Real Thailand vs. Parallel Thailand

UPDATE: Okay, I put a password on this post for a bit, but now I’ve just decided to edit the post and take off the password. In case you even noticed and were wondering (I’m SURE you were), I got some nasty comments on one of those nasty anonymous trolling forums here in Thailand, and I ended up really stressed about it. Then I was like…um, this blog does not equal real life, so if it’s stressful, it’s not worth it. I don’t get paid for this! So I put a password on the post, but that stressed me out, too. I know, it’s exhausting to be me sometimes. So, screw it, I’m just editing and reposting! Although, frankly, I think I took about the most interesting and funny part of the whole post, but whatever. /End unnecessarily long explanation for something you didn’t care about anyway.

Real Thailand for me is the Thailand I live in; the neighborhoods, restaurants, shops, and people I know well. Your personal experience is your own Real Thailand. If you have a problem with my Real Thailand, write about it on your own blog, k? Parallel Thailand is what happens when I’m outside my comfort zone here, and it mostly involves weird Westerners and tourist areas, let’s be honest. This is not intended to be a debate about what is “authentically Thai”. If you want to get yourself a McDonald’s hamburger while you’re in Thailand, go for it. I’ll probably be next door getting a Dairy Queen chocolate dipped cone (those things are good and only cost about 40 cents!) and then stopping off at the 7-Eleven for, you know, whatever.

Food in Real Thailand

Get in my face, food!

Hell yeah, Thai food! You’re the best! Food in Real Thailand is cheap, fresh, and delicious. Pad thai is a single dollar, people. If it’s not cheap, it’s still fantastic. I love food in Real Thailand.

Also, food in Real Thailand can include Western food and, unfortunately, pizza with gross stuff on it. That’s just part of living the dream, people.

Food in Parallel Thailand

Worst. Food. Ever.

Some examples:

  • I spent 80 baht (almost $3) on some pad thai on the beach, which isn’t too bad for beach prices, right? Except that it was the worst pad thai ever. No normal Thai person would have ever served that to anybody, which makes sense because I was in Parallel Thailand!
  • I’ve never been, but I’m pretty sure that the Hard Rock Café in Bangkok is Parallel Thailand.
  • World’s worst green curry, two nights in a row from two different restaurants, on the island? Parallel Thailand!
  • Spending 250 baht (almost $9) on terrible-looking pad see eu (my favorite noodle dish) at a resort on Phuket is completely Parallel Thailand. Spending 250 baht for pad see eu at the world’s most expensive but also most delicious street stall in Bangkok  is not Parallel Thailand.  See where I’m going here?

People in Real Thailand

I don’t really buy into that whole “Thai people are the nicest in the world!” thing. There are some nice people and some big fat jerks, just like any other country (although maybe “big” and “fat” are exaggerations—it is Asia!). Land of Smiles? Sometimes people smile, just like in any other country. Sometimes they scowl. Okay, fine. I don’t mind that the people I deal with are, you know, people, with moods and personalities beyond what the tourist board tells us to expect. So, for me, people in Real Thailand aren’t about the smiles, necessarily. But they are about not harassing me to buy things and not ripping me off.

Sometimes people in Real Thailand want to soak you with freezing cold water.

People in Parallel Thailand

Sometimes people come to Thailand and then complain about how awful Thai people are, how Thai people ripped them off, or were rude, or harassed them, or some other horrifying story. When I ask where they had been, of course they say they’ve been to some tourist Mecca like Khao San or Phuket.

Of course, by now you know why they had a terrible experience.

Because they were in Parallel Thailand!

Tourist areas bring out the worst in everybody. If you go to some super touristy area in any country, you’re going to get jerk local people trying to rip you off. Of course, you’re also going to get tourists walking around Khao San without shoes or shirts (WHY? WHY? WHY?!) or sunbathing topless (I mean, come on!). Also, you’re going to get ripped off, period. That’s the nature of being in a tourist area. Expect it, deal with it, and keep your moaning to yourself.

