Living in another country turns you into a very specific kind of asshole. Now that I know more about Thai culture and the city of Chiang Mai, I find myself feeling entitled. I see tourists on vacation and feel bitter towards them because they don’t know the “real” Thailand.
The past few weeks I was privileged with the arrival of my parents and brother as we traipsed through Southeast Asia together. It was then that I realized that I’m becoming a hard person to impress. The more I’ve seen, the more I compare every travel experience to a previous experience. It’s a little frustrating and turns me into a person I would really like to avoid becoming.
We met my brother in Bangkok and took a short flight to the island of Koh Chang which, while stunningly beautiful, didn’t expose us to much of the local culture. We stayed at an amazing resort, complete with pristine beaches and mountains in the background. But I kept telling my brother, “Well this isn’t really Thailand.”
After that we made our way to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and then to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. And every single place, I couldn’t help but compare to Thailand. “Ho Chi Minh has more motorbikes” or “Cambodia has similar food but Thai food is better.” And that’s when I stopped for a minute and thought that maybe I should stop being so pretentious.
Because every country was a place that I had never seen before. And instead of constantly comparing locations and being defensive about Thailand, I should have been recognizing the facts from my observations, as follows:
- Cambodia has (dare I say) even nicer people than Thailand. Every single person we met went above and beyond to make us feel welcome and had the most warm, welcoming smiles.
- Angkor Wat was incredible. Yes, it’s just anther temple but no, it’s a movie set and work of art all in one. The temples contrasted with the jungle around it and the mix of Hinduism and Buddhism made it very peaceful, despite the throngs of tourists.
- Ho Chi Minh was so much different than I thought it was going to be, but I loved it. It was much more of a European city than an Asian one, with the same flurry of traffic as Rome. There were street performers, dancers and people just hanging out with friends and family in the city center, which gave it a certain energy that was great to be around.
- The Saigon River is straight out of a movie. We took a boat ride and it was definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip. Speeding past green foliage in the middle of the water, I half expected a sea monster to come up and grab me.
- Bangkok still sucks. I’m sorry for those of you who love it, but I can’t get on board (at least not yet).
Moral of the story? I know a lot more than when I first got here, but I am by no means an expert. There is still so much to learn not only about Thailand, but about Southeast Asia in general.
I’ve read some travel blogs about traveling humbly, and I think that’s a very important concept that I often forget. Every new person and place has something different to share, and unless you go in with an open mind, you might as well order a margarita from Chipotle for your culture fix.
I know most of you wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night wondering what I’m up to next, so let me ease your worries: I don’t know. I may be home in two months, I may be home in two years.
One thing this trip did confirm for me: I’m not quite ready to go home. What is “home” anyways? Such an existential question. Like I said, I know everything now.