The Country We Just Can’t Quit

An elephant roams the streets of Nong Khai

An elephant roams the streets of Nong Khai

From the moment we arrived at our first destination in Laos, it was there, beckoning us. Strolling along the Mekong, or sipping a cold beer at one of the many riverside bars, our gazes would turn towards the setting sun, and our expressions would freeze into ones acute with longing. Often we’d peer out from a glittering wat, in the shadow of a towering Buddha, only to see the mirror image reflected back at us across the water… only the wats and Buddhas we saw across the way were shinier, newer, and much, much bigger, as if to pointedly remind us that anything Laos could do, this country could do better. As we battled power outages, glacial internet speeds, bone-splintering bus rides on pitted and potholed roads, and oddly inflated food prices, we would joke that all we had to do was hop the river—by boat or by bridge, it didn’t matter—and all of our hassles would melt away.

Eventually, we stopped joking. Overall, we enjoyed our time in Laos, but we could never shake ourselves free from the pull of what we knew lay just west of its borders. When we reached Luang Prabang, the tug became even more insistent, and in the face of it, our plans to continue north to Nong Khiaw, Muang Ngoi, and Phongsali crumbled. With news that Lao New Year festivities would soon be upon us and would disrupt transport for the better part of a week, we succumbed to the desire we had been fighting pretty much from the minute we had arrived. Braving a 12-hour bus ride on the mountainous roads between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, we returned to the capital city. The following morning, we were riding another bus, but this time, for a much shorter duration…

Within an hour, we were back where we had wanted to be all along. We were back in Thailand.

It's a metaphor... Thailand is Buddha and we're the cat. Dig?

It’s a metaphor… Thailand is Buddha and we’re the cat. Dig?

Whenever we are asked, as we always are, what our favorite countries in Asia are, we easily rattle off our top three: Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan (with the caveat that the relative placement of each one is always subject to change based on our whims and desires of the day.). We then quickly add that Thailand comes in a close fourth amongst our favorites, but with this, our FIFTH visit to the country since the start of our trip, we have begun to wonder whether we might need to reappraise its position. Although we’re oddly reluctant to award it a top spot on our totally arbitrary ranking of favorites, the fact that it is our most visited country on our travels surely must count for something. Moreover, Thailand comes in second only to Vietnam in terms of amount of time we have spent in a country with a cumulative total of approximately three months to Vietnam’s five. Clearly, there is something about Thailand that keeps us (and many other travelers, I might add—it’s the 15th most popular destination in the entire world and third in Asia behind China and Malaysia (the latter of which is probably skewed by Singaporeans to some extent)) coming back for more.

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It’s not easy to pinpoint what that thing is, simply because there are so many things that are great about Thailand. Despite its immense popularity with travelers (or perhaps because of it), it still remains one of the cheapest places to travel in the region, offering excellent value for money. The countryside is gorgeous and varied, the culture is rich and fascinating, the food is infamously good, and there’s a reason the country has earned itself the nickname “The Land of Smiles”—coming in from Laos, we were both immediately struck by the warmth of the greeting we received from the Thai locals, who beckoned us over with flapping hands and beaming grins, calling out hearty greetings full of cheer to us. We felt welcome, and more than that, we felt like we were home.

A friendly man in Ban Song

I don’t think we’re the only ones who feel this way, either. Some jaded travelers scoff that Thailand has given itself over to the tourists, that it’s too easy and comfortable, too westernized, that traveling here is not really traveling (whatever that means). To be perfectly honest, before we ever visited, we shared some of these concerns, worrying Thailand was too “mainstream” for us. The fact that so many bloggers and travelers (many who have never been anywhere else in Asia) had raved about Thailand’s many charms did little to put our minds at ease, as we viewed this as evidence that the country would be watered down in an attempt to appeal to the masses.

