Removing Ego From Travel

Removing Ego From Travel

About a week ago, I took part in the Responsible Tourism Twitter Chat that takes place every Wednesday at 1:00PM GMT. Each week, people talk about responsible travel to Thailand and other  places around the globe. The chat I took part in was titled “Supporting The Local Community” and it was great to see so many people sharing ideas and being mindful of the importance of making positive contributions to the places they have the privilege of visiting.

As the chat progressed, I began to notice a difference in viewpoint between certain people involving locals and voluntourism that reminded me of encounters I’ve had in various village based projects I’ve been a part of in Thailand. While most of the contributors talked about the importance of open communication, not manifesting your own culture, and asking instead of telling locals what they need, there were some whose opinions seemed a bit counterproductive to me. They talked about locals and in their opinion ‘less responsible travelers’ as if they were somehow less than themselves.

There is a type of traveler who always reminds me of a certain episode of South Park where Kyle’s dad buys a hybrid and instantly begins to think he is more progressive than others because he’s helping the environment. In typical South Park fashion, he becomes so smug and self satisfied that he starts to smell his own farts. More people buy hybrids and become full of themselves. The more they smell their own farts, the more it negates the positive effects of hybrids on the environment. At the end of the episode (after all the farts cause a storm that destroys San Francisco), Kyle tells the town of South Park that while it’s important to care about the environment, being holier than thou  is counterproductive. 

 

 

I’ve seen a lot of people act this way with locals and other travelers and whenever they do, I always think to myself they’re smelling their own farts. They talk down to locals about their traditional way of life and tell them what they need instead of asking. If they meet another traveler who is interested in responsible tourism, they always need to one up them. You helped build a microhydro plant in a Garieng village for 2 weeks? I spent 2 months teaching English in India. 

While I think that everybody experiences a bit of an ego boost from traveling and volunteering, it’s important to not become too full of yourself. You didn’t build a school or introduce a new method of farming to a community of unskilled people. The community invited you in and allowed you to make a small contribution. Locals know what works for their culture and generally have as much if not more to teach you than you them. While it’s fine to be proud of yourself, don’t start smelling your own farts. 9 times out of 10, the volunteers I’ve met aren’t experts in whatever project they are working on- me included- anyways. 

Some of the most popular travel quotes around are “The world is a book and those who don’t travel only read one “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime”. These quotes were written in a time when the physical act of travel was extremely difficult and humans didn’t have the technology to connect with people around the world. Saint Augustine, who I quoted first, was born in 354 CE. Mark Twain wrote “The Innocents Abroad” around 1869. When they are used by people today, it seems to me as if people are looking down on those who don’t travel and making the statement that they are worldly because they are fortunate enough to be able to travel. Some of the best people I’ve met have never left the country they were born in. I’ve met many ignorant people who have traveled the world. 

Travel doesn’t make you wise.

Travel is a medium. To me, it’s almost the same as music. It’s something that some people use to develop a greater understanding of themselves and their place in the world. But, it’s not travel or music that is responsible for that transformation, it’s all on each individual. So, when people discuss how travel can help a person grow, it’s essential to discuss how people can open themselves up to positive change by checking themselves when they start milking their own ego, looking to others for knowledge instead of competition, and refusing to operate in the world believing they are better than anyone else because of the experiences they’ve had. 

Tips For Being An Expat

Tips For Being An Expat

DSC_0272

Tips For Being An Expat

While some people make the decision to move to a new country for the first time or get transferred because of their job, most of the people I meet who decide to live abroad do so after traveling and falling in love with a certain place. When you travel, you are exposed to so many new things that make a place seem nearly perfect. I see this all the time in Thailand. People backpack around the country for a few weeks and have an amazing time. They think to themselves, “I never want this to end, so I’m going to move here.” For a few months, they go through a honeymoon phase, but little by little the begin to realize that real life happens anywhere and you have to deal with the same old stuff that you had to at home.

While I think that living abroad is an incredible experience (I’ve lived abroad for the better part of my life since 2005), it’s important to know that living somewhere isn’t the same as traveling somewhere. Generally, when you travel to a new place, there are things set up to make your trip easier. Even in a place like India, traveling as a tourist however rugged it is, doesn’t compare to how a local lives. When you choose to live in a country, a lot of those comforts you enjoyed as a tourist aren’t as available unless you choose to live like a tourist.

expat 2
expat 2

One of the problems I've seen many expats struggle with is being able to integrate into the local culture of the place they’ve decided to live. I see it in Chiang Mai all the time. Because of this, they get stuck in the expat bubble. This can be good and bad. It’s great to have friends who share your culture. One of the reasons my fiancé feels comfortable visiting in Chicago is because she has found a Thai community. But, some people get so stuck in expat life, they never have a cultural experience.

For me, it’s all about finding a balance. There are certain things I’ve learned from living abroad that can help a new expat feel comfortable exploring their adopted home. For me, learning the local language is one of the most important things. While it can be very difficult for some people to learn a language like Thai, it will give you a completely new perspective on the country and open up so much of the culture to you.

If you want to learn a language, here’s what you do. First, take a basic language class so you can learn introductory pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. After that, practice every day. Become a regular at a restaurant that you don’t see many foreigners frequent and only speak the local language while you are there. Instead of looking at locals as people you are afraid won’t understand you, just look at them as people and try to learn about them. Put yourself into situations where you have to use the language to get something done. Take an overnight trip somewhere completely off the beaten path, don’t use an English speaking service if you need to get something fixed at your house, or make friends with a local who can’t speak English.

While it’s important to hold onto your own culture and values that come along with it, it’ll make living in a foreign country easier if you learn to see situations from a local’s perspective. When conflict comes up, you don’t have to go against your values, but at least you can find a common ground with people since you can understand where they are coming from.

It’s also important to hold onto and be proud of your own culture and where you come from. The worst kind of expat is the one who always complains about every aspect of their country of origin When I meet somebody like that, it feels like they aren’t living somewhere because they love it, but because they are trying to escape where they came from. I also have found that many of these people end up hating where they live because in actuality, the place was never the problem. Your problems will follow you anywhere. While people have preferences of what type of lifestyle they want to live, no place is inherently better or worse.

How To Communicate With Speakers Of Other Languages

How To Communicate With Speakers Of Other Languages

how to communicate blog

How To Communicate With Speakers Of Other Languages

A lot of people who want to go off the path while traveling to Thailand are concerned about being able to communicate with the locals who most likely won’t speak much English. At first, this could seem quite daunting, but in actuality learning to find other ways to connect with a person that doesn’t speak the same language as you is one of the best parts of traveling. Being creative and different ways to express yourself won’t only help you while you travel to Thailand; it’s a great skill to have anywhere.

Although you might feel nervous at first, an important thing to realize is whatever concerns you about being able to communicate effectively is probably shared by the other person you are interacting with. If you are able to show locals that you are open to trying to connect with them by being patient and playful, you’ll have a great experience. Also, even if you only know a few phrases, make an effort to use them. The locals will definitely appreciate it! They know how hard it is to speak Thai.DSC_0272

In my experience, interacting with children is a great way to learn to connect with people while traveling to Thailand. When I first moved to Thailand and lived with a family, the children in the village turned communicating with me into a game. We’d walk around their village and point at different things and teach other the words for it. We’d also mimic each other and let each other know when we were saying something correctly. We’d also play sports; mostly soccer, but the kids also showed me ta-kraw, which is a Thai game that is a mix of volleyball and hacky sack.ta-kraw

I also learned that there were different ways to communicate with people that had nothing to do with words. At night, my host dad and I would play guitar together. He would show me Thai music and I would show him American and European music.  We’d also play checkers and go fishing together.

