There was so much to love about Thailand despite my awkward adjustment phase, as mentioned in my previous post, Adjusting to a new life in Thailand. It’s easier to reflect on the positives now that I’ve moved out of the country. A solid three months during the low season in this top travel destination taught me a lot about myself as a traveler and made me hungry to see more. I always get asked for my favorite things about the places I visit, and I like to have a well thought out response. So, here it is for Thailand!
1. The ridiculously pretty beaches.
Let’s start with an obvious one. Who doesn’t dream of a tropical paradise with white sand beaches and warm, yet refreshing, crystal-blue water? Anytime I was at the beach, feeling the soft sand and water at my toes, the hot sun kissing my sweaty, sunscreen lathered body, I felt like the luckiest person in the world. Thailand has plenty of gorgeous beaches and scenery to keep your heart content and your adventurous side aching for more. Three months didn’t give me enough time to see everything I wanted to see since I had taken up a full-time teaching job, but I’m eagerly excited to return one day to continue exploring. I have a list of places I still need to discover (Koh Yao Noi, Koh Tao, and Khao Sok National Park to name a few) as well as some that I must return to, like the beautiful Koh Phi Phi island!
2. The value of my money.
**I plan to write a blog post dedicated to my budget in Thailand on my teacher’s salary, so look out for that if you’d like more details!**
Money stretches so far! This makes Thailand a paradise for me. I’ve never lived lavishly, but here I felt like I was able to afford a very comfortable lifestyle that I thought I’d only get to see until my late 20s or 30s after working my butt off just to afford rent in the bay area.
I lived in Phuket, Thailand. More specifically, Phuket Town at Patra Mansion. I could afford a private, minimalist apartment in a secured building that included a sweet pool. This cost me about 7,000-8,000 baht ($200-230 USD/month), depending on how much I used my air conditioning. Once I invested in a fan, I was usually on the lower end.
I was able to rent a motorbike from my apartment at a rate of 2,600 baht ($76 USD)/month and gas was around 175 baht ($5 USD) every time I filled up, which was maybe 1-3 times per week.
My meals would often range between 50-200 baht ($1.50-$5.50 USD), with most being 50 baht. The higher priced food was usually western style, and this was only eaten sporadically when I needed some comfort food, like pizza! I splurged on pizza delivery from the Pizza Company. 300 baht for a medium pepperoni pizza (8 slices), which is about $8-$9 USD. Hmm.. $8-$9 was considered splurging?! Yeah, I felt pretty great financially in Thailand.
Traveling around was easy enough and affordable as well. The popular flight options within Thailand were with Air Asia and Thai Lion Air. I bought a one-way flight from Phuket to Chiang Mai with no baggage (just carry-on) for 1,000 baht (~$30 USD).
Traveling to other spots via ferry or bus was another option. My trip from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi cost about 1,200 baht (~$37 USD) round trip and it included pick up from my apartment to the ferry and drop off afterwards.
I came to learn that the price of tours, tuk tuks, clothing, and several other things were pretty much always negotiable. I’m not a skilled negotiator, but luckily I was in good company of someone who was! We got a 7 Island tour for half off the original asking price! Always see if you can get a lower price, because chances are they’re over charging anyway (at least from what I experienced). But of course, be courteous and reasonable about it.
3. The independence I had.
It was relatively easy for me to get settled into Thailand, especially since my school helped with my visa process. For rent, I just showed up, viewed the room, and paid my deposit and first month’s rent in cash. I rarely had to deal with traffic since my motorbike allowed me to maneuver through the congestion. I was a short drive away from Patong, where all the crazy nightlife can be enjoyed. I lived close to my school, beaches, shopping malls, grocery stores, food markets, and bars. I had it good.
Once I returned to the daily grind in America, my independent lifestyle fell to pieces. Granted, I had just returned to the states abruptly, without any savings, so the struggle was a bit intense. I didn’t have a place to live and I couldn’t afford rent and deposits. The rental process was much more rigorous than just showing up with cash. It involved renter’s history, recommendations, interviews.. not to mention the competition of others looking for good deals and locations, plus the requirement of committing to a year or longer in order to get the cheaper price. I had my old job part-time, but I was struggling to find a temporary job. Once I got a car, I had to pay for it’s maintenance, insurance, registration fees, gas, etc. Indeed, I was overwhelmed and quickly grew depressed of the life I was leading back home. I like to feel empowered by my surroundings and lifestyle, not constrained by it.
