Spotlight on: Thailand
With University applications down some 8.7% this year – in some part due to a tuition fee hike – the lure of a gap year or extended overseas trip can seem more and more appealing to young people looking to gain some valuable life experience.
Not always popular with every parent, the gap year can be far from a carefree jolly jaunt, often teaching some important life lessons to teenage trekkers (the value of money usually first to hit home).
Thailand, the go-to destination for most gappers is a truly wonderful country to visit, but it is essential that anyone setting off for a trip into the unknown should have thoroughly planned their expedition, or at least gained some semblance of what to expect. So here are my 5 top tips for living the Thai life:
1) The first one’s a biggie: At all times you should show respect for the Buddha. Statues, images, carvings – you name it, you’ve got to have respect for it. Thais deem the Buddha sacred in whatever form, so if you don’t want to end up in a Thai prison you’d do well to adhere to this general rule. Temples and monks fall under the same bracket, keep a beady eye on signage, don the right threads and keep the respect flowing.
2) Immerse yourself: Trying new things and expanding your experience are the essence of travelling, right? And in Thailand there’s no shortage of weird and whacky things to try. Get involved with the food culture; Thais are positively bonkers about their bellies and it’s a round the clock obsession. A lot of the food you‘ll come across at the restaurants, markets, bazaars and on the food carts will look alien – but dip your toe in and try as much as you can.
Aside form the hand-held skewers and satay sticks it’s good practice to eat with a fork and spoon; fork used to shuffle tasty morsels onto spoon before spoon meets mouth. Oh, and no matter how appetising the dish, never lick the plate clean as this is considered the height of rudeness. Little nods to social etiquette like this will set you well on your travels.
3) Check your papers: Make sure your Visa and travel insurance documents are all-present and correct. You don’t want to wake up in paradise and realise you’ve overstayed your welcome, nor experience the sinking feeling of losing all your worldly possessions two days into a two month tour. Tailor your travel insurance to your needs – think about where you plan to stay, how you plan to travel and get it covered. Health insurance is a must-have essential should you (heaven forefend) come a-cropper over seas.
4) Go native: Thailand may feel like a country all abuzz with life and liberal in its ways, but a few etiquette tips will stand you in good stead and stave off any unwanted sticky situations. Avoid overt shows of affection, especially in sacred places like temples or public squares. Never underestimate the reverence and esteem that the Thai Royal Family are held in, in my experience it’s best to watch the locals and do as they do. Should a note flutter from your wallet or a pocketed coin make a break for it, the worst thing you can do is slam your foot down on the escapee. This is a sign of deep disrespect as the image of the Royals will be somewhere on that tender, it’d best to pick it up and wipe it down. Touching people on the head is also uncouth – resist the urge to ruffle the head of every little scamp you meet to avoid causing offence or embarrassment. None of the above are punishable by law, but it’s wise to consider your actions when on foreign soil.
5) Get your timing right: Don’t forget that Thailand has a monsoon season, for some a delight, for most a nightmare. December through February prove the most popular (and therefore the most costly) times to visit thanks to the welcome cool air. It can be viciously hot and humid in the summer (April – May) which preludes the rainy season (late May – August). Again you have to take into account the kind of trip you’re on; a soggy backpack is a heavy backpack.
Well, there it is – my short guide to help you on your way to a happy Thai trip. Oh yeah, I almost forgot the most important thing: enjoy yourself .