You Haven’t Seen “The Real Thailand”

Pattaya City Sign You Havent Seen The Real Thailand

I wish I had ten baht for every time I heard that phrase,  or something similar,  uttered by everyone from expats to first time travelers to the Kingdom, I’d have enough money to ride the baht bus 50 times a day for a year. Apparently certain areas are designated “Not the Real Thailand”, areas I have heard mentioned include, Pattaya, Bangkok, Koh Samui and Phuket just to name a few.

I’ll use Pattaya as a reference since that is where I am at the moment enjoying a beer and writing in a quiet corner of the Pattaya Beer Garden. Last night I overheard a conversation between two men with one telling the other “you haven’t seen the real Thailand”, because the other gentleman had only been to Bangkok and Pattaya. I thought about that for a moment and smiled. What exactly constitutes “The Real Thailand” anyway? Here I am surrounded by Thai’s who seemingly outnumber the falang by a good number, I hear the Thai language everywhere I go, I can only smell Thai food and oddly enough the stamp in my passport says I am in Thailand…Have I been scammed?

Now, I have been to a fair few places in Thailand from Bangkok to Mukdahan and in between and damned if I haven’t noticed Thai people, Thai food and Thai hospitality in all of them. I have been to Buddhist Wats in at least 11 provinces and have broken bread with Thai’s in just as many and I never felt like I wasn’t in “The Real Thailand”.

Obviously there are differences from a tourist town such as Pattaya to the farm in Issan but to say Pattaya or Bangkok aren’t really experiencing Thailand is like  saying you really haven’t experienced America if you have only been to New York. I don’t know if this is a  game of one upmanship people like to play or if they genuinely believe it.

Now I am really starting to question just what does constitute “The Real Thailand”, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time In Mukdahan and Nakhon Phanom where there is more Lao and Cambodian heritage with a little Vietnamese thrown in for good measure. The food is more Lao and the look of the people is more Lao so this can’t be “The Real Thailand”, can it? Of course now I am befuddled because many of the Thai’s That work in Pattaya come from Issan and since We can rule out Issan as being “The Real Thailand” then I guess they are right that Pattaya isn’t either.

From what I have heard, in the “The Real Thailand”,  all the Thai people are simple folk without a care in the world and always have a smile for a passing stranger. It should also be noted that in “The Real Thailand the falang is God like and is treated in a God Like manner. Sounds like a nice place, doesn’t it?

We’ll I am just about finished my beer and I think I am going to head out in search of “The Real Thailand”, if any of you find out where it is send me a note and aim me in the right direction otherwise I’ll be running around the country for years aimlessly in search of the promised land. I better hit the hongnam first…

What are your thoughts? Are certain provinces or towns more Thailand than others?

Pattaya Beer Garden You Havent Seen The Real Thailand

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22 Responses to You Haven’t Seen “The Real Thailand”
  1. Catherine
    September 2, 2010 | 4:34 pm

    You make an interesting point Talen.

    Several years back I had a romatic view of Thailand. Living here erodes that away.

    But perhaps when people are talking about their ‘real’ Thailand, they are saying where they feel most comfortable living/visiting. For some, that’d be places that have not been changed by super-sized tourism.

    As you know, there are areas I don’t feel comfortable being: Phuket, Pattaya, and pretty much any high tourist areas in Bangkok.

    Where there is a high concentration of tourists, the attitude of the Thai people I run across seems to be different. It’s of a more aggressive nature. And honestly, I don’t enjoy that type of invasion from anyone. Thai or not.

    Btw – the Thais I know swear that the Thais working those areas are not ‘real’ Thais ;-)

    I don’t go upcountry that often, so I have no fond long-term memories of quiet rice fields and such. Some who do point at Bangkok as an awful place to live. When I talk to them, turns out that they’ve only been in the congested parts of Bangkok. So perhaps we agree more than not.

    But are they really saying that Bangkok is not the real Thailand? Or are they saying that they are more suited to country living?

    So my ‘preferable’ Thailand is more likely to be in the quiet sois in most any part of town not stuffed with tourists… Or in quiet mountains or beaches somewhere… Far away from both tourists and Thais working the trade.
    Catherine´s last blog ..Todd Bryant and Mixxer- the Language Exchange CommunityMy ComLuv Profile

    • Talen
      September 2, 2010 | 6:01 pm

      Cat, I can agree to a point that peoples version of the real Thailand is where they prefer most to be.