Finding common ground is incredibly important to being able to connect. Sharing pictures of your family and home is always great for this. Sharing and enjoying food is another thing that can bring people together. Instead of looking at how difference in language will distance you from a person, think about all the ways you might be similar regardless. In a way, learning to communicate without speaking the same language shows you how much words can get in the way. You learn that it’s quite easy to get to know people by their actions instead of just what they say.

Ready to travel to Thailand and start connecting with people? Check out our various tours here!

The Worst Tourist I Ever Met In Thailand

The Worst Tourist I Ever Met In Thailand

worst traveler blog

The Worst Tourist I Ever Met In Thailand

One of the things we stress the importance of while traveling to Thailand the most is being responsible and respectful while spending your time here.  While navigating a foreign culture and customs that you don’t always understand, being in contact with travelers from all around the world, and meeting people with different ideas of what the point of traveling to Thailand is, it’s only natural that at some point in your trip, you’ll be exposed to something or someone that you would define as "disrespectful travel".

In January, I had an interesting experience with a tourist that made me think a lot about why foreigners are sometimes perceived in a negative way in Thailand. Although I had been living in Thailand since 2006, I hadn’t ever seen the type of disrespectful tourist in the north that is usually talked about in reference to places like Koh Pangan, Koh Phi Phi, or other spots in Southern Thailand.

We arrived in a guesthouse that we’ve been staying at for over 4 years in Chiang Rai and upon checking in, I noticed how different the place seemed. It was more crowded than I’ve ever seen it and at about 2:00PM, a bunch of the guests were throwing a party. I shrugged and walked to my room. As I was opening my door, I smelled a whiff of pot. I doubled back and at the room next to me, the door was open and I saw a guy in his late twenties smoking out of a pipe. Now, I normally don’t care what people choose to do with their bodies, but I did find something to be inherently disrespectful about smoking pot in a family run guesthouse with children staying there, especially as marijuana is quite illegal and enforced strongly in Northern Thailand. After this, I had a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and decided to go out and ride a motorbike through the mountains.

worst traveler 2

After returning to the guesthouse, I went into my room to write a blog and I heard the same guy yelling on his phone to his friend. He was talking about his plans for Chiang Rai, which included “drinking whenever he wanted regardless of if his friend had a problem, smoking opium in a hill tribe village, and finding more pot”. He then continued to say the same thing over and over for over 30 minutes. Completely frustrated, I decided to channel my annoyance into my work and ended up writing a blog called How To Be A Good Guest At A Thai Guesthouse.

Finally he shut up and I was able to finish my work and go to sleep. What happened next was the most absurd thing I’ve ever experience involving a traveler in Thailand. At about 5:30AM, I was woken up to the sound of laughter and people shuffling around. I figured they were just getting back from a bar and would quiet down soon enough. After about 15 minutes, I banged on the wall and asked them to be quiet to no avail. Finally, I heard an Australian gentleman yelling at them and telling them that what they were doing was the reasons “everyone hates Yanks” (I’ll add that his racism was misguided as the culprits were Canadian). The guys apologized and quieted down for about 5 minutes. At about 6:15, I couldn’t take it anymore and knocked on their door. They hadn’t closed it fully and the door opened and I once again saw the guy smoking a pipe. I asked them to please be quiet, as I had to wake up in a few hours to catch a bus to Chiang Mai and went back to my room.

One of the guys decided to follow me to my room and I turned around and he was standing behind me. This is how the conversation went:

Guy: Dude, what’s the problem?

Me: You’re being a little loud and I’d appreciate it if you kept it down.

Guy: So you think it’s cool to disrespect me by knocking on my door and telling me to shut the f*** up?

Me: I didn’t say that, I politely asked you to please be quiet.

Guy: Dude, I just had the most epic night and got injured (he points to his knee and there is a small scrape). Have you ever gotten back from an epic night partying with your friends and you just had to smoke a bowl and talk about it?

Me: I’ve had some fun nights, but I personally come home and am quiet so I don’t disturb every other person in the guesthouse.

Guy: Well, this it Thailand and you apparently have no idea how things are done here. You’re just going to have to accept that I’m going to do whatever I want.

Me: Well, it seems that you’ve made your decision and you aren’t going to be quiet, so have a good day.

Guy: Dude, this is Thailand.

Me: I understand, have a good day.

Guy: Well, are we cool? Do you want to come over and smoke a bowl or something?

Me: I don’t smoke and I need to sleep. Goodbye.

I had to abridge the conversation as he said the same things over and over, but

I think this story is a great example of exactly how a person shouldn’t act while traveling to Thailand. Throughout the "conversation", he was getting in my face and I thought he was going to try to start a fight with me. This guy was so out of touch with reality that he had no idea what being a respectful traveler meant. While it’s true that some people start their trips on the banana pancake trail, which gives them a bit of a skewed view of Thai culture, this guy took it to the next level.

While checking out from the hotel I told the owner of the hotel about what happened. She had me tell her the whole story and at the end of it said, “So this is what he thinks is appropriate in Thailand? He’s about to learn something new.” I asked her to deal with him after we left, as I didn’t want to be involved any further.

I never found out what happened to those guys, but I imagine at some point in their trip, they ended up pissing off a local or other traveler and got themselves in trouble. For me, it just goes to show that some people have a very skewed perception of what is considered acceptable while traveling. I personally don't believe traveling gives a person the freedom to do something that would be completely disrespectful in their home just because they might not have to deal with the same consequences for their actions. I did learn that respectful foreigners are very appreciated as the owner of the guesthouse let me know she understood my concerns and hoped that I would still come back to her guesthouse in the future, assuring me that something like that would never happen again.

Interested in traveling to Thailand and being respectful and responsible visitors? Check out our various tours here!

Thai Connection Tour Photo Highlights

Thai Connection Tour Photo Highlights

photo highlights

Thai Connection Tour Photo Highlights

Our latest Thai Connection Tour just finished and the group had a wonderful time. We spent two weeks traveling through Central and Northern Thailand; staying in villages, national parks, and visiting off the path destinations. While traveling to Thailand, taking photographs is a great way to chronicle a trip. Here are some of our favorite photos from the trip!

photo highlights 2The group spent a day at the Elephant Nature Park, which is one of the only responsible elephant conservation centers in Thailand. Instead of being forced to give rides, put on shows, and cater to tourists, elephants are able to just be elephants.

photo highlights 3We've said many times that one of the best parts of traveling to Thailand is spending time in a local village. Our first spot on the Thai Connection Tour was one of our favorite villages that we've been going to for almost ten years! Here, the group was taking an evening stroll.

photo higlights 4If there is one thing you can count on while traveling to Thailand with Off The Path Travel, it's that you are going to eat delicious food multiple times a day. One of the culinary highlights of our trip was traveling through the back alleys of Bangkok to hit up one of our favorite seafood restaurants. This dish here is a giant prawn in crab sauce and it was under 3 dollars.

Interested in traveling to Thailand? Check out our tours here!