We certainly didn’t expect that we would fall in love with Thailand, but all I can say is that we were massively wrong to doubt it. Maybe we arrived intending to play hard-to-get, however it didn’t take very long at all for Thailand to win us over and for us to see why so many people seem to fall under the influence of its gravitational pull. It’s true that Thailand is an incredibly approachable destination—exotic enough to intrigue, but accessible and with enough comforts from home that you never feel totally out of your element or like you can’t cope; it’s an addictive blend and the country is sufficiently diverse and malleable that it really does offer something to suit any travel style. If you want to stick to the tourist trail and visit a floating market or wander the Grand Palace in Bangkok, frolic with elephants in Chiang Mai, be blinded by the trippy temples of Chiang Rai, channel your inner hippie in the mountains around Pai, ride the train on the death railway over the river Kwai, or take in one of the many islands’ full moon parties (whether you’re on Phi Phi, Phuket, or Phangan), it’s easy enough to do so and plenty of people are happy doing just that. Heck, we’ve done most of those things ourselves and had a blast; these activities are popular for a reason: they’re fun! But for those who think that once you’ve done these things, you’ve done Thailand, that all the places worth visiting have been explored and exploited and there are no new stories left to tell here, I would respectfully—but heartily—disagree.

Take the town of Nong Khai. It’s a place you’ve probably never heard of, burrowed as it is on the fringes of the country, meaning it’s not close to anywhere, save for the Laos capital of Vientiane. It is actually for this reason that it likely sees any travelers at all, as a transit point for those on visa runs. Given that they are so often a means to an end, you generally don’t expect much from border towns, but as it turns out, Nong Khai is actually a great example of the kind of unassuming places that are peppered throughout Thailand and that have fueled our love affair with the country.

Nong Khai Market

Like Savannakhet in Laos, Nong Khai isn’t really the kind of place that you visit in order to do much other than leave. But within minutes of arriving, we are impressed with how clean the streets are and the care that has been put into cultivating its quiet charm. The locals who live here do not suffer from “farang fatigue” as so often happens when tourists overwhelm a city and behave poorly, and so they immediately offer us open smiles rather than cordial or calculated ones, and their warmth towards us is genuine and true. Their eyes grow wide when Tony asks prices in Thai (they all assume I’m a local so my attempts are more likely to produce curious scrutiny as they try to figure out why the Thai girl speaks like a white person…) and his compliments to cooks regarding their delicious food (a roi mat mat!) always earns him ear-to-ear grins, hearty thumps on the shoulder, and a cascade of encouragement and excitement over his “excellent” language skills. In places like Bangkok (which we also love, by the way, but for totally other reasons), locals are too busy and too accustomed to tourists to coo over garbled attempts at the language; but in Nong Khai, people are legitimately happy to see us. Shopkeepers bring out their children to greet us and happily pose for pictures, our guesthouse owner chats with us at length whenever he sees us passing through reception, stall owners at the fantastic local market that carries literally everything you could ever need (along with plenty you don’t) haggle with us gently and good-naturedly, and street vendors hover over us anxiously to make sure we like their food (we do!).

Like sundry other anonymous little Thai towns, Nong Khai doesn’t have much glitz or glamor but it’s an exceedingly easy and enjoyable place to be. It is blazingly hot while are there, so we spend our time enjoying the shade of the covered market, fastidiously avoiding anything that looks like a wat, and then slowly wandering the town, popping into any air-conditioned shop we can find (there is an astonishing lack of 7Elevens—is this Thailand or not?!?) while hydrating ourselves with slushies and fruit popsicles when we feel the beginnings of sun stroke.

Food vendor, Nong Khai, Thailand

Speaking of food (and if we weren’t exactly talking about food, clearly we should be…): oddly and surprisingly, we don’t ever really miss or crave Thai food when we’re not in Thailand and can’t eat it, but when it is available, we happily glut ourselves on the local food to the exclusion of all else and wonder how we could ever want to feast on anything else.

