Hawaii and Thailand: Same-Same or Different?

Saturday morn… I woke up late, 7:30 and was thinking about what to write today. I checked my email and had one from a guy in Hawaii named "Scott".  He was asking about Hawaii and whether Thailand was similar…  Hmm… what a great idea for a post!

I lived in Hawaii for 6 years…  4 years the first stop and two years the next. The first time I went was straight out of high school. I had a few choices…  I was accepted to the Engineering program at Penn State University. I also could have gone to a small soccer college because I had offers of scholarships (partial) for there, and most of my friends were going there. We'd played soccer together since 7 years old, eventually winning the State of Pennsylvania high school championship for our division.  I loved to play, and that would have won over going to engineering at PSU any day.

I didn't study in high school though I understood most subjects enough. I remember explaining to my girlfriend at 17 years old how to do some physics problems and she was amazed that I knew what I was talking about since I never paid attention or cared about studying. She was the top of the class.  I KNEW college wasn't for me.  I'd have wasted a lot of money to go directly after high school.

Instead of stick around Pennsylvania I decided to venture out. How? Air Force.  I joined in May of my senior year when I turned 18. I flew to San Antonio, Texas on November 27, 1984.

After basic training they told me I was going to Hawaii. Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, Hawaii.

I said, HUH?

I had chosen all east coast USA bases for my assignment, and though I'd heard that airmen rarely get first choice, I expected at least 10th choice.  Nope.  I had no idea what to expect. Hawaii was a place that the Brady kids went. Taboo idols and shite. Hawaii Five-0 and McGarrett.  Hmm.

I knew next to nothing about Hawaii as I landed in my jeans and t-shirt, heavy hiking shoes (I had come from Pennsylvania on a short break before going to Hawaii).  When I stepped off the plane. WOW. It was hot. It was March something and pretty warm and steamy. I stepped off the plane in a total daze having spent something like 12 hours in the air.

Met by a guy named Bob that was to be my supervisor at my job.

Bob was a nut and his wife was banging every other guy on the base it seemed.  It was a rumor until my roommate did too.

The air force was quite an experience, but another post maybe. Maybe it's best left unsaid. I'll think about it.

So, I spent 4 years on Oahu.  3 of them while in the Air Force. 1 as a civilian trying to find work and farting around… running and bodyboarding everyday.

Hawaii… well, Oahu, Hawaii… is so unlike anything I've known.  It's the most beautiful, awe-inspiring place that I've ever been. From the time I arrived I felt like I was dreaming, and that I didn't deserve to be there. I ALWAYS felt like that. Like an intruder. Like a guy from Pennsylvania that didn't really belong there, and it all seemed magical.  The nicest waves I'd seen before that point were at Ocean City, New Jersey.

These waves were clean. They rolled in. They were full of such immense power…  I fell in love with the waves. I became a bodyboarding fanatic.  For the first 4 years I rode the 2-8 foot surf in Waikiki, Makapu'u, Bellows AFS, Dillingham, and a couple other places.  Once I was stupid and paddled out into 8 foot surf at Sunset beach on the north shore (next to PIPELINE) and got caught in a big set… I saw the set coming and caught the first one – hoping to get the hell out of the way of the next 7 waves, and I rode down that 15 foot wave faster than I ever thought possible. I thought the plastic skin on the bottom would separate from the styrofoam…  I held on for dear life… an yet it wasn't enough… I wiped at the end of the wave and was pummeled by a couple million gallons of Hawaii's finest saltwater for the next 8 minutes. I spent 7 of those minutes underwater. Holding my breath for a minute – getting violently thrashed to hell, and then trying with every ounce of energy to get back up through 15 feet of water to breathe some oxygen, only to have time for one breath and duck dive down again – DEEP so I could avoid the other BIGGER waves that were already on top of me.

I damn near died there, and there was one other time at Magic Island I could tell you about, but that's enough surf stories for now.

