The other day I went to a tourist information booth and asked, ‘Tell me about some of the people who were here last year. – Steven Wright

Until recently, I’ve pretty much lived in tourist towns.

Chiang Mai, Thailand, Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Cuenca, Ecuador are huge tourist meccas. Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, and Ecuador sees over 1 million foreign tourists each year. I doubt Chiang Rai sees those kinds of numbers, but it’s definitely an expat town and a well-travelled one as it’s a launching off point to other sights in Northern Thailand, and close to the Burmese border.

Rayong, Thailand was to be my first non-tourist town and I was slightly apprehensive as to what that would entail. And even though it’s only been six months, I can’t wait any longer to share my observations!

// All you need is food

produce of RayongI didn’t realize how lucky we were until we left Siem Reap for Chiang Rai. SR has an amazing international food scene. More impressive is how small and less developed SR is in comparison. In Thailand you can’t own a business or land unless you have a Thai partner, so while this ‘protects’ Thailand from foreign ‘takeovers’, it keeps things like cuisine less diverse.

Another thing to consider is Thai food is amazing. So when your food is internationally well-known, maybe you don’t branch out as much? Thais are infamous for being picky about foreign foods. Bangkok residents are probably the most likely to try different foods, but sometimes I feel like Western restaurants are mainly for tourists and expats.

As a result, this is one of the areas where Rayong fails to shine. However, it’s known for its fruit with droves of Thais visiting for fruit (durian) season. And because it’s near the beach, it’s also known for its quick (relative to Bangkok) beach getaways and seafood. But since I’m not a fan of stinky food (durian or seafood), this makes no difference to me.

Thankfully, I cook, live near markets, and I like Japanese food which is found in great abundance in local malls here.

Move to a new country and you quickly see that visiting a place as a tourist, and actually moving there for good, are two very different things. – Tahir Shah, Travels With Myself

// Leaving on a jet plane

The unbridled joy of travel. [Don Mueang Airport, 2015]
I’m trying to remember the last time I lived somewhere that didn’t have an airport. In fact, a city without one usually was a deal breaker for me. Even my tiny college town of Durango, Colorado had an airport with its two gates which amused me after growing up a half an hour away from an international airport.

Rayong’s airport is shared with Pattaya (known as a sleazy beach town) and is only an hour away. Bangkok is about three to four hours away. This is, again, new to me. Rayong is more out of the way so that the tourists we do see are passing through on their way to the beaches and islands further east. So far, this hasn’t been an inconvenience or a problem.  I’m not some great traveler. I think it was one of those mental blocks more than anything where I felt nervous if I didn’t have a quick escape route from the clutches of humanity’s stupidity or an unforeseeable emergency.

A traveler enters the world into which he travels, but a tourist brings his own world with him and never sees the one he’s in. – Thomas H. Cook, The Crime of Julian Wells

// Planes, trains, and automobiles

Blue songtaew Chiang Rai
Bri and JP with our bikes, cozy in a songtaew. [Chiang Rai, 2014]
The biggest adjustment for us non-driving folks has been getting around Rayong. There’s no Grab or Uber. Taxis are horribly unreliable. I’ve figured out how to take a songtaew to one of the malls, but not how to get back. And I’ve walked (in this heat!) to another mall and have seen how to take a songtaew back home from there. (Songtaews are ‘two benches’ in the back of a covered truck, cheap public transports, but they are limited like bus routes unless you hire a driver privately.)

And it’s not like a bus where I can look at a map and try to figure it out. It’s all about getting in the direction you want to go and seeing where it goes. It also can be very hot and uncomfortable; you are sucking down exhaust from other vehicles and having to sit close to strangers who may or may not have taken a shower that morning.

It can feel third-world, or like an adventure. (I should write a separate post on songtaew stories.)

I’ve figured out how to hire an expensive taxi for the day, but nothing yet for shorter excursions. Usually these drivers come from the next beach town over as that’s where most of the retirees and travelers go. I’m working on it, but yeah, I miss a tourist town for this one.

Travelling the road will tell you more about the road than the google will tell you about the road. – Amit Kalantri

// People are people so why should it be…

people of rayongSince the bulk of my Thailand experience has been from living in the North, I was curious what the folks were going to be like here. You hear a lot of ‘Northerners are friendlier than folks down South’ talk (kind of like the opposite of America) which started to feel like boogey man stories. Well, I’m here to say that it is simply not true.

The thing about Rayong is it’s an extension of the business side of Bangkok. Many people come here to work, so there’s a nice mix of Thais from all over the country. This is great for classroom conversations and for learning more about Thailand’s geography.

