No Place As Home
Contact Daniel: noplaceashome at yahoo.co.uk
General Musings (2)
Guide to this site
At home in the world
Not very heroic
Small town West Bengal
An ending approaches
Sights, frights and memories
Everyone's cup of tea
Introduction to Gari
In the hate period
Don't take this too seriously
Making the bag
Things which make me angry
August 28, 2004
Things which make me angry
Where to begin on this? At the time, I didn't think too much about this little incident, but as time's gone on it's started to inflame me in ever greater proportions.
One day in Chiang Mai, I had bumped into Mazzy, one of the two Israeli girls from the VIP bus up here - and we agreed I'd come over to the guesthouse at 9pm so we could all catch up. I wandered over at nine, Mazzy was there with a few friends. Karina wasn't, but would be along soon - the two girls had clearly fallen out during their three day jeep trip (they had only just met before leaving home via the internet).
These guys were planning out the rest of their trip - they asked me about Pai, in north west Thailand, and about Laos. I hadn't been to Pai, but I started telling them about how lovely Luang Prabang was - the atmosphere, the low buildings, monks collecting alms in the mornings. I mentioned Viang Vieng, and their eyes lit up - "Yes, we want to go there"! I realised I'd been wasting my time talking about low buildings. "Yes, Viang Vieng is supposed to be good for relaxing [everyone understood I meant by this places to smoke opium and eat pizza]". They were very happy to hear all this.
Perhaps I'm being unfair. But meeting these people, who I'm sure were no different to lots of other travellers, aside from that they were very honest about what they wanted, I just saw why tourism often has such an ugly form in SE Asia. Be aware of where your money is going. We keep these drab concrete block guesthouses and their crappy meals going. We build these streets like Khao San, these "Bunny Clubs" with girls in little dresses sitting expectantly on bar stools. Then we arrive and complain that "everything's so touristy!", "the sex industry's everywhere here"!
I'm not advocating that everyone visiting Thailand should spend learn Thai and live with families in villages - of course not. And I wouldn't want to suggest that the Thais (or any nationality) are the innocent, passive victims of tourism. I just mean - think about the kind of tourist infrastructure you would like to see, and spend your money to encourage that. I sometimes smile at what the Thais must think of foreigners, as they design some beautiful restaurant, or invest in individual coffee presses for their new cafe, and the vast majority of us never seem to leave our slap dash guesthouse restaurants. Right now I'm writing this in the Siam Tea House - yes, it's completely "for tourists", but equally, it's a beautiful old style Thai building, the fresh mint tea was lovely, the people are friendly, the prices aren't particularly higher than elsewhere. There are always a few other foreigners in places like this, but usually only a few, and generally they are older and (I am guessing) wouldn't describe themselves as backpackers.
Clearly, we aren't locals, we can't know how things exactly connect to one another. Most of us are travelling very fast, too fast to really get an understanding of how the places we are visiting work (did you know that when you pay 700 baht for a day's cooking course in Chiang Mai, if you book it through a guesthouse, the guesthouse keeps 200 of that?). All I try and do is ask questions and be a bit cunning. Places that lots of tourists visit usually do deserve their popularity - but the trick is I think to walk among the little streets, the quieter neighbourhoods, find the places that still feel magical, where people's eyes aren't deadened to another same same visitor.
"Chang", my favourite cafe in Chiang Mai:
Traditional Thai grandeur:
Daniel, 26 August 2004, Chiang Mai
Posted by Daniel on August 28, 2004 03:24 PM
Email this page