 

How To Be A Good Guest At A Thai Guesthouse

How To Be A Good Guest At A Thai Guesthouse

fang guesthouse

How To Be A Good Guest At A Thai Guesthouse

Unlike hostels in Europe, the preferred accommodation for budget travelers to Thailand is the guesthouse. A guesthouse is a hotel, restaurant, internet café, and tour operator all in one. While we generally prefer staying with families in Thailand, in the bigger cities, guesthouses are the easiest options. Because of this, we’ve found some great family run places that are a good place to relax after spending time in the city.

All kinds of people stay in guesthouses from locals to solo travelers, tour groups, and families. You’re usually within close quarters of each other, so while traveling to Thailand, it’s important to be a good guest. Here are some tips.

Keep the noise down: Many times, the walls between rooms are quite thin and your neighbor will be able to hear you if you are too loud. Be mindful of other guests. If you are having a few drinks or hanging out late in the restaurant area, make sure you aren’t too loud for the people who are trying to get some sleep.

Keep your room clean: Yes, there are cleaning staff who will be able to tidy up your room after you leave, but you should still make the effort to keep the room as clean as possible. Many family-run places have a few staff that have lot of different jobs to do.

Be polite to the staff: Running a guesthouse is difficult, especially when the staff Won Pen's Guesthousehave to deal with rude travelers who expect everything to be the same as home. If something takes too long or they take the wrong order down for food, be gentle and patient.

Don’t rely on the staff too much: When you travel to Thailand on a budget, you need to expect a budget experience. While guesthouses are great for arranging just about anything you need while you are in Thailand, there is a reason you aren’t paying $100 a night there. Don’t expect to get the same service you would at a 5 star hotel. That being said, the great thing about staying at a guesthouse is having the opportunity to interact with the people running them.

Don’t smoke in the guesthouse restaurant: Even if there are ashtrays, don’t smoke there. It’s just as easy to walk outside and smoke somewhere where people aren’t eating.

While staying at guesthouses, the best thing to do is show the same courtesy you would while staying at your grandmother's house. Be polite, don't complain too much, and realize that sometimes things aren't going to be done the way you might expect them to. If you are can do these things, staying in a guesthouse can be great. You'll have the opportunity to interact with locals, and if you show them you respect their culture, might even show you some off the path activities.

Want to travel to Thailand? Check out our various tours here!

Safe Travel: Protests In Thailand

Safe Travel: Protests In Thailand

Thailand_flag

Safe Travel: Protests In Thailand

In light of recent protests in the capital, many people are asking if it’s safe to travel to Thailand right now. I’ve been in Thailand for every major protest since 2006 where Thaksin Shinawatra was taken out of office in a coup d'etat, and I can confidently say that I’ve never felt that I haven’t ever worried about my personal safety. This has less to do with the political situation and more to with how I chose to operate during these times.

Here are some things to know about protests and suggestions for traveling safely:

Simply Stay Away From Protest Areas: Any person who travels to Thailand should follow this rule. The only westerners who have gotten hurt during protests are the ones who feel like they want to see what it’s all about. Foreigner casualties are always journalists or tourists who get in the thick of it.

Only A Speck Of The Country Is Affected: Protests are confined to certain areas of the cities. It’s quite easy to avoid them and life goes on as usually even a block away from them. Every news site has protest maps that you can look at.

Outside Of Bangkok, It’s Business As Usual: A large percentage of protesters are coming to Bangkok from other provinces, meaning they aren’t protesting in their hometowns. Up in Chiang Mai, protests simply don’t get violent. They are held out of town and the opposite parties are located miles away from each other. If you don’t search them out, you would hardly even know a protest was happening.

Thais Don’t Want To Target Foreigners: Simply put, Thais don’t want travelers to Thailand to get hurt because they have nothing to do with the political situation in Thailand. Foreigners who get hurt are the ones who put themselves in the thick of sketchy situations.

Keep Up With The News: If you want to follow the demonstrations, watch and read the news instead of going to see for yourself. Every international news agency is covering the story and you can get a wide range of perspectives on the situation.

All travelers to Thailand should remember that most people who aren’t taking part in the demonstrations (who are definitely the majority) find the protests to be negative and are more concerned with living their normal lives. Because of this, most people won’t even mention to travelers what is going on. As long as you use the same common sense that you would usually use traveling, there is no risk being in Thailand during protests.

Want to travel to Thailand? Check out our various tours here! 

Traveler Culture Vs. Local Culture: The Myth About Thai Women

Traveler Culture Vs. Local Culture: The Myth About Thai Women

women in thailand

Traveler Culture Vs. Local Culture: The Myth About Thai Women

Many travelers to Thailand have a preconceived notion of what to expect from the people they meet during their holiday. There are a large amount of stereotypes regarding Thai women that should be discussed in detail. Movies like the Hangover 2 and a lot of western male driven websites only tell one story about Thai women that doesn’t apply to 99% of the population, yet it sadly influences many people to believe that this type of information is definitive to the larger percentage of Thai women.

A small percentage of tourism in Thailand is catered to sex tourists. While it’s not something that we are interested in being a part of, it is something we have to acknowledge living in Thailand. When traveling to Thailand, people who don’t have any interest in seeing that part of the country won’t even know it exists unless they are walking through places like Khaosan Road. But, for people who do go to Thailand to see it, they’re going to areas that are specifically for that purpose, meeting other travelers there for sex tourism, and are tricked into believing that the sex industry is a huge part of Thai culture. They then write about their experiences, which ends up being so sensationalized that a lot of people end up believing Thailand is some ‘free for all’ country everywhere you go. You can’t deny the sex industry is more ‘in your face’ in Thailand than a lot of other countries, but for most Thai people, it’s tolerated and ignored.

Sadly as a result of the sex industry, many normal Thai women have become stereotyped inaccurately.

Here is a myth many travelers to Thailand believe that we want to dispute.

The Myth:

All Thai women just want to marry a rich westerner and move back to their country with them.

The Truth:

I’ve heard this from many people and I can’t help but rolling my eyes every time somebody brings this up.  This myth implies two things: Thai women only care about money and they are somehow unhappy with the fact that they have to live in Thailand. Now, there are probably some people who fit into this stereotype, but the fact is that the bulk of Thais don’t.

In the time I’ve lived in Thailand, I’ve noticed that the way people look at money here is a lot different than in the States. A professor at Chulalongkorn University said it perfectly to me a couple weeks ago, ‘When a Thai has financial troubles… or any troubles… they tend to look inward first.’ Instead of being worried that they can’t make enough money, they figure out how they can live sustainably off the money they have. Not many westerners can live off 10,000 baht a month (roughly $340) in Thailand, but that doesn’t stop a lot of Thais.

I’ve met a lot of Thais who have lived, traveled, or studied overseas and when I ask them why they came back to Thailand, they said the prefer life in Thailand. They prefer the food, pace of life, and easy-going nature of their culture. So many travelers to Thailand end up moving there because they love the way of life, it’s only logical that Thais love it too. Some people do prefer living overseas for a variety of reasons, but to just say it's because they want money is silly.

I’ve met Thai and western couples who were together for a variety of reasons that are very similar to why any two people enter a relationship. They have values and enjoy each other’s company. The most genuine couples I know out here aren’t very concerned with the idea that one person is Thai and one person is not.