In Nong Khai, our bender starts on the walk from the bus station when we stop at a local “rice & three” (or as we call them amongst ourselves, “pick & mix”), in which cauldrons of various curries and stewed dishes are offered and you can pick two or three along with a serving of rice for a set price. Here it is 40B (~$1.35US) for rice + 2 options, which we supplement with a plate of the best spring rolls we have ever had in Thailand (true story: spring rolls aren’t really a Thai thing so you don’t actually see them that often… however, these are gargantuan and served with fresh herbs and with a great dipping sauce that is an ingenious combination of the tart & sweet Vietnamese dipping sauce, nuoc cham, and a peanutty satay sauce) and 2 glasses of cha yen (Thai tea—so sweet, so milky). Total damage for our massive feast is under $5US for the two of us. We liked this place so much we ate lunch here every day we were in town (and actually contemplated extending our stay just so we could eat here more!).

Happy vendors, Nong Khai, Thailand

(Added bonus? Normally we (rightfully) feature puppies, but this time it was absolutely the owner’s baby daughter who looked like the cutest Who down in Whoville. She would take our money when we paid our bill and then deliver up the wai (traditional Thai greeting where one bows while pressing hands together as though in prayer) and delighted whenever Tony would shake her hand.)

No time in Thailand would be complete without a visit to a night market and Nong Khai has a pretty great one that sets up on the main road. A good selection of Thai dishes are offered, certainly far too many for us to try them all during our limited time in town. Highlights were the awesome duck noodles and one of the best plates of pad Thai (another surprisingly difficult dish, if not to find, then to execute correctly here) we’ve enjoyed in the country. And, of course, mango sticky rice. Because, honestly, how could we not?

Food, Nong Khai, Thailand

Wing Bean Salad

Food, Nong Khai, Thailand

Tamarind Fish

Dinner at Nagarina, a floating restaurant (apparently a theme for us during this past month of travels), certainly constitutes a splurge, but is well worth it. We savored a fried fish slathered in tamarind sauce and an uncommon wingbean salad, served with crunchy prawns and perfectly soft-boiled eggs. The salad, known as yum tua plu, is famous for being one of the Queen’s favorite dishes. We hadn’t seen this dish anywhere else on our travels and are glad we had the opportunity to try it, because it is certainly unlike the Thai food we are more accustomed to. The standout element of the dish is the spicy dressing, which is slightly thick and has a sticky sweet citrus note to it; this dish manages the difficult feat of being extremely rich but still quite light and delicate.

Phrae, Thailand

Whenever we return to Thailand (and remember, we’ve done that four times now!), within minutes of being back, one of us always turns to the other and, with a note of complete incredulity, exclaims, “How do we always forget how much we LOVE it here?” And then the other person shrugs and sheepishly mumbles something unintelligible, largely because they are probably shoving as much food into their face as is humanly possible. No matter how much you’ve heard about how incredible Thai food in Thailand actually is, it’s actually so much better than you could ever guess; it doesn’t just live up to the hype, it exceeds it and then some. My secret tip to you is that we’ve found the best Thai food NOT in the big name cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai (or, god forbid, on any of the islands), but in the places most tourists don’t bother visiting like Ban Song, Trang, Phrae, Ayutthaya (ok, some tourists do visit this one), and now, Nong Khai. These places are filled with the food that locals eat every day, where you’ll order by pointing because there aren’t any English menus or by simply indicating how much of the one thing a vendor makes you want to eat; these cities are too small for a dud to last very long because everyone knows everybody’s business and only the best places survive. Really, when I put it that way, it’s not a surprise at all that Nong Khai turned out to be our favorite kind of little Thai town, or that it’s because of the food that Thailand tops our list of the countries we just can’t quit.

Tell Us: Do you have a country that you find yourself returning to over and over again?

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About Stephenie Harrison

In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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46 Responses to “The Country We Just Can’t Quit”

  1. Tim | UrbanDuniya May 6, 2014 at 5:41 am # Reply

    I can’t put my finger on it either – but I also love Thailand! It’s such a far cry from the other countries which I love, but there’s just something magical about it – the food, the culture, the people. LOVE!

    And yes, re: Buddha and cat – I dig ;)
    Tim | UrbanDuniya recently posted..Why Sydney’s NorthConnex Motorway won’t work

    • Stephenie Harrison May 7, 2014 at 7:30 am # Reply

      Yup, even though Thailand is not really like the other countries we tend to love which fly a bit under the radar, we can’t help but feel like the love it receives is very well deserved. It knows what it’s doing and does it like a pro! Glad you feel the same way too!

