Is Thailand a third world country? I will let you decide. I live in Chiang Mai which is the second most important city in Thailand after Bangkok.
My home is:
- 5 minutes from one of the biggest universities of the country
- 5 minutes from an olympic size swimming pool
- 10 minutes from a gigantic super modern mall
- 10 minutes from a health food store
- 5 minutes from an organic produce market
- 15 minutes from a national park
- 10 minutes from 3 big computer and electronics centers
- 10 minutes from a modern international airport
- 10 minutes from several major hospitals
- 10 minutes from a western style supermarket
- 5 minutes from a zoo
Doesn’t sound very third world, does it? I am definitely not deprived of anything. People here drive late model cars, WIFI is everywhere, and I don’t know anyone who does not have a mobile phone (and that includes teenagers of all ages).
The charm is that amongst all these modern amenities you find beautifully decorated and ornate temples, bustling markets which have not changed much in decades, barefoot monks collecting alms in the morning, and an unhurried lifestyle that makes you instantly feel at ease. Everyone has time to talk to you, absent are the harried looking businessmen who are rushing about, clutching their briefcases while nervously looking at their watch. Instead people smile at you and nobody seems to be in a hurry.
If you leave the city you soon encounter small towns and villages which have retained much of the simplicity of rural life without having been bypassed by modern life. Residents plant colorful trees, bushes and flowers in their gardens and along the road, they leisurely go about their business and always find time to chat and eat with their friends. Busy, colorful and noisy outdoor markets attract your senses in ways that you will never experience in the sterile environment of modern supermarkets.
Religion is not separate from secular life, but Buddhism is not mandated or forced on anyone. Monks are seen everywhere and they are very much part of life in Thailand. Most major decisions and most festivities and ceremonies involve the presence and the advice of monks, but there is no pressure or obligation to visit the temples. Buddhism is more a lifestyle than a religion. The spiritual and the mundane interact daily and cannot be segregated as they are by law in many western countries.
Buddhism has given Thailand much of it’s greatest architecture, a lot of color and beauty, and much wisdom. It would never occur to any Buddhist to judge another religion or to attempt to convert anyone to Buddhism. Temple activities are open to Buddhists and non Buddhists alike - there is no concept of non-believers or segregation of religions. Buddhism is very tolerant and accomodating.
Thailand’s south is the beach scene whereas the north is characterized by scenic mountains, culture, and lots of great places to see. Travel in Thailand is very easy and the infrastructure is mostly very good. There are some rural and remote areas which will remind you of third world images. Overall it is fair to say that Thailand is not a third world country, but a developing, or second world nation.
Living in a vibrant city like Chiang Mai combines modern lifestyle and amenities with the ambience of ancient culture and a relaxed and pleasant way of life. Living in Thailand’s capital of Bangkok thrusts you into a more accelerated and westernized lifestyle which has lost some of its charm. Living in the rural or more remote areas of Thailand can be very peaceful and beautiful although the tradeoff is less access to modern amenities, shopping and facilities.
Particularly Chiang Mai is somewhat of a New Age hub with many massage schools, yoga centers, meditation retreats, Qigong training, energy healing, and many others. One aspect which makes life in Thailand very pleasant is that the Thais are mostly very friendly and helpful. It is very rare to see Thais get angry, and with some exceptions they are never pushy or aggressive in any way. Most people feel instantly at ease in Thailand, and tens of thousands of westerners have succumbed to the charm of this country and have settled here for good.
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