The strange-looking script of Thailand's language makes me feel as if I'm somewhere completely alien. You can get used to seeing the hieroglyphics of Chinese quickly enough, and even if you can't understand Malay or Indonesian, at least you can read it. Thai, on the other hand, will probably always remain a mystery to me; it looks like a combination of Spirographed Russian and melted Meccano.
Luckily there are quite a few western transcriptions of the language around, such as on street signs, so idiots like me can actually read what's written even if we still don't understand it, but the pronunciation of these transcriptions is really confusing. Phuket, for example, is pronounced 'Poo-ket'; yes, I thought it was pronounced 'Fuck-it' as well when I first saw the name, but an 'h' after a consonant in Thai just means breathe out, rather than radically changing the consonant as it does in English. The pronunciation rules for speaking Thai are complex because it's a tonal language – the pitch at which you say something alters its meaning – but most travellers just learn the numbers, hello, thank you and please, and manage quite happily with sign language. With only a month in the country, that was my plan too, though I started making an in-road from day one by trying to learn my 1-2-3 and basic formalities. I rather enjoyed the challenge.
To an Englishman with an Englishman's refined sense of toilet humour, there appears to be a pre-occupation with ablutions in the Thai language. As mentioned above, the most popular beach resort in Thailand is pronounced 'Poo-ket'. Then there's the national dish, fried rice, which in Thai is khao phat, pronounced 'cow pat'. And check out the word for 'yes': it's khrap. On top of that, as a politeness you should end every sentence in conversation with khrap, at least until the conversation has progressed, when you can drop it. There's a joke in there somewhere about talking shit, but I'm not going to make it...
I feel just as confused when it comes to Thai cuisine, especially after reading the section in my phrase book on all the goodies available. Try saying phat phak bung fai daeng (morning glory vine in fried garlic and bean sauce) or plaa dak phat phet (catfish fried in fresh chilli paste and basil), especially when the menu's in Thai script and your pronunciation is liable to bring you lightly grilled cockroach testicles braised in a sauce of lizard's eyeballs. It's all part of the fun, though, and if you like food that's hot enough to burn a hole in the back of your throat, you're unlikely to end up with anything inedible; and if it isn't hot enough for your tastes, every table has a container of chopped chillies that are dangerous enough to be a health hazard.
I always pile loads on.