The waves, the cliffs, the sky, the rocks, the people, the sun, the atmosphere, EVERYTHING was/is so beyond words for me that I don't know how to describe the whole aura of the place. It was magic. It was magic when I returned recently and spent two more years – on Oahu and Maui.  

Maui is Oahu minus the city.  Very, very nice. I liked Maui better than Oahu in some ways, and yet to rate all the islands on a continuum of great – to – greater – to greatest is impossible because each island had things that were perfect.  Overall I'd say that the islands were the most incredible experience I've had in my lifetime. Everyday waking up and thinking, I don't belong here – it's a vacation. You don't really live here because you KNOW it's not forever… as much as you want it to be, it cannot be… so just go enjoy your day and DO SOMETHING!

From the time I arrived I NEVER watched television again. For WHAT?  I wanted to be outside, DOING stuff. Since that time I haven't watched another football, basketball, baseball, soccer, or hockey game on television. If I SEE someone playing sports – I realize I have time to PLAY the sport and so I go out and do it instead.


So, getting around to the topic of the post…

Hawaii and Thailand are similar, yes.  Thailand is better than Hawaii in some ways. In others, no.

The entire culture is different. The culture, for me, is even better than Hawaii overall. The Hawaiian and other local people are incredibly kind and welcoming and giving.  So are the Thai people. In a different way, but how to explain?

In the USA there is a need to work to make a lot of money to survive and thrive at a level that is just beyond what you're doing. You're never really satisfied because your focus is on the next level.  In Hawaii, or anywhere in the USA.

In Thailand I don't feel that focus. I'm making less than 1/10th what I made in America and yet I am very, very happy.  If I'm able to maintain this standard of living for the rest of my life here – I couldn't ask for more than that.

The Thais' are not focused on advancement. Their business ideas suck and their implementation of business ideas is so weak and inefficient that I don't understand how the country survives. I think the Chinese that have infiltrated have really RUN the country behind the scenes. The Chinese are business oriented. Thai culture doesn't prepare it's citizens for business of ANY nature. That is, unless we're speaking of the girls, katoeys, and gays in the sex-tourism areas… they are expert at what they do. EXPERTS.

So, the feeling of relaxation comes easier here. For me, it's ALWAYS here. I don't wake up or go to sleep stressed about anything that is going on with life here. If I stress it's because of something in the states that is bothering me.

The "Aloha" attitude is similar to the "Mai pen rai" attitude. Similar but not same. But, in Miami we didn't have either, and it's obvious.

Thais' are Buddhist for the most part and they are remarkably calm, peaceful, smiling folk who mind their own business and let you do as you wish. They forgive (or overlook) a lot, and eventually they reach a boiling point (over embarassment only) like everyone else in the world.

In Hawaii the Aloha spirit is conveyed by some, but not all. It's not the rule, it's the exception. But, if you display your aloha spirit first – you'll get it in return. Local people are not stressed by much either… even with the 6 million tourists per year. Still, the anxiety I felt in Hawaii sometimes – was never felt here.

Geographical features are similar between Thailand and Hawaii. In Hawaii I've climbed ridges that were nearly 4000 feet high. Great hikes that took 5-6 hours. Awesome fun.  We have them in Thailand too, though I've not done them. I've not been to the mountainous areas of the country yet, that's next perhaps.

The beaches in Hawaii are hands-down better. Cleaner and nicer waves.  However, Patong beach in the summer, or Surin beach, or beaches in Railay or Ko Samui, Ko Tao, Ko Pha-ngan can compete in some fashion.  There are really some incredible places in Thailand, some of my favorite views are the ones where I'm standing on a beach and looking out into the ocean. I can see rock formations in front of me – sticking out of the water, and then 15 islands out further, some of them with 300 meter vertical height and weirdly shaped.

In Maui I was able to see Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe at the same time while looking out from a beach in Lahaina, and that was cool too, but Thailand has got Hawaii beat for these types of seascapes.