  2. Corinne May 6, 2014 at 5:58 am # Reply

    Steph, Whenever people who’ve never traveled ask me where to go first, I tell them Thailand. It’s very exotic, very Asian, but very friendly and easy. What more can you ask for? I think for you guys, it’s almost a vacation from the traveling as things are easy, familiar, and friendly. It’s like coming home. You know what to expect and what is expected of you. And yeah! Who can beat the food?
    Corinne recently posted..Museum of Islamic Art in Doha

    • Stephenie Harrison May 7, 2014 at 7:32 am # Reply

      It’s hard to think of a better first destination for newbie travelers—it’s just so accessible and approachable, but definitely can’t be mistaken for anywhere else in the world. For us, it really is a bit like coming home because we just know how things work in Thailand and what to expect and it’s not really a challenge for us, which is a nice break after we’ve been roughing it in less explored destinations. And really, the food… it gets us every time!

  3. Ali May 6, 2014 at 7:20 am # Reply

    We certainly enjoyed our 3 weeks in Thailand, even though we were only in the south. I feel pretty confident we will go back at some point in the future to see more of the country, even if it isn’t for a few more years. I can relate to the beginning of your post about Laos – I found it to be a perfectly nice, pretty country with friendly people, but it just didn’t grab me and I have no real desire to go back. And yes, Thai food is amazing, even the stuff we found in southern Thailand. We’ve started making Thai food at home now because we love it and there are a couple of good Asian grocery stores where we live. Yum!
    Ali recently posted..How Much We Spent Traveling in Malaysia

    • Stephenie Harrison May 7, 2014 at 7:37 am # Reply

      Don’t get me wrong—southern Thai food is really wonderful (especially if you like spicy!). We just didn’t find the food on the islands to be particularly great in most cases, definitely catering more to tourist palates and often difficult to find Thai options at all.

      It’s hard for me to say exactly why I love Thailand yet Laos failed to capture me, but I suppose you understand—it’s just got a certain je ne sais quoi that’s tough to beat!

  4. Steve Cordis May 6, 2014 at 10:58 am # Reply

    Yes, yes, yes! I feel the same way about Thailand as you two and always recommend it to travelers who haven’t been there yet. From beaches in the south to the jungles of the north and of course the big city of Bangkok in the middle, it’s all good for different reasons.

    Anybody who complains about Thailand is just another complainer who complains about everything. You know who I’m talking about as you can find them everywhere. I try to avoid these people. If they think a place is to “touristy”, well then quit complaining and go somewhere else. It’s not hard to find un-touristy places, anywhere.

    I’ve been to Thailand four times over the last 25 years and it always captivates me. In fact, now that I’m retired and plan to hit the road again this fall, Thailand is on the short list to spend extended stays. Vietnam and Indonesia are also on that list.

    Thanks for this post. You’ve described exactly what travelers should know. I too, feel at home when I’m there.

    • Stephenie Harrison May 8, 2014 at 5:13 am # Reply

      Agreed. Pretty much whatever type of traveler you are, you can find something to suit in Thailand. It only took us a day or two after our first arrival to figure out why so many people choose it as a first destination in Asia. I have heard some people complain that they felt Thailand was too “easy” (why does travel have to be hard, I wonder?) and that they felt it was overly touristy, but then I listened to the places they had visited, and they were squarely on the tourist trail, which pretty much every country has. We made a concerted effort on our initial visit to see a few places that weren’t quite as touristy and I think that has informed our approach ever since. Then again, the touristy places tend to be touristy for the simple reason that they’re pretty great!