      While I do see some Thai’s acting differently in tourist areas I think sometimes it’s because the tourists treat the Thais much differently.

      I like the quiet areas myself but I’m not adverse to jumping into the crowds now and then.

      • Catherine
        September 2, 2010 | 6:19 pm

        I don’t avoid all crowds, but I am picky :-)

        With camera in hand, I’ll head to JJ’s. To both the mid-week plant market and the weekend market.

        Bodies can be packed tight in places, but I’m there for the rich sampling of colours and characters so it’s usually a thrill not a bother.

        The crowds of the MBK Plaza ilk? No thanks. If shopping, I want the wide halls of Paragon, or the street stalls along the soi.

        The soi is normally busy, but it’s an interesting busy. Not a Nokia and plastic bag swinging busy.
        Catherine´s last blog ..Todd Bryant and Mixxer- the Language Exchange CommunityMy ComLuv Profile

  2. Paul Garrigan
    September 2, 2010 | 4:39 pm

    Greetings from the real Thailand – only kidding I’ve no idea what that means either. Travel snobbery is very self-deluding; I’ve suffered from it in the past myself. I think many of us like to think that we are the only visitors who really get to know a place we love – it is like we are a jealous and possessive boyfriend. Later this turns into another type of snobbery when you see the person talking about “the real Thailand” as a deluded newbie :-)

    • Talen
      September 2, 2010 | 6:03 pm

      Very good points Paul, I guess we all have had our moments of possessiveness of our respective Thailand’s.

  3. Joe
    September 2, 2010 | 4:48 pm

    Take the good with the bad, as with any other country.

    The people you associate with, as well as the many experiences you will have there, will ultimately shape your perception of what Thailand really is.

    Choose wisely.

    • Talen
      September 2, 2010 | 6:05 pm

      Good advice Joe and something everyone should take to heart.

  4. Mike
    September 2, 2010 | 4:49 pm

    Talen a good post and a quote that I am familiar with.

    I think Catherine summed it up very well. I prefer the none touristy parts of Thailand, although my area is often full of Thai tourists :-)

    I have experienced Phuket as a tourist and also Hua Hin, when I compare those experiences (as a short term visitor) to actually living in PKK it seems a different world.

    I think Thais are much more “real”(genuine) in locations away from the main foreign tourist areas.
    Mike´s last blog ..August in Thailand-A Month of Highs and LowsMy ComLuv Profile

    • Talen
      September 2, 2010 | 6:10 pm

      Mike, I can agree. I know Mukdahan and Nakhon Phanom are worlds away from Pattaya or Bangkok but even in these cities there are pockets that are reminiscent of quiet village areas.

  5. Malcolm
    September 2, 2010 | 5:29 pm

    Great post Talen , I for one feel very strong that Real Thailand is where we want it to be , we just have to remember to be real ourselves , the problem , that most folks have finding the Real Thailand is that they are soooo busy being fakes themselves , they wouldn’t know real if it jumped up and bit them in the butt.Hope you’re finding Thailand everything you want it to be and Really it’s all the Real Deal, enjoy and it all to the Max. Malcolm ( really it’s in Wang Pho ha ha )
    Malcolm´s last blog ..Family-and Retirement -there and hereMy ComLuv Profile

    • Talen
      September 2, 2010 | 6:13 pm

      Malcolm, I don’t think I have ever heard of this Wang Pho before…I must check it out :)

      I think you hit the nail on the head…it’s all the real deal but it’s how each individual interprets what they see as how it becomes their Thailand.

  6. Lloyd
    September 3, 2010 | 2:42 pm

    This subject comes up everywhere and its so subjective that nobody could possibly say what is the real Thailand (opinions likes assholes, everyone has one).

    Earlier this year a mate and I rode our mountain bikes from Phuket to Satun, during the ride I got to see a side of Thailand and its people that I have never seen before.

    I will say tho that IMHO places like Pattaya, Patong and Hau Hin are not representative of Thailand and its people. Those that go there may wish it so, as they so often harp on about it but its like saying Las Vegas is a typical American city!

