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The Lonely Longhorn Travel Guide: Thailand

Thailand is a favorite Asian destination for many westerners and is appropriately nicknamed "The Land of Smiles". The people there are amazingly happy and friendly as a rule. But it is also true that a smile – or at least an inscrutable variation thereof - is a culturally appropriate reaction to a wide range of emotions, including anger, embarrassment, and sadness.

The first time I flew into Thailand, my luggage did not arrive with me. As I explained my predicament to the two receptionists at the hotel front desk, I was dismayed to see them smile. The more agitated I became, the more they smiled and giggled. I had the distinct impression that had I arrived with a case of deep vein thrombosis or dysentery, they would have found the situation to be side-splittingly hilarious. Ever seen somebody from the Indian subcontinent contravene western norms by shaking his head vigorously from side when he agrees with you? The Thai smile can be disconcerting in the same way.

But watching the Aggies put up 38 points on Texas made me cry….

Thai women are renowned for their beauty and rightfully so. They are consistently slender, graceful, and demure. And I will further disclose that I never put much stock in the "OMG! You should SEE the HOTTIES at Mississippi STATE!" kinds of posts on college fan websites. Sure, you can eliminate some obvious schools like The Citadel. And colleges from Minnesotahorn’s former neighborhood (where in the winter time "putting on layers" only occasionally refers to clothing). But how do you definitively declare which of the large swath of remaining schools have the best looking women?
Of course, you could enlist someone mathematically inclined like Huckleberry to collect sample college female populations, run Monte Carlo analyses, and evaluate the skewness in the probability distributions. But at the end of the day, do we really want a copy of Huckleberry’s Guide to College Babes? Surely that one belongs on the same bookshelf as Alan Iverson’s Ascetic Approach to the NBA All-Star Weekend and John Rocker’s Dale Carnegie Applications in Major League Baseball. There just has to be better correlation between author and subject matter.

You should see my chi-square calculations on the Chi Omegas!

A global dimension is what may be missing in the discussion. Surely anthropologists poking around the Olduvai Gorge would agree with me that generalities on female comeliness around the world can be made – right? So, for the sake of argument and with much of the world left to explore, I would have to rate Thai women right up there with the women from Brazil, from the French Indochina countries, and from the underrated Caucasus region in the battle for the top spot. Sorry, but it may be that the women from Taiwan, the British Isles and the Philippines are mathematically eliminated faster than the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Great personalities, though.

Put at an asterisk next to Greece. At one point I was ready to declare Greek women to reign undisputed at #1 – with each of them deemed to be a direct descendant of Aphrodite herself. I will confess to spending an entire day walking around the Plaka with my head on a swivel. However, that was immediately after spending 5 straight months in Saudi Arabia, so some perspective is in order. Forget about being a "leg man" or a "breast man" in Saudi Arabia. Over time, you become a "bridge of the nose man" or "instep man" in that heavily shrouded country. Throw the red flag on the field for Greece, and let’s rewind the tape for further review.

But all this digresses from our topic of Thailand, so let’s move on.

The Thai language as spoken by the natives can be particularly grating to the ear. The sound may best be compared to a bunch of helium-breathing cats crammed into a small room where Mad Dog Madden is learning to ride a unicycle. Paradoxically, when Thai speakers switch to English, the tone immediately becomes gentle and soothing. Reminiscent of orchid petals casting about in the gentle breeze created by an attempted tackle by a Texas linebacker. The change in tone can be truly head snapping.

Phuket, a small gall bladder-shaped appendage on the southwest coast of Thailand, has become one of the premier places to vacation in the country. Of course, Phuket was brutally hammered by the disastrous tsunami of 2004. Today, it is weird to lie on a Phuket beach tens of miles long and imagine the great wall of water that roiled many feet overhead on that fatal day. Fortunately, to the casual observer at least, Phuket has largely recovered from the event – with only some newly-posted tsunami evacuation route signs here and there as reminders.

Phuket and the surrounding areas have great beaches, resorts, and activities just about everywhere you turn. You can watch an elephant tromp down to the water and loll in the surf using his trunk for snorkel, paddle a sea kayak around the bizarrely attractive limestone islands nearby (example: the locale for the James Bond movie "The Man with the Golden Gun"), or just soak up the year-round sun on the sand. And you can enjoy outstanding and inexpensive food and drink on nearly every street corner. Great stuff. Do beware of the portly, balding, heavily tattooed, Speedo-wearing Teutonic machine shop foremen snowbirding there for the winter, however. That particular visual can make your otherwise delicious meal lose much of its flavor.

Yes, it might look like Graham Harrell’s head if you put a Texas Tech helmet on it.

The capital city of Bangkok is a steamy, stifling, congested metropolis that yet inexplicably boasts tremendous appeal. For some reason, riding a noisy tuk-tuk in the swirling fumes of the roadways or taking a longtail boat across the sluggish brown waters of the Chao Phraya River is a great experience. Hard to justify. It just is. The Grand Palace is truly opulent and is not to be missed. Just dress conservatively (no shorts allowed on the grounds) and sit on your knees when viewing the Emerald Buddha (showing the soles of your feet is a sign of disrespect). Also, do not insult or joke about the king of Thailand. Bear Bryant devotees in Alabama have nothing on the Thais when they talk about their king. Of course if you do err, feel free to smile and chuckle at the authorities if they get after you for your faux pas. Turnabout is fair play.

Some tourists – and more than a few are actually couples or happily married ones like myself - are inclined to go gawk in the Patpong area of Bangkok, perhaps the most notorious neighborhood in Bangkok’s sex industry. The ambience there does make Amsterdam’s red light district look like Chuck E. Cheese’s in suburbia USA on Saturday afternoon. But don’t expect to see beautiful Thai women exclusively. A percentage of the Patpong women are outliers in the strict Thai feminine beauty quality control process. They simply ply their trade there as refuters of Newtonian physics and violators of Gray’s Anatomy. Decidedly unerotic. Approach the scene as you would a browse through the Ripley’s Believe It or Not exhibition and you will be appropriately prepared.

In conclusion, do visit Thailand if you get the chance. You are in for a relaxing and wonderful trip to a land of great beauty in many forms. When that first young lady gives you a smile and a ‘wai’ (traditional Thai greeting with the head bowed and hands in front in a praying position), you will feel like a venerated demigod. I posit that whoever said a Thai was like kissing your sister could not have been more wrong.

Next stop for the Lonely Longhorn (if my wife does not break my typing fingers…see, honey, in the paragraph just above where it reads "happily married"?): Hmm. Some place French. Cambodia, Vietnam…..or, hey, maybe France.