The lesson I've learned: I've never been an easy girl, what was I thinking going to an 'easy' place?
Lastly, a Thai 'mockumentary' about foreign tourists - no worries, no Thai skills needed, although helpful ;)
I would like to add something to this. Thailand is not quite the hellhole I described it as. If I was planning my first trip to the far east and wanted to go somewhere where I could just relax and have a good time for 2 weeks, while also experiencing a very different culture that seems daunting to me, Thailand would be a great choice.
You can get by in English in virtually any place where tourists go, it's cheap, the weather is great, the food is delicious. It has an unique culture and many beautiful sights. And yes, the people are probably much nicer than in your hometown (because you bring money).
I can recommend Thailand to anybody who wants to dabble in Asian culture and doesn't want to go through the trouble of learning any of the languages. The best thing is, if you don't like it, you can always quickly and cheaply get to one of the neighbouring countries.
Personally, I tried very hard to meet 'the right kind of people' and 'hang out on the right side of town' (i.e. the non-touristy one) the last days. And for me, hard as I try, it doesn't work. If I meet interesting people (as in smart people are open-minded, but also critical about their surroundings), they usually travel as a couple and are not interested in hanging out with a third person for longer than 15 minutes.
If they are single, they are either a) male and try to get in my pants (still, better than the daft ones who try to get in my pants) b) female and just as freaked out and jaded as me, and plan to leave the country within the next 24 hrs.
With this, I declare Thailand the hardest country for solo female travel - South Korea, who previously held this position in my book, I like you more every day! At least while locals were a bit weird and it wasn't as squeaky clean as I expected (Japan, you ruin everything with your clean efficiency and politeness!), it felt safe and I met awesome people with a genuine interest in the country every day.
I look forward to returning to Bangkok on Friday and meeting some people who are actually INTERESTED in something in their life (other than beer, sex and riding elephants). Then, on to Vietnam. If this is only half as touristy as Thailand, I seriously need to reconsider my plan for this trip (China is starting to look like a REAL option).
At the moment, the Philippines sound awesome - I have only met one person who's been there; heaven!
I am not a specialist for Thailand, Thai culture or Thai people by any means, but I want to write about my experience in different countries and through some epic German over-planning, I am spending 4 weeks in this country that is making me happy and depressed like no other place before.
I knew Thailand was a popular destination, but I didn't know just how much – and I haven't even visited the real tourist hot spots in the South and South East of the country. The touristy-ness of Thailand came as a massive shock to me. I'm getting used to it now, but doubt that I will ever travel outside Bangkok after this (BKK is simply a great transport hub for Asia). Here's what I like, and what I don't – starting with the pros as I am sure after that I'll rant endlessly ;)
The food. I love spicy, fragrant food, and Thailand is the centre of the universe for spicy food. In my book, it can compete only with Malay food in terms of contrasting flavours. Also, compared to other Asian countries, you don't really get 'weird' food here – everything is delicious, healthy (let's ignore all that coconut milk) and cheap – and food hygiene is pretty good, too (potential germs are killed by all that chili). Few Thais are veggie, but vegetarian and vegan food is available anywhere and seen as perfectly normal (they honour their monks, which are mostly vegan). For about 20p, you can pick up a bag of freshly cut fruit or deep-fried bananas (vegan!) from a street vendor.
The temples. They have beautiful, extensively decorated temples on every street corner. This is not your plain old Mahayana temple. Even if you are not into Buddhism or Buddhist art, you will want to cry because they are so wonderful. I haven't seen a single one that was in a sorry state, they look really well after them (take that, rural Japan with your crumbling torii!).
The weather and landscape. Temperatures barely ever fall below 20 degrees, there are pristine islands (so I am told), beaches, jungle, rice paddies, mountains and more. Anything you can wish for!
The prices. Provided you inform yourself a little about what things should cost and know how to haggle a little (not aggressively), Thailand is still one of the cheapest destinations to visit. I am currently living on about £15 a day and that includes decent single or double rooms with fan or aircon, often en-suite, eating out 3 meals a day, having a lot of fancy high-calorie coffee creations and one drink a day (oops... more on that later) and travelling around the place. In London, this about covered half my rent and bills.
Now, this doesn't sound bad, does it? As a guy I met at the cooking class yesterday (how touristy! I know!) said “Some places are touristy for a reason, because they are awesome.”. And I agree. Thailand IS awesome. But it has too many tourists for it's own good, which has created some kind of parallel universe Thailand that just SUCKS BIG TIME. Here's why:
Stupid Farang aka Foreigners. Let me put this first, because it really is the cause of much of this. People (mostly British, a nationality I have barely encountered in other Asian countries – because they are ALL in Thailand I guess) come here and think this is Mallorca or Ibiza, only cheaper. And because even a minimum wage job in Europe means that you earn double the average Thai salary, they act like they are the kings of the world. I have seen people having their third beer of the day at 11am, visiting the temple shirtless or in bikinis and confessing they eat burgers and chips every day. I've met others who have visited dozens of times and still can't say 'Hello' or 'Thank you' in Thai. Tours are such a big business that there are many sights you are not allowed to visit independently. It also means that many points of cultural interest, like very good museums, often don't have English information available, because no foreigner visits them anyway. It drives away all the people who are well-travelled (I am not the only person who wanted to leave after three days) and have a real interest in the country.
