I’ve been to Thailand more times than I can count. I’ve lived in Bangkok twice and if I stay away for more than a year, I feel as if a piece of me is missing. It’s been 18 months since I’ve last been here and my excitement oozes off me like sweat during a hot Bangkok summer.
People often ask me why I return to places I’ve already visited instead of exploring somewhere new. Well, that’s an easy answer – it’s because I feel attached to them. I feel at home when I’m visiting them. And Thailand is probably the one place outside of the US where I feel most at home.
And why do I love Thailand so much? Well, let me count the ways:
The Delicious Food
When people say they like Thai food but haven’t been to Thailand, I can’t help but think “you have never really experienced Thai food.” Thai food in Thailand is leagues better than anywhere else in the world. There’s more variety and more flavors. Your mouth dances with a concert of flavors when you eat here. The food has kick to it, too. I always order “mai pet” which means “not spicy” because by Thai standards that means only one chili. Anything more than that, and I look like I’m about to keel over and die. (I have a low tolerance for spicy food.) All over the streets of Thailand, outdoor stalls serve up the cheapest and best Thai meals you can find. And no matter what time of the day it is, there’s always food available somewhere.
Moreover, there is a lot of savory international food in the country. Thailand is a very international place thanks to the hordes of tourists and expats (foreigners who live in Thailand) around the country. Some of my favorite sushi restaurants are in Bangkok, and you can find amazing halal and Indian food in the downtown Sukhumvit area. And, surprisingly, you’ll also find a lot of Mexican — Senor Pico’s is the best Mexican outside of North America.
The Warm Weather
I love the sun a lot (much to my mother’s and my dermatologist’s dismay). I think after shoveling snow in Boston for the vast majority of my life, I gravitate to the sun because in the tropics, there’s no snow to shovel. Even though there’s a monsoon season in Thailand, I love the heat and the fact that it is always hot and humid in Thailand appeals to me. It’s never jacket weather and I can always wear a t-shirt and shorts.
(O.K., that’s not entirely true. In January, I do wear a jacket. It gets pretty close to 20 C here. You can always tell the expats from the tourists in Bangkok because the expats are the ones wearing sweaters and jackets in January. I once had a friend visit me and I refused to turn on the A/C in my apartment. It was far too cold for that!)
The Friendly Locals
Thais are some of the nicest people I have ever met. They are always happy, always smiling, extremely polite and always helpful. They will help you out if you are in trouble and help translate for you if you can’t speak Thai. They treat you well and whenever I come back here, the local shop owners whose stores I frequent greet me with a warm smile and big hug. Thais have amazing memories and once a friend, always a friend. I always feel safe in Thailand. Thais rarely steal or cause any problems. Thailand is one of the few countries I feel comfortable leaving my laptop out while I go to the bathroom.
It’s Perfect for Travel
Thailand is smack dab in the middle of everything. It’s 3 hours to Hong Kong, 2 hours to Singapore, 4 hours to Bali, half way between Australia and Europe. You can get to a lot of places easily from Thailand, which when you are a traveler like myself, is really appealing. And, you can get to many of these destinations cheap. I’m heading to Singapore tomorrow for 4 days and it only cost me $120 USD roundtrip on Tiger Airways. Not a bad deal and not a bad way to spend the weekend.
The Postcard Perfect Tropical Islands
I love the beach. I can sit on the sand and go for a swim for hours upon end. It’s heaven to me. (See above and my love of warm weather). While Thailand has been developed for years and many of the best beaches have been ruined through uncontrolled development, you can still find some pristine, picture perfect islands and beaches around the country. I particularly love Ko Chang, Ko Kood, Surin Island, Ko Adang, and Ko Lanta. Heading down south near the Malaysian border, I think you find the best islands. They all look like the above picture and a place like that is simply heaven to me.
The Lush Jungles
As much as I enjoy sitting on the beach, I also love to hike through jungles, and Thailand has some of the most beautiful and lush ones I’ve seen. From the jungles and elephants in Khao Yai National Park, to Khao Sok in the south with its famed lake, to the famous jungle and hill tribe treks near Chiang Mai, you can get your tropical jungle fix very easily here. They may not be the wild and untamed jungles of some places in Borneo or the middle of Africa but they still offer amazing views, dense forests, waterfalls to cool off in, and an interesting variety of wildlife.
The International Environment
Thailand is a country where you can get as local or foreign as you like. Because of all the tourists and expats that live here, the country is very cosmopolitan and international. There are global food chains, international restaurants, stores, Starbucks, and Hollywood movies. Thailand is a melting pot of people and you’ll find people from around the world. I’ve made friends here from France, Germany, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Israel just to name a few.
Thailand is Convenient
Thailand is convenient. Hungry at 3:30am? There’s someone around to sell you food. Need to take a bus to Vietnam? That can be easily arranged. Need to go shopping at some strange hour? There’s a store open. Pharmacy at 2am? Got that too. Thailand is just an easy place to live and move around in. And, in Bangkok, you never have to wait for a taxi.
The Beautiful People
Let’s be real – Thais are pretty good looking. There’s a reason so many people come here and marry Thais. They are pretty damn hot. It’s nice coming to a country where everyone is good looking. The women here are just stunning with beautiful skin and exotic looks. All of my friends have dated Thai girls.
I hated Bangkok the first few times I traveled there. It wasn’t until I moved there that I fell in love with it. Bangkok, it turns out, is an easy city to live in – there’s lots to do, plenty of events, great bars, amazing food (see above), and it’s easy to get around (except during rush hour). Bangkok is one of the most commonly visited cities in Thailand, making it one of the leading global cities travelers can navigate using the English signs throughout. There are many hotels in Bangkok that are foreigner-friendly, making it a very comfortable stay for those who aren’t familiar with the Thai language. I love cities where there is always something to do and no matter what time of the day, no matter what day of the week, you can always find something to do in Bangkok. Like New York, Bangkok is a city that never sleeps.
Thailand is cheap to visit and cheap to live in. Yesterday, I spent $4 USD for all of my food for the day, including some drinks and snacks. Most food from the street vendors costs $1. I can get a private room for $10 USD per night, or a bungalow in front of the beach for $15- 20 USD. An apartment in downtown Bangkok costs $300 a month and it’s still bigger than what I need. Thailand simply offers incredible value for your money. A few years back, I was telling my friend that after a month bouncing around the islands, I had spent around 40,000 baht ($1,400 USD). He was shocked! “How the hell could you spend so much money in one month!” he exclaimed. Thailand is a country so cheap, $1,400 is considered a lot of money. I paid double that in rent in New York City.
When people ask me my favorite country, I always say Thailand. I always find that question to be like Sophie’s choice – how can you pick a favorite country? Every country is amazing in their own right. No country is really better than another – just different. However, Thailand has a special place in my heart. We have a long history together. I’ll always return to this country. I love it here too much.