Our round-up of lower northern Thailand

13 June 2019

The invisible barrier that we cross when we go from country to country is a very strange phenomenon that we have mentioned quite a lot in the past. Entering and exiting Myanmar we have seen some of the biggest changes of our trip, specifically exiting

into Thailand, which has given us plenty to talk about. Martina had been to Thailand in the past, albeit 10 years ago, and said that even then she’d found it westernised. But for me having never been here before, the culture shock was exactly that – a shock!

We will revisit Thailand in a few months, but way down in the south, so for the time being these are our observations of the lower northern part of the country (and in no particular order)…

1. The Thai people are a friendly bunch! We mentioned that in Mae Sot they had been a little less than helpful, but the further we’ve got from the border the nicer and more forthcoming they have become. They will smile, wave and say hello especially if we initiate an exchange. Accommodation staff have been lovely and helped us, for example, with our washing, without being asked.

2. The roads are cycling friendly and we have been on super-smooth tarmac throughout our time here.  We’ve also ridden our first real bike lanes since Greece back in November last year…

Every highway has a wide shoulder specifically for bikes and motorcycles and is a joy to behold! The motorists are courteous and stick to the rules of the road in general – though we do have the odd motorcycle or car coming along the shoulder in the wrong direction.  But when this happens they slow down and let us past first. Following on from point 1 above, the drivers will regularly toot their horns at us in encouragement – especially when struggling up some of the bigger hills.

3. We decided not to visit Chaing Mai and Chaing Rai right up in the north, mainly because we didn’t have the time.  These are the recognised tourist areas and in our research they appeared to have all the main places of interest….or so we thought. We’d anticipated a straightforward cycle from the Myanmar border to Vientiane in Laos, but have been pleasantly surprised with scenery and local attractions on our route. The highlight for us was definitely the Sukhothai Historic Park, a UNESCO heritage site full of amazing temples and Buddha statues …

4. Thailand is quite obviously much more affluent than the other countries we have been to recently and this is more apparent on the roads than anywhere else – Thailand is the land of the shiny American-style pick-up truck. I actually counted how many pick-up trucks there were compared to saloon-type cars on a random piece of road, which I realise that this might seem like a bizarre thing to do, but it kept me occupied for half an hour on a dull piece of highway! The answer was that over 80% of the vehicles on the road were pick-up trucks and most were very new.  At one point there were 29 pick-ups in a row, which I don’t think you’d even see in the States!

Another area where we have noticed this affluence is the qualtity of the bicycles we have seen. In the subcontinent and Myanmar the bike shops generally sold cheap, low-quality bikes for the masses. There’s  the odd nice (western import) one. and the indigenous bikes we saw in Bangladesh were also very good. However, here there are loads of high  quality bikes on the roads. We have also seen some top-end bike shops for the first time since Europe.  We even splurged on new bike shorts each as the one we were wearing had almost falling apart..!

5. When we were in India we were regularly asked if the food was too spicy for us – and in general the answer was no. Thailand on the other hand is quite few steps up on the spicy scale. We don’t want to be seen as soft westerners, but we now tend to ask for for ‘a little spice’ as we have been unable to finish a couple of meals now because of their heat – and even then some of them were still at the top end of our spicy range! They obviously tone down the spice in Thai restaurants at home as it has never been a problem before.

6. Roadside cooking and cafes are everywhere and we see a lot barbecuing at the side of the road early in the morning…

Spatchcock chicken, for example, is slow-cooked over coals from about 5am onwards, which means the stall holders are up very early! The chicken is delicious and is served with a chilli sauce and sticky rice. Yum!

7. The personal habits that we disliked so much in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar have disappeared. Chewing paan, tobacco and gobbling out the juices is unseen here – this, in our view, is a good thing! Smoking is also fairly uncommon too.

8. In the U.K. there are a multitude of energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, etc.  In Thailand they appear to have shrunk the bottles to resemble medicine…

They also market them as “vitamin-enriched”and there are literally hundreds of different types. We’re uncertain how good they are or what they taste like as energy drinks aren’t really our thing. But we have found an isotonic drink called 100plus, which we drink regularly to replace the salts and minerals we lose in sweat each day.

9. Roadside litter has largely vanished and as a country Thailand is pretty clean, which is lovely. There are still plastic bottles around but nothing like we have seen in other countries. One of the reasons for this might be to do with the fact that…

10. …..there are water filter machines dotted all over Thai towns where you can fill up your own bottles for about 2.5p a litre.  Why don’t we have this at home?

11. Another thing that we love is the wide availability of washing machines for public use.  For the equivalent of about 30p for a small load and 50p for an enormous load, you can do all your washing in 45 minutes!

It’s probably the cleanest we’ve been in our whole journey so far, though most of our clothing is now well beyond just washing by now!

12. It’s continued to be hot in Thailand.  Most afternoons it’s been in the mid-thirties which has brought on some spectacular thunderstorms. In our accommodation we tend to opt for an air-conditioned room as it’s a reprieve from the heat. However, quite often it feels as though the aircon’s not doing anything… until we go outside again and realise how hard it is actually working!

13. We have seen and heard some interesting wildlife since we have been in South-East Asia. The millipedes here have been interesting and are enormous compared to our native U.K. ones – this one was about 8 inches long…

14. All of a sudden coffee is back on the menu! They drink tea (chai or cha) all over India and Bangladesh – whether it be masala chai or with condensed milk, tea was almost slays the hot drink of choice, In Myanmar green tea was available free on the tables of every cafe and restaurant, so as a green tea drinker, Martina was in her element. Thailand, on the other hand, has top quality coffee and it’s great- for me at least!

15. Household refuse bins here are made from old tyres, which we think is pretty cool. What a great idea…


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