A taste of Thailand… Our first impressions

angthong national park thailand

Last Updated on February 22, 2021

Expectations are such a pain to travel with. Giving in to them means spending time categorizing experiences into two columns: what you expected to see, and what comes as a surprise in each country you visit. The two of us have built up countless expectations about Asia in our lives – having waited until late 2011 to get here! But let’s say we ditch the expectations for a while and just talk about our first impressions of Thailand, without revealing into which category each of the following observations fall. We hope you enjoy (or are at least slightly amused by) our newbie impressions of The Land Of Smiles, along with some fun facts about Thailand that you may not know.

Our first impressions of Thailand

Like living in a buzzing bee hive, there are more motor scooters here than we’ve ever seen in our lives…

motorbikes in thailand

…and they transport entire families…

Thailand first impressions

…and even pets!

scooters with pets in thailand

Poodles seem to be the most popular pets by far.

poodles thailand

But there are also cats everywhere! (Just like in Italy)

Thailand first impressions

Forget Paris! Thai teens and tweens make perfect hipsters, and fashion is a huge part of daily life.

Thailand first impressions

Seeing monks everywhere is normal, regular, every day life in Thailand. Not just in temples, either. It’s quite normal to chat with them on the bus, see them buying iPods, carrying laptops or on their Blackberries in traffic on their motor scooters.

Thailand first impressions

Though they do get special treatment, with their own sitting areas in bus stations and airports and on the bus, the seats in the last row are usually reserved for monks.

for monks only - thailand

Buddhas are everywhere, too –  standing, sitting, reclining.

Thailand first impressions

Each of the 40,000+ temples that house the Buddhas are striking and unique.

Thais revere elephants. They are religious symbols found especially in temples.One of our favorite first impressions of Thailand!

elephant images thailand

Real elephants, however, are rare.

Thailand first impressions

In Thailand, public transport can vary from Bangkok’s ultra-modern sky train to traditional cycle rickshaws.

public transport thailand

Songthaws (covered pick-up trucks) seem to be the most common means of public transport…

songthaws in kamphaeng phet

…followed by tuktuks.

Thailand first impressions

Thailand fun fact: Thais love Foursquare! There is always at least one person checked-in at restaurants, bars, coffee shops, even temples or bus stations – they love it so much, we’ve even seen Foursquare t-shirts at markets. When tips are in English, we get great local tips this way.

foursquare in thailand

From modern social media to rustic gas stations on islands and in remote villages… There are plenty of ‘real’ gas stations, too.

gas stations in thailand

Feel like dropping out of school? Can’t be fussed to go for your driving test? Pick up any type of ID or Diploma you need on Khao San Road in Bangkok – some of these look seriously legit.

khao san road fake ids

We’ve all heard of Thai massage, but had no idea how seriously Thais are about any kind of massage. Foot, back, shoulders, neck, Thais love to get a massage on a trip through the market.

thai massage

Fish spas are a freaky but fabulous Thai institution.

fish spa in Thailand

Many big, fat, old, white Western men manage to date young, sometimes gorgeous, Thai women. (Just an observation.)

big old fat guy with thai wife

Thailand is 95% Buddhist and monks are everywhere, but there are many Muslims and mosques to see, and Islam is widespread throughout the South.

muslims in thailand

Distracted by beaches or sightseeing, tourists in most countries might not even know the name of the country’s leader, let alone be able to pick him/her out of a line-up. Not in Thailand, where His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej waves down from posters and billboards literally all over the place. In fact, there is also a film of scenes from throughout the King’s life played to a standing audience before every movie shown in Thailand cinemas, too. 

king images in thailand

The Beach’ is not the deserted dream destination that it was when the movie was filmed there.

Thailand first impressions

Morning, noon and night, Thais either eat or pick up nearly all their meals at markets. Wouldn’t you, if all your take out food was guaranteed to be healthy and cheap as chips?

food markets in thailand

This is one of the most fun observations about Thailand: If you pick up your dinner at the market, you get the hot food (or salads, or fruit) in little plastic bags.

bag food thailand markets

Whether at the market or in a restaurant, Thai food is so delicious, we order it three times a day. Who needs cereal, when you have this?

