NZME reporter Catherine Gaffaney spent six weeks interning at the Bangkok Post. She reports on her observations and beyond-the-tourist insights.
Thai people have a funny saying, " ... same same but different".
It's printed on T-shirts with "same same" on the front and "but different" on the back, and regularly remarked to amused tourists.
After being shown which ingredients to add to different curries on a cooking course, for example, the instructor grinned and said, "you see, same same but different".
My Bangkok Post colleagues thought "same same" either came from the fact words are repeated in Thai for emphasis or a misunderstanding of "same same" to mean "sure sure".
Google suggested similar explanations, adding "but different" was apparently added by tourists - and that the saying was an effective way to sell "Gucci" handbags.
In any case, "same same but different" is an apt summation of how I found living in Thailand versus living in New Zealand.
Bangkok hums and screeches all day and night. Getting around can be super easy or a bit chaotic.
For starters, Thais drive on the left but generally walk on the right.
The skytrain and subway systems are cheap and efficient, and there's pedestrian overbridges at most busy intersections.
Taxi drivers who understand where to go and will use their meters are also great, but scarce.
Part way through several journeys, the drivers said they didn't know where to go so let me out or stopped to ask people for directions.
Deserving of a special mention: the seemingly intoxicated driver who drove erratically while blasting Dolly Parton.
I also took tuk tuks, which are more expensive, and motorcycle taxis, which are cheaper but use-at-your-own-risk as most don't provide helmets.
The Bangkok Post office was similar to the NZME newsroom, albeit bigger, quieter and more relaxed.
I mostly interviewed foreigners, as although a lot of Thais know some English, not many are fluent. Even fewer are able to write in English.
I worked in the lifestyle section. In many ways, it felt like an education in high-end Asian life: a media event in a five star hotel with complimentary food and drink, an interview with a fashion blogger in a mall full of designer clothing, a media screening of a Thai action film at an elite cinema and so on.
As in New Zealand, I often had a coffee in the morning, except rather than getting a hot machine-brewed coffee, I'd get an iced cappuccino from the Thai ladyboy barista at the Post's canteen.
I had a lot of pad Thai, curries and fruit shakes as well as foods most foreigners probably wouldn't get a chance to try, such as edible leaves, flower-dyed canapes and traditional Thai hot pots.
Constant humidity, pollution, haggling with drivers and vendors, and taking the shortcut to my accommodation through Soi Cowboy, the redlight district featured in the Hangover Part II, were other elements of my typical day.
Almost all the reporters I worked with had done some study in a Western country.
According to one reporter, Thai parents who can afford it encourage their children to leave for education, but once they enter "the real world", there's pressure on them to be close to home.
Unlike New Zealand, group flatting is uncommon. Unmarried Thais generally live with their parents, siblings or on their own.
My best insight into traditional home life came from a weekend stay at my Thai friend's house.
She's lived in New Zealand since she was 10 but happened to be visiting her parents while I was there.
Her parents quit the Bangkok office grind a few years ago to open an organic health food shop in Chachoengsao, 50km east of Bangkok.
According to my friend, the only Westerners you see in Chachoengsao are the odd English teacher and men with Thai wives.
Their shop was at the front of their wooden house. They had pictures of the King and Queen, a shrine room, and slept on thin mattresses on the floor.
My friend explained it was very modern of her parents to send her to New Zealand at such a young age and allow her to stay for so long, but they're quite traditional in their way of life.
Like almost every other Thai person I met, they were very sweet, exceptionally friendly and went out of their way to do everything they possibly could for me.
This meant a huge amount of food, insisting they wash my clothes, refusing to allow me to pay for anything, and driving for miles to show me the best sights in the province.
The bigger issues
The King and Queen are near deities in Thailand.
The current king is 87 and has been ill for some time. He's ruled for almost 70 years so his eventual passing will mean an unknown world for Thai people.
A lot of Thais want his youngest daughter to succeed, but his playboy son is first in line. Thailand has very strict lese-majeste laws - Thais and foreigners can be jailed for up to 15 years for criticising the monarchy.
The present military-run government wears similar armour.
On August 17, the second day of my trip, a bomb was placed at the sacred Erawan Shrine, next to a train station in central Bangkok. It killed 20 people and injured 125.
I was called to arms by the Herald and Newstalk ZB to report on my experience and the atmosphere of the city - a big moment for a junior reporter and first-time solo traveller.
Whether the attack had political motivations is still up for debate.
How well the country's doing seems, as in New Zealand, to be an opinion divide - but with history, corruption and complexities we don't have.
One of my colleagues, a "red shirt" political supporter, considered the whole system mad and said Thailand would never progress with its present leaders and laws.
But another Thai, a "yellow shirt", told me the military was good for Thailand and the previous "red shirt" government did the country more harm than good.
I was initially surprised by the level of media freedom.
The Post's Life deputy editor wrote a column comparing the prime minister's "shoot from the hip" tactics to Donald Trump's.
But just weeks later a senior journalist at a competing paper was arrested for repeatedly speaking out against the Government.
The paper's editor-in-chief initially said there was "no justification whatsover" for the arrest, but the journalist went on to resign after reportedly being pushed out.
Thailand's more Westernised than its neighbours. Again, an insight from a colleague: he said the growing gap between the rich and poor was holding Thailand in a kind of time deadlock.
The upper-middle class acquire the best of the best as soon as it's available.
Meanwhile, the lower classes still listen to cassette tapes in their cars (if they have one), have never used smartphones and only know the broken English they need to get by.
Unlike American TV shows and films, average families and struggling singles are rarely depicted in Thai media. They almost exclusively focus on the upper-middle class.
Buddhism, which more than 90 per cent of Thais identify with, carries some of the same controversies as other religions: where does the money come from? Is anyone actually practising the original teachings these days?
Temples are abundant and busy, and respect for monks is high, however.
Sex tourism and animal welfare are other big issues in Thailand, in my opinion.
Some Farang (Thais' word for Europeans) kick up a fuss and try to make improvements, but it's also almost entirely Farang that pay for prostitutes, attend ping pong shows and do elephant safaris, so ensuring their longevity.
The good stuff
Drinking and smoking aren't as pervasive as in New Zealand. Going out for dinner, meeting up in malls and perhaps occasionally going to a club or karaoke room are more common.
There's also a big arts culture in Bangkok, which seemed largely untouched by tourists. Thai music and movies are full of cheese, but the country's top fashion designers, hairstylists and artists ooze cool.
Beauty is big. Staying out of the sun to achieve lighter skin is fashionable, as opposed to the Western desire to be tanned.
A colleague told me dating and relationships are much the same as in Western countries, but I'm unconvinced.
There's dating apps, accessible contraception and acceptance of different sexualities, but having children out of wedlock and single parenthood are still taboo. "Hook up" culture doesn't exist, or if it does, exists very quietly.
Thailand is a very safe, easy and interesting country to travel in.
The food's great, the people are incredible and the cost of living's low, hence its large expat population.
Obviously driving stupidly fast on scooters without a helmet, buying drinks and drugs from shady characters and not respecting customs may land you in trouble, but my experience - even with the fatal Bangkok bombing two days in to my trip - was extremely positive.
I'm already planning my return, and have been telling anyone who will listen, a trip to Thailand should be on their agenda.
- Catherine Gaffaney was in Bangkok with support from the Asia New Zealand Foundation.