Thailand

Open Your Eyes and Mind in the Land of Smiles, Thailand

Thailand is a country of ancient temples and modern urbanization, a rainbow of traditions and cultures mostly affected by Buddhism. The scenic beauty can be ecstatic with its world famous beaches and rocky mountains.  The unique architecture of its ancient temples and Buddhist monasteries and the traditional busy street markets make it seem like a totally different world. A world where traditions and religion are still more important than materialistic goods or products.

With its seven century long history, Thailand has been able to absorb a complete blend of cultural influence. It has one of the largest Buddhist populations in the world. However, there are other minorities too like the Phra Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana Mahathera, Muslims and Christians. Religion has a central place in the society, which is proved by the fact that the Thai temples, apart from being worship places, also serve as hostelries, community centres, hospitals and even schools. Also every Thai male becomes a monk for 3 months in his lifetime to serve the almighty.

Mountainous landscape of Northern Thailand
Mountainous landscape of Northern Thailand

Thailand is famous for its classical architecture, but also has a number of modern buildings in cities like Bangkok, which is the economic hub of the country. However, the classical Thai architecture can be appreciated in the temples and royal buildings including the Grand Palace, the Wat Benchamabophit and Wat Suthat.

Thai people, being so religious minded, are God fearing and friendly, so people can fit in easily in the society. One of the most distinctive traditions of the Thais is the Wai, which is much like the Indian Namaste i.e. joining hands to greet people and also as a mark of respect. The Wai can be an important tool for tourists as a gesture of friendly behavior towards the natives. Also revealing clothes and rude behavior in public is frowned upon in the country, especially in the rural areas and should be avoided at all costs. Putting your feet above someone’s head is considered as a sign of great disrespect. So travelers should refrain from stepping on the Thai coin as the king’s head is engraved on it.
The Thai cuisine is famous for the usage of herbs and spices, which blend all tastes of spicy, sour, sweet and salty. The sea plants and animals are an integral part of their food. Thailand is renowned for its spices and it also exports them in large quantities.

Architecture in the Srivijayan style Surat Thani Thailand
Architecture in the Srivijayan style Surat Thani Thailand

Geographically, Thailand is divided in 4 broad regions: the central and east coast, the north, north east and the south. The central area is the most fertile region of Thailand with paddy fields, orchards and greenery all around. The eastern side consists of some of the finest Asian beaches where residents enjoy relaxing weekends and tourists experience the delightful tropical beach life. The Pattaya beach is a major tourist attraction and the area is full of luxurious resorts and hotels.

The north region is where the birth of civilization took place. It’s an ideal place to witness the rich Thai culture and heritage. Most of the ancient archaeological and cultural sites have been beautifully preserved, which gives you an insight of the history of their early civilization. The mountain ranges along the northern border can be breath taking and have sparkling waterfalls and fast flowing rivers which make this area a hub for adventure sports.

Rice fields Chiang Mai Thailand
Rice fields Chiang Mai Thailand

The southern part of Thailand extends to form a peninsula with a long coastline full of sandy beaches on both sides and central region of mountains and forests. The coast along the Andaman Sea, with its calm sea and wide bays, has the most marvellous limestone formations and cliffs. The offshore islands like the island of Phuket are Thailand’s most famous tourist attractions. With its fascinating rock formations, they also provide great potential for sailing and water diving in the crystal water.

The central part of the peninsula is becoming a new hot spot of the eco-tourists. The elephant ride safaris of the forests and animal reserves truly bring you close to nature.
The people of Thailand celebrate a lot of festivals with unbelievable zeal and enthusiasm. Most of the festivals are related directly to their religion and have a deep history behind them. The locals and tourists gather in large number to witness the famous buffalo races held in October.

In a nutshell, you can taste the hustle bustle of modern city life, the calmness of sea and colours of ancient traditions and religion all in one place. Thailand will truly spice up your life. Whether you choose to stay for a week, a month or even a year, there is no shortage of things to do, places to go and smiles to see. Make friends with locals and you will be shown some wonderful sights that are off the beaten path. Connect with the culture, enjoy the local atmosphere and break away from the packaged tours and cookie cutter resorts if you really want to enjoy all that Thailand has to offer.

Thai seafood curry, an example of Thai cuisine
Thai seafood curry, an example of Thai cuisine

Some of the best parts of Thailand are the ones that are not talked about in the Lonely Planet or on forums. Find your own experiences and enjoy the hidden gems that are abundant in the country. Thailand truly is a country where you can find whatever you are looking for whenever you need it. Head out and enjoy the nightlife until the wee hours of the morning, enjoy the beaches and soak in the sun or hope onto a moped and tour the mountains. The choice is yours and the opportunities to create the truly unique getaway of your dreams are abundant.

