First time visitors to Thailand are no doubt aware of the delicious array of food on offer and its reputation as a holiday playground where middle aged men from around the world flock to bars to sample the adult entertainment on offer.
There is however there is so much more to see and do in the 'land of smiles' for first-time visitors to Thailand who dare to scratch the surface of this amazing country including:
The Food Is So Much Better Than You Ever Imagined
You may think you know Thai food until you visit Thailand. Local menus offer a broad selection of culinary treats coupled with unusual combinations of ingredients and a much spicier palate. Bid farewell to chicken and cashew nut take away and experiment with more adventurous choices.
Many Thai menus may not offer English translations, while some are accompanied by photographs making it easy to select from the vast array of dishes on offer for those willing to try. However for the uninitiated, crickets, cockroaches and eggs preserved horse urine are best left exclusively for the local population, unless of course you have the stomach for it.
Each and every night on almost any footpath adjacent to major thoroughfares, these hubs become pop-up dining rooms as food vendors set up shop. Restaurants complete with plastic tables rickety stools and toilet paper napkins offer the true taste of Thailand.
It's unfortunate many first time visitors to Thailand are afraid to indulge in the roadside dining experience. It's quite simply the best way for any first timer to get a true sense of the people and food of Thailand. Do as the locals do and join the budget feast where you will be guaranteed authenticity as well as having a great opportunity to people watch.
The Traffic Is Crazy
Three phone wielding monks and a dog weaving through traffic astride a scooter might be an amusing sight but Thailand has a horrifying road safety record with approximately 85 lives lost every day. Sadly, the country has the second highest number of traffic fatalities in the world. Unlicensed and drunk tourists without helmets only add to the statistics, especially during key times of celebration including Songkran Water Festival (April) and New Year (December).
You Cannot Purchase Alcohol In The Afternoons
Alcohol is freely available within Thailand and can be found nestled alongside bottled water in the 7/11 store and sold in supermarkets. Alcohol is cheap, especially beer though wine can be expensive. With its easy availability, it seems ironic that sales of alcohol is only available officially between the hours of 11am and 2pm and again from 5pm until midnight. So if you have a tendency to become a little parched come the afternoon hours, stock up early in the day or the day before consumption.
The Language Can Be Challenging
Thankfully most locals in and around the cities where tourists tend to visit speak English. While it's polite to offer a simple 'Sawadee' and posture a 'wai' more ambitious attempts at conversation can be challenging. Before heading to Thailand take the time to learn a few common phrases to make the visit a more interesting one by interacting with the local population.
Thailand Is A Relatively Conservative Society
Despite what you may see and hear on a visit to Thailand, including Lady Boys, Clubs and an abundance of 'massage parlours,' Thai people are quite conservative. Modest attire is expected in public. Shoulders and knees must be covered to enter wats and sacred buildings, with shawls and fishermen style pants often made available for forgetful tourists to hire should they be inappropriately dressed.
Thongs And Flip Flops Are Considered Acceptable Footwear
The humble flip flop is considered acceptable footwear in Thailand, they also make a practical choice over most other types of footwear. Since shoes are removed prior to entering every home, temple and many shops, it makes sense to wear something which is easy to slide on and off.
Areas Of Thailand Are Chaotic
As peaceful warm and welcoming the Thai people are, they take great delight in scaring the heck out of you by letting fireworks off at your feet particularly during the annual Loi Kratong festival. They will also happily soak you, your camera and mobile phone with impunity during the New Year celebrations of the Songkran Festival.
Thai's Love To Shop
Thais have two obsessions - eating and shopping, preferably under one air conditioned roof. There are at least 25 new malls under construction in Bangkok alone adding to the already staggering list of multi-storied behemoths where food court meets Versace. It's never ceases to amaze me the variety and size of air conditioned malls available with more and more appearing on each subsequent visit to the country.
Thai's Are Patriotic To The Core
Thailand is a nation filled with proud people, they have great respect for king and country. The National Anthem is played in movie theaters and many other places every evening at 6pm, bringing activity to a one minute halt.
The Coffee Is Incredible
For those like me who appreciate a great cup of coffee, Thailand has mastered the art of coffee making with a burgeoning café culture and homegrown beans grown under Royal decree. Even in rural areas there are chained coffee huts attached to gas stations so you can easily acquire a caffeine fix on the run.
Locations such as Chiang Mai are filled with a vast numbers of coffee shops along its golden mile, offering a range of delicious sweet treats, savory selections and free Wi-Fi. Coffee shops are a hub of activity throughout Thailand.
You Will Be Officially Discriminated Against
Many attractions and National Parks have two entry prices at the gate. One rate for Thai nationals and the other - a far more expensive fee for 'farangs'. Even tax paying foreigners with valid work permits are not exempt from this practice. There is no point debating the merits of this system. Simply smile and pay up, if you wish to gain entry.
The Girls In The Bar May Not Be Female
Many men traveling to Thailand are hypnotized by the never ending parade of beauty to be found in such places as the 'walking streets' of Pattaya, Phuket and Bangkok. Many of the 'ladies' would like nothing more than to spend a few hours with you drinking at a nearby bar, or to entice the novice traveler in to watching a show.
The experience an be an eye watering but one not to be missed, if only just once. It can be difficult to discern the difference between an 'authentic' female Thai and a 'ladyboy'. Male visitors to these areas may be surprised to find that 'she' is actually a 'he'!