TLDR: We have been in Thailand over 1 year, I finished level 2 of reading and writing Thai (all of my visa related schooling is complete), Jyn is taking sewing classes, I learned that watermelons can be yellow, Bangkok is entering the hot season, I am a certified advanced freediver (but injured my ear this week), we went dancing, Jyn knitted more things, she volunteers at a local cat rescue, and we recap some of our favorite events/moments of our past year.
More Fiber Arts for Chinda (Don’t be… sew surprised)
Jyn has enrolled in pattern drafting/sewing classes to round out her ability to fill closets with handmade garments. Not only will she be learning the craft of sewing, but she will be the envy of women everywhere. Why? Because she is going to make sure her clothing is beautiful AND with functional pockets. So far, she has made ~5 patterns and has sewn a denim pencil skirt. Next month, we may have pictures of completed garments.
I just completed my advanced freediver certification and also improved a few personal best records in the process. I managed to hold my breath for 6 minutes and 9 seconds (that time is almost in the top 20 in the United States for “Static Apnea” per the US Freediving Federation), went down to 24 meters deep (~79 feet, it was the bottom), and swam down to 10 meters (~33 feet) and then stayed there for 3 minutes. Sadly, on one of the dives, I had an issue equalizing and ended up with an ear injury (otic barotrauma). I should be fine, but I need to take some medicine and avoid pressure changes for a few weeks. I don’t plan to dive for about a month, at least. Sigh.
Brief Trip to Pattaya
Since my freediving certification required open water training slightly south of Pattaya, we thought that we should turn it a little vacation. My freediving friends had shown me a lively area of Pattaya with good restaurants, so we decided to stay there for two days. Pattaya doesn’t have a particularly good reputation, but we had a good time nonetheless. We walked through the city, to the Pattaya Sign, through a park, walked the Walking Street, visited three beaches (Pattaya Beach, Jomtien Beach, and Cosy Beach), ate at the 3 Mermaids (highly recommended) and enjoyed the hotel breakfast buffet. At the moment, the well known Walking Street is almost completely empty with 95% of the shops closed. We can see that it would be crazy during normal times without Covid. Jomtien Beach had more life, but it was not particularly busy. The gnats appear to be thriving all throughout the area. Plus, it is getting very hot as we are entering the hot season. Sweaty everything.
It’s been a full year!
One year ago, our elegant and meticulously crafted travel plan came to a screeching halt at less than 25% complete. We landed in Bangkok, exhausted, narrowly escaping the Philippine lockdown, and expected to only stay for a few weeks. We said silly things like “Maybe we will still be able to catch the end of the cherry blossom season in Japan.” Fun fact: we missed it this year also. Even though we didn’t intend to move to Thailand for a year, this has been a great experience and it has become one of my favorite countries, overall.
Some Favorite Thailand Experiences
While traveling, magic happens occasionally. Those moments are precious and leave a lasting impression. Here are brief summaries of some of our favorite Thailand experiences of the last year (in no particular order)…
- Navigating to the batcave in Phu Pha Man National Park without a complete plan how to get there or back and accidentally getting close enough to the bat cauldron to hear the wind from their wings. We embarked on this trip without knowing exactly how to connect the dots to get there and get back. We only had enough information to complete one leg at a time. Unbelievably, the trip went very smoothly, we had a great dinner, and we were amazed at how many bats came out together.
- In Krabi (pronounced “Grah-bee”), we had the best crab curry while avoiding a torrential downpour and hiring the last (barely) available boat at night to get back to our hotel. The small family that owned the boat was hanging out at a nearby gazebo and did not appear to be interested in giving any tourists a ride, but a little extra money changed the tone pretty fast. The family’s ten-year-old son was literally jumping around telling his dad to take us. Even though Krabi is not an island, it is too mountainous to drive through, which means we would have been stuck. Luckily, it worked out.
- Finally getting that ridiculous lizard haircut. The first time that I saw the lizard cut I was blown away. One year later, 30 minutes in a tent, and $13 spent, the lizard cut was on my head. It’s not often that I have a lifetime superlative, but that was the most ridiculous haircut that I ever had.
- Learning to speak/read/write Thai! We had expected to improve our Spanish in Argentina, but now we can speak/read/write Thai (Jyn could speak already). Pretty darn cool. This is the “capstone” project of our time here. However, since Thai isn’t widely spoken outside of Thailand, we are going to have our own “secret” language and perhaps make friends at Thai restaurants.
- Chinda waiting and watching for 6 months to get a pair of shoes at 60% off. During one of our initial mall visits, Jyn found a striking pair of shoes and immediately needed them. However, she also needs a deal to buy them. The store had a sale rack, but those shoes were not even close to being on sale. For the next 4 months, every time we passed a store, she checked on the shoes. No luck. One day, an employee told her that she could get a 10% tourist discount. That was not enough of a deal for her. A month later, the shoes were discounted 20%. Still not enough for Jyn. By this time, there were only a couple pairs left. Finally, after ~6 months of vigilance, the shoes went on sale for 60% off and she bought them.
- Watching SpaceX’s Dragon capsule carry people to the space station. Wow! My friends and I watched the launch together via Zoom. We remember when the crew capsule was only a topic of discussion for distant projects. We talked about the various difficulties during the rigorous design and qualification process. Many of our projects overlapped so in this moment, we shared each other’s success. Watching our Dragon hardware safely deliver the crew to the ISS and return space travel to the United States for a fraction of the cost of a traditional non-SpaceX launch was one heck of a life milestone.
- Luckily, being home when the bathroom water pipe bursted. “Is that rain in the bedroom?” That broken pipe was gushing water at an alarming rate. This could have been a huge problem, but since we were home, we were able to shut off the water and prevent a flood. This would have been my second flood high up in a building (college was fun). We now turn the water off whenever we leave our apartment for more than a day.