      Must have been so cool to visit Thailand 25 years ago! We met a couple during our travels who visited Bangkok back in the days when elephants still routinely wandered through the city…

  5. Gillian May 6, 2014 at 11:53 am # Reply

    You know, people may say that Thailand is ‘mainstream’ but, really, Thailand has it figured it out (IMO). They manage to know what tourists want and yet still maintain their own culture. They’re not ‘selling out’ and neither are we by visiting; Thailand has a ton to offer, they make it easy to visit, and the FOOD!! Oh, the food!!
    Gillian recently posted..Eating Well in the East End of London

    • Stephenie Harrison May 8, 2014 at 5:17 am # Reply

      I completely agree that Thailand is very savvy when it comes to tourism. The truth is, very few people really want the hassles and frustrations that come with true off-the-beaten path travel, and it’s nice going to a place that has such a strong cultural identity but without inconveniences that some other less visited places have. They make it easy and enjoyable to visit, so it’s plenty obvious why people do! Plus with that food, I think we’d all be willing to jump through a few more hoops if need be… :)

  6. Kendra Granniss May 6, 2014 at 6:57 pm # Reply

    I am in the process of deciding where my first stop will be on my RTW trip. Thailand constantly pops into my head. You may have just completely convinced me it is where I need to start my adventure!

    • Stephenie Harrison May 8, 2014 at 5:38 am # Reply

      Thailand would be an excellent first stop, Kendra. It’s hard to think of anywhere else in Asia that would be much better. If your budget can stretch, Japan or Hong Kong are good options as well as they’re used to tourists but have strong culture all their own, and Taiwan is obviously great too (though it is a little more difficult to travel independently in Taiwan). Singapore (pricey) & Malaysia (less pricey) are also awesome, and worth a visit even if you don’t start your trip there.

      Good luck with the planning! No matter what you choose, you’re guaranteed an adventure!

  7. Emily May 6, 2014 at 8:21 pm # Reply

    I don’t think we did Thailand justice – we need to go back! But I know how you just get ‘that feeling’ with a place after going back and loving it more than you can remember. Sigh…love that!
    Emily recently posted..Santiago 2.0

    • Stephenie Harrison May 8, 2014 at 5:50 am # Reply

      It’s always nice to go back to a place you’ve loved only to find you love it more than you remember… So much nicer than the alternative (which I’m always fearing) that you’ll go back and find that spark just isn’t there anymore! But after 5 visits to Thailand, I think we can safely say that we’re hooked and ready for a life-long love affair!

  8. Franca May 7, 2014 at 3:41 am # Reply

    Thailand has been this kind of country for us too, we returned more than once and we are so happy we did because we ended up volunteering at the dog shelters which was one of the best experiences we ever had and that changed us a lot! I saw a photo of mango and sticky rice, now I’m craving for some, I don’t think I’ll have much luck to find any in the rural Spain were we are now.
    Franca recently posted..The Tragic Early Death of Thailand’s White Temple

    • Stephenie Harrison May 8, 2014 at 6:25 am # Reply

      I’m glad that Thailand grew on you too! I think that initially it might not have been your very favorite place, but you’ve had so many fantastic experiences there, I know it holds a special place in your hearts too. I hope you make it back some day soon… there is so much good veggie food there for you to eat!

  9. Paul Kuehn May 7, 2014 at 1:48 pm # Reply

    Do you see many elephants running around?who feeds them?

    • Stephenie Harrison May 8, 2014 at 6:28 am # Reply

      We don’t see too many elephants roaming around outside of sanctuaries in Thailand, but it does happen. In these cases they normally have a handler and much of the time he solicits tourists and locals for donations, ostensibly to purchase food for the elephant. It’s not a great way to live for the elephants, obviously, since they aren’t meant for cities and they are generally underfed since it costs quite a lot to get them the amount of food they really need.

  10. Rhonda May 7, 2014 at 2:25 pm # Reply

    You guys are SO correct…. we keep ending up back there as well, sometimes commenting that it’s too touristy, and yet we’re still there! Now, of course, I want to race to Nong Kai and try some of that delicious food.
    Rhonda recently posted..The Art of Overlanding

    • Stephenie Harrison May 8, 2014 at 6:31 am # Reply

      There have really only been a few places that we felt were too touristy in Thailand, but maybe that’s because we generally spend most of our time in less popular destinations. No Phuket or Khao San Road for us… :)

      Since you’ll undoubtedly make it back to Thailand one of these days, I’m sure you’ll make it to Nong Khai, especially if you decide to overland to Laos! Just plan to spend a few days there—the food is that good!