I think this is an important thing to be aware of because if you start thinking this way about all Thai women, you won’t get the opportunity to meet some great people on your travels. When you come into a country with a preconceived notion that isn’t based on any kind of rationality, you are instantly disregarding a large group of people that should be judged as individuals.

When people start looking at women in these negative ways, they begin to objectify them more than they realize. They are pretty much calling all Thai women prostitutes and that is wrong. Inside or outside of the sex industry, human beings need to be understood and given empathy instead of being labeled negatively. The real problem is the people who make these judgments and perpetuate them by treating Thai women (and women as a whole) a certain way to fit the stereotype they created for them.

Interested in traveling to Thailand and letting your own experiences shape your ideas about the country? Check out our various tours here!

Responsible Travel In Thailand: Discerning Between Must And Must Not See Activities

Responsible Travel In Thailand: Discerning Between Must And Must Not See Activities

must see

When researching traveling to Thailand, there are various activities that are described as ‘must see Thai attractions’. It’s obvious that any tour company can call anything ‘must see’ to meet their agenda of which type of tour they want to sell. Sometimes, activities that aren’t very ethical are sold as the best experiences in a country without giving accurate information on how they affect local culture and the environment. The less people question the activities and go on these types of tours, the more people call these activities ‘must see’. When you travel to Thailand, some of the activities that are ‘must see’ really are amazing, but many of them aren’t and are actually what we would call ‘must not see’.

Here is what we think is definitely ‘must see’:

Ruins In Thailand: Sukhothai, Ayuthaya, Si Satchanalai, Phanom Rung, and variousmust see 2 other parts of Thailand are home to ruins from different civilizations, be it Khmer, Thai, Mon, Lanna. Etc. These places are wonderful to get an idea of what life was like a long time ago in Thailand. To connect with a place’s history helps a person understand how a country and its civilization came to be.

Thai Temples: The popular temples such as Wat Pho in Bangkok or Doi Suteph in Chiang Mai are definitely worth seeing. They are important parts of both the history and spirituality of a large amount of Thais. Along with the more popular temples, it’s also great to go to local wats to get an idea how the bulk of Thais worship in every day life. The good part about this is that temples are in abundance in Thailand and most of them are quite beautiful. Just take your pick.

Markets: Thai markets are some of the coolest places to go to. Even the most tourist oriented ones, like the Sunday Market in Chiang Mai are very popular with locals. Travelers to Thailand get the opportunity to try delicious food, hear Thai music, and take part in an experience that is very present in Thai life.

A Local Village: Spending at least a night (but preferably more) in a local villagemust see 3, be it Thai or one of the various hill tribes, is one of our favorite parts about traveling to Thailand. The village is where you get to experience traditional culture, home cooking, and family life. You'll have the opportunity to build relationships with people and learn about a new way of life.

Here is what we think is definitely ‘must not see’:

Any Kind of ‘Tiger Temple’: Regardless of location in Thailand, we refuse to endorse this type of tourism. Tigers (and no animals) should be exploited for entertainment purposes, especially as there is evidence of the tigers being drugged, declawed, and other things done to them so they can’t bite or use their claws correctly. There is no sustainability to these ‘ non (actually for) profits’ as they haven’t developed any plan to reintroduce the animals back to the wild. If you are interested in tigers, check out Huay Kha Kaeng National Park, which is actually working towards protecting the tigers’ natural habitat. Realize that if you care about tigers, you don’t want to see them. Tigers generally don’t go around humans if they can avoid it. When they do, it’smust see 5 because they can’t find food, and you don’t want to be around a tiger when she can’t find food.

Elephant Rides or Trekking: Any elephant that you ride had to be put through the phajaan process, meaning they were starved and beaten for days till they were broken. While there is talk that people are finding better ways to train elephants for riding using positive reinforcement, it’s not close to the norm in the elephant tourism industry. If you are set on seeing elephants, we recommend the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, which works to educate both locals and tourists about proper elephant treatment and conservation.

The Full Moon Party: Most travelers to Thailand hear about the Full Moon Party wherever they go. It’s also one of the most dangerous activities in Thailand with multiple deaths and injuries under its belt.

The Ping Pong Show: The concept of the Ping Pong show is considered ‘weird’ to a lot of tourists and they think that it’s something they should see once. We’ve heard many people say ‘it’s so messed up, we have to see it!’ What they fail to realize is that the woman who is performing these acts is a human being who is being exploited.  The ping pong shows are infamous for getting women addicted to alcohol and ‘ya ba’ (Thai meth) and forcing them to remain in the industry.thai culture 4

Hill Tribe Human Zoos: A lot of hill tribe tourism exploits the people they claim to want to give tourists an authentic experience with. Tourist villages are set up and force locals to dress a certain way and work in the industry while larger tour companies take the bulk of money made. If you are interested in having a real authentic experience with a hill tribe, plan to devote more than a day to it and do your research. Anything going for a day outside of Chiang Mai isn't going to be responsible. Plan on spending a long time just getting to a village, then spend a few days once you get there. Go with operators who are connected to NGOs or locals who are part of the tribe you want to visit.

Our formula for deciding if something is must or must not see:

Are they exploiting people, animals, or the environment? If an activity is beingmust see 4 done at the expense of any of these things, we choose not to offer it as part of our tour. We believe in the concept of contributing, not just taking.

Authenticity: We choose to book tours not based on what’s popular, but if it’s an authentic conduit to local culture. Meaning it’s something that a local would say they feel is an important part of their cultural identity.

Are locals making money as a result of the tour? It’s our opinion that tourist dollars should go to stimulate the local economy. We choose not to outsource our tours to other companies for this reason, but instead work with locals who can distribute the money we bring in to the people who directly facilitate our experiences.

This method also works for activities that aren’t necessarily must or must not see, but simply up to preference. For example, there are both responsible and questionable scuba diving operators. Some are very conscious of how they effect the environment and pay locals a fair wage. Others do the exact opposite. Using this formula can help you determine what operators to use and what activities to partake in.

Interested in traveling to Thailand? Check out our various tours here!

 

Traveler Culture Vs. Local Culture: The Hill-Tribe Myth

Traveler Culture Vs. Local Culture: The Hill-Tribe Myth

hill tribe 3

Traveler Culture Vs. Local Culture: The Hill-Tribe Myth

One of the most enticing experiences for many travelers to Thailand is the opportunity to visit one of the various hill-tribes that inhabit the Southeast Asian region.  A whole industry has been developed to cater to tourists who want to visit hill-tribe villages to get a look into these different minorities’ lives. We’ve already done a post about Hill-Tribes and Responsible Travel, so we decided it would be a good idea to shed some light on some of the myths surrounding hill-tribe tourism.

First of all, an important thing to realize when thinking about hill-tribes is that the     word for hill-tribe in Thai actually doesn’t directly translate. If you translated chao kao into English, it would mean hill tribe 5people of the mountains. Calling it a tribe in English instantly romanticizes the people and ideas of South American or African indigenous tribes that haven’t had much contact with western civilization come to mind. That’s usually not the case with the hill-tribes of Southeast Asia. Many of the tribes have had contact with westerners for decades, such as the Garieng who worked with the English in World War 2 or the Hmong who helped the Americans in the Vietnam War.

Most travelers to Thailand don’t even notice how much they interact with hill-tribe people in every day life in places like Chiang Mai or Mae Hong Son who work in restaurants, hotels, or various other jobs. The younger generations of hill-tribe are trying to be part of the modern world because that is where the opportunities are for them. Travelers don’t realize this becahill tribe 4use they don’t speak Thai so they don’t realize that the person’s accent is different than a Thai, but anyone who does will be perceptive of how much they interact with people from different ethnicities every day.

