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My Take on Thailand: A DaedTech Digest

Thought you were getting some dev-specific content this week?  Ha — ya got fooled!

Last Sunday, at 10:30 AM CST (10:30 PM in Thailand), Amanda and I left our hotel room to head to the airport.  We had been up since about 9:00 PM CST on Saturday.  From there, we took a six hour flight to Dubai, followed by a 15 hour flight to O’Hare, landing at about 3:00 PM on Monday.  We both barely slept on those flights.

And then, we picked up our car and drove 3 and a half hours through Chicago rush hour traffic to our house here in Michigan.  We finally went to bed at about 9:00 PM Central time on Monday night.

So, the totals, for those keeping score at home:

  • 36 hours of getting to the airport, flying, layovers, customs, riding, and driving with almost no sleep.
  • (Nearly) 48 total hours of wakefulness.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely, positively yes.  And I’m going to talk all about Thailand and our experience.

But did I have enough energy this week to fight through the jet lag, catch up with Hit Subscribe, and still write a piece of dev content for the blog?  Nah.

The Genesis of a Trip to Thailand: Exhaustion

In the last post on this blog, I wrote about staying in Dubai for a few days.  In that post, I alluded to it being a stop along the way to our bigger trip.  But I didn’t really get into the motivation for the trip, or how we picked it.

That’s what I’ll talk about here.  If you don’t care about my motivation, and just want to get to the meat of what I thought of Thailand, you can skip ahead.

Amanda and I own a remote-only business, and we’ve traveled extensively, for years.  We actually spend half the year doing something called slow travel, which I’ve blogged a lot about.

But don’t confuse this with vacation.  It’s not.  If anything, it’s closer to business travel, since we work while we do it.

In fact, we’ve worked a lot while doing it.  Bootstrapping a business from a side hustle into a sustainable living demands an immense commitment, and in the early going you don’t have any staff to lean on.  A vacation means that the business just stops, so you tend not to do that.

We hadn’t had a proper, true vacation since probably early 2017, and this fall, we realized we needed one.  Badly.  So we contacted a travel agent and said, “send us anywhere in the world that (1) lets us relax on a beach for 2 weeks and (2) isn’t the Caribbean.”

She sent us some intriguing options.  But we ultimately settled on Phuket, Thailand, since neither of us had ever been to Southeast Asia.

A Stay in the JW Marriott at Mai Khao Beach

Amanda and I normally like to soak up as much local culture as possible when we travel.  In fact, slow travel is all about that.  You temporarily move somewhere and try to experience life as a local.

So for this trip, we had two warring impulses:

  1. Our normal desire to do and experience as much local stuff as possible.
  2. The desire to rest and do very little.

In a nod to (2), we booked a resort hotel on the far north part of Phuket Island, away from the hustle and bustle of the town and the more popular beaches.  And that was the right call.

The resort was luxurious and self-contained.  It had something like 5 restaurants, 4 bars, a shop, and the usual other hotel amenities.  In terms of pricing at those places, the inexpensiveness of Thailand and the expensiveness of hotel stuff struck a middle ground with “about what you’d pay at a hotel in a US city.”

The feel of the hotel was perfect for me, though.  I don’t like a lot of people around, and it delivered.  I think even booked to capacity, the hotel would offer the feeling of plenty of space.  There was just a lot of room and a lot of facilities per capita, so to speak.

And so it went.  Two weeks of quiet in our room, beaches mostly to ourselves, uncrowded pools, and lack of a wait anywhere.

In fact, things were so un-crowded that we were nearly the only people to take advantage of a lot of cool stuff the resort offered.  We had our own private lessons in Thai language, Thai cooking, and Thai boxing, compliments of the resort.

Our Tours: Rafting, Islands, and Elephants

We did three tours while we were there.

First, we took a tour that was an eclectic mix.  We went first to swim in the pool below a waterfall in the jungle.  Next up was bamboo rafting (think lazily floating down a river), then lunch in a local restaurant, followed by a visit to a pearl factory.  All of these things were a ways apart, so we also spent a few hours driving around the mainland and Phuket, absorbing the countryside.

Our next tour had us visiting the Phi Phi islands.  The islands were beautiful, and we got to swim and snorkel.  It was so scenic that most of the tour watched in bemusement as some aspiring Instagram Influencer turned everything into a comically self-important photo shoot.

But, every stop was super crowded, and a major storm caught us out on the water, making the afternoon a bumpy, wet, cold ride.  I’m betting the influencer didn’t do any soaked, teeth-chattering selfies.

And, finally, we booked an afternoon at a place called the Phuket Elephant Retirement Park.  I didn’t realize this, but elephant encounters and, particularly, elephant riding are contentious subjects because of the apparent abuse required to make elephants docile enough to ride.

So Amanda found a place that prides itself on humane treatment of the animals and we spent the afternoon there, petting them, feeding them, and giving them mud baths.

And that was it — all of the tourist stuff that we did.

Food, Dining, and Sundry Shopping

Initially, we ate at the resort, kind of out of sheer tiredness from life and transit.  But then, we started to venture out more to see if we couldn’t get a feel for local stuff and maybe save some money.

This led us to some local restaurants and shops, such as 7-11.  7-11s are everywhere in Phuket (as are other assorted US exports, like Pizza Hut and KFC and such).  And shopping in sundry places like 7-11 is an interesting mix of familiar (Lay’s potato chips everywhere) and exotic, with lots of seafood, squid, and Durian snacks.

Pricing in these places is also a mix of expected and weird.  Snacks and a lot of food is super cheap, beer and booze is often on par with US prices, but things like wine and coffee were prohibitively expensive.  During our time there we paid as much as $8 for a cup of coffee, and you couldn’t find a bottle of wine for less than $30.