  11. YTSL May 7, 2014 at 7:25 pm # Reply

    The place that I kept on visiting over and over again until I moved there seven years ago was/is Hong Kong. In recent years, I’ve visited Japan a lot too.

    Have you re-visited either of these territories? With Japan: I noticed that it was the first place in Asia that you visited. I wonder how you’d react to it now that you’ve travelled so much elsewhere on the continent.
    YTSL recently posted..From Victoria Gap down to Aberdeen (Photo-essay)

    • Stephenie Harrison May 8, 2014 at 6:40 am # Reply

      We haven’t had the chance to revisit either of those countries on our travels—Thailand has been a good transport hub for us for various reasons, which is part of why we keep going back. We’d very much love to return to both Japan and HK—I think we’d certainly find different things to appreciate in both places now that we’re so much more comfortable with long-term travel. Japan in particular is a place that I don’t think we gave an entirely fair shake to—we did enjoy our time there, but we went so fast AND it was our very first destination, so our expectations were sky high and had to go through some growing pains while there. Would definitely love to return and see some of the parts we missed!

  12. Amy May 7, 2014 at 9:23 pm # Reply

    Thailand is absolutely the country we can’t quit either. We’ve spent nearly a third of our 15 month trip there and we were so sad to leave after Songkran,the only thing that made it better was that we were heading back to another of our favourite countries, the Philippines. I know you guys aren’t so keen on Chiang Mai but we’re addicted to it and we are already trying to manipulate our schedule so we can get back there before the year is out! Thailand really feels like our Asian home now but we’re resisting the temptation to return in August and are going to Hanoi for three months to work instead. It’s amazing that we have the same favourite countries too; The Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and hopefully we’ll love Taiwan too when we make it there in less than a week’s time :)
    Amy recently posted..The Cambodian Killing Fields

    • Stephenie Harrison May 8, 2014 at 9:56 am # Reply

      I think Bangkok is for us what Chiang Mai is for you! But that said, even though we never felt like CM was a great tourist destination for us personally, I do see why it is so appealing to expats and digital nomads.

      Generally the only way we’re able to leave a place without heavy hearts is by: 1) promising ourselves that we’ll come back again one day (hopefully soon!), and 2) by being really excited about our next stop. Leaving Thailand for the Philippines is a pretty great trade, I’d say, and Philippines to Taiwan a great one too. We’re happy here in Sri Lanka right now, but I still had to fight the tears when we were leaving Bangkok for who knows how long!

  13. Katie May 8, 2014 at 11:44 am # Reply

    Before Thailand, I always told myself there was too much of the world to see to repeat a country for now (as part-time travelers, we don’t have enough time off…). And then Thailand ran me over like a freight train, changed my perspective on so many things. It’s easy, beautiful, the people are amazing, the culture is fantastic. THE FOOD! It is SOO hard to find mango sticky rice here in Kentucky. Now all I can think about is my next trip to Thailand. We just got back from Indonesia, and every time I saw a flight to Bangkok in the airports I’d turn to my hubby with my best puppy dog eyes and ask if he thought we could just sneak on that plane. I can’t wait to go back and explore some of the smaller areas you mention. :)
    Katie recently posted..Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand

    • Stephenie Harrison May 11, 2014 at 12:58 am # Reply

      We had the exact same experience when we started our trip—we planned to blaze through a ton of countries and thought we’d cross them off our travel list, never to return again! Not once did we anticipate falling in love with places so much that we’d go back to them during the same trip! Part of why we have gone back to Thailand again and again has been because it’s a great transport hub that we’ve been able to get great flights to & from, but I can’t say we ever are sorry when we realize our travel plans have us returning. :) We always try to mix things up and visit/see/do/eat one new thing on each return visit, but all roads tend to lead to Bangkok for us eventually…

  14. NZ Muse May 8, 2014 at 11:39 pm # Reply

    It’s not very intrepid to admit, but Thailand is my pick too. Food of course plays a key part in that!