Thailand first impressions

How donuts found their way into Thai cuisine is a mystery, but there is not a single mall without a (Mister Donut, Dunkin Donuts) donut shop.

Thailand fun facts

We are still not sure why, but birds in cages hang in front of Thai homes, stores and in temples.

birds in thailand

Thais love energy drinks in tiny brown bottles. 

Thailand first impressions

Thais also love their coffee! From coffee shops to road-side stands, the coffee is excellent and there is almost always free wi-fi (and that is enough to make us want to live here).

coffee stands thailand

This Thai mannequin, used in stores everywhere, really creeps us out – unlike the ones in Mexico! 🙂

Thailand fun facts

Thailand fun fact: Thais live in the future. Seriously – 543 years to be exact. According to the Buddhist calendar, while we ringing in 2012, Thailand was celebrating the year 2555. 

2555 year in thailand

Most towns in Thailand have unique, golden street signs and traffic lights with interesting statues.

street signs & lights in thailand

Our language skills have been seriously tested – how to learn to speak Thai, when written it looks like this?

written thai language

We can wholeheartedly conclude that a Thai girl wearing a traditional Bavarian dress is just wrong – especially because she worked at an all you can eat Bavarian beergarden in Phuket, which is also just wrong. 

Thailand first impressions

Thais refer to foreigners (white Caucasians) as farang. It might sound offensive (like being called ‘cracker’ or hillbilly) but the term is a fairly neutral term for a westerner. 

Thailand fun facts

Fancy eating bugs? In Thailand, you’ll find fried insects in many of the markets.

Thailand first impressions

You could play it safe, though, and eat at McDonald’s, where even Ronald McDonald greets you with the traditional Thai Wai

Thailand fun facts

Like in Latin America, the electrical wiring leaves much to be desired.

Thailand fun facts
Also like Latin America, soda drinks often come in plastic bags, but here in Thailand, the bags are branded.

pepsi in a bag

Thailand’s reverse osmosis water filtration system makes hundreds of these re-fill stations available with fresh, filtered water for as little as 1 Baht ($0.02) for two liters.

Thailand fun facts

Selling pirated DVDs of brand new blockbusters or unlocking iPhones is not just reserved for the streets, this is also commonplace in major malls. 

unlocking iphones

So far we are loving finding out these great quirks about Thailand – a place that used to feel so far away, but has come to feel so familiar. Please share your observations of Thailand in the comments below, or let us know if you have any questions about planning a trip here one day – we would love to share a few tips about traveling in Thailand.

Tags : thailand


  1. Seriously loved this post! What a great way to summarize your first impressions. And since I’ve never been to Thailand, there were so many new things for me to learn. I so wanna go… now… and NOT only because of the food pics 😉 Yummy!

    1. Hey Sabrina, that’s how we feel about Thailand, too. We learned something every day while in Thailand, as it was our first time in the country. At the same time, it is incredible how similar the experience is to our travels in the US, Europe, Central America and most of all Mexico. So, when are you coming over to Asia then? 🙂

      1. Would love to spend more time in Asia, in particular Thailand or Indonesia actually. Marco and I have family in Guangzhou and we just spent a good week there over New Year’s. It was fun, but I’m ready for new places as we’ve visited them a few times already. Our plan is to convince our family there to meet us somewhere in Thailand or Indonesia next time we go visit them 🙂 Are you planning on being there for a while?

        1. I didn’t know you had family in China! Meeting up with them in Thailand sounds like a great idea – there is so much to see! All of South East Asia has so much to offer, actually – we already realized that we won’t be able to see everything this time around and will return to see the rest of SEA (including Indonesia and the Philippines). We will be here until April seeing some more of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia and then head over to India 🙂

          1. Sounds like a great itinerary! Looking forward to more posts 🙂 Maybe I’ll find a specific place based on your posts where I can convince them to meet… It’s actually Marco’s family and not mine (they moved there for work maybe 7 years ago), but since we visit our families mostly together, it’s “ours” 🙂

            1. Maybe meet in Bangkok and then travel to a nice beach / island together from there? Although Bangkok might be a crazy place to start with 😀

              1. I like the idea of starting in a city and then going to relax somewhere pretty. Maybe a beach. I heard scuba in Thailand is great, so I’d love to give that a try. Do you know if the eastern or western coast is better for that?

