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Me and Thailand 5 Years Later: What’s Changed & What’s Stayed the Same

“It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.” – Benjamin Button

As many of you already know, I lived in Thailand from 2012-2013 while teaching English in Bangkok. I’ve basically been trying to find a way back here ever since I left and have finally made it happen by moving to Koh Tao.

Basically since stepping off the airplane, I’ve been comparing the way things are now to five years ago in my head. I mean five years is a long time! I know I’m not the same person I was at 22, and I think Thailand has changed a little bit too.

So here’s what’s “same same” and what’s different from five years ago to now:

Making friends to manage mental health while traveling
A Koh Tao viewpoint in May 2013
Love Koh Tao Viewpoint
Same spot, 2018. There’s a restaurant there now.

Same same…

1.   Prices

This sort of surprised me but I’m finding that for the most part, the prices of things have stayed the same. Even the relationship between the US dollar and Thai baht is about the same as it was in 2012 so I don’t have to learn new math equations to figure out how much things cost in USD.

One thing that has become more expensive? Beer in 7-Eleven. I guess the demand was just so high they knew they could raise the price 😉

2.   People remember me??

I was shocked: both the people who run Coco Garden in Koh Phangan AND the woman who runs Jizo’s Hostel in Koh Tao recognized me FROM FIVE YEARS AGO.

Considering they must have thousands of guests pass through – I can’t imagine how many in the past five years – I really couldn’t believe they remembered me. But they did. They said it first and I confirmed that yes I was here before and yes I used to live in Thailand, I was a teacher etc.

With my land ladies 5 years later in Bangkok
Visiting my land ladies where I used to live in Bangkok 5 years later. Let’s ignore my pasty legs and enormous bruise 😀

3. Checking the forecast is still a waste of time

Silly me I made the mistake of *trying* to rely on the weather forecast AGAIN. It’s simply a waste of time. Basically it just always calls for rain and that’s not what happens.

I said it then and I’ll say it now: looking at the sky is a better predictor than anything.

4. Everyone still thinks I’m 20

Last time I was here, people assumed I was somewhere around 20 years old. I was 22, so they weren’t THAT far off.

This time, people still think I’m around 20 years old – 24 is the highest guess I’ve gotten – and this time I’m 27 so they are a bit far off.

I’m not bothered by this – mostly I find it entertaining. I feel sooooo much older than 20 or 22 or even 24 so it tickles me to imagine what it would actually be like if I were still that young.

Seeing the sunset on Railay's beach in Thailand
5 years ago but probably could have been taken yesterday

…But different

1. Thailand is empty

I was worried about coming here at the highest of the high season because last time Molly and I ended up stranded with no place to stay on New Year’s Eve. We were poorly prepared and didn’t expect the madness of the Christmas/New Years season and every single accommodation we tried for on both Koh Tao and Koh Phangan were booked full.

WOW is this not the case AT ALL this time.

For the high season, there are like no tourists here. Khao San Road was definitely much quieter than I ever remember it being. Megan and Craig, who have been living here the past 6 (7?) years corroborated this observation. We hypothesized maybe it’s because Airbnb has tourists spread out around the city now instead of concentrated on Khao San?

But then I was talking with the woman who runs Jizo’s hostel here in Koh Tao and she said this entire year has been quiet in Thailand for tourism. So I’m wondering if it’s a state-of-the-world thing…Maybe people are feeling less optimistic, less likely to go on adventurous and exciting vacations…Or maybe people are traveling to other places for some reason instead of Thailand? I don’t know. What do you guys think?

2. Everyone put pasah angrit

I touched on this in my other post as well but the amount of English spoken here has exploded in the past five years.

I remember back then, everyone in Bangkok greeted me in Thai and I really needed the basics like numbers and names of foods to just function at all. Now? Literally, every single Thai person I spoke to Bangkok had basic English. The cashiers at 7-Eleven, the girl next to me at the bus stop, the lady running the small shop I got my shorts at in the Pinklao market, the guy taking money on the local bus, the cab driver…I spoke to them in Thai and they answered me in English. This has really blown my mind how different it is.

Sanwich sign in Koh Phangan

I’ve asked a few people why they think this has happened in the past five years and the consensus seems to be it has a lot to do with social media, and specifically Facebook.

3. I have a different relationship with money

This is a HUGE one for me. Last time I lived here, I was teaching English and earning a Thai salary. Now I work online as a ‘digital nomad’ and earn mainly in USD. I’m not making that much more money, but the difference is enough for me to be on a less strict budget.

Spending money on Vegetabowl in Koh Tao
Splurging on a healthy veg bowl

I used to freak out about something being marked up 20 baht from what I *knew* it should cost whereas now I’m like “that’s the cost of living on the islands versus the mainland” and am happy to support the local economy anyway.

4. I feel grounded

Oof, another big one. I feel like the last time I was here, I was in the midst of a mission to understand my meaning. I feel a lot closer to living my truth this time around and feeling grounded in my blog and my writing.

Beach selfie in Koh Phangan, Thailand. Comparing 5 years ago to now.
Top: 5 years ago
Bottom: Now
Maybe not as relaxed looking but I’m feeling more grounded in who I am and what I want.

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