An amazing thing about the different hill-tribes in Thailand is the range of cultural diversity that is present. But, most tourists mistake traditional culture from external things. They expect an authentic hill-tribe experience to mean women in colorful dresses or ‘long necks’ weaving, children doing traditional dance, and men playing various authentic hill-tribe songs. They don’t realize that in the tourist villages they visit, this is usually a show put on for foreigners to make money, because many of these hill-tribe communities are refugees or don’t have citizenship and aren’t allowed to do anything else. If it were a village that didn’t cater to tourism, children would be in school, and men and women would be working in the rice fields (which many of them aren’t allowed to do, but instead have to buy their rice), hill tribe 7markets, or various other jobs that are necessary for a village to operate. The bulk of people would be wearing regular western clothing, save for some men would maybe wear a sarong. The older generation might wear traditional clothing, but for the most part the special outfits, music, and dancing would only be taken out for festivals and religious holidays.

The different hill-tribe cultures are wonderful and it’s great when travelers to Thailand want to learn about them. Sadly at this point, a large part of the Thai tourist industry gives a very inaccurate view of the people. The truth is, many hill-tribe people want to be part of the modern world. They want TVs, cell-phones, computers, access to education, medicine, and other benefits ohill tribe 6f modern civilization. While there are people who prefer the traditional life, most of those people aren’t doing it for the benefit of tourists. It’s been my experience that hill-tribes are very welcoming to people who want to spend time in their villages and really learn about their culture, so the people who want to dig deep into a specific tribe’s culture can have the opportunity.

In regards to the villages where people are practically forced into tourism, it’s a double-edged sword as if they are forced into work in that industry for little money, most people who learn of the exploitation that goes down don’t want to contribute to it. That also means that these people won’t make money. At Off The Path Travel, the loophole we’ve found is to work directly with hill-tribhill tribe 1es and go to both types of villages, or tourist and non-tourist. Either way, we don’t just visit for a day, but spend time there and make sure all the money goes into the hands of the villagers. But, to tour hill-tribe villages responsibly, you can’t do it as a day trip. You also have to realize that the second you step into a tourist village on a day trip, you’re being given a contrived experience.

Interested in traveling to Thailand? Check out our various tours here!

 

A Typical Day On An Off The Path Travel Homestay

A Typical Day On An Off The Path Travel Homestay

Kan1

Many people who consider traveling to Thailand with Off The Path Travel want to know what a typical day is like, so we decided we’d give you a bit of an idea of what to expect when you travel with us. For us, we believe it’s important to surround you fully in Thai culture, from where we stay to the activities we choose to offer. Here is what a typical homestay day will look like.kan2

The weather is comfortably warm with a cool breeze as you step out of your personal bungalow in a Thai village. Before breakfast, you lounge on your own private balcony in a hammock or go for a run through the villages, passing farms, schools, and fruit orchards on your way. The area is abundant with fauna and wildlife. You see flowers of various colors and hear the sounds of different birds singing to each other.

During breakfast, your homestay mom gives you a choice of different delicious Thai dishes to sample. You can choose from a simple and hardy rice soup filled with carrots, garlic, kale, and other fresh ingredients from the local organic farms in the areas, or maybe some kuey teow, which is Thai noodle soup. If you’re not in the mood for a Thai iced tea, you might decide to have fresh coffee from Doi Chang in Northern Thailand.

After breakfast, you might want to go visit some Buddhist ruins or the local wat, Kan1which is the Thai word for temple. This is your chance to learn more about Buddhism in Thailand. If it’s wan pra, or a holy day, you might even get to take part in different ceremonies or celebrate with a local festival. There will always be a guide who speaks fluent Thai, so if you want to talk with locals or ask monks any questions, you’ll be able to communicate.

During the heat of the day, it’ll be a perfect opportunity to visit a secluded multi leveled waterfall. You can spend time hiking through the jungle, swimming in the various pools, or even finding a few spots to safely jump off of. At the point, you might be getting a bit hungry. Your host mom packed a delicious pad tai lunch wrapped in banana leaves.  If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, you can also go visit a karst formed cave in the middle of the jungle with a local.41_506794657767_4411_n

Upon returning back to the homestay, there are various things you can do. You can help out the host dad in the farm, learn to cook authentic dishes with your host mom, play with the kids, or just lounge in a hammock in the garden and relax before dinner.  For dinner, you’ll get to sample various authentic dishes such as various local curries, soups, and Thai desserts. Depending on the day of the week, locals might come by to have a beer and play some luk tung, which is Thai folk music.

After being pleasantly worn out from such an active day, the calm sounds of the Thai jungle will put you to sleep in no time, where you’ll wake up rejuvenated and ready for another awesome day with Off The Path Travel!

Interested in traveling to Thailand? Check out our various tours here!

.

 

Music Of Thailand

Music Of Thailand

molam

Music of Thailand

One of our favorite reasons to travel to Thailand is the wide range of different musical styles that one can experience. Thailand has a lot of different genres of music that are quite unique to the area and some that built off western music that trickled in from the 19th century onward. For this blog, we’d like to highlight some of our favorite Thai music.

Classical Music: Thai classical music is made up of 3 different styles, Piphat, Mahori, and Khrueng Sai. Different instruments that make an ensemble categorize each style. Instruments played in classical music include the ranat, which is similar to a xylophone, klong (barrel drums), gong chimes, various wind and string instruments, and an oboe like instrument called a pi. Classical music is used for various occasions such as different holidays, funerals, and accompanies different forms of theatre.

It is still possible to watch classical music all around Thailand. At Off The Path Travel, whenever there is a holiday or occasion where classical music is played (sometimes even at a local market), we love bringing our groups to experience the music. The style really is unique to Southeast Asia. Here is a video of classical Piphat music to give you an idea of what it sounds like.

 

Luk Thung: Luk Thung is considered modern folk and country music, though the genre is a lot more diverse than that. Luk Thung began in the early 1900s.  Luk Thung started in central Thailand and lyrically focused on the struggles of rural life in Thailand.

Instruments used in Luk Thung are the ranat, chin (hand cymbals), mallet drums, suun (a stringed instrument close to a guitar), klong (barrel drums) among other Thai instruments. Throughout the development of the style, more western instruments started being incorporated into the genre, such as guitars, bass, and drums. In recent years, a new electronic Luk Thung genre has emerged that uses synthesizers and drum machines. Here's a song by Suraphol Sombatcharoen, who is considered one of the father's of Luk Thung.

 

Molam: Molam comes from the northeastern provinces, which in Thai are called Issan, and Lao. Thematically similar to Luk Thung, Molam incorporates poetry and spoken word with very flexible singing melodies. It also often uses instruments such as the khene, (reed organ), and pin (3 stringed lute). Most Thais say they can tell when a song is Molam because of these 2 instruments. Mor Lam has some slow songs, but modern songs are known for being very fast. Here are 2 different Molam songs.

 

Pop Music: Nowadays, there is every style of music and travelers to Thailand can get whatever genre they are looking for. There are rock, funk, soul, heavy metal, hip-hop, easy listening, blues, and jazz groups. Here's one of our favorite pop songs of Suphaporn covering Hang On, Sloopy.