  2. I remember when we saw the bunch of dogs in the motobike’s basket in Chiang Mai!

    Hope you’re having fun in your new location. Australia is very nice as well

    1. Hey chicky! Great to hear from you! Awesome you remember the dogs in the basket 🙂 Glad to hear Oz is treating you well. We are really liking Malaysia so far – just in KL for now, exploring the rest in a little over a week.

    1. Hey Jan, at first – during our we’ve-keep-getting-scammed-in-bankok phase, we did not understand what everyone meant about how nice the Thais were. And then we discovered just how friendly, helpful and playful the Thais really are! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I lived in Thailand for a year (OMG, 7 years ago already!) and I give you both a whole lot of credit – I had the same impressions/expectations too! It is an amazing country to visit. I do not know if I would go as far as to claim it is a great country to live and work in… but it is certainly in an adventurer’s “Must See” places list. When are you girls planning a trip to Colombia, in South America? If you make it to the Caribbean Coast during the summer (July 18-15), I would be very glad to be your tour guide!

    1. Hi Nat, thanks for commenting! There are certain aspects of life in Thailand that are really great – prices, food quality and variety, medical care, great internet connection, laid back lifestyle, good natured people…but we do have the travel bug and won’t be settling anywhere any time soon 🙂 However, we ARE going to be in Latin American later this year (but not July, later than that), so if you are around, we’d be happy to meet up!

    1. Oh yeah, she was…I mean, she’s like 15, how can she possibly identify with what must just feel like a silly foreigner costume…but I think we all hated our jobs at 15, or any job where you have to wear a uniform (unless you’re a pro athlete or something like that).

  4. We just got back from Thailand and your post completely sums up our trip in a most eloquent and concise fashion. After reading it, my reaction was “Yup, that was Thailand, to a T.” Thanks for putting this together and helping me to relive our trip!

    1. Thanks so much! I was glad to read that you enjoyed the people, the food and the massages in Thailand, if not the chaos. It’s funny how comfortable we’ve gotten in chaos, we almost entirely block it out at this point. Except for the dogs on the motorbikes. That’s a kind of chaos we notice every single time 🙂

  5. Great post, guys! I learned a few things about Thailand myself! I had no idea those “rustic” gas stations existed, or that donuts were so popular there!

    1. When we first got to Ko Lanta, we started seeing these gasoline stands outside of stores, and then anytime we are in a slightly rural location, we spot them now. Glad you learned new things about Thailand…we can’t wait to return to discover more!

    1. Oh seriously Deej, not at all – if you have a donut addiction, or a cupcake addiction for that matter, you can develop it further in Thailand. Dani even discovered Sushi shaped donuts – they come in a sushi box, even.

    1. Thanks! Yes, if you have the time, you’ll really be so near to Thailand it would be a shame to miss it! for the food alone it’s worth it…

    1. Kim – you definitely need to come this way! It seemed so far away to us, and then we just got on a plane and here we were. Easy as pie (and relatively inexpensive at $600 a person). If you do come this way let us know and we’ll definitely give some tips!

    1. Thanks Fidel, I didn’t know we were noticing something unique! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the wrap-up…Don’t worry, Thailand will still be there for next time (at least we hope!).

    1. Thanks, Laura! The soda drinks in plastic bags are more ubiquitous in Latin America than in Thailand, but we were surprised to see that they sell the drinks like that here, too! Just pouring the soda from a big bottle into a bag 🙂

  6. I loved reading about your first impressions! About the birds- they are used in singing competitions, kind of like an extremely Disney approved version of cockfighting 🙂

    Every Saturday I see people driving by on their bikes with those cages, all heading to a big field where they hang the cages on these metal poles and stand and stare at the singing birds. I do not get it.

