A Northeast Indian Guide to Thailand: At Home in a Foreign Land

Jim Wungramyao Kasom *

A Northeast Indian Guide to Thailand: At Home in a Foreign Land
A Northeast Indian Guide to Thailand: At Home in a Foreign Land

On my travels, my nationality has been a recurring subject of discussion even in my own country but never more so than in Thailand. As soon as we landed at Bangkok airport, a lady at the money exchange counter spoke to me in Thai even though I was with a bunch of people from Delhi.

In 2017, Thailand recorded 1.41 million Indian tourists, making it one of the top 10 countries to visit Thailand. Indians are in huge numbers in Thailand, but I could easily slip under the radar unnoticed. Our tour guide Pat took a second look at me and said I looked more like a Thai or a Philippino than an Indian. I told her I'm from the North East part of India and that there are small portion of Mongoloid race in India.

My friend jumped in and said, "India is a land of diversity." Pat nodded, but it's not always easy to explain the land of diversity when I blended better with the crowd in Bangkok airport than I did in Delhi. I was in a sea of similar looking faces. I didn't stand out like I always did in Delhi's metros or public places. I felt at home.

In 2018, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) launched a new campaign 'Open to the New Shades of Thailand.' As the name suggests, TAT is looking to introduce tourists to unique local experiences and inclusive tourism, reflecting "Thainess" instead of just selling the existing and popular destinations like Bangkok and Pattaya. This, in fact, opens whole new avenues for tourists looking for a little more than the typical touristy experience.

Food Connection:

Thailand is called the 'Land of Smiles' because of the hospitable and welcoming spirit of the Thai people. I felt the welcome extending on to the food they serve. One of my favourite things to do on my travels is to visit local food markets because it offers a glimpse of the people and their culture.

I believe a lot of the famed Thai culinary is build on the generous, yet subtle use of aromatic herbs and vegetables. People from Northeast India use herbs and fresh spices in our cooking and we eat rice in every meal. We love fermented and aromatic food that tickles our taste bud and confuse our brain. Thais crave the same. I didn't have to try hard to blend in. It was an easy transition.

Most Indians are unadventurous when it comes to food. Even on a short trip to Thailand, most Indians hunt for Indian restaurants. That reason coupled with the huge Indian presence is responsible for the mushrooming of many Indian restaurants in Thailand; in fact everywhere in the world.

On the contrary, People from Northeast India are not too particular about what we eat. Our fermented bamboo shoot and soybeans have caused quite a stir in Delhi and many cities: have been at the centre of many neighbours' quarrels, but in Thailand smelly beans are considered a delicacy, just like in Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram. Non-veg options are as diverse as it gets. Food is one good reason for Northeast Indians to travel to Thailand. We feel right at home.

A friend of mine who is well travelled told me that a good Thai curry contains about 40 ingredients and herbs. I don't know how true that is, but they do use a lot of them. Getting the right balance of flavour and aroma while using so many ingredients is what makes Thai food so complex and unique.

A Northeast Indian Guide to Thailand: At Home in a Foreign Land
A Northeast Indian Guide to Thailand: At Home in a Foreign Land

The logic of vacationing in Thailand:

A Flight from Kolkata to Bangkok is a little over two and half hour: Kolkata to Goa is over three hours by flight. After doing the math, it is so obvious that Bangkok is much closer to Kolkota than many cities in India; especially the best beach destinations in the country. Northeast have the hills and valleys. We don't have the beaches. Speaking from experience, we do love the beaches, because it's exotic to us. Next time when you plan one such trip, check for a flight ticket to Bangkok. Sometimes they are much cheaper than domestic flights.

All Bangkok-goods shops are trendy and successfully run in different Northeast states. But that is as far as our attachment lies. It's just recently that the younger generation have begun to travel for the sake of travel. Thailand is slowly beginning to creep into our consciousness as a plausible holiday destination. The foreign-tag was enough to frighten us off up till now. We are beginning to shed that mental block.

Travel for the beaches:

Thailand has some of the best beaches in South East Asia. And some of the beaches in Thailand can put the best Indian beaches to shame. Rayong and Pattaya have beautiful beaches they are just 2-3 hour drive from Bangkok.

Rayong is one of the quieter towns and less known to foreign tourists. Local tourists flock the beaches on weekends but on weekdays it is pretty forlorn. We stayed one day at Rayong Marriott Resort and Spa, one of the best properties in Rayong. It is designed in contemporary style with comfort in mind; complete with beautiful private beach and sea facing swimming pools.

It was surprising to learn that in 2017 alone there were around 25 Indian weddings in the property. They cater to a lot of events both domestic and international. The property encourages group activities and there are lots of options for both adults and kids.

Avani Resort and Spa at Pattaya hosted us for two nights. The property is an oasis of green in the midst of concrete jungle. It is located in the middle of the city, a stone throw from the beach and attached to a shopping mall. It is a world in itself and offers the quiet and peace along with all the comforts.

