Some of us may know that guy. The guy that LOVES to go to Southeast Asia every chance he gets but seemingly has little to say about it other than “it’s amazing and crazy!” Not much to contribute in terms of the culture, the food, the sights, things to do, or anything else for that matter. People like that, combined with a highly publicized sex trade, have given Thailand a very dodgy name over the last few decades. Well, we aren’t here to deny any of that reputation but we are here to declare that there is much more to Thailand than a variety of prostitutes, ping pong shows, and motorbikes.
Muay Thai (Thai Boxing)
So, the national sport of the USA is baseball and the national sport of the United Kingdom is cricket. Both great sports with a lot of history but not exactly violent. The Thais have a bit of a different idea when it comes to their national sport, Muay Thai, or commonly just referred to as Thai Boxing. Known as the “Art of 8 Limbs,” Thai Boxing incorporates elbows, knees, fists, and legs which makes it much more devastating than K1 style kickboxing popular in some areas such as the Netherlands.For the Thais, Muay Thai is as common as any pickup game of baseball in any small neighborhood in the USA. There are fights almost daily in what feels like an infinite amount of venues all over the country. With the rise of fight sports such as mixed martial arts and jiu-jitsu, Thai Boxing has also seen a massive increase in the global interest.
Now, Thai boxing gyms all over the country offer almost resort accommodations for foreigners (or farangs in Thai slang) to stay and train. You can even take a smoker match with very little experience. If you choose this path, understand Thai fighters take it very seriously and fight very frequently so try to give it your all and try to stay away from the tourist gyms if you are serious about training. Many Thai fighters can already have 100 fights under their belts by 18 years of age, so you have some catching up to do!
Sak Yant (Thai Tattoos)
Made popular in the early 2000s when Angelina Jolie famously paid for a Thai-style tattoo, Sak Yant is the traditional style of Thai tattooing. Sak means “to tap” in Thai and yant or “yantra” are the tattoos themselves that have been developed over centuries by a variety of different religions and cultures. Historically, these tattoos should only be applied to men and done by Buddhist monks or other holy men. Obviously, some people have branched out to try and profit from the style but in “Tattoo Temples” in Thailand, tradition still rules.
The Yant carry with them different powers such as protection against curses and illness as well as to help their wearers overcome battles, gain power, and avoid bad luck. Real Sak Yant can only be applied in temples by Ajarns or monks and in order to be fully activated, they need to be blessed upon completion.
Coming from the first-hand experience, one of our team described the process as extremely spiritual and nothing like what one would expect when receiving a traditional tattoo in a shop. The designs range from animals to ancient Sanskrit writings and many times, the recipient does not choose what is tattooed as it is chosen by the Ajarn. Sak Yant is one of the most unique and serious journeys you can embark on during your visit to Thailand but it should not be seen as novelty or something “for the Gram.” Take it seriously as it still holds deep meaning for the Thai people.
Songkran is the Thai New Year and it occurs on April 13 every year. However, since 2018, the holiday has been extended to a few days, April 12-16. Although Thailand celebrates the “real” New Year of January 1, Songkran is the Thai national holiday. The holiday usually begins with trips to local temples to offer food and donations to monks. However, the culmination of the holiday is what makes it most famous as part of the tradition of Songkran is the “washing away” of impurities. Traditionally, this has been done by pouring water over statues of Buddha or even the young and elderly. Today, it has taken on a life of its own with massive water fights that take over many streets and even arenas. If you are in Thailand during April, it is a must.
Perhaps this is a pretty general statement but, that is its intent. Thailand has some of the best cuisines in the world and, if done right, you can eat very well for very cheap. Stop by a floating market and pick up your own fresh ingredients or, purchase prepared food from one of the vendors. Stop at any of the street stalls for the best pad thai you have ever eaten for around $1.50. Thailand is known for its food and if you are looking for the best, we suggest going to local stalls or restaurants versus any chains or fancy hotels. Mus- eats: pad Thai, tom yum, papaya salad, larb, and Tom Kha kai.
Stay away from Bangkok
Please do not take this the wrong way. Bangkok is an amazing city with loads of things to do and see. However, you should not spend all of your time there. Thailand has vast geography that offers a variety of places to explore and each with its own flavor and culture. Whether you go south to the island of Phuket or north to the mountains of Chiang Mai, you have so many options to choose from.
Island hopping has also been a popular tourist activity with many younger backpackers finishing their experience with Full Moon Parties. While we will not disclose if we have or have not attended one of these parties we can say, they get pretty wild. Think 3 days straight of dancing, partying, and all the chemicals and relations that come with that.
Bottom line is, whether you want to lose your mind for 72 hours on a party island or you want to get away from everyone in the mountains for a few days, you can do it. Do not limit yourself by only booking your time in Bangkok.
Thailand has a nickname, “The Land of Smiles.” It is very fitting as there is nearly something for everyone there. You can have as uninhibited or racy as a time as you want or, you can take the family and enjoy a wholesome experience. For us, the best time is somewhere between the two. Whatever you do, travel well, treat the locals with kindness, and never exploit the land in which you are merely a visitor.