Thailand is Thai. That is the only real way I can think to describe it. The heat holds you in its arms like a comforting grandmother wrapping you in a fleece quilt on a 98 degree day with 100% humidity. It’s busy, but it’s not as busy as I thought it would be. Everything smells like incense; the smell of hot meats skewered on sticks and strong exotic perfume mixed with sweat stains your clothes and soaks into your pores.
Thailand is an absolutely incredible country. Chiangmai is a city that feels more like a sleepy hippie town off of Topanga Canyon than the tourist-filled city in Northern Thailand I had heard of. After arriving sleepy-eyed, sticky and smelly off of the overnight train from Ayutthaya, we immediately boarded a tuk tuk and headed for our accommodations at the Manee House hostel. We lucked out. Our rooms had air-conditioning, our own bathroom and a haunting view of a Buddhist temple in front of lush, green mountains. There was a swimming pool that we swam in twice; of course we were the only people that used it: the westerners trying to come to terms with sweating half of our bodies away all day everyday.
The culture of Chiangmai is one of peace and health. Every little street and alley is lined with friendly-looking hostels offering fresh squeezed juice and fruit smoothies, fresh lychee, mango, mangosteen, dragon fruit, and Wi-Fi. There are more westerners walking the streets than I expected, but I guess that was my own anxiety hypothesizing that I would be a white fish in a foreign pool.
People in Thailand smile with their eyes. From the eager and enthusiastic man at the Kodak store selling me my makeshift camera, to the women at the hostel eagerly reminding us to eat dinner, there is no mask over their faces. You can’t see the American grimace of judgement or the western look of disapproval. It’s so refreshing, after feeling consistently judged for almost anything, to know that the people in Thailand that I encountered genuinely do have interest and respect for people that are different from themselves.
It’s also a patient culture. There isn’t that rushed feeling we get walking around the American metropolis; the need to constantly be in the know. They know what they know. And that’s enough. And it’s beautiful. And colorful. And delicious.