Thai food in Thailand is, not surprisingly, awesome.

We experienced a number of local restaurants (though fewer than I wish we could have).  And, as best I can tell, the thing that makes Thai food so superior in Thailand is quality and locality of ingredients.  They use things like palm sugar that are probably much harder to come by and less fresh elsewhere.  Phuket Island even has its own strain of mini-pineapple: sweeter and softer than regular pineapple.

Food was delicious and generally cheap (outside of the resort).  At most places, from food trucks to restaurants where the staff wore suits, you could get a generous plate of Pad Thai for $3.  This was sort of true of meals across the board, unless you were doing something like lobster or a fresh catch with your meal, where prices would go up.

So Many Things Are Open-Air

Part and parcel with talking about the food, I should talk about the nature of establishments.  Because this is something that’s really different from anywhere in the US that I’ve been, even in the southwest or the Florida Keys.

So many shops and restaurants are open air.  Meaning, they don’t have some or all of their walls.

At first it gives the impression of a very ad hoc arrangement: as if someone had set up a bunch tchotchkes for sale in a burned out building.  It’s a little jarring because it gives the vague sense of a kind of abject poverty.

But that’s not the case.

Upon closer inspection, shops and restaurants setup this way are well established, clean, and organized.  As best I can tell, this is just a natural byproduct of a climate where the record lows are in the 60s.  More recent establishments are traditional (and heavily air-conditioned) buildings.  But pre-air conditioning, of course you would build and work this way, so I imagine it’s just a mainstay.

Interacting with Thai Folks

Our Thai language class was revealing, and not just because we learned a few basic phrases.  We learned about language differences and subtleties that spoke to broader cultural dynamics.

For instance, there are several different tones in which you can say a syllable and, depending on which you use, it will mean something different.  So if you say “see” in a high pitched voice, it means something different than saying it low pitched or in a rising pitch.  This lends the spoken language an interesting, lilting quality and makes it especially sensitive to butchery from ham-fisted would-be speakers like me.

There are also several different forms of address that indicate varying degrees of formality, as well as qualifiers to soften your message.  These are prominent features of interaction and among the first things we learned about the language, seeming to indicate a very polite/subtle culture.

This was reinforced by how friendly and polite everyone seemed (granted, we spent a lot of time at a resort, but this is true across the board).  People greet strangers much more frequently, and the greeting involves not just a (polite) hello, but a small bow.

One other dynamic that I never quite grokked is that it seems pretty customary to remove your shoes before entering places.  There were Thai tourists at the resort, and I noticed here and there that people would leave their shoes outside of their hotel rooms.

Weather and Wildlife

In my post about Dubai, I talked about oppressive, non-dry heat.  I found the same in Thailand, though perhaps not quite as oppressive with the highs.  Every day featured highs in the upper 80s and a great deal of humidity.

Sometimes a cool breeze would come through, but this was generally a harbinger of storms.  Our time there overlapped with the very end of rainy season, so we saw our fair share of storms.  This wasn’t a big deal though; the storms rarely lasted more than an hour.

In terms of animals that we encountered, the list is actually pretty long, and I won’t even include the elephants or the parrotfish we saw snorkeling.

  • There are a lot of dogs wandering around in Thailand.
  • We also saw a bunch of cats, including some at our resort, the elephant place, and outdoor restaurants.
  • In the flora around the resort, we saw a snake, some large lizards, fat toads and frogs.
  • While on the Phi Phi Islands, we saw a bunch of rock-climbing monkeys.
  • There were a lot of big, fat snails crawling around.
  • Walking on the beach, we saw just a ton of large fiddler crabs.
  • We also saw a sea otter briefly beach itself before returning to the ocean.
  • The resort had some sea turtles that would die in the wild, and you could go visit them.
  • While walking through the jungle on one of the tours, we found a centipede.
  • These geckos would hang out at night everywhere on the walls of the resort, scrabbling around and eating bugs.
  • Unfortunately, the mosquitoes are brutal — so bad that outdoor restaurants offer you bug spray the way US restaurants put out bread.
  • There were these myna birds everywhere that made lots of noise and reminded me of grackles.

Miscellaneous Observations and Thoughts

As with the Dubai post, I’ll close with some random thoughts and observations that don’t really merit their own sections.

  • There are not many US-based tourists there, and the locals viewed Amanda and I as sort of “exotic” tourists.  They get a lot of Chinese, Russians, Thai, and Australian tourists, and if they hear English, the default is to assume Australian or New Zealander.
  • Thai drivers drive on the left side of the road.  That, combined with the prevalance of motorbikes zipping dangerously in and out of traffic, put to rest any vague ideas I had about renting a car while there.
  • Uber isn’t a thing in Phuket.  They have their own app.
  • If you’re a craft beer fan, don’t bank on spending much time in Untappd.  We encountered a couple of craft beers (self-proclaimed) that were… yep.
  • The Phuket airport had a bunch of restaurants where you could get fairly reasonably priced sandwiches, Thai food, etc.  But there was a Burger King there, and it was by far the most expensive option.  A Whopper meal would set you back like $15.  I guess Burger King is… fancy… there…?
  • The water, apparently, isn’t potable.  You drink everything out of bottles.  And water also isn’t free in restaurants, as a result.

Picks

  • I’ve got to throw a pick to the resort.  The staff was wonderful, and everything about the experience was positive.  I can’t say enough good about it.
  • I’d also like to give a nod and hearty thank you to the Hit Subscribe staff, both employees and our contractors.  We weren’t sure how much of a vacation we’d really wind up taking, and the answer was “total.”

The Digest

And, as always, you folks have yourselves a great weekend.

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