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The Land of Smiles
March 20, 2011  |  by jess m  |  Koh Lipe, Places we love, Thailand

We have never been so enchanted with a country and with its people as we are with Thailand. Since our first visit in 2006 we’ve been dreaming of returning. It’s why we decided to begin this journey in Thailand. And it’s why, after just two short weeks in Malaysia, we’ve found ourselves spontaneously back here again.

We had planned on going from Langkawi across to the east coast of Malaysia to the Perhentian Islands, which we hear are lovely. But honestly, Malaysia was beginning to wear on us a bit. It feels very rigid. There is a constant level of decorum, both in attitude and in wardrobe, to be maintained. And the prevalent leering was becoming frankly annoying. Langkawi is right on the Thai border, and as it turns out a short ferry away from Koh Lipe, a tiny island that we had heard wonderful things about during our time on Koh Jum. We wanted more Thailand. We decided to come back.

Thailand is mellow. It begs you to kick back, relax, and stay a while. On the beaches, straw mats, low tables, and triangular shaped bolster pillows are brought out onto the white sand. The shape of the pillows and the height of the tables make it almost impossible to sit up straight. You have to go straight into lounge mode, settling in with friends, unstressed and unhurried.

This chilled out atmosphere is a large part of what makes beach life here so alluring, and it seems to permeate life off the beach too. By day groups of men and women congregate under shady trees, watching the kids play, cooking food over propane burners, talking and laughing. Always ready to greet you with a hello and a smile. Thailand markets itself as the “Land of Smiles,” and it really is much more than an empty advertising tagline. The people seem genuinely happy.

We know we are romanticizing, that everything is not all butterflies and puppies (though, to be honest, there are quite a lot of puppies and dogs bopping about, and the butterflies are lovely). There are real problems here. Tourism is creating rampant development that is far out pacing infrastructure and having massive environmental and cultural impact. Many of the people here are very, very, poor. And the political unrest of the last year seems to have been more swept under the rug than actually solved. But in spite of all of this, the people have a warmth, serenity, and sense of humor about them that pervades everything they do. And it’s contagious. We’ve been joking that we’re probably going to spend six months of this year in Thailand (the most we are allowed), and in reality we may well do so. It’s less surprising that we returned so quickly as it is that we ever managed to leave in the first place.

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  1. Good move–Malaysia sounded “icky”…

    • HA! I wouldn’t say Malaysia was “icky,” so much as awkward. Or, at least that we’re awkward in it. But, I’m glad we went and we’ll likely go back… if we can pry ourselves away from Thailand. :)

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