarded in feminist circles described the usage of a Thai brand condom as “Like fitting a roll of carpet in a babies sock”. So stock up on johnnies and tammies before you go, although there are branches of “Boots” dotted around the larger conurbations selling Western toiletries and medicines for Western pallets at astronomical prices. I think the best way for me to go about explaining things is to make a list for you.
TAKE DON’T TAKE
1) A smile (or the ability to perform one) 1) Your ego
2) Common Sense 2) Gullibility
3) Paranoia 3) Paranoia
4) Your time 4) Impatience
5) A tolerance to alcohol 5) Bad Temper
(Although one can be acquired in situ) (although this may become history if you take it with you)
6) The ability to communicate 6) Lots of clutter
(see “An extensive glossary of phrases, colloquialisms and head movements essential for visitors to Thailand”
AN EXTENSIVE GLOSSARY OF PHRASES, COLLOQUIALISMS AND HEAD MOVEMENTS ESSENTIAL FOR VISITORS TO THAILAND.
1) Yes- a positive affirmation used in a linguistic context.
2) No- a negative affirmation used in a linguistic context.
3) Move your chin and the rest of your head fifteen degrees to the left, back to centre and fifteen degrees to the right then back to the centre in a continuous movement-a negative affirmation in a non-linguistic context. (If you are Peter Beardsley completing this correctly may prove difficult so stick with “No”)
4) Move your chin upwards fifteen degrees along the vertical axis, back to the centre, down through fifteen degrees then back to the centre- a positive affirmation in a non-linguistic context.
5) Mai ow crap- it means “No Thank you” in Thai. If you are female say “ka” instead of “crap” (Yes Thai men do walk round saying “crap” all the time. Stop giggling at the back.)
6) Mai Pen Rai- it means it doesn’t matter.
7) Fuck off- catch all phrase which can be used if item “5” on the “Don’t Take” list has found it’s way into your hand luggage. Also comes in handy if you miss packed item “2” on the “Don’t Take” list thinking it was item “2” on the “Take” list, and have been taken to a jewellery store where you can make a fortune buying discounted emeralds.
Thai people differ greatly from Westerners. They're nice. Nothing is too much trouble. I suppose I should explain the list. Thailand is a chaotic place. The idea of planning isn't something they're comfortable with. That applies to their buildings, their roads, their families and their routines.
We're starting to get the picture. A place where family planning is non-existent and any sort of order in the construction of roads or buildings means that there are a lot of people in a lot of awkward ramshackle places. In the West you'll have got used to things happening within five or ten minutes of when you expect them to. Thailand is similar just replace the word “minute” with the word “hour” or possibly “day”.
Now lets run through a few scenarios.
Yesterday you booked into “Smiling Conman Guesthouse / Internet Café / Massage Parlour (traditional of course) / Restaurant / Travel Agent / Laundrette / Motorcycle Repair Shop” and paid the handsome sum of $5.50 US to spend the night in the room where “Ducky” from “The Beach” killed himself, it’s true you can still see the bloodstains. You found the cockroaches good company and the bare wires that caused you so much concern when you lay down have actually turned out to be a prototype of the “Insecto Cutor”, ingenious folk these Thais. You also booked onto a “Luxury Air Conditioned Coach” to Surat Thani for $10 US. From there you will catch the ferry to Kho Samui or Kho Pha Ngan. The coach is due to leave at 10 AM.
Today you've woken up. You haven't been murdered or raped. You haven't had your rucksack stolen and after unpacking it and repacking it your happy that a corrupt drug dealer hasn't planted a kilo of heroin in there in order to extract a large portion of your Dad’s life savings out of you via the Police.
