Everything is Thailand is simply pretty. The environment, the food, the women, the lady boys, the clothing (traditional and modern), the architecture, the shopping, both market stalls and brand new malls - and the good-naturedness of the people are all so beautiful. It is easy to get around, fairly inexpensive, friendly and just feels good to be here.
So why SE Asia? Why is it so friendly to tourist? Why are the people so painfully polite and easy to integrate with? So many of our friends have been here to Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines or Malaysia and bragged on them, and from our perspective, it did not disappoint. What is it about the environment or developmental history that makes it so inviting to tourists - so much so that Bangkok was the #1 most visited tourist city in 2012.
Some basic research shows that Thailand was the only country in SE Asia to avoid European colonization in the 1800's and largely stayed out of all of the major World Wars - and even the messy Indochin skirmishes from the 1930's to 1970's. Since then, it has been a mostly a military-led, but steady government with a progessing Democracy wing and several military-to-civilian-to-military coups back-and-forth for power. But it looks like the average Thai's life has simply gone on in this beautiful and peaceful environment. And even the current unrest in Bangkok in 2014 seems like it could be on the moon for most Thai's.
The bottom line for us - this part of the world is pretty distant for most U.S. travelers, but it is worth the extra flight time in our opinion. If we were not on this trip, we probably wouldn't have ventured this far with the kids at the age that they are, but we are sure glad that we did. It is an amazing place.
Consider the gushing reviews of Thailand 'paid forward'. I hope many of you can also make it here someday.
P.S. Something I found interesting (and healthy) was that in the ubiquitous "glossy tourist shopping magazine" in our hotel room in Chaing Mai, there were political editorials discussing both sides of the new elections, political-party affiliation and their affect on friendships, and even an editorial openly challenging perceived governemnt censorship. Wow, was that refreshing.
What I liked about Chiang Mai was all of it's markets. In the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, we went to get fish spa. What you did was stick your feet in a fish tank, and all these tiny fish nibbled on your feet and ate the dead skin of your feet. It tickled SO MUCH!!!!!!!!! At a different market I have awesome tasting waffles. Not as good as my grandma's waffles though. I also got a super cute stuffed animal bunny. Plus a squishy dude thing.
When I bring my friends to Thailand, I will make them do the fish spa, just because its fun. They eat the dead skin of your feet, and in the process, tickling them, a lot. Just like Grandpa always said "The fish won't bite your toes off, they just nibble and tickle your toes." They had so many cool things at the Bazaar, like fancy hair clips, cute purses and shirts, and a ton of other thing I liked. Plus, the ice cream is good here and no one begs you to buy something from them. Not a lot of homeless people and very nice helpful people! I totally would come back here!