Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thailand vs. Korea

Living in Korea has been a revelation to me, an experience I would not take back for anything.  I grew up as a nomad, but settled quite happily in semi-rural Georgia for decades before venturing forth again.  Not to minimize the Korean experience itself, obviously, but one of the great things about working here is the proximity to some of the great travel destinations--I've been to China twice, New Zealand and now Thailand. 

It is an inevitable tendency to compare one place to another, so here we go again.
  • Temperature: When I left Seoul, the temperature was +1, when I returned it was -1 C; Koh Samui ranged between 25 and 30 C.  Of course, that's why I went.  Thailand is tropical, of course, while Korea has a temperate climate, consisting of, in case you hadn't heard, four distinct seasons. 
  • Timeliness: KTX and Seoul subways/buses/etc are invariably exactly on time; nothing at all in Thailand seems to run on time.  Thai Rail trains all left late and usually arrived even later--we got to Chumphon 1 hour later; the train north to Bangkok picked us up at Surat Thani THREE HOURS late and arrived in Bangkok 1 hr 45 min late.  The Lomprayah "high speed" catamaran may have been fast but it got me to Koh Samui one hour after the advertised time.
  • Prices: While I did pay about USD 5 for a Diet Coke at Suvarnabhumi Airport, this one definitely goes to Thailand, since the usual price is about 20 Bt or 65 cents; a full meal of two or three courses may run 200 Bt and even my ritzy hotel in the primo district of Bangkok charged less than half what the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon does.
  • Transportation: as mentioned above, you cannot count on timeliness in Thailand, but it's quite cheap: approximately 20 km to the airport was 350 Bt ncluding the highway tolls, or $11.50--one-third the Seoul-Incheon fare.  Public transport in Thailand, however, is primitive: Bangkok has only one subway line compared to Seoul's fifteen, and most buses are twenty-year-old shells; still, there are efforts underway to upgrade the fleet, and I noticed a number of buses (also taxis) running on CNG just like in Seoul.  This was cool, though:

  • Food/Restaurants: I love spicy food, so both cuisines suit me fine, though they are quite different, with a variety of curries making up the Thai flavor continuum, and gochujang-doenjang-samjang as the primary heat ingredients in Korea.  However, Korean restaurants seem to provide superior service, mainly because of the service bell and/or the "server call" of yogiyo
  • Street vendors: ubiquitous in both cultures, the difference that I noticed is that pojangmacha are rather stable and sedentary (while technically mobile) and Thai vendors are almost always hooked up to a motorbike and scoot along to a new location if business gets slow.  (Alas, I did not get a good shot of this booth/bike configuration!)
  • Cultural Assests: There is no direct way to compare, but given the huge number of Buddhas in Wat Pho, much less the other three dozen wat in Bangkok, the exceeding elaborateness of the palaces, etc, I think this one goes to Thailand.  Mind you, Seoul has lately taken a more proactive course in its treatment of cultural objects, but the Thais fought wars with Burma for centuries over the Emerald Buddha, and are getting quite obstreperous with Cambodia at the moment concerning access to Angkor Wat.
  • Tourism: While Seoul keeps trying to sell itself as a tourist destination, Thailand is already well-proved.  Thais don't stare at foreigners.  Plus, except for the monsoon, Thailand is balmy and pleasant year-round, and has oodles of tropical islands.  Korea has Jeju-do.
  • Rationality: Some folks may be surprised to learn that Koreans are all over this one.  Drivers here, though nutso by Western standards, do pay attention and attempt safe driving practices.  In Thailand, they all have little shrines on the dashboard and leave the piddling details of driving to the spirits.  Everywhere you go, you find shrines at least as important as solid business practices:


Max said...

Four seasons my ass. Korea has Summer, Winter, and like a 5 day transition period in between both.

Tuttle said...

I'll grant you it certainly came off that way last year, which we can conveniently blame on global warming. However, Spring of 2009 was a glorious affair.

Anyway, I couldn't resist using one of the K-bloggers' favorite memes, could I?

Tanner Brown said...

"Obstreperous"? Like a doctor who delivers babies with throat infections?