Want to travel to Thailand and experience Thai music? Check out our various tours here!

 

 

Tips For Understanding Thai Culture: Part 2

Tips For Understanding Thai Culture: Part 2

understanding thai culture 2 2

Tips For Understanding Thai Culture: Part 2

Last March, we wrote a blog called Tips For Understanding Thai Culture because almost every traveler to Thailand ends up in a situation or encounter that has cultural undertones that they might not necessarily be able to relate to. In our last blog, we talked about confrontation and saving face, smiling, and collectivism. For this next installment, we’ll cover 2 more parts of Thai culture we find it important for tourists to understand.

Culture Over History: The land that is now geopolitically called Thailand has Thailand 1been inhabited by various ethnic groups throughout history who influenced the culture of Southeast Asia as a whole. Thai people only became a dominant role in the area around 1238 when the Sukhothai kingdom was established. Before that, Khmer, Mon, and other peoples ruled the land, and the history of the Thais during that time was vague at best. A lot of important aspects of Thai culture were integrated into their worldview at a time before they were the dominant people and recording their own history. Also, some of the most important facets of Thai culture have no historical context as certain traditions and belief systems were passed down orally. Similarly to parts of Indian or Tibetan history, myth and actual events were mixed and not necessarily presented in a linear order. So, what does this mean for understanding Thai culture? For me, it shows that Thai culture might not be as concerned with how it became Thai culture as much as the fact that it is Thai culture. When traveling to Thailand, sometimes the best way to understand the culture isn’t by asking specific questions about why things are done a certain way or where a belief came from, but by just assimilating into it. Sometimes there isn’t what we would call a logical answer to some of the questions you might have about Thai culture.The history of the Thai people are alive in their every day life, traditions or religious rituals, and that what we might call myth and folklore is actually relevant and present in every day life and by living it, you can still come to a basic understanding. While we might not be able to trace it all chronologically, understanding how the different aspects make up the culture as a whole is still possible.

Building Relationships: A huge reason why the Thais became the dominant people of the land were their ability to build relationships. The Thais didn’t gain Thai culture 1control only by conquering, but instead by bonding together and integrating different peoples and traditions into their culture. A successful person in Thailand is viewed as somebody who can create as many positive bonds with others as possible through being likeable and nam jai, which means generous. This means that while traveling to Thailand, being confrontational and selfish is never going to help you accomplish anything. For example, if you’re waiting in line and it’s taking too long, getting upset because YOU have somewhere to be would be considered very rude as there is a whole group of people who probably have somewhere to be. In any confrontation, creating a situation where there is ‘me vs. you’ instantly spoils the idea of building a relationship. Instead, approaching a situation by saying ‘what can we do to make this better?’ creates that bond and makes people want to help you.

Want to travel to Thailand? Check out our various tours here!

What Off The Path Travel Means To Me

What Off The Path Travel Means To Me

otp1

What Off The Path Travel Means To Me

Whether we travel to Thailand, India, Mongolia, or anywhere else on Earth, our method has always been to do it off the path for a large portion of our trips. While I personally do enjoy certain activities and destinations that appeal to the general population like some developed Thai islands or important historical sites, I think there are a lot of experiences you can only have if you travel locally.

For me, the concept of being an off the path traveler is a philosophy. Since the first time I set foot in Thailand, my goal was to go into the unknown and learn to connect to a culture completely different from mine. Because of that, I didn’t find that staying on the typical banana pancake trail would help me accomplish it. I instead chose to spend as much time in villages where the only way for me to learn and make connections with people was to integrate into the culture. When I began to do that, I realized how incredible travel was and what it taught me about myself. I learned that I was the type of person who was willing to try to learn about another person and understand them regardless if I spoke their language or not.

Now I perceive the bond I created with different places in so many ways- the different food I ate, the smell of a local market or incense at a temple, people I met along the way, or what music I was listening to at the time- they all fill me with a feeling that is hard to explain. I could only describe it as a high. That feeling for me is attained through this concept of off the path travel. I’m not concerned with going to the best parties because it’s the cool thing to do or use my experiences as a way to stroke my ego, but travel to keep on experiencing something that puts me in tune with the best parts of myself.

I think sometimes travel is used by a lot of people as an escape. They have a stressful life back at home that they call ‘the real world’ and once they hop overseas, they enter this illusion that the world is a free-for-all and whatever country they are in is a dreamland. I think this mindset negates so much that is liberating about travel. Instead of escaping your life, which is in a way escaping yourself, I consider travel to be an authentic way to dig deeper into life and learn to become the best version of yourself. Through learning to forge connections with other people regardless of language, pushing yourself by having different experiences that you wouldn’t normally have to encounter, and allowing yourself to feel vulnerable, you are able to find yourself.

With Off The Path Travel, when we bring people to travel to Thailand and beyond, our goal is to help facilitate that experience. Instead of showing the picture perfect guidebook version of these places, we want each person to develop her or his own relationship and define the country for their self. It’s impossible to learn everything there is to know or become an expert about a place in a couple weeks, but it is completely feasible to create a bond with a place that transforms you. That’s what being an off the path traveler is to me.

Are you interested in traveling to Thailand? Check out our various tours here!

5 Things We Love About Villages In Thailand

5 Things We Love About Villages In Thailand

thai village 3

5 Things We Love About Villages In Thailand

At Off The Path Travel, we believe that one of the highlights for people who travel to Thailand is spending time in a village. They are the perfect places to integrate into the culture and are usually the first places we recommend visiting on a trip. One of the amazing things about Thailand is how willing many villagers are to welcome foreigners into their lives and teach them about their culture. Here are some things we love about Thai villages.

Safety: In Thailand, the more local you get, the safer you are.  Small towns and villages tend to be some of the friendliest places in Thailand. Unlike areas like Koh Pangan or Phuket, scams, thefts, and violence towards foreigners is unheard of.  As long as you learn the basic cultural etiquette, you’ll have a wonderful time.

Villages are a gateway to the culture: People in villages seem to be more proud of their culture and traditions. Instead of giving you the ‘Disneyland’ perspective of tourist Thailand, in a village you’ll get the real deal. The best part is people will want to share it with you and you’ll be invited by locals to markets, festivals or religious ceremonies, and various other activities. If you want to understand Thai culture, villages are the place to go.

Food: A large percentage of villagers are farmers who are very self -sufficient. The food you eat in villages is almost all locally produced and sometimes comes from a family’s backyard. Also, while staying with families, the food is made with a special ingredient: love, which always makes it better. You’ll experience local dishes that sometimes aren’t offered in normal restaurants.

Sense of belonging: Some people who travel to Thailand and stay on the tourist circuit always feel like they’re outsiders and that they are separate from locals. In a village, you are welcomed into the community and treated like family. It’s our opinion that the most captivating part of travel is forging connections and building relationships with local communities and the people in them. Thais and hill tribes are some of the most welcoming in that regard.

Once you’ve seen 1, you haven’t seen them all: Villages in Thailand are very diverse. Even villages very close by to each other sometimes speak different dialects, practice different religions or worship different spirits, and have different cuisines. Many villages have local folklore and their own unique histories. You could spend a month traveling through different villages in Thailand and it wouldn’t get repetitive.

Would you like to travel to Thailand and visit local villages? If so, check out our various tours here!

