Living and working in Thailand for two years had provided me the opportunity to learn and understand more about the land of smiles, its people, and their unique culture.
During these two amazing years in Thailand, I was blessed to have covered major regions of the country. While this doesn’t automatically turn me into an expert on Thailand, I’m definitely not left out on what is true and what is false about the country; what is “Thainess” and what isn’t.
So here I’m going to squash the following five common misconceptions people have about Thailand.
1. Tomyam the representative of Thai cuisine?
I’m not sure about other places. I’m from Malaysia and Malaysians almost always love to make Tomyam and Thai food synonymous. I mean, technically they’re not wrong – Tomyam is Thailand’s national cuisine after all.
However, Tomyam isn’t really an everyday dish of the locals, and there are a lot more other tastier dishes that make up the everyday meals of the ordinary Thais. I just feel they deserve as much recognition. In the South for instance, Gaeng Som (Sour Soup) is a common dish that is easily as good as Tomyam.
In the North, I particularly love its Chicken Khao Soi – a traditional cuisine in the region with a mix of noodles, coconut curry broth, and rich Southeast Asian aromatics.
And of course, regardless of which part of Thailand you are in – be it the South, the Centre, or the Northeast, if you don’t know what to cook or order, this very simple yet amazing dish is the ultimate solution to your lack of idea: Pad Krapow Moo, or spicy stir-fried pork with Thai holy basil.
Also, I noticed sometimes people would order “Tomyam Gung with prawns,” or point to the picture of Tomyam with chicken and say, “One Tomyam Gung, please.” The word “Gung” in Tomyam Gung means prawns, so Tomyam Gung means spicy soup with prawns. I know this is no biggie, but if people can get this concept right, I’m sure it will avoid much confusion when ordering this amazing dish.
2. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Hatyai are the only cities in Thailand worth visiting
People seem to never grow tired of the said cities, but really, besides those, there are also other major cities to check out if you’re into shopping centers and street food and nightlife: Surat Thani, Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat), Samut Prakan, Khon Kaen, etc. Each these cities offers a different facet of Thailand.
If you’re into mountains and nature, do check out Khao Kho and Phu Thap Boek in Phetchabun; Phu Kradueng National Park in Loei; Doi Inthanon National Park (also known as “The roof of Thailand”) in Chiang Mai; and the panoramic sunflower fields of Lopburi.
If you’re a beach or island person, besides Hua Hin, Phuket, Krabi, and Pattaya, check out Koh Phangan (Surat Thani), Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan (Surat Thani/Chumphon), as well as Koh Phayam (Ranong). Some of Thailand’s most beautiful beaches can be found along the coastline of Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chumphon provinces.
3. Thai girls are sluts and prostitutes
Oh, damn you and your stereotype. Sluts and prostitutes are everywhere.
Just because Thailand is notorious for its sex industry doesn’t make every other girl on the street a slut. Yes, the Thais – ladies included – especially of the younger generation are more open to talk about sex and sexuality, but that doesn’t mean they will sleep around.
Also, gold-diggers are not exclusive to the Thais only. Just because a handful of Thai ladies like having a farang partner doesn’t automatically make them, or others, a bunch of gold diggers. Thank you very much.
4. Thailand – a country of great freedom?
We have witnessed Thailand’s already flourishing sex and entertainment industry – hence the many Go-Go bars, strip clubs, and “massage” parlours all around Thailand.
In big cities like Bangkok, it’s a common sight to see youngsters expressing themselves through fashion; and then we see boys holding hands in public and also transgender beauty queen Treechada Petcharat, or Poyd, going international and landing a 7-figure movie deal; at flea markets, crazy and innovative ideas unseen elsewhere sell like hotcakes.
From the face of it, we would think that Thailand is a country of great freedom. The freedom to express, the freedom to compete in markets, the freedom to prosper, the freedom to do just everything.
Especially since the infamous coup d’état that took place in 2014, Thailand under the military junta’s rule is never the same again. Back in February this year, the very gung-ho junta announced it was going to change Pattaya’s image as a sex city; then, a month after Bangkok was voted the world’s best destination for street food, it was announced the Thai capital’s administration was banning Bangkok’s roadside stalls; in March, six persons were charged in the largest-known single-day Lèse majesté crackdown (the notoriously-sweeping law makes it illegal to insult royal members).
5. The Thais are poor
According to IMF data, Thailand ranked 77 out of 189 in terms of per capita Gross Domestic Product, adjusted for purchasing power parity (GDP-PPP) as of October 2016.
In simpler words, #1 being the “richest” country and #189 representing the “poorest” country, Thailand was placed #77, behind Singapore (#4), Brunei (#5), and Malaysia (#49), and ahead of the rest of the ASEAN countries.
Of course, GDP-PPP only represents how rich or poor a certain country is as a whole, not the individual citizens. If we’re going to look at the latter, Thailand’s Gross National Income per capita, expressed in purchasing power parity dollars (GNI-PPP) to adjust for price level differences across countries but not adjusted for inflation, as of 2014, was similarly placed behind Singapore, Brunei, and Malaysia, and ahead of the rest of the ASEAN countries.
To put statistics aside, being in Thailand for two years, I have come to realise that though the average wages of the Thais aren’t exactly high in the Asian region, most families in Southern Thailand actually own plots of land. In fact, they probably have more land than any of us does!
No matter what it is, the Thais live by the tenet of “sabai-sabai”ness. Why so serious about money when they are able to make ends meet and get on with their lives? Some of our Thai counterparts may not be wealthy, but they’re definitely rich in other aspects, such as their life experiences!