It’s now been over 30 years that I’ve been visiting Thailand. Hard to imagine that I used to call this home for three years back in the 80s. So exotic, so cutting edge at that time, even now it still retains its charm. Sure, there are all kinds of new luxury hotels but there are still pristine beaches, temples, and the highlands to be discovered and rediscovered.
Cities grow, urban architecture changes, high tech industries are brought in, but the tapestry of Thai culture remains intact. After all, one can still consider this as a “developing” country so of course there will be changes but it certainly does not mean for the worse. In fact, I would say that the improvement of infrastructure has only made the journey more enjoyable. One thing that has not changed is what Thailand has always been known as: The Land of Smiles. It’s infectious. It can help the traveler slow down, relax and reflect (and we can all certainly use a large dose of that these days).
Upon a recent arrival in Thailand one of the first things that I noticed was that it’s still a huge attraction to Westerners. Probably 80% of those on my flight (in December 2016) were foreign travelers. With the world dressing more and more in such a casual way it’s hard to distinguish the backpackers from the high-end tourists but, nevertheless, they are all still going to Thailand for a slice of happiness, even if it’s just for a short time. Overhearing families and couples chatting on the flight and at the hotel’s breakfast the travel highlights seem almost timeless. However, do they want to see elephants kick a soccer ball or play the harmonica? No! Do they want to learn about elephants and help bathe them in a river? Yes. A hot, dusty tuk tuk ride to the market is now often replaced by a day bicycling through the rice fields from temple to temple. Thailand (and Southeast Asia in general) hasn’t changed so much; it’s just our travel expectations that have altered. Right down to drinking water in glass bottles, instead of plastic, and saltwater pools are replacing chlorinated ones.
Twenty percent of Thailand is designated as national parks and reserves. That’s quite an impressive statistic, especially when compared to Western countries. And there are still areas of this land that are only now being discovered, whether for its nature, culture or history. Yes, Thailand is still a wonderful destination, either on its own or combined with other countries in the region.