The Land of Smiles really is a place where memories are made and travel dreams happen. You can prepare, read and research all you want, but Thailand is a place that you will not truly understand until you experience it for yourself. No one vacation to this country is the same. Come back time and time again and every experience will be different and awe inspiring.

Vietnam

Cultural Differences and Way of Live in Vietnam: Simplified Living that Will Inspire

When any discussion comes about in terms of certain hotspots and exciting destinations in Asia, people are often curious to debate the differences in culture, quality of living, cost of living and way of life between certain nations. Of course there are facts, figures and statistics that make it easy to come to some sort of conclusion on what a certain country has to offer, but it is about far more than that. Traveling and seeing Asia is all about dabbling in the cuisine and the music, meeting the people and opening your eyes to new experiences. Vietnam, for one, is all about new experiences. You can learn, see, and do things here that will teach you more than anything statistic or book can tell you. To put it simply, Vietnam is a place you need to experience for yourself before you can make any judgments or decisions on what it has to offer.

The curious part about Vietnam is that although there are infinite things to do, a unique culture, a unique language and a different way of life, it is not all that different or off the grid when compared to other countries. Especially other countries in South East Asia. Bicycles and motorcycles are the main modes of transportation and you will not be able to walk more than a block without passing some sort of small scale business operation. You will see old women selling crafted jewelry, farmers bringing in produce, and just about anyone and everyone trying to sell something.

Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay

What you will notice in Vietnam is that things are beginning to change. Foreign investment is starting to surge in and the large cities are teeming with people selling, buying, investing and shuffling about. The low set up cost for businesses in the country and stunningly cheap labor are enticing for corporations and the Vietnamese government realizes that. It seems that with each passing day the doors are being opened wider for Foreign Direct Investment in order to try and boost the local economy.

Ban Gioc Waterfalls in Northern Vietnam
Ban Gioc Waterfalls in Northern Vietnam

If you are intrigued by the local culture and the relaxed, laid back way of life that you hear about, then you definitely want to travel into the heart of Vietnam. In the interior of the country you will find paddy farms and places where the traditional values of the Vietnamese people are held on to tightly. While the major of citizens in these areas are paddy farmers, it is all done on a very small scale. They run small, local farms to meet their friends and family and go about their business in a very routine and peaceful way. While language will be a major barrier when conversing with these people they are some of the friendliest you will find anywhere. If you are lucky you may even run into a family that is more than willing to show you around and even give you a home cooked meal of rice, fish sauce and lots of vegetables.

As with any country that is not your own there are a number of cultural differences that you will encounter when visiting Vietnam. Whether some of the characteristics may be described as abnormal by some tourists, it is a way of life here and you have to be willing to accept it. One of the first things that you will notice when dining out in Vietnam is the consistent slurping while they eat and the purposely loud conversations. While Vietnamese people are generally relaxed and quite they use meal time as a way to converse and almost let loose a little and they do not care who is annoyed by it, and who is to stop them right?

Emperor's Tomb in Huế
Emperor's Tomb in Huế

When shopping in Vietnam you are going to have to learn how to barter or risk being taken for a fool. A common phrase, even though many vendors do not speak English, is same same but different. You will hear this everywhere you go and every vendor no matter how poor their English is will understand. However, when conversing with vendors and other locals you want to keep in mind that when they say “ya, ya” it does not mean they understand. While in English speaking countries ya ya would be a communicative tool to express agreement or understanding, it tends to be more of a leave me alone statement in Vietnam. Vendors will say ya ya when they simply do not understand you, do not want to understand you and have given up trying to understand you. It is a hint for you to give up and move on.

The Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature

A few other little cultural differences that you may notice when touring Vietnam tend to be a little weird in the eyes of many people. Just remember that you seem even weirder to them and who is to judge which person is right or wrong? However, you are still probably going to have to get used to nose picking. As unbelievable as it may sound to some people, nose picking is as common as rubbing your hair or scratching your face here. Everyone does it and no one thinks about it for a second. You may as well just sit back and enjoy the little bad habit that your mother always told you not to do. It might make for a nice change of pace.

Another subtle difference that people take notice of in Vietnam is that the locals regularly head to the barber shop to have their ears professionally cleaned. Even if it sounds somewhat normal it is sure to stop you in your tracks when you lay your eyes on it for the first time.

Lăng Cô beach, Huế city
Lăng Cô beach, Huế city

Vietnam is funny in a way that it is completely normal yet entirely different in many ways. What you will love about it here is the fact that there is always something going on, something to see, or something to do. Even just sitting on a street corner and watching passers by is entertaining here and can really give you a full appreciation of the little things in life. Vietnamese people have come so far and have seen so much, it will truly blow your mind to see how peaceful and pleasant they are after all they have seen.

