We've been in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for almost 3 weeks now – crazy to think about! Going from India to Thailand was a big change and we've all noticed many differences between the two countries. I have enjoyed going straight from one country to another, both countries that I've never experienced before, and comparing the two. I've always gone back home after visiting a new country - so it's been eye-opening and a new experience that I hadn't really thought about before-hand. I know that we were all taken by surprise, when we arrived in Chiang Mai, by the lack of noise. Our first few days were especially quiet - out of the city a little in the 'hospitality house' where we had orientation and a few rest days to recover from the all-nighter that we pulled when we caught our flight from India at 2am.
After the first days we moved into the 'Old City' of Chiang Mai which is busier, although still not to the same level as India! It's more of a structured and organised busyness. We don't stand out near as much because it's a touristy town and the people around here are used to seeing people walking around with large cameras all the time. This has been both positive and negative. In many ways it's aided us in allowing us to stand back and observe without attracting too much attention, but on the other hand it also means that we're not seeing the 'real Thailand' because it's so changed to accommodate visitors who want a taste of Thailand without getting the real deal.
It's also amazingly different culture-wise (which I guess you would expect considering that it's a separate country). I don't think that I fully understood just how crazy and chaotic India was until we arrived here and experienced the calm. Probably the biggest thing that we've noticed (and had many conversations about) since being here is that both countries show their pain in completely separate ways. Beth made the observation that in India the pain is raw and open – you see the ugliness of the injustices straight away, whereas here in Thailand it's hidden behind the calm exterior.
But what we've been told and what we've come to see ourselves is that it's not necessarily a happy calm. Thailand is known as the "Land of a Thousand Smiles" because everyone appears to be happy and content, but in reality that's only an outward façade for the pain and discontentment that goes on. Because of the large presence of Buddhism there is a lot of worry about karma, which dictates the actions of many individuals.
India was the complete opposite. People were completely open about their opinions and weren't afraid to get angry at all. We learned that it wasn't bad to be firm with what we wanted and not to let ourselves get ripped off because we wanted to be polite/unoffensive – because that's not how India is.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that Thailand is a completely fake place and that it's full of pain. Not at all. It's just been very interesting to me to stop and observe the differences in culture between here and India, where people tend to be very open about their feelings no matter if they're angry, happy or sad.
Many of our conversations have revolved around this one point whenever people ask us how we like Thailand and what we notice about the different cultures so I'm really just regurgitating the points that we've discussed over and over again for the last 3 weeks. I'm sure though, that it'll be something that sticks with me as we continue to travel and I'm looking forward to being able to discover more as we go!