It’s easy to slip back into your comfort zone, even when travelling. We’ve all done it – we stay in a central area so that we can easily get to the sights and we get comfortable with the area because we know where to find what we need without getting lost.
But I do think there’s a benefit to staying in a non-tourist area, even for just a few days, in any country you visit. I did this while in Thailand and broadened by Thai experience.
Since I already did the touristy things in Bangkok, it didn’t really matter where I was located and I wanted to start exploring different neighbourhoods.
I stayed at the Charlie House (fantastic hotel, about $40 CDN/night and impossible to find so use their airport pick up service for about $18 CDN) in the Pin Klao area, which is decidedly not touristy given how often I was stared at, small children running up to me and touching my paper-white skin, and the clear lack of any English speakers or even English letters on signs. In fact, most people’s inclination was to speak to me in Thai (I suspect they thought I was an expat). This made for some interesting adventures and a different outlook on Bangkok.
Cheap. Cheap. Cheap.
First, things were so much cheaper in this area, like food, lodging and taxis. On the taxi note, they automatically use the meter, without question, rather than quoting you an inflated price that you have to bargain down in the more tourist-oriented areas of Bangkok (for example, a one hour cab ride cost me $3….near Khao San Road, $3 would get me about 2 km).
The hotel I stayed it was comfortable with large rooms, an outdoor pool, lounging areas, and other amenities. For $40 CDN this was a great price and similar quality rooms were more expensive in the tourist-dense areas.
There’s variety of food no matter where you are in Thailand. I will say that there were less restaurants in the area but far more street food available, which is my preferred method of finding nourishment. It’s cheap, tastes better than the same food in restaurants, and you can hit all the food groups for a well-balanced meal.
People were already setting up their tents and stirring large pots of delicious smelling food at 5:00 a.m. for the morning commuter rush. This put an entirely different perspective as the food being served was portable (for commuters) and more traditional (it’s what locals like to eat for breakfast and dinner).
Non-tourist areas give you a more authentic view to local life. In Pin Klao, I noticed different modes of transportation that I didn’t see in other areas (aside from the traditional taxi, personal vehicle, motorbike, and tuk tuk) like vans and mini pick-up trucks that you flagged down from the side of the road, payed your 30B (about $1 CDN) and shared a ride with 6 other people.
The types of stores and their offerings are different. The types of food available are more comfort, homestyle cooking. People are more curious about you and want to get to know you.
Best of all, it increases your resourcefulness when travelling. In this area of Bangkok, English was hard to come by so I was in better position to force myself to learn a few key Thai phrases. I carried pen and paper with me everywhere to draw pictures to help me communicate. I even made ridiculous gestures and sounds to try to get someone to understand me. (You can read about why I imitated a train in public here).
At the end of the day, we travel to see and experience something different and taking a small break from the tourist track lets you do both of these things at the same time.