“Farang”, the Thai word for “foreigner”, is used for broadly anyone who is not Thai, but mostly for Caucasian people. (As mentioned in one of my previous Postcards, it is similar to “Laowai” in Mandarin Chinese or “Gweilo” in Cantonese.)
After more than two years of limited tourism, travellers are flocking Thailand again and I started noticing some peculiarities about Farangs – especially the tourist type. Firstly, they cycle. Imagine Bangkok’s vast roads – sometimes with four to five lanes – and there is a group of Europeans casually riding their bicycles to explore the city. The crazy traffic and motorcycles cannot seem to scare them. But even some Farang locals use the bicycle as their main means of transport – last week, I saw a dad with his toddler in the back on their way to school at Sukhumvit Road, one of the busiest roads of Bangkok. While it can be quite enjoyable and convenient to ride a bicycle in Europe, few people would take the risk, because road accidents are one of the leading causes of death in Thailand.
Another funny thing which tourists are so proud about is riding “Tuk Tuks”. A friend of mine recently visited Thailand and told me that they took the Tuk Tuk all the time to get around – “just like the locals”. The Tuk Tuk, in most areas, is not the main mode of transport. Just like in the West, most people take the underground, skytrain, taxis or drive their cars. Unless locals transport things, I only spot tourists in Tuk Tuks… I am sorry to disappoint you.
Similarly, when you live in Thailand, you rarely “roast” in the sun like tourists. Every time when I come back from Thailand, my friends in Austria comment on my skin which has not tanned at all. If you live in the tropics, your daily life is not much different from anywhere else. You do your work, run your errands, meet your friends. And because it is extremely hot – especially in the big cities – (and sometimes also polluted), it is really uncomfortable to lie in the sun for an extended period of time.
In Thailand, and in many other Asian countries in general, running your daily life has become very convenient. While online shopping for groceries was mainly done during the lockdowns in Europe, it had already been common long before that in Thailand. Documents can be delivered within minutes via motorcycle – a great way to beat the crazy traffic. Spa appointments can be booked online or the nail artist can be booked for a home appointment. Almost anything is at your fingertips.
When I moved to Bangkok, I did not know about the full potential of these conveniences, or, for some reason, I applied the European DIY-logic. When moving into the new apartment, I needed a drying rack. Hence, I went to the shop and bought it. My first mistake was not to ask at the counter if they could arrange a delivery. My second was to carry the gigantic rack downstairs to the taxi stand myself. As the rack could not fit into a taxi, I went back upstairs to catch the Skytrain. (I wanted to try a Tuk Tuk- this would have been one of the rare exceptions when you take one, but none were available.) There I was, waiting at the outdoor Skytrain station in the sweltering Bangkok heat. I got so many weird looks. While it would be fairly normal to see people transporting their things on the subway in Vienna, I have actually never seen anyone do that in Bangkok. I left the train and kept walking towards my home. Motorcycle guys were chearing me on and when I reached the building, the doormen conveniently disappeared when they saw me. So, I also carried it up the lift myself. Overall, it was OK to do that (apart from the heat), but later on, my local friends all laughed at me. “You are the typical Farang woman, trying to do everything herself.”
But that is just the way I was brought up in Europe. Whatever you can do yourself, do, because it mostly saves you money (and sometimes time). Ikea became big because you save money by picking furniture up and assembling it yourself (mostly because prices for assembly far outweigh the prices of Ikea furniture). In Asia, Ikea is just like any other furniture store, where you book delivery and assembly. Because large parts of the infrastructure in the mega-cities in Asia is fairly new, train stations and airports are conveniently connected with lifts, travellators and escalators. (Not like the many stairs I had to walk up and down in the train stations in Germany, for example.) Travelling with luggage on your own is not a problem – also because most of the time, there will be someone to help you.
And there is one other “Farang-specific” activity: leisurely walks to explore the city. Whenever I go for a walk in Bangkok, it feels a bit strange. It is almost like an adventure, because you do not see people walk around for “fun” a lot. The parks are full with runners, but strolling through neighbourhoods to explore is quite “exotic” (and touristy). I find it funny, because I always meet people on my walks, because they are so surprised to see me.
Do you have any stories about living abroad or the experiences of tourists vs. locals? Let me know, I look foward to hearing about them.