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Before I arrived in Thailand, a lot of people told me about their positive experiences in the country. I heard about the breathtaking beaches, the friendly locals, and the stunning temples. I found all of their stories to be completely true. Thailand has fully lived up to my high expectations! However, there are a lot of other things that happen as a foreigner in Thailand that none of these people mentioned.

You will often be stared at, and may even have your picture taken.

On our first day in Hua Hin, the other interns and I got into our first songtaew (local bus) to head to the mall. One of the other girls mentioned that someone was taking our picture. Since then, I’ve grown used to being an object of interest, and have come to enjoy when a stranger says “Hello!” to me in their best English. I have had my picture taken on beaches and in front of the Embassy to the Philippines in Bangkok, for no other reason than that my friends and I are farangs (foreigners). My personal favorite was when one of my co-workers here at XploreAsia informed me that I was the Facebook cover photo for a local salon. If you have ever wondered what it is like to be famous, you can get a small taste of it by simply moving to Thailand.

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My claim to fame: the photo from the salon's Facebook page

People will be kind, unbelievably kind.

I had heard that the people of Thailand were friendly and generally lovely. However, this did not prepare me for the amount of generosity and kindness I have experienced here in Thailand. There is a woman at a café in town who not only makes delicious juices and Thai green curry, but has offered to let the other interns and I practice Thai with her. When my friend had to go to the hospital with an injured foot, the taxi driver took us all the way to our front door. A tuk tuk driver who drove us back from the mall helped us load our groceries into our apartment. Strangers in Bangkok have offered directions to me when I looked lost on the street, a kindness that in my experience is rarely seen in large cities. One of the most meaningful moments of kindness for me took place at a staff dinner for XploreAsia. Mae, the office mother and all-around V.I.P., made sure that, as a vegetarian, I had enough to eat, passing down dish after dish of delicious vegetables and rice. In that moment, I felt so cared for. That is a feeling you rarely get from strangers in America, and one I truly appreciate experiencing so often in Thailand.

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My roommate, Angelique, and I with a new Thai friend. He liked us more than his facial expression suggests!

You can treat yourself without spending a fortune.

Before coming to Thailand, I was aware of the low cost of living here. I knew that food was easily a fifth of the cost it is at home in the U.S., and that other products were similarly affordable. What I did not realize, however, was how affordable spa treatments are here. At home, I never got massages because I found the cost prohibitive. Here, I can get an hour-long Thai massage for less than the cost of a movie back home. Pedicures can be even cheaper, costing about as much as a nice cup of coffee. After a hike or a long day at work, there is nothing better than popping into one of the many fantastic spas in Thailand to get pampered for an hour or two.

You will eat a lot of foods that you have never seen before. You will love them.

Most people in the West have some concept of Thai food. Back home I loved pad Thai, pineapple fried rice, and deep fried tofu. I was pleased to learn all of these dishes are widely available in Thailand, and even more delicious than those at my local Thai restaurant. I had no idea of the full range of delicious foods available here. I’ve eaten all kinds of fruit that I have never seen in the U.S., and each one was more delicious than the last. I often go to restaurants or food stands and simply say mang saw wee rat, the Thai phrase for vegetarian. I will then eat whatever the vendor gives me, and I have yet to be disappointed. My favorite is tom yum soup, which is always made to perfection at a small café on Soi 51. Generally these meals only cost between 30 and 60 baht, which is one or two U.S. dollars.

There are street dogs and cats everywhere.

Walking around Hua Hin, you are bound to see a few stray dogs and cats. Most of them will leave you alone, and some of them are even friendly. My street is home to a very sweet cat that my roommate and I have named McGonagall. Unfortunately, many of these animals have tough lives. It can be heartbreaking to see dogs with injured legs and stubbed tails. Luckily, there is a way to help these dogs. XploreAsia has a wonderful partner organization called Rescue Paws, which works to help care for, feed, and sterilize these street dogs and cats. With XploreAsia, I have been fortunate enough to spend some time at Rescue Paws, and the work they are doing is truly amazing. If you are interested in donating or volunteering at Rescue Paws, you can visit their website here.

You will change and grow in ways you didn’t expect.

If you stay open, you will experience many new and wonderful things in Thailand. You will learn about a beautiful and fascinating culture. It’s not always easy. Some days I struggle with the language, or figuring out how to get around. All of these struggles have helped me grow as a person. I have gained greater empathy for non-English speakers back home, and confidence that I can always find my way back eventually. Traveling to Thailand offers not only adventure, but the opportunity to truly widen your worldview and grow.

Rescue Paws, volunteer, foreigner, Hua Hin, adventure

Holding one of the adorable residents of Rescue Paws!

Mary Leonard is an intern at XploreAsia.  You can follow her adventures in Thailand on her blog, Wide Eyes and Wanderlust

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