Cab Drivers in Real Thailand


Cab Drivers in Parallel Thailand


Well, actually…

That’s not entirely true. I’ve had cab drivers in Real Thailand and in Parallel Thailand refuse to take me somewhere for no good reason. No matter where I am, there are times when they won’t turn on the meter. But there are also times when I’ve had awesome conversations about food and I’ve learned new words and I’ve been happier at the end of the ride than I was to start with.

Still, I was recently talking to a Canadian tourist in my neighborhood, and he was proud of himself for bargaining a taxi down from 1,200 baht (about $40) to 700 baht (about $22) to get from the airport to his hotel. It should have been about 300 baht on the meter. I wanted to punch the cabbie in the face for him.

Lesson learned: Cab drivers are a parallel universe unto themselves.


Transportation Costs in Real Thailand

Cheap! When the cabbies put on the meters in Bangkok, they’re of ridiculously cheap. If I spend 100 baht (about $3) on a cab ride in the city, I’m kind of shocked. It means either that I’ve gone really far or that traffic was horrendous.

Motorcycles, as I’ve reported before, are quick and convenient, although they will often cost you more than a taxi. If I’m in a hurry and it’s not raining, I’ll usually pay the extra baht to be able to go around all the cars! HaHA–take THAT, traffic!

Transportation Costs in Parallel Thailand

See above story about the cab ride from the airport. That’s got Parallel Thailand written all over it.

Parallel Thailand can more readily be seen, however, on islands like Phuket or Samui, where the taxis are basically a mafia scam to get every penny of your money. A ride that would cost maybe 150B in Bangkok cost me 500B on Samui because the cab driver refused to turn on the meter and refused to bargain, even a little bit. I had no choice, so I paid the 500B with a semi-smile.

But in my head, I was crossing my arms and huffing. 500B? I’d love to take a 500B taxi ride in Bangkok and see where it got me. Yeesh.

Motorcycle in Parallel Thailand are virtually non-existent, and ridiculously expensive.

You could always ride this sweet scooter!

Bars in Real Thailand

There’s no real hard and fast rule about what makes a bar in Real Thailand, but it usually involves a mix of people, Thais and Westerners.

Bars in Parallel Thailand

When I was in Mae Sot—decidedly not a tourist town—a few weeks ago, Sarah and I went to a bar frequented by the expat workers and volunteers in town. It’s run by Burmese people, so most of the food and staff were Burmese. As I was looking around, the realization slowly dawned on me that 99.9% of the patrons were white Westerners. There were no Thai people at all. Nobody had a Thai girlfriend. Not a single person. At one point, a couple of Thai woman walked in, talked to somebody, and walked out. It was so much Parallel Thailand that it made me feel uneasy, like I had accidentally shouted, “Beam me up, Scotty!” and been transported to a completely wrong destination.

Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but it was weird. It was definitely Parallel Thailand.

Similarly, every time I go to Khao San Road, I just spend time gawking at all the white people! They’re everywhere!

You're so weird, Mae Sot, but you have delicious food, so I'l forgive you.

Final Score:

Real Thailand: 1  Parallel Thailand: 1

I’m not saying I like Parallel Thailand all the time, but it’s a thing. And like I said, this is not a debate over which one is right or wrong…although clearly, Real Thailand is better.



Filed under Awesome, Food, Living Abroad, Thailand

55 responses to “Real Thailand vs. Parallel Thailand

  1. We have the same thing in Japan, but parallel Japan has taken over real Japan for the most part. So i’m pretty sexy all the time.

  2. A humorous dichotomy that is very true! The reason I never go to the tourist meccas is they always try to fleece me. It’s best just to live the Thai lifestyle if you’re here for the long term (especially if you are on a Thai salary). Unfortunately, Real Thailand wages tend to be lousy.

  3. Parallel Thailand doesn’t sound very great except for the men asking you out on dates… even if the dates were borderline horror movie scenarios.
    Where, do you suppose, would be Parallel China? Because I could stand to have a day or two where I didn’t feel like there were weird things growing out of my face. I did get hit on in Beijing by some guy named Dragon. Maybe that was Parallel China? Or just Weird What Has Happened To My Life China. I always have trouble telling the difference.

