Traveling to any new country is sure to bring culture shock, and it was no different when I spent 2 months in Chiang Mai, Thailand as a female Digital Nomad.
Living in Thailand is most certainly a life-changing experience, but if you’re thinking of buying that plane ticket, you should know these things before you go:
Things Nobody Tells You About Thailand
My first night in Thailand, I spent about 8 collective hours Googling this problem and wondering what the heck I was doing wrong with my chargers and adaptor. I was staying in a comfortable Airbnb and was surprised to see blue sparks coming out of the socket when I plugged in my Mac charger. Petrified that I was going to somehow break my computer, or worse – set the place on fire, I frantically searched every article and message board to find out what the deal is.
Apparently, it’s completely normal and some say it’s actually a good thing because it means electricity is running fervently. Ha, I tried telling my Dad that the sparks were a “good thing” and I could hear his eyes rolling from 8,000 miles away. This is definitely one of the things nobody tells you about Thailand beforehand, that I wish I knew sooner. It would have saved me countless hours researching online. I’ve now become one with the sparks and welcome them with open arms. When I’m wearing shoes with rubber soles 😉
You Can’t Buy Buddha Souveniers
This was the first thing I learned in Thailand because there are signs printed everywhere throughout the airport warning travelers not to even think about bring back a Buddha decoration back to your friends at home. There’s several rules and regulations about this like only Non-Buddhists are forbidden from taking Buddha statues, to requiring a permit, to being allowed to take Buddha statues as long as they are not antiques.
Advice? Save yourself the headache and buy an elephant keychain for your friends instead.
You Want Takeaway? You Get a Plastic Bag.
There is no such thing as a “to-go box” in Thailand. A Doggy Bag is a better description for it because if you want to grab food and go home, it’s coming with you in a bag. Even condiments like soy sauce or salad dressing are poured into a plastic bag and given to you. I’ve even seen people walking around the streets casually sipping soda from a bag of ice and a straw.
Soup is also no exception – I learned this the hard way. One evening when I had a deadline, I tried to save time by ordering a bowl of Tom Yun Goong soup to-go and ended up walking 3 blocks back to my apartment carrying a very hot bag of soup.
Spicy Food, Man
I’m not an amateur when it comes to fiery flavors. I carried a bottle of Texas Pete with me wherever I went all throughout college and was beyond ready to embrace the Thai spices. What I was NOT prepared for, was my mouth to be set on fire by even the most unassuming food options. Even the 7-11 ramen noodles and fried rice played tricks on me. I couldn’t even handle the cup of noodles! And nowhere on the label did it mention heat index or use the universal sign for spicy food, the chili symbol. Lesson learned.
And this is why I have trust issues.
I thought the “ladyboys” were mostly/only in the metropolitan city of Bangkok, so I was surprised my first time strolling the night markets in Chiang Mai to spot several Lady Boys all decked out like they were going to a beauty pageant. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn Thailand is very welcoming and accepting towards homosexuals. I’ve seen several in my everyday life working as servers or at coffee shops, but at the night markets you’ll see the particularly fabulous Ladyboys all dressed up in glittery dresses and stage makeup taking pictures with tourists for a fee.
Diabetes is Imminent
They love sugar here so much, if you order Pad Thai or any typical Thai noodle dish, they’ll set out a cup of white cane sugar to pour on your… noodles. Ah yes, because crunchy granules of sugar is exactly what I wanted with my dinner.
Or if you order one of the popular Fruit Shakes from basically any street vendor in Chiang Mai, you have to specify *no sugar* because even though you’ve just ordered a mango, strawberry, coconut smoothie with yogurt, the woman making it is still going to try and add sugar syrup to your drink.
And don’t get me started on the insane amount of sugar syrup in the coffee drinks…
Basically, learn the phrase “mai waan” which is “no sweet” roughly translated in Thai.
Diabetes, I’m coming for you if I stay in Thailand much longer.
Hahahaha this phrase is hilariously popular in Thailand and you’ll find shirts adorning “Same Same, but different” on any street vendor in the markets. I even own a tank top with this phrase in teal that I bought in Pai. The Thai’s use this to explain two things are… similar but different. Of course.
The Thais Love Their Cover Songs
They’re everywhere. I genuinely don’t think the Thai’s even know what the real Taylor Swift of Katy Perry actually sound like because all you hear are saccharine sweet versions of their hits sung by Thai singers in cover versions. On the radio, playing in the malls, in the bathrooms. I think it’s a strict copyright issue that prevents the originals from playing at large over the airwaves but it’s definitely something you get used to, and even begin to enjoy, after a few weeks in Thailand.
You Can’t Flush the TP
Trust me, there are worse things about the Thailand plumbing system than not being able to flush toilet paper. In fact, if you’re in rural parts of Thailand, toilets don’t even flush at all. How’s that an introduction to Southeast Asia?
If this is a hard issue for you, be sure to book your hotel or accomodation at more expensive places and confirm with reception the bathroom’s amenities. But I promise, it’s not a huge deal. Especially if you travel to the rural countryside and have made nature your own private bathroom. After that, non-flushing toilets is a luxury.
Sidenote about traveling to Thailand:
Please please do not patronize businesses who use animal cruelty on elephants for tourist destinations. Do your research. I can’t even post any photos because it breaks my heart so much. PLEASE think twice before riding an elephant or spending money at one of these destinations.
Were you surprised about these things nobody tells you about Thailand? What was the biggest culture you experienced in the Land of Smiles? Let me know in the comments!