  7. For some reason, I have an aversion to the beverages and take out orders in plastic bags. I just can’t do it, ha ha. Have you had any take out from a plastic bag yet?

  8. Wow, this post bring so many good memories. I have been only to the Northern part of Thailand (haven’t visited any of the islands). However, I identify with many of your first impressions. Just makes me want to go to Thailand again.

    1. Thanks, Ruth! We have been to quite a few places in Thailand now, but we haven’t made it to any of the islands in the Gulf of Thailand yet – there is so much to see in Thailand – we know already that we have to come back for more!

  9. Wow! I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand, but you have seriously piqued my interest. The food looks amazing, and it looks like there’s so much to see. Great pics, looking forward to reading more!

  10. Aw, I got back from Thailand last week and I miss it a lot! Especially as it’s -10 celsius in on Korea now! I wrote a post about my Muay thai fight in a bar on Koh Phi Phi:

    Incidentally, we camped overnight on Maya Bay and it was a way better experience than being there with the crowds. Waking up to the silent, empty beach was amazing. Will put the post about it on here when I finish it:) Loving the site, BTW!

    1. Just read your post – what an experience!! OMG! You kicked ass! 🙂 We saw that bar while we were on Phi Phi but we didn’t go in (one of us would’ve probably had the stupid idea to fight and would’ve got hurt badly :D)

      The camping on Maya Bay sounds amazing – we should’ve opted for that, too, I think. Send us a link to the post when it’s live – you can read about our experience at ‘The Beach’ shortly here, too.

    1. Definitely! Thai people tend to look amazing in whatever they wear – so jealous of that – and there is so much creativity here as well in fashion, art and especially hair styles! 🙂

  11. Awesome! Great list, I want to go to Thailand now. Especially love the branded soda bag! I know the soda bags from Central America and found them really funny. Not so much when I was offered a 1,5 liter bag of Coke with the bottle of rum though 😉
    Interesting to see how the bottle deposit / recycling works in some countries.

    1. Thanks Inge – coke in bags is definitely still more prevalent in Central America than here, we just love finding these little details that are similar around the world. They use the same tubs of washing up soap, have the same silver sinks…but what we do like a bit more about Thailand is that there are, at least on paper, recycling and no (styro)foam initiatives that you just don’t hear talked about in Honduras or Nicaragua.

  12. I love all these pictures – it looks incredible!!

    I must say I have always been wary of Thailand just because of the seedier side of it, and i get the feeling you may be treated badly as you are a tourist. I have heard a few horror stories!

    That’s not to say Thailand isnt an amazing, beautiful place to visit!

    More pictures please :-0)


    1. Duncan – we definitely got ripped off in some place because we are tourists, but we’ve also experienced the complete opposite in other places where people were genuinely friendly and happy to show us their lovely country.

  13. What a fun and awesome post! Absolutely love it — it captures some of the best highlights of Thailand so well. Love, love, love it. 🙂 (And, we thought that Ronald McDonald giving the Thai wai was hilarious. Did you go inside? They sell pineapple pies and corn pies since the Thais consider corn to be a sweet dessert rather than savory. Very interesting.)

    1. Thanks Akila 🙂 Yes we checked out the menu at McDonald’s but I couldn’t make myself eat a corn pie – just too weird! Tried sticky rice & corn and wasn’t the biggest fan, to be honest. The ham & egg pie looked interesting and if we weren’t vegetarians we would have probably tried it 😉

  14. Just spent a week in Phuket relaxing on the beach, followed by 5 nights in Bangkok. Tonight we depart on an overnight train to Chiang Mai. I’m ready for a little relaxing again!

  15. I visited Thailand for the first time a month ago and I WISH I had seen your post before I went. Having said that – you are absolutely RIGHT on every point (with pictures, no less). Everything seemed like an adventure and the people are most forgiving and welcoming to tourists. A smile is all you need. Thank you for your insights.

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