    • Oh. My. God. DRAGON? Dear lord, please write about that, because I just about died laughing from the name alone. Holy crap, that’s hilarious.

  4. Real Thailand for me, especially real Bangkok I like your blog, but sorry, I won’t be hitting on you. It’s not that you’re not attractive, or funny, or anything like that. You are! It’s just, I’m taken. We’re not married, but yeah, it’s serious. I’m sure we would be great friends if we met. I also love chips, thai food, and 7-11’s. I will be moving to Bangkok next year, if you would like me to bring any Australian chips with me, just let me know. If you need an awesome Siem Reap tuk tuk driver, let me know. You must go to Cambodia, it’s amazing. Anyway, thanks for such an interesting blog, Bangkok blogs seem a bit thin on the ground (in English anyway). Write more. I’m bored.

  5. Yum. Dragon. I’m with Sally, the only benefit of P. Thailand are the boys. Try living in Vancouver, for a while, I was sure people thought I was a guy.

  6. Thank you for writing this post as it suggests that the information that I have been getting about Thailand possibly applies to the tourist areas only and may not be what I will have to live with for 2 yrs in Bangkok. I have seriously been considering how I might spend 2 yrs apart from my husband (go home? go to the States? god knows) but this page has given me some hope.
    Now if I can just find a blog by a western expat wife that describes the experience as anything other than horrible unless you’re holidaying or sitting on a beach or by a pool all day (I don’t understand how one can do the latter for more than an hour without getting bored and burned!)

    • No, seriously, Bangkok is a super easy place to live. Most of the people I know here love it. Please please give it a try because it’s really a fantastic place. There are a lot of obstacles, that’s true, but if you can take them with a grain of salt, you’ll be fine!

      Also, check out Chicky Net for a place to meet expat women here. I’ve met loads of expat women, including married women, who love it here, as well. And please feel free to email me or whatever and I can give you some advice about things. Really!

  7. Kompani

    Great piece. I’m travelling to Bangkok early next year, from the UK via Singapore and Kuala Lumpa. Your blog is proving invaluable in giving an insight into the ‘real’ Thailand. Thanks.

  8. Having long ago given up hopes of being hit on in any serious fashion (ah it comes to us all!) I can identify so much with the rest of what you write. Living on an island where tourism is (necessarily) king I have found myself moving between universes too. I’ve been in restaurants and other places which have made me feel really uncomfortable on many occasions, and been made really really welcome when I’ve been the only foreigner on other occasions. The thing I really hate is that people in that parallel universe think it’s the “real world”, and that because they are “expats” they know all about real life here, whereas they know only their own, limited universe. Such a shame that having had the courage and foresight to move abroad they never experience what they came to experience. Still, like you, I find excursions into their world necessary from time to time, simply because, end of day, I’m a foreigner too.

    • Right! I mean, I am living in another country, but I’m still not from there, and I still feel very American.

      But also? Stuff White People Like: Being the Only White Person in a Restaurant. It’s so true it hurts!

  9. I love your comments about attractiveness in Asian countries. I also consider myself reasonably attractive but in Asia, I turn into some grotesque monster. Not only that but I go from being considered a size ‘small’ to becoming ‘XXXL’ overnight. Also, after spending many hours perfecting a tan, I am constantly told how white I am (I know that this is actually a compliment but still!!!).

    I think it’s healthy that you appreciate both the real and the parallel Thailand: many expats either only immerse themself in expat circles, never getting involved in the local culture, or they completely immerse themself in the culture they have adopted without ever interacting with other Westerners. I think both approaches are wrong – your way is much better!

    • I’m about the same size, somehow, as I was back home, even though I’ve gained a bunch of weight. Probably I’m in denial. But YES, I totally get the white thing, too! And I’m like–but, but, but…I got really tan!

      And thanks…I think you have to acknowledge that both worlds are part of reality, right?

  10. These are hilarious and so true – although maybe because my real Thailand is a small town I feel very attractive because people always yell out “beautiful” when they pass by on their motorbikes or tell me I’m cute when they make my dinner…but there are definitely no dates here!

