Embarking on a new adventure in an unfamiliar place can be stressful, but you also have to remember that it will only be as stressful as you make it. Truth be told, communicating with Thais was a little bit difficult- navigating, asking for prices, you name it! I didn't know that majority of Thais didn't know English, so how did I survive the trip?
You certainly don't need to learn Thai before coming to Thailand, but if you do, then that's an added bonus for you! But seriously, listening to them speak the language, it was already hard for me to hear- and I did study a bit of Chinese Mandarin! People communicate through a variety of things and what really worked for me was building genuine connections with people by believing the good in them. I know it sounds a bit naive and too trusting to some, but I don't know, it might just be me but this is something I've learned through years of study in leadership and have been applying even in my native country- to put a 10 in every person's forehead, that's straight from John Maxwell's books.
People reflect what others initially view them as and I've found that majority of the people I was able to "connect" with responded in kind. Not everyone of them was really able to provide the answers, but they did try! There were even several occasions when the locals would just hand me their phone to google what I was asking them, and they would translate it in Thai. There were also several incidences where they would literally get out of their schedules and walk us to which stations or areas we needed to go and took their time asking the locals for us. I have a tip for you though that we somehow always forget to do, tell the hotel reception to write the landmarks in Thai for you and just show those piece of paper to locals, this will save you a lot of time and effort!
My companion on the other hand was fervid in using maps and guideposts to navigate, if this works for an adventurous soul like you, then I suggest you do it just for the thrill of it! As for me, I do want to navigate with the map too, but I still prefer just talking to people. Truth be told, I have been used to asking around because I tend to overlook signs.
So what were the major occasions when we really needed to communicate with the locals and how do you make it easier for you?
Asking for directions. Because we wanted to get a feel of how Thailand is and lessen the expenses, we mostly rode buses going from one attraction to the other. Thailand has an organized bus transportation system wherein they were using numbers as guide to the buses' direction. It will be helpful for you to ask your hotel reception to write the bus numbers for you along with the attraction that you want to go to(in Thai).
Haggling for price. There were several occasions where we really asked for a bargain- discounts on tour packages, the Chatuchak weekend market/flea market, or because we didn't bring enough money!
Asking for discounts for tour packages was really literally just out-of-the-box challenge that I felt I wanted to prove to myself that I knew how to negotiate a bargain(I watch The Apprentice and I'm a big fan of the challenges where Donald Trump would award the team with the biggest discounts on purchases). I just put on my confidence and a tad bit of charm with a smile on my face and blatantly asked if they could give us discounts, and they did! Confidence is really a big factor in communication.
For the flea markets, you literally have to play hard-ball. Trust me, there are lots of same items for sale everywhere and if you just keep looking, you will find it. What I did was that I asked for their selling price first, then ask if they can get it lower and how much it would be. Then if I genuinely felt that the seller was not fooling me, then i do buy it, but if I felt like they were fooling me, then I would keep looking and play hard-ball which seemed to work all the time. If they see you go off, some would even literally chase you just to tell you that they can get it even lower.
The highlight of bargaining for me would really be the trip to Phi Phi. We thought that we already knew how much we needed to bring and we actually did bring a bit of extra money if we get hungry. The thing is, we weren't informed about the 400 baht/pax worth of taxes for going into the water, and I already bought snorkels for this occasion! And yes, google also didn't say anything about the taxes. To make matters worse, for you to be allowed to bring your camera with you, it was mandatory to buy their waterproof pouch which cost 280 baht. Obviously we were short on money, so what did I do? i approached one of the crew members and appealed to him our case, trust me, I asked and asked, and eventually, he did give in and waived off majority of the fees for us(I will not mention the exact waiver because it might become an issue- people taking advantage and all). Just remember the lesson, to put a 10 in every person's forehead, I wasn't harsh or brash about it, I was speaking to him with respect and understanding while appealing to him why we didn't bring as much money. If we did have the money though, we certainly would've paid, but this was something we weren't prepared for. We even got a bonus! While all the passengers were asked to board the ferry, we were given an extra 15 minutes of snorkeling just because he became fond of us, to the envy of many!
So if you're hesitant about a trip just because of possible language barriers, try to put a 10 in every person's forehead and have an adventure through map navigation- both will surely deepen your understanding about yourself on how you tackle unfamiliar situations and broaden your perspective with human nature and how much impact emotional connection can do. But of course, still be extra careful! Take care traveling!
You can also check out my personal blog about Lifestyle and Leadership here- https://stevecang.wordpress.com/.
Published by Steve Cang