The land of fake smiles. I hate saying this, because I know there are Thai people who are lovely people and mean well. Tourists here keep telling me how this 'Land of Smiles' slogan is so true. Sorry to break it to you, it's not. The Thais are the least friendly of all Asians I have encountered (now, to be fair if you haven't been anywhere east of Athens, they will still seem like the friendliest people in the world to you). Service is often horrid and while they may smile, they might say something terrible about you in Thai to their co-worker right in your face. Also, smiling is a big part of the Asian concept of saving face – if someone if upset or embarrassed by you, they will smile and often giggle a lot. It's not because they think you are sweet but because you're a douche.
Perpetual Ripoff. Similarly, I know that tourism is a big industry in Thailand and many people wouldn't be able to make a living without it. I know that waitresses or food vendors often don't make more than $300 a month. But it's the attitude, people see you as nothing but a money printing machine because you are Western. Taxi and Tuk-Tuk drivers and people in the markets will often quote prices that are 4-10 times higher than what would be a reasonable price. I'm not saying you should haggle hard over a few pennies, but when the taxi back from the sight to your hotel is suddenly 5 times more expensive than the ride going there, or someone charges you £30 for a cheap made in China t-shirt that would cost £10 at H&M in Europe, something is up. People try to give you wrong change, constantly, and don't even apologize if you point it out. If you order a cheap item off a menu, say a salad or a small beer, they will pretend they don't have it so you have to order something more expensive. The worst thing that happened to me was when I went to 7/11 the other day. They usually have three kinds of bottled water, and the cheapest brand comes in a weird 900ml bottle that costs less or the same as other brands that are 500 or 600ml only. At checkout, I was told they don't sell that water. I don't give a toss about 5 baht but seriously, you have a whole fridge full of it and you don't sell it, even though you just sold it to the two Thais who queued before me?
Sex tourism. I knew about this, who doesn't. What I didn't expect was to see a western guy with a Thai woman on the street every 5 minutes. And it's not only old fat guys, whom I can kind of sympathise with – it's pretty attractive guys in their 20s and 30s, too. Why? Well, because they can. Something else they can do for a little extra fee in most hotels and guest houses, is bring their ladies to their room at night. Sound insulation is not great here.
Manly Pests. I'm not talking about Thai men – they are good fun actually (they need a lot of humor to deal with those draconian Thai women!). Sex tourism doesn't stop at Thai women. Many Western men who come here believe that by some magic power in their Phad Thai, they are instantly transformed into sexy, smart guys who are desired by all women. Everyday I am approached by at least 2-3 dreadfully stupid and boring guys. I like to meet people, especially fellow travellers, so we go out for a drink, a meal, to a temple or something. Every single time, at some point they believe it's totally ok to touch me, invite me to their rooms or follow me around for days – even though they mostly talked to themselves and I showed zero interest or appreciation of anything they said. I've stopped talking to non-Thai guys now. I always travel on my own and never had this kind of problem anywhere else, not in Southern Europe, not in Turkey, not in Morocco. In Thailand, I feel unsafe and avoid being out after 9pm. I don't want to find out what these guys are like when they have been drinking for a while.
Ethic and Eco-Nothing. First: there are a lot of environmental, animal welfare and animal rights groups in Thailand. They are here for a reason. I can't walk further than 500 m in Chiang Mai without anybody trying to tell me a visit to the zoo, an elephant riding tour or some cuddle the white tigers bullshit. Let's not forget about the cruel practice of the so-called 'long-neck women', who ruin their necks and spines by wearing heavy metal bracelets around their necks. Their original village has been transformed into a kind of zoo for tourists, and if it weren't for them, these horrid tradition would have died out already. Of course, your average Thailand tourist couldn't care less. Also, the rivers, many beaches and towns are full of rubbish because the country can't cope with all the industrial waste. I haven't seen as many stray dogs anywhere else, either, which seem to be happily fornicating and multiplying all the time (I guess they are lucky compared to those who are bred in dog farms in Thailand and then sent to the kitchens of Vietnam...). Oh and then there's the 'Free a bird scam', which often takes places at the entrance to a temple. People keep birds in tiny bamboo cages and offer you to 'let it free' for something like 50 baht (£1) – at the entrance of a FUCKING BUDDHIST TEMPLE WHILE THE MONKS SAY NOTHING!!!
The 'Third Sex' and the Gay thing. Yup, it had to come – sorry for the gay lingo that's following now! Yes, kathoeys or ladyboys have their place in Thai society – not only on stage in Pattaya and Patpong. But although they are accepted as the 'third' sex by many, the legal issues are more difficult and there is plenty of discrimination against them. In general, Thailand promotes a 'no worries' attitude to sexuality, but this is not to be compared to tolerance. The lesbian community is especially fucked up – that is, “there are no lesbians in Thailand”, although you will see countless lesbian couples and butch women everywhere. But no, they are not lesbian. The concept is called tom/dee, from 'tomboy' and 'lady' which can be compared to the classic western butch/femme dynamic. The 'tom' or 'masculine' woman is seen as someone who did something bad in their previous live and because of karma, they now have be this weird boyish woman who likes girls. And the 'dees' are average pretty, feminine, conforming Thai women who happen to love 'toms' (also due to some kind of karma trouble). These couples are not accepted, but pitied in society. If you don't fit into either of those categories, you don't exist. I don't have an insight into gay men's position in Thailand, but I suspect the attitude is similar.
At the end of the day, Thailand wins. I am so exhausted by all of the above, that I order a big, overpriced beer to forget about it. I can't wait to go to Vietnam.
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