At the Underwater World, Pattaya, the 100m long walk-through tunnel allow tourists to experience the deep sea adventure without really having to get in the water. It features both marine and fresh water fishes.

A Northeast Indian Guide to Thailand: At Home in a Foreign Land
A Northeast Indian Guide to Thailand: At Home in a Foreign Land

The old Thailand rediscovered:

Thailand offers a lot more than just the beaches and the glitz. The whole itinerary of TAT Mega FAM Trip 2018 was to balance the popular tourists' destinations with the traditional and to discover family friendly spaces and destinations. Some places we visited never popped up on google search but they surprised us the most.

Chanthaburi Old Town was a sweet surprise. Walking down the street was like travelling back in time. This small riverside community is frozen in time: there's so much history hidden among the ruins and charms of its streets and antique cottages. Most of the shops on the one-lane riverfront community are manned by elderly folks. Modernisation has been slow, or rather; it has blended well with the old world. One can see beautiful cafes sitting side by side with traditional shops. There's no competition. Each has their own space. The riverfront town has been a popular trading centre for centuries. The Sino-Portuguese inspired architecture and the settlement of Chinese ancestors bear testimony to that. It is also know for delicious street food.

One highlight of the whole trip for me was visiting the KruKung Museum in Rayong. This is a little known museum with no fanfare or noise, very little trace on internet too. But I was won over. Named after the man who owns and curated, the museum is a result of one man's dream and inspiration.

Mr. Kung a Chinese descendant settled in Rayong started collecting small items when he was just 16 years of age. Now 63, she sits in his office at the entrance of the museum, a proud owner of this incredible museum. This is more than museum. Everything is placed perfectly. It is like a piece of artwork.

It was not surprising to learn that Mr. Kung was once an art teacher. His artistry and commitment shone through in the items he has collected and the way they were displayed. The oldest items in the museum are pottery work, dating back 350 years to the Ayutthaya era.

A Northeast Indian Guide to Thailand: At Home in a Foreign Land
A Northeast Indian Guide to Thailand: At Home in a Foreign Land

Water parks and art shows:

Pattaya is home to some of the most interesting water parks. Ramayana is Thailand's biggest water park while Cartoon Network Amazone is one of the 'Top 10 Water Park in Asia.' Art in Paradise, Bangkok is the first 3D imaging museum in Thailand. This is one of those museums made for photo lovers. Visitors can take photos of themselves with the 3D paintings, which gives the illusion of reality.

Kaan Show in Pattaya is one of its kinds. The entrance fee (3000 Thai Baht) can be on the higher side but it is worth every penny. The show blend live action and cinema, stage performance and world class technology. The show took us to a world inspired by Thai Literature. It exceeded my expectations and I was kept on my toes the whole performance. There is no room for mistake. Everything has to be exact and I can only imagine the thousand rehearsals they must have made.

How affordable is Thailand:

A trip to Thailand can be planned on an impulse. Visas are available on arrivals for 2200 Thai Baht. The rates for budget hotels in tourists' places like Nainital in India and Bangkok are not that different. When it comes to food, Thailand has the best value for money street food.

Countryside and takeaways:

Travel is never complete without some long countryside rides. It is only then we began to feel the soul of the land. At Chanthaburi province known for fruit products we drove past many roadside shops that sell local dried fruits and pickle bottles stacked up beautifully. Scenes like this reminded me of the Guwahati-Shillong Highway, where bamboo shoot pickles are sold extensively.

The vast expanse of plain from Bangkok to Rayong has small towns and houses dotted in between but the country seemed most relaxed and laid back. People are unintrusive and go about their business quietly. They don't impose anything, from food to culture. They don't make you feel like foreigners. If you learn to say sawati khrap (Hello in Thai) and khop khun khrap (Thank you in Thai) politely, folding your palms with a slight bend, you will be well received. It doesn't take much to feel at home in the 'Land of Smiles.'

I'm very excited for the Asian Highway 1 (AH1), the longest route in the Asian Highway Network at 20,557km, as it nears completion. It begins in Tokyo, Japan and covers around 13 countries before joining European route E80. In Northeast India the route will enter from Myanmar through Moreh, Manipur and will run through parts of Nagaland, Assam and Meghalaya. This highway will open a whole new window for bikers and adventurous travellers.

When I packed my bags and was ready to leave, I felt a sense of nostalgia waking in my heart. I had landed in a place I have no attachment, yet now after five days I felt I so much at ease, away in a foreign land.

See a complete photo gallery of this trip here

(Riverman Travels was part of The India Mega FAM trip to Thailand 2018 on the invitation of Tourism Authority of Thailand)

* Jim Wungramyao Kasom wrote this article for
The writer is a Photographer and writer and also the founder of Riverman Travels, a travel community who can be contacted at jim_kasom(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was posted on 24 April , 2018 .

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