Just another tourist in Thailand

Posted by: James on: Wednesday, 4th January, 2012

The background to this blog post is that after leaving NZ, Ash and I came to Thailand to meet friends out here. Ash headed back to the US early and I stayed with Chris’ lovely family in Chiang Mai for Christmas. I’ve stayed in Thailand while Ash and I work out the US immigration system.

Thailand is a bizarre mash of different people from various walks of life: there are obviously the fresh-faced gap-year student types gazing in wonder at all around them; there are the shaven-headed lads out on the razz; there are the overtanned and inappropriately dressed girls; there are the older age bracket, who just love the lifestyle and are probably enjoying the fact that their money goes that much further than in Europe too.

There are also the ex-pats who are here for the long haul, who are here for a variety of reasons, but have one thing in common, namely that they talk extremely loudly. You don’t need to actually get near these people to find out about the minutiae of their political views; their travel arrangements; their home lives and the complete history of their experimentation with drugs. All of this and more you will discover – whether you wish to or not – just by sitting within 200 yards.

These are the people who stand out to me – the locals weave in and out between them with consummate expertise. They know how to solicit their business, how to cater to their European tastes by serving up American or English breakfasts and if they don’t speak great English – which many of them do – they at least know the key phrase to attract their attention: “Hellooo – Where you goiing?”

It happens less in Chiang Mai than it does in Bangkok, but if you’re obviously a tourist – and unless you look Thai, you’re obviously a tourist – then you require some tourist service, whether it be relocation, food, lodging, massage or shopping, and you will be constantly solicited by tuk-tuk drivers and people on the street. Get a map out at your peril: nothing signals ‘I need help’ like a map – especially if you’re wielding a heavy pack too!

Of course, a lot of the tourist bait is worth taking.

This is probably fine for most tourists, but especially at the moment, my reasons for being here are far more nebulous than just ‘tourism’ – I want to take advantage of being somewhere so very different from the culture I grew up in to do some reflection and get started on a couple of writing and entrepreneurial projects I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I do want to see the temples, watch the Thai boxing and eat the wonderful food, but that’s not the main reason I stayed behind while my friends and Ash headed back to the UK and USA.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I see these broad ex-pat stereotypes everywhere and desperately want to say ‘I’m not with them’. But of course I still have a lot in common with them – in fact in some ways I’m far less culturally integrated than they are: I’m still a very long way from being able to really talk to the local people and unless my mastery of Thai gets further than ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ I don’t expect I will get under the skin of the place before I leave. I’m certainly not doing very well at understanding the culture beyond a fairly superficial level.

I am, however, working on my tolerance for spicy food, having inherited the family tradition of breaking out in sweats whenever I order anything above ‘very mild’. I soon hope to be perfectly comfortable with a ‘medium hot’ curry, which I suspect is still watered down for the tourists. It seems I can’t win!

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A fairly loose blog about the places I go and the things I think. May also include left-leaning social commentary derived in part from video games.

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