Thailand is often referred to as the Land of Smiles; that’s a true statement, however it obscures another quality of this awesome land: its nature.
A long time ago I was showing my Everest pictures to a Thai friend. Those from the way up were sunny and dry, those taken during the way down were snowy and pure. She was looking with a delightful tropical wonder at the last ones. "Would you like to visit there?" I asked. She shivered with genuine revulsion: "Nooooo, coooold!" was the succinct vocal reaction. After all, most Thais despise air conditioners, so they seldom can experience anything below 15 degrees Celsius. Below 20, they begin using warmer clothes; though probably that’s just for the fun of the experience.
That event was a revelation for me. Suddenly, the easy going attitude of Thais got a new twist. In desert, temperate and cold parts of the planet, people are worried about the weather. Are the clothes picked for the day warm enough? Do I need an umbrella? Should I take water? What types of shoes fit today’s activities? Endless issues that hide a simple reality: nature is hostile to humans in most of the planet.
Back in Thailand, all that seems imaginary. The monsoon season rains are highly predictable; one has plenty of time to seek for protection before the wet event. Shade is always available at the hottest moments of the day. Awesome greenery makes the wait for relief agreeable. Then, cloudy skies are not rare and they create a feast of light for photographers. Few places on earth provide similar conditions.
In my hometown, several areas experience a rush hour at 3 AM, but that’s due to an artificial concentration of restaurants and pubs in them. All through the cold and wet months heat must be provided; otherwise people won’t venture out. In Thailand, it doesn’t take long to realize many denizens live at night, experiencing a world where weak neon lights replace the sun and blurred pastel colors unsuccessfully mimic nature. At first, it looks odd, but then you realize there is no need to avoid the dark hours there. There is no cold; it seldom rains so much that it is unpleasant to be out. A sweet night breeze reminds you then how hot it was during the day. It was only natural such a night culture would develop.
This non-industrial timetable caused also another freeing effect. In western, industrialized countries, people eat according to office and factory timetables; the food industry accommodated itself to that. In contrast, in a country where people wander around at all times a different reality appeared. Food is available at all times in a rich and tasty variety. Long stretches of the country’s highways resemble open food markets at all hours. Thai cities seem to be a large and busy kitchen. Somehow they need to dispose of all the food produced by one of the most fertile lands on the planet; eating it is an appropriate way of achieving this worthy goal.
Then, writing these words in a cold, altitude coffee shop – cold despite being noon – it becomes clear why Thailand became the Land of Smiles. They had no choice, so blessed they are.