I think there are two types of travelers. Those that go to a place and want to experience it's culture in probably the truest way you can. Doing the things locals would do. Whether it's eating like a local, visiting more low-key destinations, taking their local transport, etc. Then, there are those that just visit the popular tourist attractions and don't necessarily get the chance to see deeper into the every day lives of the people living there (maybe due to time restraint, preference, or just not knowing). I'm not saying one is better than the other, but for me, I prefer to really try and experience what it would be like living in that place, having experiences that the locals would (of course I still do some of the touristy things, c'mon you can't come to SF and not see the Golden Gate Bridge or visit Alcatraz!). I know I might not be making sense to some of you, so here is a post that I coincidentally recently read on the same subject that might explain it a bit better.
I'm not exactly sure why I left feeling like I couldn't dig deeper than the surface level when I was in Thailand. It could have been that I needed to spend more time there (we were there eight days), my expectations could have been set really high to begin with, the scammers were everywhere which could have been distracting, or maybe it was the language barrier (although I've been to other non-english speaking countries before and I didn't have this experience), I'm not really sure. It felt as if a lot of things that were culturally significant to the Thai people were now exploited and used to make money off of tourists. Maybe it's me just being naive to the fact that every country in the world does this, but to this extent? Traveling to Japan and Korea more recently, I didn't feel this at all. I felt the culture everywhere and really felt I could be a part of it and not feel like I was being shown things just for the sake of making money. Don't get me wrong either, I know it's a developing country and people will do what they can to make money and live, but I also think there's a way to go about doing that and at the same time preserving and sharing your culture for others to enjoy.
I would still recommend visiting Thailand if you haven't before, but if your travel style is like mine, do more research and try to venture out into some areas that are on the outskirts or areas with few tourists-- even if it will take you more time to do so, it will likely be worth it. We had the wonderful opportunity to go about 30 minutes outside of Bangkok for a day and a half with some local folks we knew (where there were no tourists) and had an awesome time!
Has anyone had a similar experience in Thailand or another country? Or maybe you've had the total opposite experience? I'd love to hear other thoughts on this so please share!
Dried fish on the street in Bangkok's Chinatown
Raw marinated shrimp... anyone know if you eat this raw?
Curries at a night market in Rangsit (30 minutes outside bkk)
Hand-carved soap flowers in Chiang Mai
Banana rotee with nutella
Hand-painting umbrellas and fans - so talented!
I'm now including sticky rice on top of all my homemade sundaes. This one is mango ice cream with pandan sticky rice. YUM
Crab that's been fermenting for over a month. Usually eaten in Som Tam (papaya salad)
Market in Chiang Mai
Miang kham - a serious flavor explosion in your mouth. SO good.
Best, cheapest meal we had in Chiang Mai. #1 for their khao soi
A street vendor that pulled up while we waited for the Ferry to Koh Mak. Serving up freshly made papaya salad.
Uncrowded beaches on Koh Mak, supposedly one of the last "untouched" islands
A bar at the end of the pier on Koh Mak
Exploring the little island via scooter
Filling up on gas
The best view on the whole island
Sunset on Koh Mak