4. Water refill stations
This might be a minimal thing, but I loved the fact that I could refill my reusable bottle at a water station for only 1-3 baht per liter! The water from these stations isn’t cold, but it’s much cheaper than purchasing water at a store and obviously much better for the environment, and your body, too! Less plastic bottles, less waste, less chemicals. I usually found them near 7 Elevens, gas stations, or laundry spots. This was an easy, Eco-friendly way to stay hydrated while keeping more money in my pocket.
5. The endless options for exploration and discovery.
Thailand is a beautiful country with many places to see within it’s own borders, but it’s proximity to other South East Asian countries is perfect for when you’re ready to explore something new. Thailand shares borders with Malaysia, Cambodia, and Myanmar (Burma). Not too far away is Vietnam, although I’ve heard that there’s a much more formal process to enter the country along with fees to obtain a tourist visa. I didn’t get to visit these countries, but they are definitely on my to-do list.
Despite not having the time or money to venture outside of the country, I’m very happy with what I was able to achieve in a short amount of time. Navigating the lively streets of Bangkok, sleeping in a jungle bungalow in Khao Sok, Muy Thai fighting in Koh Phi Phi, snorkeling at night with the bio-luminescent plankton, experiencing the wild nightlife on Bangla road, riding a motorbike through the chill streets of Koh Lanta and Krabi, feasting on tasty food in Chiang Mai, admiring the beautiful white temples in Chiang Rai. The sights never got old, and the lifestyle I lead in Thailand has definitely fed into my ambitious attitude towards continuing my travels for as long as I possibly can!
6. Respect earned as a teacher.
The role of an educator is taken seriously in Thailand. I was respected by students, parents, and staff alike. I had to dress conservatively and be aware of my image. There were hierarchies involved. For example, the children would bow to me when they arrived for school. I would need to bow to my superiors, and I may have insulted the head master when I forgot to do it at our first introduction. Awkward situation. Now I make sure to tediously read up on social etiquette when traveling to a new country.
As a teacher, I had an important duty to fulfill, and feeling the respect from Thai families made me humble and very aware of my role. I made sure to work hard to provide good lessons for my students, and overall it made me more appreciative of who the Thai people are and what their culture is about.
7. “Treat yo’self” days were plentiful.
To have the time and money to afford the luxury of pampering myself every so often made me feel like I was living the good life. I enjoy a pretty pedicure, a light massage to ease my aches, a new haircut to freshen up my look, and a wax for a smooth, beach-ready body. I loved that I could treat myself to these things for a fraction of the price as I was used to back home, without sacrificing quality! I got an hour-long full body massage in Koh Phi Phi for $6. This was well deserved after I engaged in a Muy Thai fight and a drunken beach party the night before. I would treat myself to a pedicure whenever I pleased because it was only $6 on average. It even included a foot scrub and mini foot massage! I taught barefoot and I loved when my kids would notice my new colors.
Waxing was also cheap and I noticed that they usually had two women working on me at the same time. It threw me off at first, but it made the procedure much quicker. I think I paid $10-15 for underarms and $20-30 for legs or bikini areas. Now, these prices aren’t drastically different from prices in California. I could have gone to cheaper waxing spots, but waxing is not something I easily skimp on.
I obviously treated myself to delicious Thai food everyday, plus pizza every week or so. Clothes was cheap enough. The night markets were a shopper’s dream. I had to constantly restrain myself from buying loads of deeply discounted, questionable origin items like MAC make up, Louis Vuitton wallets and hand bags, Beats headphones and pills, Vans and Nike shoes, etc.
After reading this over, I’m just filled with restlessness to return! No wonder long-term travelers, backpackers and luxury travelers alike find this place to be an unforgettable escape from the norm. I’m glad I got a taste of this tropical kingdom. I experienced an abundance of amazing moments here and I’m glad for both the good and bad. Next time I’ll be ready for ya.