After a massive strategic lobbying campaign launched by my husband throughout the year, and after a series of unfortunate events, I was forced into accepting taking a winter break in Thailand for 10 days.
I have nothing against this part of Asia, but it isn’t on my list of priority destinations to visit. I am more of a Europe girl, may be because I am a middle-easterner, or because my love to nature is not as grand as my passion for cities. I have always thought that once I am done with as much Europe as I can do, I could start exploring Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and China.
Nevertheless, my husband, who is a huge Thailand fan, has put me under a huge moral pressure, and I ended up agreeing to travel, taking kids too. It was very tiring, but it wasn’t half bad.
Here are some personal observations from my trip, bearing in mind, I only got to see Phuket for four days and Bangkok for six:
1. Did you know that Thailand is now a destination for medical tourism? When my boss told me that, admitting that he, along with his entire family, fly every year for their annual full check-ups, I thought it was a bit over the top. Why would anyone go anywhere in Asia for medical advice?! It’s not Germany!
But Bangkok does receive thousands of medical tourists from all over the world. The best two hospitals downtown as I was advised, are: Bumrungrad and Bangkok hospitals. Doctors are not Europeans. They are either Thai or Chinese, and they are very good listeners. You would think they would want you to do as much tests as possible to rip money off your back, but that wasn’t the case. Tests that were generic in nature were never recommended. Our doctor actually mentioned they were unnecessary for us, a case which doesn’t happen where I come from, specifically where medical insurance is applicable.
Both hospitals were well-prepped to receive patients in the most convenient way, providing as many languages as possible. There was even a special registration desk for Arabic speakers. Interpretation was available for those who do not speak English at all to be able to communicate with a doctor. There was indeed a culture of customer service all over Thailand, which was highly evident in Burmrungrad hospital.
I wasn’t really excited about the check-ups. I thought it was going to be a one day full of errands and bureaucracy but that didn’t happen. Just talking based on my own personal experience, in comparison to the Middle East, medical care in Thailand even in such a fancy place as Bumrungrad is quite cheap. Again this view may not be shared by Thai people themselves.
2. There is a huge discrepancy between what you see in Phuket and what you do in Bangkok. Phuket, and specifically Patong, is a very poor area, which westerners have chosen as a run-away from their expensive sophisticated lives. Thai culture and style is not very dominant in Phuket. Poorer Thai are there working for the business expats who are living like kings and queens with the peanuts they are spending. Open a Scuba diving business, ethnic food restaurant, a cafe’ or even a Vespa rental shop and you have enough money to make you a sultan in simple and cheap Phuket, where everything can be bought for a day including women sometimes.
3. The beauty of nature in Phuket is not done just yet. It’s above and beyond anything, and I didn’t even get to see Phi-Phi Island! I know .. don’t laugh at me. I was only there for four days and the weather wasn’t very good during that time, they had to cancel our trip twice.
4. Phuket is essentially a honeymoon destination or a place to go to if you want to have some ‘me‘ time. If you are planning to go with your kids, you will be staying mostly inside your hotel to keep them within a safe beach and pool environment. In which case, any resort around the world would have done the trick. But to see that part of Phuket you read about and hear of from your friends, you must have no fear of being in nature and you must be kids-free. Phuket can also get to be a very inappropriate place for kids especially in Patong by night! I am sure you know what I mean.
5. I discovered in this trip too that certainly Asian food is not all the same! I now know for sure that I do not like Thai food. I know lots of readers will find that strange but there was something about it that my taste buds utterly refused. I prefer Chinese.
6. In Phuket, we stayed at the “Merlin Beach Resort”. A nice place at the very end of Tri-Trang after Patong. It’s quite distanced from the buzzing life there. It has a small private beach, between two breathtaking green cliffs, but it seems that no one dared venture into its waters or sands. I saw a few animals crawling in the early morning, but I decided no way for me. Again, I know at heart I am not a fan of wild nature. The hotel though can do with a little more refurbishment. There were no insects or geckos or lizards in our room, but there were ants. Food served at all hotel restaurants is not the best. Nevertheless, their massage facility and therapists are exquisite and top-notch.
7. In Phuket and Bangkok alike, I found it very uncomfortable that some massage places have glass windows through which one can see people receiving treatments or waxing their eyebrows! Really?! It makes me feel awkward! Also most therapists were women, not sure again if this has any cultural implications or roots.
8. When you go to Bangkok, you immediately realize that Phuket was abandoned for tourists! Like all cities, Bangkok is where all Thai people go, to pursue urbanized life. We stayed at the Intercontinental, right in the heart of the city, But the minute you get in the car from the airport, Bangkok feels just like Cairo. check two pictures below, Bangkok on left, Cairo on right.
You may have not been to Cairo before, but Bangkok to me and I am a Cairene feels just like home.
Same extreme juxtaposition between poverty and richness. The street vendors told off by police and security because they are bothering visitors of higher-end outlets and malls, pollution, unbelievable traffic, same bridges, same smell of smoke hanging in the air, same old grumpy people trodden by the fast paced life they could no longer keep up with.
If it wasn’t for the amazing extravagant malls and the SkyWalk as well as the Buddha statues everywhere, I would have thought we are in Cairo. Event their Bhat coin looks exactly like our One pound coin.
9. Bangkok is really a shopping destination during this time of year. Never seen such craze of discounts. I think I have done more shopping than I ever did anywhere else.
10. In terms of culture and art, there are definitely a lot to see. But they are all the same, given the fact that most of the temples or artifacts are about 200 years only! When it comes to monuments and stuff like that, I wasn’t impressed. It is not about lack of beauty or wow factors, I don’t know… may be because I come from the lands of the Pharaohs.
11. The river boat trip was a big disappointment; could be due to the fact that I compared it to the Nile or may be because the trip pamphlet pitched it as a Venice-like cruise! The tour took us along the river where we met few of the floating vendors and saw how poor people are trying to keep their houses over the river suspended and habitable. They are not getting help from anyone. And just like in Cairo, the poor tin roofs are hanging by a thread side-by-side the teak-wood grand palaces.
12. Almost everyone in Bangkok is fashionable in their own way. It was amazing to see how Thai women and men can carry off everything.
13. If you have curly hair like my daughter, you will be a star in Thailand. There were instances when people had to stop me to take pictures with her. I think I will have to run an image search to see if she is all over social media now.
14. I found the salutation very discomforting. I know it’s a cultural thing but I really really do not want anyone to bow not even slightly to me, or feel like I have to respond that. Though, you don’t have to and you are not expected to, but of out politeness, wouldn’t one feel like reciprocating the salute they are receiving.
15. I have watched all prayer rituals to Buddha. I saw the donations of flowers and lighting of incenses. I still don’t understand why Buddhists open juice bottles, put a straw in it and leave it by the statutes. Would really appreciate if anyone could explain this part to me.
16. I thought it was mind-boggling to see such out-of-this-world celebration of Christmas in a country that has almost 5% Christians and 5% Muslims only! I thought the tolerance and co-existence was pretty amazing. Veiled women never got glares or raised eye-brows or even a second-look.
17. I have never seen such amount of street vendors and street-restaurants in my life.. and I am Egyptian! In fact, if I hear anyone in Cairo complaining for a second about street vendors or traffic, I will give them a piece of my mind. One needs to be grateful. Downtown in Bangkok and all around the big malls or on busy roads, you can hardly find a place to put your feet. Cars literally slip in-between each other.
18. I don’t like riding elephants.. I know that for sure now.
19. Last but not least, you can find anything in Bangkok’s downtown area; anything but USB Mics and Knee-length brown boots with heels!