Daegu

Living or Visiting Daegu: An Oxymoron Wrapped Up in Itself

There are many people in South Korea and outside of the nation that have tried to characterize the city of Daegu. It has been labeled as the center of the textile industry in the country and the city itself has also tried to define itself as the fashion capital of Korea. There are a vast array of differing opinions when it comes to what Daegu has to offer and it seems that no one can really agree. The reason for that is simple. Daegu is indefinable. The city can best be described as an absolute oxymoron. Around each corner you will see different people doing different things and different sights and different sounds. The minute you think you know what to expect or that you have a grasp of the culture in the city, something will happen to prove that you don’t really know what is going on.

Many people recognize citizens of Daegu as the most brash, rude, and obnoxious people in Korea. On the other hand many people praise the kindness, softness and laid back attitude of the people of Daegu. Some people say it is too polluted, some people love the smell of the mountain air. Some people say it is dirty, others say they have never lived in a cleaner city. What you need to know when visiting or living in Daegu is that you have to expect the unexpected. One moment you will have the experience of a lifetime and praise the city and everything it has to offer, then seemingly the very next minute something happens and you find yourself questioning how much you love it. You will come across some of the most soft-spoken and kind people in the world and then turn the corner and run into an older man who has been drinking and is cursing out foreigners. It is nothing to be worried about, just a way of life in the ever changing city of Daegu.

Daegu from Apsan Park
Daegu from Apsan Park

One thing that is constant in the city that is firmly planted in the middle of South Korea is the beauty of the mountains. Daegu can almost be described as a city craved into the mountains. The sun rises later and the sun sets earlier. The weather is different here than anywhere else in the country thanks to the shelter and warmth the mountains provide. That guided shelter does come with another little snag though, which is the abundance of mosquitoes in the city. One somewhat surprising theme seems to be that there tend to be more mosquitoes in the major, busy areas than in the rural, off the path communities. A night spent in Suseong-Gu, an urban and affluent area of Daegu, without bug spray is like packing for the beach without a swimsuit. Yup up north in an area such as Chilgok, which is literally built right into the mountains, people leave their windows and screens open all night without much of a worry.

While Seoul does get all of the attention when it comes to being westernized, shopping, restaurants and generally things to do, Daegu proves to not be much of a slouch either. There are a number of western restaurants and more than enough clubs and foreigner bars in the heart of downtown. Little basement dwellings such as Commune’s Rock Club and the Organ Bar attract a good mix of foreigners from all over the world. If you have had your fair share of Korean culture then these are the types of places to head. The incredible part is that within a 10 minute span you will run into foreigners from all over the world, 99% of whom are English teachers. Shocking in a way considering how little English is spoken here. Hagwons, or English academies, are present on every single block of the city even in the most rural of areas yet there is still not much English to be found. People will scream Hello, you will get an occasional thank you, but for the most part that is about it unless you run into a businessman, a Korean English teacher or a fellow foreigner. For the amount of money that is constantly plugged into English, it seems to go in one ear and out the other.

Hiking is one of the main attractions in Daegu and what the Koreans here do best. Mountains are dotted around the area in every direction and you can easily access Gondolas and hiking trails via almost any bus route or by hopping on the Subway. DongDaegu station offers a number of buses that come in handy for full day trips to areas such as GyeongJu, Andong and even other cities like Pohang and Ulsan. The subway is incredibly easy to master and comes in handy if you happen to live on one of the two lines. If not, then it really serves no purpose as both of the lines run from east to west and that is it. The good news is that taxis are pretty cheap compare to other countries such as Japan.

Daegu Night Skyline
Daegu Night Skyline

For the most part the roads in Daegu are more than hectic and you tend not to be safe as a pedestrian on the sidewalk either. This is something you will understand when delivery boys go flying down the sidewalk on their mopeds, cars hop up on the street an bicycles swerve in and out of traffic. It is all something that you will get used to though and can even help sharpen your reactions.

While it seems everyone has differing opinions on what Daegu is like and what it has to offer, there is one thing that remains constant. If you are a foreigner you are going to have to get used to the staring, the screaming of “Hello” and the general shock of you actually existing. It almost seems like a number of the Koreans in the city only read about people from other countries in fairy tales and do not believe they exist until the see one. Yet you can walk by the same person everyday for years and they still get that shocked and surprised look. In the end though, it is just one of those character habits of the city and what makes this city truly unique. One thing is for sure, there is no city like Daegu and it is an experience you have to take part in to truly understand.