Thailand has a very large number of waterfalls that are easily accessible. Just on Ko Samui there are 6 easy-to-reach waterfalls that are beautiful and safe to reach. There are drops of 80 meters just on Samui.

There are more caves in this country than ANYONE can count. That must be a fact. I've visited maybe 5 around this area, but there are 15 within reach. All over the country there are caves and waterfalls that are really fun day trips.

Hawaii has some, but not nearly as many are accessible.  Is "Haiku falls" on Oahu still closed? Isn't that the one that the tourists died in the rock pileup many years back and they closed it? I think that was the name… I'd been there once but tried to go again and it was closed down.


What else to compare?  Temperature and general climate.  Thailand in the north east is HOT AS HELL during the summer months about March through June.  I mean hot like the sun is burning through to your bones. That's what it feels like. Thais' wear winter jackets just to block the sun during this time because it will turn them blacker than truck tires if they're not careful. To have white skin in Thailand is to be like a god…

In the northeast during July through November it's hot sometimes, but not intolerable. During December to Feb, VERY cool and nice… perfect temperatures. Sometimes cold enough to breath smoke, but only 5 times during winter and only during nighttime really.

In the south, where I am now – Surat Thani it is also quite hot during March through June, but not nearly as intolerable as the northeast is.  The rest of the year here in Surat is JUST LIKE Hawaii. Cool at night and warm enough during the day. Temps in the south rarely get over 37C during the year – except summer and then a handful of days (14?)…

In Bangkok it's hot year round. It's the hottest city in the entire WORLD.  This is with the nighttime temperatures taken into account as well as daytime. All the concrete holds the heat I guess. It's too hot for me during the summers.

In the south there is more of a breeze blowing like in Hawaii. That's when the weather is just right, because even if it's steaming hot a breeze can make you think that it's bearable.

In the northeast of Thailand – NO BREEZE most days in the summer and everyone is dying in the heat (well, us foreigners anyway). The Thais' STILL DON'T SWEAT!

Cost of living – well, we all know about that. I'm living on less than 10,000 usd per year and living royally compared to other Thai people.

Availability of things you "need".  You can find EVERYTHING here except simple conveniences like tartar control toothpaste with baking soda – which eludes me so far – BKK must have it – but I don't go there much. Last 2 trips – couldn't find it.

Condoms – bring your own from states.

Uhm, hmm, what else.  You can find every piece of electronics you want, and then some. We have a great selection of cameras, mobile phones, pdas, stereos, mp3 players, whatever – and usually more than you'd find in the states.

DVD's, VCD's to watch movies on computer or television – we have a video place called Tsutaya video which has many titles in English – look for blue or green tabs sticking out of them for english voice soundtrack.

Foods – if you live in a big touristy city like Bangkok, Chiang mai, Pattaya, Patong you can find most foods you're craving. If you live most anywhere else, you can't.

Pizza company now makes a pizza that's edible. Though you can decide for yourself.

Retiree cities like Ubon, Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima), Pattaya, Patong, Udonthani, Chiang Mai are all good bets for having enough farang food to keep you happy. Ubon is weak,but they have a number of places that make hamburgers, spaghetti, and there's one decent Pizza/Italian place called Risotto's that is VERY good.

I think that's all I'm coming up with right now to compare the two.

If I had to choose, I'd choose where I am right now… Thailand.

BUT, Hawaii still gives me a better feeling… it's like an awareness of the power of the natural things… the ocean, the land, the sky… and the feeling that being there is a dream…  it's the most incredible feeling I've had about a place…

Author: Vern

I'm an American expat living in Thailand. I like to write informative pieces about life in, living in Thailand, including topics like: Thai People, Thai Culture, Nightlife, Technology, and I have published a lot of photographs, videos, and even books on Thailand that you can find at ThailandeBooks.com. There are many photographs of Thailand here - feel free to share with attribution (a link back to the home page). All written content on this site by Vern Lovic. Contact me at Google+.