Nobody likes the end of a vacation. However, in most of our past trips, we’d get sufficiently tired after 10 days or so and look forward to going home. Not this time around. We enjoyed Thailand so much that we started to get emotional a full day before leaving. I couldn’t get excited to board our last flight (Eva Air “Royal Laurel” TPE-SFO), even though it was the best flight segment, which I had planned to be a strong closure to the vacation.
Feeling down on our way out, we reflected on some thoughts from the past several days…
Visiting a new place is a wonderful experience not only because it allows us to see something different and exciting. It also provides us the opportunity to reconcile preconceived biases against reality. This never occurred to me on a conscious level before, but our pop culture often portrays Thailand with grim stereotypes.
Every time I saw this flag, I was immediately reminded of…
These two evil bosses!
Anyhow, Street Fighter 2 was not the worst example out there. American media often painted Thailand with images of extreme poverty and an out-of-control sex market, while the Chinese counterpart usually portrayed the gangs of Golden Triangle and the illegal drugs and human organs trade.
Bradley Cooper wasn’t helping
What’s unique about such portrayals of Thailand, though, is that the criminal activities (real or fictional) tend to be powered by foreign demand. In other words, the problems wouldn’t have been there without the same people who bash the country as dangerous. Movies may exaggerate, but here are some anecdotes from our trip:
At the Bangkok Airport, three tourism videos were playing on large TVs in a continuous loop. One of them was about anti human trafficking and exploitation, subtly showing images of foreign men walking into dark alleys, followed by images of helpless underage girls. The video struggled to maintain a positive tone, bouncing between “hey look Thailand is a beautiful country with lots of great activities” and “don’t partake in illegal prostitution or you’d end up behind bars like this dude”. The majority of the clips showed beaches, jungles, delicious food, etc., but it was incredibly hard to watch. How sad is it that a country, at its gateway to the world, needs to plea to its visitors to not rape its girls?
Our massage parlor near the hotel had a big sign at the door saying in English “no extra service allowed”. At the time we chuckled thanking it as a reassurance that we were entering a clean establishment. When I later read the news about an American tourist killing his masseuse in Cambodia for refusing to have sex with him, it hit me that the sign wasn’t for its customers’ protection, but rather to fend off harassment for its employees.
I was also reminded that, on two separate occasions by the hotel pool, we saw white men nearing their retirement age dating Asian women who were at least 15-20 years younger. No offense to interracial or cross-generational relationships in general, but both couples were oddly flirtatious, intimate, and spontaneously giggling like a pair of high school students when their parents are out for the night. Perhaps they were legit couples… perhaps…
PURCHASING POWER DISPARITY
This thought was not exclusive to Thailand. Wealth gap is a fact of life, and the struggle between haves and have-nots exists everywhere. However, the sentiment was amplified on this trip as a combination of the local cost of living (the US has a local purchasing power index 3.3 times that of Thailand, and a per-capita GDP 9.7 times) and some of the nicer things we chose to do.
It felt a little awkward, for example, that we dropped the entire day’s cost of private tour van on a single prawn meal. Or that I paid someone to labor over massaging me for an hour, and later on the same day shell out more money on a single cocktail. Or that none of our fellow diners at Gaggan looked to be Southeast Asian. We worked hard to earn our money honestly, so it’s not like we needed to feel guilty spending it. It’s just that, how would I feel if boatloads of foreigners come into my city, each spending my monthly salary on a single night of hotel?
In a strange way, I was kind of glad that taxi drivers ripped off tourists. It was hard as an English speaker to convince them to use the meter – once our driver even agreed with the hotel staff to turn the meter on for us, only to cover it up once we were on the road. Sure, the practice was annoying as hell, and I knew well that every fixed fare they asked for was 2-4 times what it should have been. At the same time, I couldn’t really get upset about paying $6 USD for a 40-minute ride across town.
The principles of supply and demand fall apart when you involve people with vastly different purchasing powers. It was either unfair that we had to pay an unpublished price, or unfair that we could easily price the locals out of competition. Considering how privileged we have been in life, I’d take the former as the lesser of the two evils. While I am usually a frugal person who jump on every opportunity to spend less money, in a city like this I’d almost wish to see a heavy tourist tax being levied and then used to improve the lives of the locals.
200 baht was the standard asking price no matter where we went
Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that wasn’t previously colonized by Europeans, and our first stop of the trip that was never part of the British Empire. As such, the average Thai person didn’t know much English, and it was harder for us to get around here than in HK, Singapore, or KL. Many tourists view the lack of English skills as a negative. On the other hand, I tend to prefer destinations where we have difficulties communicating with the locals. They allow me to feel having really “gotten away”, and enjoy the serenity of our selves when we can’t possibly eavesdrop on those who surround us.
Being where no English was used also afforded us more time hearing the local language. I’m as dumb as dumb goes when it comes to languages, so I wouldn’t pretend to have picked up anything beyond “hello” and “thank you” in Thai. It was cool, though, just listening to the elegant and gentle tones of the language. There were lots of “ka” and “ha” sounds dragged out at the end of sentences, which made everyone appear rather happy. Also I’m not sure if it’s due to the culture or the tone of the language, we didn’t hear any yelling or loud conversations. Everyone, from the hotel receptionist to the taxi drivers trying to rip us off, sounded well mannered. Maybe this was a factor behind our fondness of Thailand?
Even when Ong Bak beat the bad guy to a pulp, he sounded polite
Oh well, these thoughts have gotten heavier than I had intended. Don’t get me wrong – we thoroughly enjoyed this trip, loving the city, the food, and the people. While having to leave got us a bit down, it was only temporary. We have already begun plotting our next visit.
Here are some random photos to end the trip.
360 Rooftop Bar at the Millennium Hilton
Really fancy, and obnoxiously loud, tourist boats docked at River City
Boba @ Park Hyatt Bangkok pool
Miniature Chao Phraya River
Bye bye Bangkok~
Southeast Asia 2018 Index
- Peninsula City Hopping
- Pig Out 1/3
- Pig Out 2/3
- Pig Out 3/3
- Hong Kong Déjà Vu
- Unfinished Business in Singapore
- Exploring Kuala Lumpur
- Week-Long Birthday in Thailand
- Wats in Bangkok
- Bangkok Food Scenes
- Ayutthaya Road Trip on a Full Stomach
- Vacation Within Vacation on Koh Samui
- Farewell Thailand