Last week Khwantippa and myself were invited to join her friends Nong Shompoo and Pee Add to visit Khao Yai National Park, one of the local sites we had not yet been to. The trip is the perfect opportunity to tell you about the slightly lesser-known nature preserve and a suitable vehicle to point out cultural differences, similarities and habits of the Thai middle class. A story in-between, on many different levels.
A weekend trip can involve quite some planning, especially with four people, two cars and two different cultures involved. Luckily, Khwantippa and myself are well-adjusted to one another and very aware of the difference between our cultures. Generally speaking, Farang (‘Westerners’) are in the habit of planning everything out, and are very vocal about it. We basically talk about the what/when/why/how and the color of our shoe laces far in advance, and implicitly assume that all listeners will comply. Farang live for the future.
Thai people, on the other hand, live now. They have a vague idea about what needs to happen in the near future, and apply a fuzzy logic as to how to realize it. From the Western perspective, we quickly dismiss this as careless and disorganized, but it really isn’t, necessarily. While it may seem chaotic, well-organized Thai people optimize what needs to be done now and make the best of it. At times hectic, but often more fun than in the Western way.
Mixed couples need to acknowledge this and face it with an open mind. Most of the time the Farang partner needs to learn to just enjoy the ride and be laid back. On other occasions, the Thai partner needs to accept that some errands need to be run according to Farang time. It’s give and take.
This is why we met Pee Add and Nong Shompoo on Saturday at 14.00 over noodles at a Chinese supermarket, while the plan was to meet them at 12.00 at the local mall. The reason for the tardiness was our quest for wrapping paper, a post office and an unsuccessful visit to a take-away pizza restaurant (Pizza Jantira, why aren’t you open on a saturday at noon?). Nobody minded, even in the slightest.
Add and Shompoo are a lovely middle class couple, neither poor nor rich. I address them as Pee Add and Nong Shompoo, as Thai etiquette dictates that older people (even by one year) get the prefix Pee (younger Nong) even informally. Like most Thai people, they go by their nicknames. You see, formal Thai names are rather long and even hard to pronounce, so virtually anyone has a calling name. This practice is slowly disappearing, with youngsters getting more practical names on their ID.
Pee Add is successful in sales and Nong Shompoo is an accomplished government official and English teacher. Their jobs are relatively far apart, which is why Nong Shompoo lives at her school. This is a very common situation in Thailand. Many couples can only meet in weekends, or even holidays.
On the way to Khao Yai, and in line with the live in the moment philosophy, Khwantippa realized that we were about to pass Subtakien, the village where she grew up with her aunt, who has a small restaurant. Not just couples, but even entire families are split up in the Land of Smiles.
Even though Subtakien is close to Korat and about 4 hours from Bangkok, it remains a relatively simple community. Khwantippa remembers when electricity was introduced and even when the Queen Mother flew in unannounced by helicopter during a particularly cold cool season, to hand out blankets. Thailand has come a long way, at a very high pace.
After a lovely late second lunch and an hour’s drive we arrived on the outskirts of Khao Yai (‘Big Mountain’) National Park. The area is covered with lush and deep green forests, which almost feel Austrian or Italian. To compliment the similarities, keen investors have started to build mock Italian, French or even British sites and buildings, like elsewhere in Thailand. The condominium phenomenon has hatched there as well, just like in Bangkok. Build an apartment complex with many amenities (communal swimming pool, gym, etc.) give it a catchy name and flashy marketing campaign. Build it quickly and with huge margins. Sadly, these developments often don’t stand the test of time, deteriorating quickly.
Our hotel for the night was a lovely Inn removed from the hustle-and-bustle and with a spectacular view of the valley, with each room being a separate little house.
Thai-style breakfast also brought some stress. Online shopping is booming in Thailand but on a different scale than in the West. Facebook is even more important here, acting almost like the operating system of the Internet. Many people reinvented themselves as online retailers, simply using their Facebook account. Pictures of products are regularly posted, often included in a selfie. Products are discussed in live videos and even live auctions have emerged. Nong Shompoo had orders that needed to be sent out, and Khwantippa helped her out.
After packing we headed towards the national park. Upon entering, the custom is to stop at a small shrine to pay respect to the park and its inhabitants. The local wildlife is extremely diverse and even wild elephants call the vast wilderness home.
We visited the Haew Narok Waterfall which is currently in its prime, due to the frequent showers of the past weeks.
The actual site of the waterfall has been restricted to elephants, as one fell into the water and drowned a few years ago.
People still pay their respects to the unfortunate animal at the gate.
Pee Add and Nong Shompoo took us around their favorites spots for the rest of the afternoon. Khao Yai is definitely worth the visit whenever you are in the Nakhon Ratchasima province.
Many thanks for the lovely weekend, Pee Add and Nong Shompoo.