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Volunteer in North or South Thailand 2: Culture & Language


This is the second post in a four part series comparing the volunteer experience in Nong Khai and Krabi, our two main bases in Thailand, written by Andy from the UK. He attended the Volunteer & Cross Cultural Training in Nong Khai and then stayed for around six weeks teaching at Hat Kam School. He then headed down south, where he has now spent twelve weeks so far, teaching at Ban Nong Kok School among others. Today he gives a comparison of the cross cultural experiences in each place.

Nong Khai

Volunteering in Nong Khai is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the local culture. Outside of the Openmind centre, you will not hear much English spoken unless you run into the occasional tourist or expat. Some of the locals do speak some English, but can sometimes be a little reluctant to do so - perhaps through shyness or fear of making mistakes. This presents some interesting challenges and I had plenty of opportunities to use the language skills that I picked up during the training days. If you smile and make the effort to work through any communication barriers, you quickly find that the local people in Nong Khai are extremely polite, patient and helpful. I had a few adventures getting completely lost on a tuk-tuk, but usually spent most of the journey laughing about it with the driver, before eventually making it to my destination.

If you want to expand your social circle in Nong Khai beyond the other volunteers and Openmind staff, the onus is on you to take the initiative and interact with the locals. When you do, it can be extremely rewarding as your new friends can unveil parts of the town and local culture that you would otherwise never have known existed. Should you find yourself desperate for some home comforts in Nong Khai, they are available but you have to make a bit of an effort to find them. For example, you can ride a tuk-tuk out to the Tesco Lotus mall or seek out one of the foreign-owned bars or restaurants in town.

Krabi

Following my experience in Nong Khai, I was a little taken aback when I arrived in Krabi Town. I found myself back in an environment where English is commonly spoken and there are plenty tourists everywhere. Krabi Town itself sees plenty of tourists travelling through, particularly at the weekends when the walking market is on, but it still retains some local culture and you can enjoy an interesting mix of tourism and local life. Ao Nang, a popular beach resort, is accessible from Krabi Town, approximately 30 mins on a songthaew (a cross between a tuk-tuk and a small bus). You can also catch a boat to many interesting islands, either from Ao Nang or directly from Krabi Town. These beach areas are now very much geared up to accommodate the tourist market and, although fun to visit in your free time, you will not experience a great deal of local culture there.

I've noticed a difference in the local people in Krabi, as they seem to be more assertive and confident speaking to foreign visitors and this is presumably due to their greater exposure to tourism. Most are not fully fluent in English but the language is much more widely understood and used, in comparison to Nong Khai. This obviously makes it easy to get by but can also be frustrating if you do want to challenge yourself and try to practise your Thai. Often, I have attempted to speak Thai in shops, but usually the assistant will insist on trying to be helpful and speak English back anyway! Therefore, it is very easy to lapse back into just using English all of the time. Due to the tourism industry in Krabi, there are no problems getting hold of familiar food and it is easy to mix with both Thai people and other travellers around the area.

Blog posted from Nong Khai, Thailand View larger map

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