:: Thailand, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mobs ::
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Thailand is a country blessed with warm weather, warmer citizens, lush mountains, endless beaches, arable land, delicious cuisine, millennia of rich history, a healthy economy, and the best infrastructure in its region. It's affordable, exotic, bustling, and bucolic. As a travel destination it's nearly flawless. Which is why I've never wanted to go.
I'd always imagined Thailand to have a hard-pulsing, all-consuming tourist circuit, with the key traps pooling hordes of sweaty pink-faced foreigners. Granted they might consider themselves a diverse lot, some there for eco-tourism, others for an unending series of massage and spa treatments, and still more with no purpose beyond simply proving to the world that ambling through crowded streets wearing open-toed footwear and a brightly-colored shoulder-harnessed 80-liter life-support unit constitutes a life fully examined. There might even be that rare breed of party animal who's less eco-tourist than alco-tourist, who gazes upon a proud civilization's monumental splendor at sunrise and thinks in awe "it's beer thirty!" - the type of person I saw wearing a t-shirt to the less-than-festive War Remnants Museum in Saigon that read "Angkor What? Pub, Cambodia: promoting irresponsible drinking since 1998." Somewhere, I assume, is a list on a whiteboard entitled "UNESCO World Heritage Sites on which I have personally vomited," and it is growing.
Of course in Thailand there are also the sex tourists, but that's a touchy subject (zing!).
Regardless of their self-identification they're all there to take advantage of a choice array of benefits from the people, culture, and land, and reciprocate in turn only money. They reduce the entirety of human engagement to a single dimension, and the more of them I see the less I can pretend I'm not one too.
So when I found out that a friend was living on a farm a couple hours outside of Chiang Mai I jumped at the chance to visit her but balked slightly at the need to thereafter spend time in the northern region's capital of tourism. I expected it to be overrun by exactly the types I just spent so much self-rightous time whining about - and it is.
Even on an absolute basis I saw many more foreign tourists in Chiang Mai than in Ho Chi Minh City, to say nothing of the relative effect of the greater numbers on a city nine times smaller. Entire districts, like the Night Bazar area, are designed to do nothing but (effectively, judging by what I saw) syphon away money. There are several resorts where the cost of a five-night stay will equal the total annual income of the average Thai citizen (though my perfectly adequate room cost a more reasonable $20/night). The stands at the local neighborhood Muay Thai boxing match I saw were 3/4 tourists. I even swear I saw Corey Worthington.
But despite everything it's a great place to visit, and visit alone for the foreseeable future, as it lacks the economic magnetism that makes Bangkok a more desirable place to domicile. Between the temples, elephants, and khao soi, not to mention the rest of that long list of Thailand's desirable qualities, it's hard to walk around blaming the tourist throngs for flocking here, and there are better things to do in the sunshine than scowl. At least they came here for valid existing things to see and do - it's not some mega-resort created from reclaimed land or indoor ski slope in the desert.
Of course a few days eschewing them all on a farm didn't hurt either.
Photos in the usual spot.
Posted by morland @ 10:52 PM
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