    • Stephenie Harrison May 11, 2014 at 1:03 am # Reply

      Intrepid, schmintrepid! There are plenty of challenging places that we’ve visited that I’d happily return to in order to delve a little deeper and explore a little further, but there is something about the relative ease of Thailand that is really appealing. And I maintain that you can still be plenty intrepid in Thailand if you really want to be!

  15. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling May 9, 2014 at 7:29 am # Reply

    Oh, tell me about it! I first went to Thailand when I was 17 (for 2 weeks), then again when I was 19 (for a month), then moved there for 15 months when I was 23, then we were there for a month at the end of 2012. It’s absolutely incredible how this place can get under your skin, no matter what aspect of the country you surround yourself with. I remember when I was really young, I was talking with some of the other volunteers I was working there with, and we were all saying that although we were falangs we felt like we had Thai hearts. And now, even though I haven’t lived there for almost 10 years and my Thai is quite rusty, I still feel like there’s a little percentage of my DNA that is Thai; or at the very least, honorarily Thai. :) I’ve just basically come to accept that no matter what I do or where I am in the world, I will always be returning to Thailand.

    And I concur; it’s good to check out some of the smaller non-touristy towns. I used to live in Chiang Rai and initially I volunteered in Chiang Mai, so I have spent a lot of time in Lamphun, Hot, Fang, Mae Sariang and other places. It’s awesome to walk around the markets in places like that, or walk up and down the main street and find the cheap local restaurants. It’s nice to see the slightly suprised, smiling faces filled with curiosity and friendliness.
    Karyn @ Not Done Travelling recently posted..Has Tourism Ruined Tanah Lot?

    • Stephenie Harrison May 11, 2014 at 1:06 am # Reply

      Wow, Karyn! It sounds like you’ve had some really incredible experiences in Thailand and have gained some fascinating insights into the country. I can only imagine how your 16+ months in Thailand have shaped you and how the country will now forever be a part of you. You’ve undoubtedly seen a part of the country that we (and many others) never have or will, so no wonder you treasure those memories so closely!

  16. Rachel of Hippie in Heels May 10, 2014 at 7:04 pm # Reply

    I wasn’t lucky enough to have that connection with Thailand, although I know it’s because I spent my 4 weeks only in the islands. I’d love to go back and see the rest of the country.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..Easy Guide to Jaipur’s Pink City

    • Stephenie Harrison May 11, 2014 at 1:09 am # Reply

      I think it’s possible to have this kind of connection even in the islands, provided you find the right one! We certainly know of people who have fallen hard for places like Koh Tao (we’ve never been, so can’t comment), but the Thai islands we visited—while nice—were just never our favorite places in the country. I guess we both just have to keep searching for our perfect one, right? :)

  17. Heather May 12, 2014 at 8:55 pm # Reply

    OMG that food! Whenever people ask me which country is my favorite, my answer is always, unhesitatingly, Thailand. And not just in Asia, but in the world! Being the only country in Asia not colonized, it has retained such a strong and unique culture that is palpable from the moment you step foot on its soil. From the kindness of its people, to the deliciousness of its food to the beauty of its temples and landscapes, there is just so much to love! I’d like to retire there someday.

    That being said, however, Japan holds a special place in my heart and is the country I’ve visited the most at four times.
    Heather recently posted..Snapshot: Miami Beach, Florida

    • Stephenie Harrison May 14, 2014 at 12:23 am # Reply

      Wow, four times to Japan! That is impressive!

      It sounds like Thailand is most travelers favorite place, and honestly, I can definitely see why. You’re right that the fact that it was never colonized means that it’s got a different vibe from everywhere else, even if it has rapidly embraced western brands and shops these days. It still retains a spirit that is very much its own.

  18. Katie @ The World on my Necklace May 12, 2014 at 9:54 pm # Reply

    This post has made me even more excited (if that is possible) about visiting Thailand next year! Despite travelling on and off for the past 10 years, I have yet to make it to Asia and I am excited about Thailand the most. I will definitely bookmark this and come back to it closer to my trip. Thanks again :)
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..Ephemeral Symphony of Autumnal delights: Fall in North America

    • Stephenie Harrison May 14, 2014 at 12:25 am # Reply

      Hi Katie! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment! Hopefully by the time you are ready to dive into Thailand we’ll have shared more stories of our time there; it really is an incredible country with something for every kind of traveler. If you’ve never been to Asia before, it’s hard to think of a better place to start!