  11. Dude, real Thailand sounds WAY better (even though it was a tie and all…).

    But for serious, 40 cent ice cream cones?! I’ll be part of that parallel universe any day. Even if that means getting asked out on creepy I’ll-probably-die-before-this-night-is-over dates…

    • TOTALLY serious about the 40-cent cones! That’s not even part of the parallel universe! And there weren’t even any DQ’s on the island–it’s all Bangkok.

      Also: You, my friend, have a hilarious blog. Well played.

  12. I moved to a small city in South Korea at the end of June and only see other westerners at work. Then, we went to this huge mud festival and there were white people everywhere! I was staring at them all like I don’t look at a white person in the mirror every day. It was nuts. I couldn’t believe it. I think I was in more culture shock at the festival than when I first got here!

  13. In addition to being hilarious, this is also very insightful. It gets at a lot of the problems that come with large scale tourism. Love it!

  14. you’re so funny. i like that you only want to be hit on in order to turn people down; “I got to turn people down! It was awesome!” i’ve had conversations with my sister, and we’ve pretty much concluded that women (at least in america) have it readily available at any time they want. men, on the other hand, don’t. unless they’re brad pitt-ish, or whoever. Be it parallel America, or real America, i don’t get hit on. it’s ok though, i’ve got personality…

    • Aye-aye-aye, no no no, you have misunderstood me! I would have much preferred not to turn anybody down, but they were not guys I was at all interested in. I don’t need Brad Pitt and I actually prefer guys who are closer to my attractiveness level. But I do have to feel like I have some kind of connection with them, Brad Pitt or no.

      Also, that argument about women having all the power is so exactly what men say here in Asia…

      • Well in that case, Megan, I’m no Brad Pit, and i’ve felt a connection since the first time i read your blog.


        i think it’s universal, though, that thing about men not having power. We non-bradpitts have it tough.

        I may have misunderstood you, but it’s hard to take “I got to turn people down! It was awesome!” any other way. I’d relish turning a bunch of drooling idiots down too. I still think you’re hilarious.

        • Mack, I don’t want to get into a debate about this, because it has recently come to my attention that on a certain forum I am being called an angry, ugly, horrible bitch (literally, all of those) farang woman who does, in fact, have a right to exist in Thailand, but has no right to have a desire to be found attractive (and I’m not kidding about any of that). But let’s just say, in reality, I’m not exactly Angelina Jolie, to complete your Brad Pitt example. It’s not like we non-Angelinas have it easy, either. Really. And I’m sorry, I’m really not upset with you.

          But I can see how my choice of words could be misconstrued. I didn’t intend it like that.

  15. What an interesting concept…I don’t think I’ve heard of Parallel Thailand before. I must admit, it does explain a lot.

    You’re fortunate that your visa allows you free passage between the Real and Parallel Thailand(s)…as you remain perceptive & funny in both worlds!

    A few things: 1) you might want to get some additional “headshots” for your portfolio as Utz Chips Spokesmodel [you know, some photos where you are actually awake & eating them], 2) your Real Thailand “surprised face” is hilarious [I mean that in a supportive and observational/nonjudgmental way], and 3) you got a great tan in Parallel Thailand [again, from your “What?!” picture].

    • :)
      1) I really think that companies should hire me. I probably should do some kind of contacting them for something.
      2) You know what’s even more hilarious about that face? Totally natural. Not staged AT ALL.
      3) I think it’s the lighting that makes it look like I have a tan because that picture is a few months old when I was just white!

  16. I see the hair elastic band on your wrist — the only time I don’t have one on mine is when it’s in my hair :-)

    I’m slightly surprised to see a tie — I thought real Thailand would lay the smackdown, even with the dates in parallel land!

    I don’t think I had a real and parallel Oz, but the boys weren’t beating my door down in either.

    • Same with me–my mane gets really frizzy and icky.

      Well, I think Parallel Thailand is still part of Real Thailand, it’s still somebody else’s valid experience (ah, this is my grad school training coming out!), so I figured it could have a tie.

      And honestly, it’s not like the boys were beating down my door back home, but I still felt attractive. I dunno, just me!

  17. That’s brilliant! Parallel Thailand (or parallel universe, come to think of it) must be where they sell those ‘man mirrors”.

