Tourist Survival 101"
For Chiang Mai, Part 1
By X. Pat Farang
As I sat in the cool of the shade at the café (at least it was cooler than out in the hot sun) it seemed that hot season had really arrived. Even this early in the morning I was beginning to sweat.
Across from me sat two friends who had arrived from overseas late the night before. As a young, successful couple, Bill and Eunice were very self-confident and felt that they were more than prepared for whatever they were to face on this, their first trip to Asia and the Kingdom of Thailand. Since they had only been in Bangkok long enough to change planes, they were showing the obvious effects of jet lag but were anxious to get out and experience Chiangmai.
I slowly shook my head and muttered to myself. "I have known you too long now, Pat, not to recognize that look and the shaking of the head. It means that there is something that is not sitting well with you" chuckled my friend Bill. "My guess is that you don't think that we are ready for this day. Ok, so we are a little tired from our trip but we are not going to let that slow us down. You have told us so many times of the wonders of this exotic and beautiful country and now we are anxious to get out and enjoy the sights".
"So why don't you tell us what's on your mind." I sighed and said, "Look around you". They looked out from the Western style café, through the haze. They could see through the huge gate in the walls of the old city beyond and the kaleidoscope of colors from the scuttling traffic with many strange looking vehicles. They could see the moat that surrounded the city and the architecture of the buildings that was very different from that which they were used to.
"Does this look like Chicago or London? Of course not. But the differences are not just the ones you can see as you sit here". "Ok Toto, so we're definitely not in Kansas any more!", exclaimed Bill as he recalled seeing tourists feeding an elephant in a market area on the way in from the airport last night. "We can handle it".
"I am glad that you are so anxious to experience this unique part of Thailand" I said as I looked at them. "But what makes you so sure that you can handle this very different part of the world?"
Bill looked at the people surrounding us in the café and said, "We have been in heat and humidity before. Chaotic traffic we can handle".
"Perhaps it the fact that everyone always seems to have a friendly and warm smile? That certainly is not something we see when we are back home". "Welcome to the Land of Smiles", I said as I smiled at them, "But here you will find the new standing beside the old, the Eastern beside the Western and the logical beside the seemingly illogical". The look on their face said that I wasn't getting my message across at all.
I tried again. "This is not a nicely laid out tourist resort by the sea designed to cater to your every whim. You are in a different world here. You need to learn all of the basics how to walk, how to cross the street, how to get food, how to talk, how to behave, how to go to the bathroom, etc".
Bill grinned at me and said "OK, since you have been here for a few years, why don't you give us your crash course in Tourist Survival 101 for Chiangmai before we head out".
I grinned back at him. "Listen, this course is quite simple. Learning these few rules before starting out on your own will make your visit here so much more enjoyable. All it requires is that you learn a number of survival rules. To be successful, imagine that you have just gotten off of a spaceship that has taken you to another planet. Many things look very familiar to you but please understand that they often aren't what they seem to be". They ordered more coffee and sat back, eagerly waiting to learn anything that would help them get the most out of their visit to Chiangmai.
"Rule Number One. Relax and Enjoy. This is a beautiful country of wonderful people and you are their guest. Appreciate what you see for what it is and try not to judge everything by your own past experiences or where you come from. Different can often be better, and in this case, almost always enjoyable".
"To understand the relaxed Thai approach to life you need to learn the meaning of the word "sanook". Literally, it means 'fun' and the Thai will measure the 'sanook' in everything to determine if it is worth doing. The Thais truly believe that there should be fun in everything that you do and that nothing should be taken too seriously if at all possible. They also have an attitude of 'mai pen rai', which means 'never mind' or 'don't worry' sort of a 'don't sweat the small stuff' attitude to life. In all of your travels you are unlikely to find people more friendly and forgiving to visitors. 'Land of Smiles' is more than just a marketing slogan. It is an accurate observation. And nowhere in Thailand is this more true than here in the north. So just relax and enjoy. A smile with everything you do will earn you smiles in return and make you many friends".
"Rule Number Two. Respect Thai culture and traditions. I know that this sounds so obvious but often we see tourists behaving in a manner that is not respectful. This is the Thais' country and culture, not yours. You are a visitor. Remember to always dress politely. Skimpy, revealing clothing is not the Thai way".
"Always be respectful of the King who is deservedly revered by all of the people. Show the same respect when visiting temples (wat). Remove your shoes and hats before entering any of the buildings. Dress politely with your knees covered. Do not point your feet at the Buddha. Be very respectful to monks at all times. Women should never even touch a monk, even accidentally. If they want to give something to a monk they should put it in front of him or on part of the robe that he will hold out and then let him pick it up himself. Generally all you have to do is use good manners and common sense, as you should at home.
You should keep in mind that the Thais are a very respectful people and confrontation should be avoided at all times, in your speech and in your actions. Losing your temper in public is considered extremely rude and will cause you to not be taken seriously. The type of aggressive behavior that you may witness at home in the Western world is unlikely to accomplish anything useful for you here."
I seemed to have the attention of my friends as they were beginning to realize that there was more to learn than they thought. Now was the time to take them to new lessons on how to behave and get around in Chiangmai.