Responsible Travel: Motorbike Safety In Thailand

Responsible Travel: Motorbike Safety In Thailand

motorbike 2

Responsible Travel: Motorbike Safety In Thailand

One of the most popular ways to get around the Land of Smiles is by driving a motorbike and many of travelers to Thailand rent one once they get out of Bangkok. Most people rent scooters between 100 and 125cc, though it is possible to rent bigger motorcycles. At Off The Path Travel, we love driving motorbikes. From coasting along endless miles of beaches in Southern Thailand to winding through the mountains up North, there are so many great experiences available on the back of a bike. For those of us who live or travel to Thailand extensively, driving a motorbike has become an every day thing for us. But, if it's your first time traveling to Thailand, there are some things you should know to stay safe on a motorbike.

Wear a helmet: Technically, it's against the law to not wear a helmet on a motorbike in Thailand, though outside of cities (and sometimes in) it is rarely enforced. Many people simply don't want to do it. For whatever reason you think you don't need to wear one, you need to realize that the reason is bad. People say that motorbikes don't go very fast so there is no need. A motorbike can go over 45mph. 15mph is fast enough to need a helmet.

Ease into it: I've met too many travelers to Thailand who arrive and try to drive through a city like Chiang Mai that has a lot of traffic. Before even thinking of doing that, go and learn how to drive in an empty parking lot or on a road outside of town. I lived in Thailand for 3 months before even considering driving in Chiang Mai.

Driving in Thailand is different from back home: Driving in Thailand isn't like driving out west. On Thai roads, you have to watch out for cars, other motorbikes, bicycles, dogs, food carts, people, huge trucks, tractors, elephants in some places, and sometimes water buffalo. People drive the wrong way down the street sometimes, the biggest vehicle seems to always have the right of way, and traffic lights aren't always followed. Outside of the cities, the roads aren't always paved very well. All in all, it's very important to remain very focused and aware of your surroundings while driving in Thailand.

Road trips are awesome if you are experienced: Some of the best experiences available in Thailand are some of the road trips one can take. There are popular ones like the Mae Hong Son route which can be done in 2 days, but most people break up between 5 and 10. The most popular drive for many travelers to Thailand is from Chiang Mai to Pai, which is part of the loop. It's scenically beautiful as you drive into the mountains for about 2 to 3 hours, but it's also very dangerous as almost all of it is single lane and there are over 750 curves. Many first time drivers try to tackle this route and a good amount of people crash. I've done both the loop and the drive to Pai alone many times in a car and motorbike and have never not seen the aftermath of a crash on the side of the road. Once again, get a lot of experience driving before trying to tackle more difficult routes.

Check the bike and read the rental contract: 99% of motorbike rental shops are honest and will give you good quality bikes. Usually, on islands like Koh Tao, Koh Pangan, Koh Samui, or Phuket there are more scams involving outfitters renting out shoddy bikes, then blaming the renter for the problem and extorting them for money by withholding their passport. While this isn't the norm and you're likely never to see this problem outside of these areas, it's good to read the contract and take pictures of your bike before taking it out of the shop. Also, most rental shops will ask you to hold your passport. Give them a copy of the passport instead (they might ask you to keep a cash or credit deposit with them instead as well).

As I said before, I love driving motorbikes in Thailand. It's been my main form of transportation for years and I spend many of my days off exploring the north and going on road trips. I just find it important to be as safe as possible while driving because there is an inherent risk involved in this type of activity. While we don't offer organized motorbike tours, some of our clients sometimes choose to rent them. We hope this blog can give you insight on how to drive them responsibly.

Interested in traveling to Thailand? Check out our various tours here!

 

 

Combating Jetlag

Combating Jetlag

Combating Jetlag

You arrive in a vibrant new part of the world, eyes wide, mind racing. Where will you eat first? What local site should you start your trip off at? You drop your bag at your accommodation, hop in a taxi and slump into your seat. Suddenly the driver is looking at you with a confused expression scrawled across their face. You pay him, head into a small eatery and attempt to eat a meal with your head lolling around like a dandelion in the breeze.

You are jetlagged.

When traveling somewhere multiple time zones away, the wear and tear of long flights can take its toll on you. The first few days in an antipodal destination can seem like a dream, in part, because you’re nodding off thirty percent of the time. When you’re traveling, the last thing you want to do is jeopardize your experience or your health with a wonky sleep schedule.

Here are some tips to combat jetlag:

  • The most important thing you can do is find out what time it is in your destination before you leave and start getting yourself onto their time before your flight. For example, when I fly to Thailand from Chicago, the time difference is generally twelve hours. When it’s morning here, it’s evening there. Simple enough. So, supposing my flight leaves at 9am; I will stay up all night prior to my flight. I’ll attempt to make it until 11am Chicago time. Generally, I’ll zonk out immediately upon taking my seat on the plane and sleep deeply for a good chunk of time. When I wake up, I’ll check what time it is at my destination and continue to sleep or simply relax with my eyes closed until it’s morning there. Typically, when I arrive in Bangkok late in the evening, I can actually sleep through most of the night when I get to where I’m staying. I’m already on local time.
  • Don’t sleep through the days when you first arrive in town. If you need to nap, it’s okay, just don’t sleep for four hours, have lunch and then sleep four more. Take a thirty-minute nap, have a shower and go about your day. If you need to re-energize later, take another power nap and/or get some fresh air.
  • Don’t go drinking caffeine late in the day to help you stay up. It may keep you up at night, which in turn will ensure that you’re exhausted again the following morning.
  • Drink plenty of water. Your flight probably left you a bit dehydrated and not taking in enough fluids will only magnify any of the effects you’re feeling from your flight.

Want to attempt to thwart off jetlag with us? Book a trip to Thailand.

 

 

Adventure Travel In Thailand

Adventure Travel In Thailand

adventure main

Adventure Travel In Thailand

Many people who travel to Thailand go for the variety of adventure activities available all around the country. The list of different experiences available is huge such as rock climbing, scuba diving, white water rafting, and mountain climbing. For this blog, we are going to high give advice on how to pick responsible adventure activities and stay safe.

Know the company you are going with: It’s very important to research different operators before choosing to go on a tour with them. Most adventure travel has an element of danger and it’s up to the operator to provide knowledgeable and trained staff. Make sure there is a staff trained in first aid as well.

Research responsible tourism: It’s important to be able to discern who is a responsible tour operator. Irresponsible operators will usually brush you aside when you ask questions about ethical travel. More conscious tour operators will engage you on the issues surrounding responsible travel and do certain things such as making sure local communities are both involved and benefiting from tourism and their activities don’t run at the expense of the environment.

Accept that certain activities are irresponsible, regardless of how enticing they sound: Whatever anybody tells you, certain activities should be avoided in Thailand. While at the end of the day, it’s your decision what you do when you travel to Thailand, we feel that there are certain activities that are red flags in terms of responsible travel. Among them are the various tiger temples, elephant shows, and the Full Moon Party.

Learn to navigate through the gray areas: There are certain activities that have both responsible and irresponsible operators, such as hill tribe tourism. It’s important to be educated on issues surrounding cultural tourism so you can make sure your money isn’t going towards exploiting locals or refugees. This happens with elephant tourism as well.