I also like seeing different faces, body sizes, and shapes. This might sound odd, but in the North, I felt like there were about 7 different types of Thai faces I’d see. Obviously I don’t want to say it’s inbreeding, but there wasn’t a great deal of variety, if that makes sense. You’d see someone that looked like someone else, and then you’d continue to do so.

Here, because we are closer to the Cambodian border, I see folks who look more Cambodian, and because Rayong has a variety of Thais, ‘types’ are not as common. I’m also beginning to understand why I’m stared at so often. I really don’t look like a typical Chinese-Thai. Although I’m quite confident that when/if I head over to China, I’ll see more of me.

Another surprise is the amount of people I see with tattoos over here. The North, I’m beginning to realize more and more, is conservative by comparison. I was careful not to show too much skin up there and I learned to cover my tattoo especially when I taught. But in Rayong, I see so many men and women (even mothers!) with tattoos. I’m still taken back when I see them. And if you want to wear short shorts, ladies, it’s perfectly okay. Now, I will say showing more skin has become more commonplace since when I’ve first moved to Thailand, but it really is a different story down here and I’m only talking about Central Thailand!

When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable – Clifton Fadiman

// Shop til you drop

fresh market in RayongChiang Rai might have a great taxi service, but they only have one shopping mall. It’s fine and it does the job especially in this day and age of Internet shopping. They also have two ‘walking street markets’, but after Rayong, CR and Siem Reap feel like small potatoes.

Rayong has two major malls and plenty of smaller ones, kind of like American’s strip malls, but not in the shape of a strip. Hahaha. In addition, we live downtown where they have a Monday morning and evening walking street/market, a Thursday morning second-hand market, and Friday evening second-hand market. AND, they regularly have a night bazaar and mini-themed events by our school. ANDDD Rayong has more than that, but this is just what I’ve been to.

// Judging by appearances

I felt like when I lived in well-trodden towns, locals started to become accustomed to Asian Americans and/or ‘Asians who speak good English’ expats and travelers. Over here though, not so much. Living here reminds me of those early expat days when folks stared at me in shock, assumed I was native Chinese or Japanese if their Thai went over my head, or if my Thai was too remedial.

Recently, a cashier at 7-11 got angry at me for our miscommunications. The BF remarked on that incident because it was a little shocking how condescending she was towards me, but I shrugged it off, I’m so used to it. Instead, the whole thing just reminded me of the expectations people have of me because of the way I look.

And no, I’m not asking for your pity. It’s just if a foreigner speaks Thai, they are congratulated and praised by their attempts. If I speak Thai, then I’m often looked at like a moron, or they plow on through like I’m a native. Not exactly the most encouraging of responses. Everyday folks are not language teachers, but I still make the time to study regularly.

In a tourist town, they are thrilled that you are trying and that you know some key phrases. Over here I can get hard looks, but some of the people I repeatedly interact with are starting to get used to me. (Just so you are aware of it, not all expats learn Thai (it’s hard!)).

So, here you are. Too foreign for home, too foreign for here. Never enough for both. – Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Questions for Ada

// Other things to consider //

On paper (or screen), it might seem like I don’t like Rayong, or that Rayong isn’t a good fit, but that’s not the case. I’m happy here. So this exercise is interesting because the things I love about a town don’t necessarily correspond to contented living. Let’s take a closer look why.

// Work, work, work, work, work

I like my job. At this point, I’ve worked at schools that had great facilities and others that barely cut the cake. Rayong isn’t the best, but it isn’t the worst, not by a long shot. It’s a small school, too, but that’s okay. I’m teaching adults more often and the manager is solid gold.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t had to make micro-adjustments because I’ve had. For a while there, I felt like that’s all I was doing, but that has to do with the fact that I’ve changed branches, cities, and that the school has made changes itself.  But I’m doing alright, folks.

// I’m on my way, home sweet home

Rayong buildingsChiang Rai and Siem Reap are small cities and were challenging to find good places to live. The first time we moved to CR we encountered the nightmare landlord and then after we moved the nightmare living situation in which there was constant construction in the building.

In Siem Reap, we lived in two apts in the same building, but there were multiple issues, including a landlord that liked to charge us more for electricity (the same thing happened in CR) which is a common practice and complaint among us expats. Eventually, we found a great landlord and a decent place – location, location, location.

In Rayong, I had a feeling we’d do better based on the sheer numbers of apartments available near work. I think there are folks living here during the work week and then heading to their home towns for the weekend, or maybe they travel to and from Bangkok frequently. Whatever the case is, I’m grateful for the choices.