    • Talen
      September 3, 2010 | 4:20 pm

      Lloyd, While I would agree that “the real Thailand” is a very subjective thing I would disagree that Pattaya couldn’t be representative of Thailand and it’s people.

      Unfortunately many people believe all Pattaya is a cess pool of iniquity filled with whore and whore mongers and that just simply isn’t true.There are very nice aspects of Pattaya and very nice Thai people in Pattaya as well.

      • Lloyd
        September 3, 2010 | 8:46 pm

        But just what is “representative” of Thailand? Is it concrete and whores, buffalos and rice fields, mountains and ethic tribes or beaches and limestone?

        How could Pattaya be representative if Thailand?

        People who like and defend Pattaya tend to be those who went to Pattaya on their first visit and have returned not those who have seen other parts of Thailand first.

        • Talen
          September 3, 2010 | 9:07 pm

          Lloyd, everything you mentioned is representative of Thailand and much more.

          My first trip to Thailand I was in Bangkok…I’ve also been to provinces in Issan and the north. Pattaya consists of quite a bit more than Beach road, soi 6 and the like…it’s all in what you choose …some choose to only partake in the party while others such as myself know there is much more going on.

  7. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Catherine Wentworth and Martin Uller, Talen. Talen said: You Haven't Seen "The Real Thailand" | Thailand Land of Smiles [...]

  8. Josh
    September 4, 2010 | 1:39 am

    Great post! Sounds to me like you’ve definitely been to the “real” Thailand.

    I think the issue is more that people want to impress others by helping them to discover something. Kind of like when you hear a new, unknown band and have to find a backhanded way of turning your friends onto them.

    I think the first time you have to sqaut to go to the bathroom you’ve been to the “real” Thailand. :)
    Josh´s last blog ..Translating Manee- Part 1My ComLuv Profile

  9. Camille
    September 4, 2010 | 9:54 am

    Hi Talen,

    Greetings from definitely ‘Not the real Thaialnd’ or Koh Samui, at least if I must believe the connaissuers on certain travel forums.

    Although I can see where they’re coming from, I can only laugh about it and it has been remarked already, the real Thailand is where you are comfy, for some that is far away from touristy parts for some that can’t be near enough of the well beaten track.

    For me it’s where my family is and that happens to be in a rather quiet corner on Samui. My wife is local Samui folk as well….. It’s as much Thailand here as anywhere else in this country, although my wife and her fellow Samuians contradict that sometimes ;-) Just kiddin’
    Camille´s last blog ..Koh Samui- Thailand daily weather update 4th September- 2010 deliciousMy ComLuv Profile

  10. ChuckWow
    September 4, 2010 | 12:12 pm

    I have always thought it was the other way around – if you haven’t been to Pattaya you haven’t seen the real Thailand.

  11. Martyn
    September 4, 2010 | 6:39 pm

    Talen I am guilty of using the term ‘The Real Thailand’ vocally but on BTMJ I believe I have only ever wrote the words natural Thailand. I believe there’s a big difference between the two.

    If you are stood in a Soi 7 bar in Pattaya surrounded by tourists then you are indeed in the real Thailand. However I wouldn’t call it natural Thailand. That’s terminology reserved for the likes of Isaan and Bangkok’s shanty towns.

    Right now I’d settle for a slice of ‘The Real Thailand’.
    Martyn´s last blog ..Soi Dogs and The Bucket Truck ManMy ComLuv Profile

    • Talen
      September 4, 2010 | 7:01 pm

      Martyn, I like the way you put it ” natural Thailand” but if you leave soi 7 in pattaya and go beyond third road or sukhumvit I think you would find areas that are just as natural.

  12. Richard Dillon
    November 23, 2010 | 4:19 pm

    Great post! I like the humor and yes I too wonder “where is the real Thailand”, if I am mistaken I too reside in a location that people often refer to as not being the real Thailand. I guess, what they mean is if we consider the entire country, then these pockets of western influence is effecting how people view Thailand. The provinces that do not have frequent visitors and tourists are in essence some years behind the progress of Pattaya, Phuket and so on. Though is this not true of any country? New York compared to a small town in Texas,is still a cross representative of the USA. So is Phuket the real Thailand? It certainly is, “same same”, but different!

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