Coming from a culture that thrives on meeting deadlines, time management and arriving on time being synonymous with arriving late, adapting to the Thai lifestyle can be a shock to the system; a shock to everything you’ve known about routine and schedule; a shock to your way of life. But, it is a fabulous shock at that.
In Western civilization, we constantly seem to be on the go and in a hurry. We hurry up and wait. We speed through tasks just to check them off that never-ending to-do list. We constantly look forward to the weekend for a chance to breathe, only to find that it comes and goes entirely too quickly. Seriously, what kind of living is that?
I arrived in Thailand with plans to lightly explore Chiang Mai and the north, see the great temples in Bangkok, spend a few days scuba diving in Koh Tao and catch a flight back to North America two weeks later.
It only took a few days to realize I needed much more time in The Land of Smiles, so I cancelled my flight home. Just like that, Koh Tao, that perfect little island in the Gulf of Thailand, would become home for the next few months. This was the best decision I’ve ever made. I learned about and adapted to the Thai culture in a way that’s nearly impossible to do while just passing through.
I learned how to drive a motorbike, how to articulate authentic Thai cuisine from imitation and how to haggle for a cheaper ride, cheaper products, cheaper anything, really. I learned how to properly show respect in a temple, where to spot the best views and the roulette behind drinking Chang beer. I learned how to beat the system and execute a successful visa run. I learned the ropes of Muay Thai Boxing and became a Scuba Dive Master. Most importantly, I learned what it means to be living in Thai Time.
Thai time means never being in a hurry. Running fashionably late is arriving early in Thailand. Agreeing to meet for lunch at 5pm means arriving at the restaurant at 5:30pm and still having 20 minutes to relax at the table before your Thai friend shows up.
On Koh Tao, the morning dive boat would be scheduled to leave at 8am daily. That means, arrive to pack your dive bags around 7:45am and wait until the boat shows up at 8:30am to start loading it up and take off around 9am…on a good day. This is Thai time. It kind of means- ‘we will leave when we leave’ or ‘we will show up when it’s convenient.’
It’s enough to drive a lot of people crazy- especially foreigners who are used to a very different lifestyle. But, once you get used to it, it’s easy. It’s easy to take your time. It’s easy not to be in a rush. It means more time for appreciating the day and less time stressing.
You can try to speed things up; you can continue to be a stickler on time- but the reality of it is, you’ll just be hurrying up to wait. You can’t change Thai time- it’s been that way far too long. Whether you like it or not, it will suck you in if you stick around long enough. So, you learn to adapt. You learn to appreciate that some things can wait until tomorrow.
Thai time continues to impact my life a year after returning home. You see, I started this article three months ago and just now finished it. Look at that! And it makes no difference to you, because good things take time and late is still better than never, right?
About the Author: Alyssa Johnson
Alyssa is a writer and content marketing strategist from Kansas City. She’s passionate about travel, trying new cuisine and staying active. In her free time, you’ll most likely find her in a yoga studio, exploring with her dog or trying out new Pinterest recipes. Soon to be a Master Scuba Diving Instructor, her travels will be experienced from another perspective- under the sea. You can find out more about her writing and adventures on her blog Travel Through Words or on Instagram @alysssa_johnson.