  19. Jenia from HTL May 15, 2014 at 5:00 am # Reply

    Oi! we had the same feelings about Thailand when we first entered Laos in Savannakhet, staring longingly to the other side of Mekong. And then in Thakhek. And Vientiane. We were there maybe two weeks after you and the Mekong was so low you could walk half way to Thailand :) We needed to go to Nong Khai anyway for visa purposes (traveling on Russian passport we get visa-free entry to Laos and Vietnam, but only for 15 days) and ended up staying in town for a few days. It was such a treat to have a comfy bed, lightening fast internet, and delicious Thai food! We made friends with some Western retirees in town – the only other falangs that we saw! – and they told us about Thai retirement visa, which enables you to never leave. Not that I am counting the days or anything )
    Jenia from HTL recently posted..25 April 2014 – Nong Khai, Thailand

    • Stephenie Harrison May 16, 2014 at 11:11 pm # Reply

      So wild that you guys have had such a similar experience to ours in Laos! I guess great minds really do think alike! ;)

      If only those retirement visas didn’t require you to be old… I never thought I’d look forward to being in my 50s, but now I see there are definite perks!

  20. TC May 17, 2014 at 5:50 am # Reply

    Thanks for this great post and pictures. We were considering to spend couple of months in Asia this summer. This post helps a lot. We had the same feelings of over commercialized holiday destination about Thailand. Your post makes it clear that you can still enjoy the country and spend a nice time.
    TC recently posted..Car Insurance Policy Coverage Options and Rates

    • Stephenie Harrison July 9, 2014 at 11:23 am # Reply

      Thailand is truly a destination for every and all! There is actually a lot of diversity within the country itself, from mountains in the north to tropical beaches in the south, and there are pretty obvious tourist destinations as well, meaning that if you veer at all from the beaten path, it’s pretty easy to find yourself a bit of the country without other foreigners if that’s what you desire. Whatever Thailand is doing in terms of its approach to tourism, it’s doing it well!

  21. Lauren May 18, 2014 at 5:17 pm # Reply

    I really, really want to go to Thailand….. it’s just a matter of when! Your photos are stunning and really capture the spirit of the country. I can see why you keep going back there! I think you should add it to your list of top places to visit when people ask you :)
    Lauren recently posted..Happy Rolph’s Bird Sanctuary and 9/11 Memorial Walkway

    • Stephenie Harrison May 19, 2014 at 2:00 am # Reply

      I’m confident you’ll make it to Thailand one day—it’s just way too great for you to stay away for too long! Once you get there, I’m sure you’ll wonder why it took you so long to make it there in the first place… I know we certainly did!

  22. Carmel May 21, 2014 at 8:12 am # Reply

    You’ll get no argument here. We love Thailand and can’t wait to go back again to explore more. I feel like we only really got started there.
    Carmel recently posted..AND SO, THE TIME HAS COME

    • Stephenie Harrison May 24, 2014 at 3:28 am # Reply

      Thailand is the country that just keeps on giving! Especially when it comes to food… :D

  23. Maddie June 2, 2014 at 2:40 pm # Reply

    This is such a great love letter to one of my favourite countries in SE Asia :-) Regardless of how many people say it’s not really “travelling” and that Thailand is too easy, I’ve never given a crap. I absolutely love it loud and proud and would go back in a heartbeat yet again.
    Maddie recently posted..Hull – the 2017 UK City of Culture

    • Stephenie Harrison June 15, 2014 at 4:34 pm # Reply

      I think it’s really easy to dismiss Thailand because it is so accessible and easy compared to some of its neighboring countries, but now that I’ve stated how much I love it, I find I’m less likely to forget it! I definitely anticipated that it would not live up to its hype, but I have never been more pleased to be so wrong. I am confident that any time we revisit this part of the world, we’ll make time to stop in to glut ourselves on this wonderful country!