Dichotomy, in my opinion, is the epitome of Thailand. From the first day I arrived with my study abroad group in 2008 to the post-travel opinions I hear people express about their experience in the country, there is so much polarity.
We arrived as spoiled, naïve college students ready for a crazy, exotic adventure and were greeted with a few eye-opening scenes that shoved humility right down our throats. I’ll never forget the orientation tour of our Bangkok neighborhood. A man inching along the sidewalk pushing a cup with his nose because he had no arms and legs was just a few feet from us. I’m sure we all glared for a moment too long just as we were standing outside one of Bangkok’s nicest movie theatres – one that had Lazy Boys for seats and a button you’d push if you wanted a server-delivered cocktail right to your recliner.
As you settle into learning about Thailand’s culture, again, the dichotomy smacks you right in the face. You see monks wearing saffron robes gliding down the street in attention grabbing groups. You get closer and notice they’re all looking at their smart-phones or even taking photos. They’re not wearing shoes, but they’re getting good “selfies.”
When people travel to Bangkok, I only ever hear a division in opinion: “I absolutely hated Bangkok” or “Bangkok is the craziest, coolest city. I’m in love with its madness.” Something along those lines. It’s always been one way or the other.
Haggling, speaking/learning Thai, architecture, Buddhist practice, ordering food (trying absolutely insane options - like highlighter-pink sausages or fried bugs), getting or giving directions… I could tell you a story about each element of Thailand, but for each experience there seemed to be an equal & opposite experience to balance it out. Thailand keeps you on your toes, especially when you least expect it. To this day, it is my favorite country in the world.