Thailand, the short version

Bangkok (your point of arrival to Thailand, and in fact for almost anywhere in southeast Asia) is incredibly hot and humid, and choking on the exhaust of the millions of scooters, tuk-tuks, cars, and trucks in the clogged and barely moving streets. Bangkok's skytrain is a surreally futuristic, comfortable, and air-conditioned way to glide above the appalling traffic. Spirit houses abound: tiny temples/houses outside buildings to give a place of residence to spirits displaced by construction. Whenever you are thankful or being respectful, put your palms together namaste and bow to the person you are thanking. Thailand stands out in southeast Asia for its excellent roads and good buses. The country stands on the edge of the poverty of the Third World, with its cellphone clutched in one hand and digital camera/MP3 player in the other hand. This is the land of chains, especially 7-Eleven, but also Dunkin' Donuts, KFC, MK Restaurants, S&P, Black Canyon Coffee, Mr. Donut, Lotus/Tesco ("We sell for less," "Everyday low prices ..." sound familiar?), Starbucks, McDonalds ... If the menu says that something is "spicy," what they really mean is that your head will be ripped off your body and used as an incendiary grenade ... do not order these items lightly. 95% of the population is Buddhist (Theravada), and monks with shaved heads and orange robes are a common sight even in the biggest cities. As with the rest of southeast Asia, scooters abound on the roads. And scooter overload (ie. three or more people to a scooter or a person and a large physical object) is a common practise. Chiang Mai is a new age, english speaking backpacker haven, but likely to cause tourist fatigue. The country's fledgling democracy (military rule ended in the mid-90s) is on shaky ground as I write. I never visited any of the famous beaches. I was a giant there, towering over the entire population.