Some of our favorite adventure activities in Thailand:

Rock climbing: It’s possible to climb all around Thailand. While most people who travel to Thailand go down south to Krabi, there are some great spots in the north as well, such as Crazy Horse Buttress. There are sport runs, both single and multi pitched, for all levels of climbers. If you are really good, there are even opportunities to do deep water soloing where you climb as high as you can, then just drop into the water.

White water rafting: This is another great activity all around Thailand, though our favorite place to do it is Northern Thailand around Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. It’s a great way to experience the Thai jungle without trekking. Depending on the time of year, the classes of rapids will change. Usually, the best time for adrenaline junkies is in late August through September when the monsoon is at its strongest. White water rafting is one of the reasons why we love the Thai rainy season.

Scuba diving: Thailand is famous for its world class diving spots. Pretty much every island in the country offers scuba tours. A lot of people travel to Thailand to get their PADI certification here because it’s so affordable.

Elephant tourism: This is one of the most popular activities in Thailand. While we love elephants, we think it’s very important to contribute to responsible forms of tourism regarding them. The only place we fully support in Thailand is the Elephant Nature Park.

Anything on two wheels: There are great opportunities for motorbike riding. Down hill or mountain biking, Riding through the mountains and visiting different villages on the way is one of our favorite activities in all of Thailand!

Interested in traveling to Thailand for some adventure activities? Check out our various tours here!

 

Common Misconceptions About Thailand

Common Misconceptions About Thailand

misconceptions

Common Misconceptions About Thailand

Just last year over 22 million people traveled to Thailand. It's quickly becoming one of the largest tourist destinations in the world for a variety of reasons. The Land of Smiles seems to have something for every type of traveler, from a buzzing metropolis with night life of Bangkok to quaint villages in the jungle. Guidebooks, tour operators, and bloggers all have their own idea of what the highlights of Thailand are and a large percentage of the time, they say the same things. While a lot of their ideas on Thailand can be true from a tourist perspective, it can sometimes be inaccurate when used to describe the country as a whole. For people who want to travel to Thailand, but haven't had the chance to yet, here are some common misconceptions a lot of people make.

It's not overcrowded with tourists: A lot of travelers like to always say a place was great however many years ago till it got too popular or commercial. If you are traveling to places like Koh Phi Phi, Phuket, Khaosan Road, or other heavily traveled tourist areas, it might seem that way. But, the truth is that over 90% of the country is unexplored by the bulk of people who travel to Thailand. If you want to get away from the package deals that shuttles buses full of tourists from hot spot to hot spot, it's a lot easier than you think. Having a basic grip on the Thai language and knowing a bit of village etiquette is all you need to experience authentic Thai culture.

The whole country isn't like The Hangover Part 2: While in places like Bangkok, Pattaya, and Koh Pangan it is possible to partake in more decadent activities, the bulk of Thais consider themselves to be more conservative. Sometimes travelers who start out on the banana pancake trail don't realize that because a lot of tourism caters to that type of experience. While we don't want to tell you how you should or shouldn't enjoy yourself in Thailand, we do believe it's important to be a culturally sensitive traveler.

Thailand isn't very dangerous: Thailand has been portrayed by the news to be dangerous for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of the protests that have occurred regarding the Red Shirts. What the news doesn't tell you is that while a small part of Bangkok has seen protests over 1 or 2 square miles, the rest of the country which is the size of Texas remained quite peaceful. Any travelers to Thailand who got hurt during the protests made the decision to go there on their own.  While over the years there have been a couple isolated incidents of violence towards tourists, the bulk of them have happened to foreigners who have put themselves in dangerous situations partaking in 'Hangover Part 2' type activities. If you use the same common sense you would at home, Thailand is infinitely more safe than any American city. Remember, in the city of Chicago there were 532 murders in 2012 alone.

Not all Thai food is spicy: While there are a variety of spicy dishes, there are also more mild meals and some without any kick at all. Thais also love sweets and there are a variety of dishes that are coconut or tamarind based. Also, most Thais assume a foreigner won't want it as spicy as them, so unless you ask for your dish hot, they'll most likely make it a bit milder for you.

Thais aren't just out for your money: Tourism contributes to about 6.7% of the Thai economy, so regardless of what some tourists think, it's not their backbone. As we said before, most of Thailand is untraveled, so the bulk of the scams happen in tourist areas. Even in more popular places, most Thais are very good and honest people. Some people forget that most Thais live their lives completely separate from tourists and are focused on millions of other things that one would in every day life. Instead of treating every local you meet as a potential conman, do a bit of research about common scams in Thailand before arriving so you know what to look out for. Most experienced travelers to Thailand will say that if you get scammed in Thailand, it's your fault for not doing the proper research beforehand.

Are you interested in seeing a part of Thailand that negates these types of misconceptions? If so, check out our various tours here!

 

 

Superstition In Thai Culture

Superstition In Thai Culture

superstition in thai culture

Superstition In Thai Culture

One of our favorite parts about traveling to Thailand is how unique and rich the culture is. Whether you spend a couple weeks or many years, there’s so much to learn about this country. When you travel off the path, you sometimes get access to parts of the culture that you wouldn’t learn on regular tourist trails. People who end up having more local experiences and integrating into the every day life learn quickly that superstition is a huge part of the culture, from people owning small spirit houses to make offerings to, to getting mystical tattoos called Sak Yant. We find the idea of superstition to be very compelling. Although many westerners believe it is useless as we have science, we see it as a way that certain people and cultures explain the unexplainable and cope with the unknown. Whether actually true or only made real by people believing so much, travelers to Thailand usually find it very interesting and unique that the Thai people have managed to blend modernity and science with traditional culture, superstition, and spirituality.  Here are some ways superstition remains a part of Thai culture today.

 

Divination: Thais believe that the actual day they were born (such as a Monday or Tuesday) holds a lot of importance for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons is because of kham tham naai, which is considered a prophecy a person is born with. Depending on what day you are born, it is said you will have certain characteristics. This is different from the western or Chinese zodiac (which most Thais believe both). During Songkran, which is the Thai New Year, people will read the pba dti thin pi mai muang, which is a horoscope calendar that is written each year by an astrologer that is said to have the power of akhom (sorcery and divination), which is a very old part of Thai spirituality that integrated into Buddhism. The calendar will tell people which days are auspicious or unlucky to be born and what a person will need to do to have a good year.

Beliefs About Pregnancy: Although Thailand has some of the best hospitals in Asia, many people are very superstitious about what they can and can’t do while pregnant. They believe that if you drink coconut water, it will give your child beautiful skin. Some Thais choose to induce labor early so their children will be born on auspicious days mentioned in the astrological calendar. In regards to things a person can’t do, the list is larger. It is said that a family shouldn’t own a dog during pregnancy, as the child will become jealous that they are taking care of something else, resulting in complications in the pregnancy. It is also said that a person shouldn’t do any needlework while they are pregnant, as their child will run the risk of being born with a cleft lip.

Dreams: Thais are very serious about dreams and their meaning. People say that if you dream that somebody you know will die, it actually means that they will have a long and healthy life. If a person dreams that somebody they know has lost their head, this means that the person was bedeviled by jao kahm nai wayn. Jao kahm nai wayn is the spirit of somebody that a person harmed in a previous life that has come back in this life to take revenge, which usually results in death. When a person dreams this, they must tell the person about it so they can go to the temple and do different rituals and blessings to apologize to the spirit and bless them so they can move on and be born again.

Interested in traveling to Thailand to learn more? Check out our various tours here!