Thai live life to the full

Smack in the middle of Bangkok stands Lumpini Park, the equivalent of Jozi's Joubert Park.

Smack in the middle of Bangkok stands Lumpini Park, the equivalent of Jozi's Joubert Park.

But sadly, that's as far as simi- larities between the two go. While the latter is the haunt of drug addicts and other unfortunate souls, the former, with its well-manicured lawns, is a haven for fitness fanatics.

The Thai, in their hundreds, descend on Lumpini Park every morning, as early as 5am, for a work-out. The throngs come by bus, scooter, taxi and some of the infirm are even pushed in their wheelchairs.

They work up a sweat at awkward hours, when many of their peers in South Africa, that early in the day, are still flying their brooms back home from some nefarious nocturnal errand.

Thanks to what the brochures selling "Amazing Thailand" describe as "the most pleasurable tropical climates in the world", a jog around the 2,5km park gene- rates buckets of sweat and is just as gratifying.

Men and women - and their parents who seem to be in their early 100s - start their day thus, keeping their bodies toned and in fine shape.

Everywhere around the park the lush lawns are occupied by groups of people, some moving yoga-style to the beat of Bruce Lee karate-flick type soundtracks.

Some would be engaged in other forms of exercise and gyrations, like hanging upside down on a tree!

Gym is such a way of life here that there's even a building in the park housing the Bangkok Senior Citizens Center.

There are gym facilities on the premises that for Baht 30 - about R6 - one can use for whatever length of time a workout takes.

So who'd want Virgin?

This healthy lifestyle is helped a great deal by the sort of food the Thai are renowned for - good food.

Say the brochures: "Thailand is labeled 'paradise' not only for its breathtaking beauty and inspiring culture, but also for its culinary brilliance.

"From adrenaline-rush Bangkok to serene seaside towns in the south and tranquil villages located along the Mekong River, Thai cuisine is as rich and diverse as its culture.

"Uniquely crafted to appeal to all tastes, Thai food combines the best of flavours, textures, colours and presentations.

"Adding this to the country's liberal supply of ancient cooking secrets and Thai hospitality and you find a culinary treasure trove that offers an enriching and memorable dining experience."

You could be forgiven for thinking this is fare available only to restaurant guests. But, even the pavement cooks in their mobile motorcycle kitchens sell all sorts of greens you can pick up on your way home to cook up a storm.

There's no pap en vleis as found at the ranks here at home, with the sort of meat that drips fat from being dunked in a pool of oil, rather than being cooked.

Ordinary eateries, like the open-air one we visited in Rayong, the equivalent of our own Buy and Braais, sell food largely made of vegetables and seafood.

The brochures again: "Dining is, above all else, the most important social event in Thai life."

One habit worth noting is that the people here wash down their food with water, even though Pepsi and other fizzy drinks sell for a song.

It comes as no surprise that the Thai enjoy such a healthy life expectancy - 67-73 for males and females to South Africa's youthful 50-52.

Maybe you have noted that the griots in the karate movies are not African because these die early: in the lyrics of Tu Pac Shakur "Am 23 but will never live to be 24!"

Dessert is, more often than not, fruit.

One of the tourist attractions in Thailand is, wait for it, an orchard.

A visit to Supra Land is a feast of mouth-watering fruit, some of which is only indigenous to Thailand.

The women in our party did two things in Thailand - shop and go for a massage.

Massage parlours are found everywhere in this Buddhist country of 52 islands and 76 provinces which, we are told, has been at the forefront of spa therapy for a long time.

Meditation is another recommended form of relaxing the body.

As we flew out of the First World Suvarnabhumi Airport, said to be able to service 76 flights an hour, one felt the urge to cry out Khopkhun - thank you, for the [healthy] experience.

South Africans travelling to Thailand do not need a visa.

The writer was a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).