You have a cold shower (good for the soul) dress and go and wait for the “Luxury Air Conditioned Coach”. It’s 09:55, you have an American Breakfast (it’s good to get into the customs of a country) and wait. Some other people with back packs turn up. It’s 10:25. You ask the Lady in the apron you bought the ticket off for the coach, who served you your breakfast after fixing the internet connection, who offered to “Make good fucking 1000 baht” just as you went to sleep where the bus is. “Is coming soon” she smiles. 10:55 a 15 year old Toyota Hi Ace pulls up. It only has one headlight. The rear bumper is held on with blue string, it has a large “Manchester United” sticker in the back window. One of the rear tyres is almost flat and one of the front ones looks like it was stolen from a hand cart. The driver gets out and takes a swig from the bottle of whisky in his shirt pocket The people with rucksacks jam themselves into the vehicle. You go for a slash. When you return the vehicle is trundling off in a large black cloud of diesel smoke.
The lady you bought the ticket from sees you laughs uncontrollably points at the vehicle through the smoke and says, “You miss bus.” Take item “1” from the “Take” list. Use it as genuinely as is physically possible. Make sure item “5” from the don’t take list doesn’t rear it’s ugly head and use item “6” from “Appendix b”.
You have established that no refund is available. Your ticket is valid for tomorrow. You have decided to stay another night. Have a walk round. The traffic is very busy. You become thirsty. Ensure that item “5” from the take list is fitted and functional. Sit in a bar and try some of the local beer Singha is very good. Once you've tried seven of them try a Beer Chang or 6, then move on to the Mekong the Thais call it a whisky but it’s technically a rum (for all you grog snobs out there). Walk around in the sun. Come very close to being killed by a scooter. Use item “1” from the “take” list liberally. It must be pointed out that failure to fit item “5” from the take list correctly will seriously interfere with function of item “6” on the take list and may lead to item “2” on the “Don’t Take” list creeping up on you.
You wake up the next day having misplaced item “6” from the take list. You check your rucksack again for heroin. You look at your watch it’s 11:45 am and realise your “Luxury Air Con Shitheap” has left again without you. You wonder why there is a used condom on the floor. Stroll downstairs for breakfast. The lady in the apron says you owe her 1000 baht.
Run back to your room. Unfortunately you brought item “1” from the “Don’t Take” list and it has been torn from your back and stamped on by a family of laughing Thais. Say to your self, “Fuck this for a game of soldiers”. Get a taxi to the airport and pay $130 US for a flight to Kho Samui that afternoon. Whilst on the plane use item “3” from the “take” list while wondering if it is possible to catch Aids when using a condom and mulling over that article you saw on the telly about a plane crashing at Samui Airport killing all but two of the passengers.
The pedantic among you may notice that item “3” on the “Don’t Take List” also appears on the “Take” list. Paranoia can save your life and also ruin it. I believe there are different brands available in the west. If you can only find a brand which must be fitted like a steel plate in your knee and can’t be removed don’t bother. If however you can find a brand similar to Bic Razors, which can be used once and thrown away this is ideal. Carry it with you at all times.
Once you've got to Kho Pha Ngan. If someone stops you in the street and offers you something/anything grab item “3” quickly out of your pocket and wave it at them in conjunction with item “7” from “Appendix b”. If your dancing away at the Full Moon Party and your vision has become distorted after a mushroom shake, try and get one of your friends to look after “item 3” for you.
If your dancing away at the Full Moon Party and a Thai gentleman in a nice brown uniform says “You want smoke ganja?” quickly grab “item 3” back off your mate and go and dance somewhere else.
It is a little known fact that when you pass through immigration at Bangkok Airport you get sprayed with an invisible dye. It’s very clever stuff and is hooked up to your eyes. When you get off the plane and haven't been to an Asian Country before your eyes become extremely wide. If you have been to an Asian Country your eyes still become wide (but not as much). When you get into the centre of Bangkok and see a family of five using a moped to get from A to B (all at the same time) your eyes get wider. The wider your eyes, the stronger they dye.
The only people that can see the dye are the Thais. The more dye that is visible on you the more you pay for things. The more they can see the dye the more you'll get offered taxis, massages and trinkets. At the end of your visit seeing cripples begging won't make your eyes go wide anymore. You've seen it all before. The dye wears off. You don’t get stopped in the street and the taxis charge you a fairer price.
Enjoy your trip.
That's one way to do it.