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
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.
- 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.
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
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.
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!
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.