So we got lucky or maybe our time to get lucky had finally arrived because we love our living space. We got side by side apts that are connected by a ‘foyer’ and front door because one or two bedroom apts are hard to come by. It really is the best of both worlds where we have our own privacy, but we can visit each other without going outside. We look out at the pool. I can look out at the sky. I have a pleasant view, and we have lots of plants on our balconies.

// Final thoughts //

Not all those who wander are lost. – J.R.R. Tolkien

Despite the past year and a half of a lot of moving and changes, I’m finally feeling more settled. An expats life (and let’s face it, life in general), hinges on key things being just right, so I don’t want to take things for granted. I’m not exactly holding my breath, but I’m not so naïve as to believe that things will remain the same.

But here’s a few more things worth mentioning:

  • Because Rayong is a business hub, the electricity and Internet has so far been more reliable.
  • When the North was going through a horrendous burning season and apocalyptic pollution, we were enjoying relatively clean air.
  • Immigration is not busy because we don’t have the droves of expats and tourists.
  • Something I experienced in college towns in the U.S. was the lack of higher wages because the assumption is you can get college kids at lower ones. I think this also applies to these tourist/popular cities in regards to expat supply and demand.
  • Living off-the-beaten track gives me the opportunity be a part of everyday Thai living.  There is nothing here that is catered to me, the foreigner, not really anyhow. This is quite different in tourist places and a strange realization.

Lastly, I’m looking forward to traveling around this part of Thailand. So far we’ve gone to Chantaburi (and I probably won’t write about it until I’ve gone again. I don’t like writing about a place unless I’ve had at least a couple of experiences, if I can help it.) and Koh Samed, the closest island. I’m also hoping to stick around!


What’s your experience with tourist and non-tourist cities?



22 replies on “From tourist to non-tourist towns (six months in Rayong)

  1. All the cities I’ve lived in in China are considered touristic: Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou. Well, most of the tourists are Chinese anyway, but there are a lot of foreign expats. So there are a lot of “expatsy” places like supermarkets with imported products, or Starbucks (I think there must be a million Starbucks in Suzhou because you are never far from one). Interestingly, most patrons are Chinese as after all the percentage of foreigners here is very small, maybe something like 1%? And that’s counting also the foreigners that don’t look foreign according to Chinese (i.e. Koreans, Japanese, etc). I usually don’t get much staring but yesterday we went to a popular local restaurant nearby and people were turning 180 degrees to stare at the baby. Oh well.

    PS. Next time someone wants to judge you based on your appearance, show them the picture of the multigrain top bread with cheesecake surprise inside xD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t see any problem with the bread. Thais put the strangest things inside bread, like pork floss, cheese, ketchup, tuna – and that’s just one combination 😉

      Your situation is quite unique because even though there are ‘Western’ amenities, the vast majority of people living in China are Chinese! Now, Hong Kong, I hear feels ‘Western’.


  2. What an interesting read, Lani, especially as you give such a balanced view of it. There will always be things that are easier / more difficult, or enjoyable / less enjoyable of the places we live, no matter where we go, but depending on what we consider more important in that particular phase in life, some places will definitely be a better fit than others. Although it is convenient to have access to the things we are used to, I think it is far more interesting to live where one gets a better feel for the country and its people.
    I can remember how difficult it was for me when I spent a year living and working in Ilan, Taiwan, where I was one of only a handful of Western expats. Perhaps also as it was my first introduction of an Asian country. Before then, I’ve only been to other African countries and Europe. So that in itself was an enormous culture shock. Yet, it gave me an incredible insight into the lives of the Taiwanese, especially as I had wonderful students who took me around and introduced me to different places and foods.
    Living in the UAE is a very different experience to living in Taiwan, as more than 80% of the population are expats. It is an easy place to live in, as English is the language of communication, and as an added bonus I get to try food products from countries I may never visit, let alone live in. Indian spices and foods for instance are in abundance. Heaven for me, and something I realize I will miss when we eventually make a move to Portugal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose another way to look at it is when I do go to a tourist town, I’m more likely and eager to eat food I can’t get back in Rayong. Like Mexican!!! or even a proper burger.

      But, like I said, there’s much more to this city then I’ve seen, so part of the adventure will be in the discovering.

      I didn’t know you taught in Taiwan! Yes, a different experience all together when you are in the minority. Humbling and all that. Culture shock is real!

      Thanks, Jolandi!


      1. Yip, also did a stint in South Korea, which I loved. From my life path it seems I am addicted to culture shock of some sort. 😉 It even hints at the reversed kind when I go back to South Africa.

        Have fun exploring your new town, Lani. I love how you have figured out online grocery shopping, and can get those heavy things delivered to your doorstep.