- Eating the most delicious and fruits and food. Delicious food and Thailand are like peanut butter and jelly because they are usually mentioned together. The fruits here are my favorites overall. Farang, blended coconuts, mangkhut, champhuu, mangos, Jay Fai crab omelette, and many more. I expect to have a dedicated food post in the future.
- This isn’t a moment, but it’s source of happiness every day… Daily enjoyment of the incredible value that Thailand offers. Jyn says that the phrase she hears the most from me is “tremendous value”. She’s probably correct. I rave about an hour long foot massage for $10 (including a generous tip), look forward to eating 60 cent meals from Tesco, getting 2 medium Coco milk teas for $1.25, living in a small but well located “fancy-ish” condo for ~$486 per month, getting my hair cut for $7 (including generous tip), buying a pair of sneakers (gently used) for $8, and a bag of Thai tea that will last a month for $3. The great value is everywhere and makes us realize how much we can get for our money here. Plus, tax is included in the sticker price (why isn’t this done everywhere?). I fear that when we return to the States that even ramen noodles will feel overpriced. To put Thailand’s value proposition in perspective for people in the US, imagine multiplying your current net worth by 4 and what impact that would have on your lifestyle. That is the approximate lifestyle that can you have here, easily.
- Medical care and medication for a fraction of the cost of the US and nearly no hassle (medication dependent of course). This is huge. If you have a health issue, you can be treated for very little money at a no frills government hospital or you can feel like you are on vacation with an assistant in a posh private hospital (still cheaper than the US). Even though it costs less, it feels like an upgrade in quality of care. Also, medication is cheap (even cheaper than with insurance in the US), widely available, and accessible without needing to see a doctor every time. Chinda purchased 10 months’ worth of asthma medication for $10, while the same meds in the US costed her anywhere from $15 to $20 per month, depending on insurance. I have been to hospitals a few times here (nothing serious) and it is remarkably easy and efficient even without an appointment. There is a reason that Thailand is popular for “Medical Tourism”.
- Seeing many unusual birds. The 2-3 months of the Thailand lockdown last year were pretty boring. We frequently sat around watching birds. In addition to the typical mynas, oriental magpie robins, pigeons, egrets, and doves, we saw hoopoes and pittas. Now, we enjoy daily cooing from pigeons sitting on a ledge outside our window. This newfound appreciation for birds makes the item on my bucket list “see fluffy baby penguins in Antarctica” even more desirable.
Things We Would Change (least favorites)
Let’s be clear, nowhere is perfect and it’s not all sunshine with unicorns riding rainbows in life. There are always tradeoffs and the key is finding which ones you are willing to tolerate/manage. We still love Thailand, but here are some of the things that we would improve.
- Friends! (not a Thailand-specific concern). People can make or break an experience somewhere. Since the past year has been the worst period in our lifetime for meeting new people, we have not made many friends. New people equate to Covid stranger danger to some degree. We don’t dance with other people yet and we generally don’t go to crowded events. Plus, we didn’t know that we would be here for such a long time so we didn’t make an effort initially. Recently, we have started trying to improve our social lives.
- The constant struggle and frustration with the cluster-mess that is the visa process. I shouldn’t expound on this. Let’s just say that’s it hard to imagine the process being more unpleasant. I am thankful that I have been able to stay, but I have had to jump through many hoops that are unclear, time consuming, unpredictable, and unusually expensive (relatively speaking). If I plan to stay here for an extended period of time in the future, I expect to get an Elite Visa or hire a lawyer to handle everything.
- Access to our nice clothes and our belongings! Since we expect to continue traveling, we will need to carry all of our things so we only have a limited number of functional travel items. We do not have “nice” clothing to wear. We have dark athletic clothes that can take a beating. Buying nice items and shipping them home is WAYYYY too expensive (think $500+ per box, at the moment) and furniture would be a waste. We are one step above “those are backpackers”. Wearing the same ~6 outfits in rotation gets old. Especially because we are not really travelling right now! We have a normal-ish life without our normal personal items.
- Traffic. I loathe traffic. It is the reason that Elon Musk is digging tunnels under Los Angeles. In Thailand though, not only is traffic roughly as bad as Los Angeles, in terms of wasted time, it is more deadly. The motorist death rates here, primarily motorcycles/scooters, are staggering. Thank goodness public transportation is quite good so we usually do not have traffic problems.
- It is consistently very hot and humid with one to two months of terrible air quality (during burning season). For me, being Sweaty McSweat Face is the norm here. If I do not get into AC within 10 minutes of leaving the house, I will feel the first bead of sweat roll down some area of my body. We will pop into a “seh-wen” just for the AC (7-11. There is no “v” sound in Thai).
- Unpredictable changes to posted information or inability to find accurate information in general. Many times we have read a posted bus schedule only to be dropped off a fraction of the way to our destination. We read the signs and the website, but the reality was that the bus just wasn’t going there that day. We will read about the operating hours of a business only to find that they are closed for some unpublished reason. Additionally, we will see a poster for an event or a flyer for a sale and it will omit the when and the where. Jyn was recently handed a promotional flyer that didn’t contain the business’ contact information, and was then handed a second flyer with the missing information. Bananas.
- Bugs! Mosquitos, roaches, and spiders are fairly frequent unwanted visitors. It is tough to avoid them.
We will have more time to have adventure now that we have finished our Thai classes, the air quality has improved, I am a certified advanced freediver, and Covid is more under control. We expect to have a road trip to northern Thailand and perhaps a trip to one of the southern islands. See you next month!