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May 19, 2012

Thai Time

Thailand is 7/8 hours ahead of the UK (GMT+7).

But that is not what I mean when I refer to ‘Thai time’.

Thailand is very unique in terms of its approach to life, yet paradoxically is everything I would expect from a developing country. In Thailand vocabulary common to references of time include ‘it will be ok’, ‘I will do it tomorrow’, ‘we will do it’, ‘yes ok (with no reference to time at all)’.

Thai people largely demonstrate a ‘no worries’ approach, in turn creating a peaceful and calm, yet often unproductive and slow paced lifestyle. They call this approach ‘mai pen rai’ and anybody who has spent a substantial amount of time in Thailand (I mean real Thailand-not staying in the tourist resorts and at all night parties all the time) will be familiar with this.

Mai pen rai basically translates into a version of ‘no worries’ or ‘don’t worry about it’ and can create both a chilled, relaxed atmosphere, and a significantly frustrating experience. Thai’s will adopt this approach at seemingly inappropriate times too, which can be extremely frustrating for people not used to this way of life. For example, if you were to have a car crash a Thai may say to you ‘mai pen rai’. You may think that there is something to worry about and get very annoyed by this. However, they may mean something like  ‘no worries, my brother fixes cars, he will fix the problem’.

Thailand, as with much of Asia in my experience, does not necessarily run ‘on time’. Their approach is very much ‘if the bus arrives at the destination, what difference does it make if it’s half an hour late?’.  And in a way, I can see their point. When I was backpacking, unless I had a flight to catch, it really wouldn’t make much difference. However, us Westerners are reliant on time in our everyday lives (what time does the bus come? What time is that business meeting? How long is my break? etc), and often continue to express this on our travels or whilst on holiday.

Whilst travelling in Laos shortly after leaving Thailand (Laos has the same time zone as Thailand), I was putting on my backpack one day after being called out to the street by the waiting bus driver and several fellow travellers waiting onboard, when I caught the strap on my watch and a gentle tug saw the winding stem fly across the room, never to be found again. After a few panicked moments of searching, I gave up and got on the bus.

I would forever be stuck on Thai time.

This was ironic to me, having spent so much time in Thailand, and dealing with the ‘mai pen rai’ approach. But as a strong believer of ‘everything happens for a reason’, I knew there would be a purpose for my loss of the ability to revert my watch back to Western time.

So as soon as I reached Singapore and changed time zones it was goodbye watch, and a warm welcome to the world where time barely matters, and do you know what? I really liked it! After a while I stopped looking at my wrist every few seconds and the habit of a lifetime began to fade.

The life that so many of us lead is determined by the minute hand on our watch, and although sometimes necessary, it was wonderful to experience a life where time barely mattered. In much of the world, life does not revolve around time, and to be able to experience this was a wonderful and eye opening opportunity. To anyone who is planning a trip to a country where knowing the constant time is not a necessity, I recommend you give it a go, and leave the watch at home! Just try it!

Transport home…45 minutes after arranged

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