  3. As a perpetual “tourist” living in a relatively un-touristy city, I find this really interesting. Cape Town is definitely SA’s tourist city and Joburg has always been considered a city to avoid by tourists. But I love living here, uncovering all the hidden tourist spots, and then going to Cape Town for short visits. It’s way cheaper in Joburg and blissfully quiet during the school holidays 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that’s interesting when you put it that way. I have SA friends from Cape Town, Durban, and Benoni. I remember mentioning Joburg to the Cape Towners and they cringed. Me being utterly ignorant have your blog to go by and I always thought it was this amazing city. Haahahaha. But I suppose it all depends on your perspective, location, and experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ahhh, that explains some things. Reminds me of how folks from Eugene, Oregon would look down on the nearby town of Springfield, and similar examples in the US. I want to say there was a bit of Portland vs Seattle rivalry as well for a while.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. How interesting….your perception of 7 different face types in northern Thailand.

    I used to be able to guess if someone immigrated from southern China vs. northern CHina. But not anymore. People move around a lot and inter-marriages across regions in China, etc.

    The problem with being Asian-Canadian or Asia-American in big tourist North American cities with already large local Asian descent citizens, then non Asians who may not know any better start lumping all Asian faces, as intrusive to their neighbourhood, lifestyle and wanting less immigrants..

    Town of Banff in Banff National Park which is 150 km. north of us..used to have Japanese street signs 30 yrs. ago. They removed it probably realizing the potential big tourist market…from China, etc. Which now the park gets waaaay more Chinese-speaking only tourists…as well as many others worldwide. The park embarked an ambitious global marketing effort 2 years ago….and now they are dealing with some local issues bugging traffic congestion (which is super tame compared to Toronto!!), now expensive hotel rates.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That reminds me, I saw CANNED Canadian air being marketed to the Chinese. It’s supposed to be that hit of clean air, like an oxygen burst. Can you imagine?

      I remember as a child laughing over the idea of bottled water. Now who’s laughing?

      That’s interesting about the signs. In downtown Waikiki (you might remember), there are a lot of signs and menus in Japanese to cater to our large Japanese tourists. Perhaps there is more Chinese signage now…

      I understand how folks are feeling intruded upon in countries like Canada and America. I also understand the more welcoming aspect when it comes to immigration. It’s such a loaded topic and a complex problem the world is going to have to deal with.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OMIGOD… scam. Yup we do get alot of Chinese tourists in Vancouver, our national parks….For sure our mountain air and scenery would be heaven to them.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The sad part is China has a lot of beautiful places, but public lands, parks, natural treasures are considered being owned by ‘no one’ so they treat them like trash. But with the great public toilet revolution perhaps other ways of thinking/positive change are not close behind.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh the bit about transportation reminds me of N. Cyprus. Taxis were crazy expensive, so there were these van/buses, but everyone only spoke Turkish, so I just had to jump on and off when I felt like it was near where I wanted and give him more money than necessary and see how much change he’d give me. I also ended up walking a ton because the routes were very sparse. N. Cyprus has tourists too actually, mostly British, but they expected them to use the expensive taxis or pay for the expensive rental cars. Which was not a smart daily option if you lived there and received their pitiful salaries. (Although I did rent a car for a few of the months for the ease. It just wasn’t very smart in hindsight.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Visiting and living someplace new is not the same thing as your examples point out. What is expensive and not is also relative to the people involved. That’s probably one of the big lessons I’ve learned about living in a more developing country, and just growing older, you know, being sensitive to this. Hmmm, could be an interesting blog topic. Thanks for the inspiration!


  6. Glad that you r slowly feeling settled Lani in Rayong, Lani. Personally I don’t consider Melbourne as a tourist city. At least, I won’t recommend flying to Australia just to visit Melbourne. It’s a great city to live in (2nd in the world), but still not much is there for sight-seeing.
    What you said about local food celebrated internationally made Thai not too keen on expanding their palate made me think of Jakarta and Indonesia in general. We love our local food so much that we too are behind on embracing food from other culture.
    Back to Melbourne, another reason I don’t consider it as the tourist city is because most of the time I will have to take connection flights to Sydney to fly to somewhere else (or if it’s a direct flight — it’s considerably more expensive).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. I’m afraid I don’t know much about Australia, but somewhat recently I’ve become more interested in visiting. I think it was an article on driving around Australia that did it for me. I miss scenic road trips.

      I think most people around the world are rather picky when it comes to food. Even Americans with their RTW culture can shun away from trying new things. I’d be curious to see some statistics; I’m guessing, but I think I’m right! Hahahahha.


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