Tuesday, January 31, 2012

One Night in Bangkok ... and Many More in Thailand

Thailand is captivating. Even if not at first, as most foreign travelers who have been to Bangkok have been disappointed by its crowded, dirty, smog-filled streets; soon or later, Thailand will spell its magic.
I have learned that the trick of traveling in Thailand is to not to focus on its stereotype or negative aspects but to look beyond them and see a country and culture that offers a spectacular fusion of history and culture.

One of the thousands of temples are usually a great place to start. Then, head on north to wild and mountainous landscapes, a home for Thailand’s hill tribes and an abundance of natural attractions. Or to southern coast to one of many picturesque tropical islands.

the Grand Palace
Recommendations in Bangkok:
  • Shangri-La Horizon Cruise along Bangkok's Chao Phraya River
  • a day trip to Ayuttaya
  • the Grand Palace and all the temples
  • water taxi, a fun way to get around the city
Be warned: Finding a taxi is extremely difficult in Bangkok; therefore, be prepared to walk 10-20 minutes before catching one.

Also, be weary of the Tuk-Tuk Scam, where a stranger will approach you to ask a simple courteous question, i.e. "Where are you from?" "Do you need help?", etc. Then, when you tell him/her your destination, she/he will tell you that particular tourist attraction, site, museum or temple is CLOSED today. Then, he/she will kindly suggest another tourist site that is open, and while you're feeling thankful and relieved that you didn't waste time and energy going the intended destination which is supposedly closed, the "good samaritan" will hail a tuk-tuk for you to get to the alternative destination.

Unbeknownst to most 1st time visitors in Thailand, this a very popular scam, where the stranger who'd just supposedly helped you and the tuk-tuk driver (and sometimes, even the owner of the recommended store) are working together to con you out of few Bahts.

So, if a stranger approaches you on the street and tells you that the tourist attraction, site, museum or temple you were heading to is closed today, simply ignore their advise, thank them for their help and head on to your planned destination.

Chiang Mai
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Recommendations in Chiang Mai:
  • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
  • visiting the elephant camp & the elephant ride through the jungle
  • the night market that offers an extensive selection of goods
  • the shop near the Hotel Central Duangtawan that has a great selection of clothing
  • a wonderful selection of restaurants at the night market
  • a stunning hotel Tamarind Village
Chiang Rai & the Golden Triangle
Railay Beach
Recommendations in Railay Beach: Sand Sea Resort
Be warned: The longtail boat from Kraby stops operating at 6pm.

The exoticism of Thailand and its pristine environment may be a big draw, but despite this beautiful backdrop, life is no picnic for the average Thai. Although in the late 1990’s Thailand was being referred as "one of the small dragons of Asia," Thailand is still categorized as a developing country.

Although tourism brings its share of benefits to Thailand, not all tourism has been good for the country and there is the dark side of sex tourism and human exploitation. Sadly, it’s the reality of traveling to SE Asia, and because the onus to stop child sex tourism usually falls on the country in which the abuse takes place and the offenders rarely prosecuted in their home country, the sex tourism remains to be one of the gravest problems.

Personally, it has been one of the most disheartening experience during my travel to see this first hand in Thailand (as well as in Cambodia). I felt that sex tourists, usually foreign men (mostly from N. America, Europe and Australia) general radiated a patriarchal sense of entitlement which would not be acceptable, or even possible, back home. They find solace in the fact that their money buys their egos back at the expense of someone else’s health or happiness.

It is a tragic reminder of the separation between the countries and their citizens who have and have not, and in my opinion, it’s the ultimate form of exploitation, imperialistic tourism, if you will. Although some say that sex tourism is about sex, I think it’s about power and opportunism, and I am not sure we are reaching our human potential, as tourists and as the citizens of the world, by contributing to additional social gaps in the world.

For more information on the adversarial impacts of tourism in Thailand.


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