  18. Strangely your posts always make me hungry, Ice cream, pad thai, noodles, mcdonalds mmmmmmmmmmmm

  19. Oh meganlicious! what I really want to say, I wont type on the internet. Too many people listening, even in private. Maybe one rainy day Ill tell you face-to-face.

    But for now, Ill just casually buy you a drink, ask you if you’d like to take a totally non-rapey motosai ride to the Hard Rock cafe for a severely overpriced pad see eu. Im classy like that, see. ;)


    • :) Clearly you know me very well! I will say, the last time I was at a Hard Rock Cafe was over 10 years ago, but I remember they did have fantastic milkshakes!

      • Ive never been, despite having one in my city for over a decade. But I dont need their milkshake, because my milkshake already brings all the boys to the yard* ;)

        * – talk to me about my milkshake courses. Payment is required.


  20. I call bollox on you. You do, too, need Brad Pitts… or should I say Ananda Everinghams?

    “Who’s that?”, says the farrang. Why he’s only the biggest thing in Thailand since the Buddhist temple:

    (And since I know your weakness… that you can’t leave a comment unanswered… I know you’ll have to respond to this.)

    • Well, you know, if you say that I need Brad Pitt or Ananda Everingham, isn’t that kind of a backdoor compliment to yourself? I mean, especially considering that half the Thai people we met said you looked like Ananda? JUST SAYING. :)

  21. I’m writing this AFTER the “password protected post” was implemented and then lifted. I don’t intend to give you any gratuitous advice, per se; I’m sure you have friends aplenty, both in real life and online, who can give you additional perspective on this.

    Really, there was nothing untoward in this blog post as it was originally written. Of course, people online can misinterpret anything, but there was precious little opportunity for that, either. You have nothing to apologize for.

    Online trolls must stop by your blog frequently, with their denigrating and rude comments. They [try to] twist your words or meaning…they think “victory!” when good people squirm or second-guess themselves or even just respond.

    My unsolicited advice to you is to DELETE toll comments, without a second thought. Even if they have a grain of truth, delete them, and be done with them. The anonymously wrong-headed don’t deserve your consideration.

    If trolls make rude comments on ANOTHER forum or website, IGNORE them. You may be talking about that Thai V*** site…it is well-known for hosting some virulently small-minded commenters. I doubt that anyone [outside their like-minded clique] takes their remarks to heart.

    I don’t want to be too long winded [anymore than I don’t want to give you unasked-for advice], but I enjoyed your original “Real/Parallel” Thailand post. I found it to be original, and funny, witty and a bit satirical…all good things…I’m pretty sure the vast majority of your readers found it likewise.

    • Argh! You made me cry because you were SO NICE. Damn you!

      To be honest, I never get mean comments here. It was an anonymous Thai Visa-like site, and you are absolutely 100% right–I shouldn’t take it to heart. But I do! :(

      I think I will eventually put the original post back up, but I’ve been really sensitive about it this week. Thank you for saying what you said, though. I thought it was so much better the original way, too. It’s missing something now. Sigh.

  22. Edited or not, this post is still downright witty, truthful, and operates on a point system….three crucial features to all blog posts.

    All of this only goes to show that trolls are more than just fluorescent hair naked beings with misshaped belly buttons…they are MEAN fluorescent hair naked beings with misshaped belly buttons.

  23. Don’t listen to people, Megan. The REAL place is exactly what you know and everyone has different tastes, opinions and experiences so everyone’s version of a place is going to be different. :) Truth of the matter is that most countries these days are a blend of ‘old authentic tradition’ and modern ‘Westernised’ commericialism. I guess it just depends on what everyone prefers to surround themselves with. :)

    I think you’ve officially won the smackdown with the trolls. PWN their arses, girl!

  24. Nice one. I’m trying to stay away from parallel Bangkok as much as possible (Sukhumvit, Soi Kao San, etc.). Still, it’s all quite entertaining.

    Not nearly as well written as your blog, I talk about experiences with Thai girls, ladyboys, stripper bars, and mayhem in general on my blogling:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s