Thailand: The Land of Smiles

By Donna Van Buren – AmeriSpan Staff
Having spent 2 years living in Thailand, I feel cliché in referring to Thailand with the sometimes overused marketing phrase ‘The Land of Smiles;' but truth be told, there is no better way to describe Thailand and its people.
So you may not speak the same language, (at least not yet!) but Thai people will tell you the answer to any question or help you find your way if lost. They will smile and laugh ‘farang' meaning ‘foreigner,' as you walk by. Don't worry, they mean no disrespect and you did nothing to disrespect them. Your taxi driver will smile wide after going the wrong way and say ‘no problem.'
Another time to smile in Thailand is when there's food around. It's true; Thailand has some of the best dishes in the world. The blending of spices; revolving around combinations of sweet, sour, hot, and very hot, is what makes their food spectacular. Simple ingredients magically transform into flavorful and exotic bites. My favorite part was the freshness of Thai food. Dishes are always made for you right on the spot, with fresh vegetables probably picked earlier that morning. When in Thailand, I recommend you try the ‘som tom' or spicy papaya salad mixed with tomatoes, peanuts, shrimp, and of course tons of Thai chilies. This northeastern dish is perfect when eaten with a handful of sticky rice. “Aroy mak!!” Say this to your Thai cook and you are sure to get a smile.
Big smiles are also received with mention of Thailand's king and national hero, HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or Rama IX. Thai people adore him and the evidence can be seen everywhere. Posters and banners line the streets. Taxis are adorned with photos of the Royal Family. The Royal Anthem is played twice daily on the radio, before all public events, and at the movies. Since celebrating his 60th year on the throne in 2006 and his 80th birthday in 2007, their love for him has become even more evident. Every Monday, the day of his birth, Thai people wear yellow to show love, honor, and respect to their King. At my job, we wore yellow on Mondays and Fridays. We really loved the King.
The biggest smiles in Thailand can be found during April's ‘Songkran' Festival, the Thai New Year celebration. It's a holiday to celebrate the passing of the old and the coming of the new. Celebrations can be described as nothing short of chaotic, spirited, religious, and mostly wet. Beyond the religious importance, Songkran is about water fights. Ask any Thai person and they will tell that Chiang Mai is the place to be to play Songkran. There, with the perfectly placed city moat, water is readily available. Adults and kids alike join forces to soak the town. Using water guns, buckets, coolers, trashcans, and anything that will hold water; everyone tosses water on passersby to help them ‘wash away their bad luck.'
Thailand and its people know the true meaning of the smile. They share theirs with everyone and on every occasion.

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