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Op Ed

21 Signs You're an Ignorant Tourist

Cody Gohl Mar 21, 2014

Op Ed

The Huffington Post recently released an article called “21 Signs You’ve Spent Too Much Time in Thailand” and it’s about as bad/inaccurate/annoying as any of these listicles (list + article = listicle) ever are. 

Portrait of an Ignorant Tourist

Relying heavily on what appears to have been a weeklong vacation through the southern beaches (and maybe a quick Google search of “Thailand”), the list is part of the great nauseating canon of online resources meant to convince YOU (the would be traveler) that Thailand is a paradise of cheap eats, kind-hearted natives and PARTAYYYYS! Call it fun, call it young, call it fluff. I call it irresponsible and something that has to stop because it’s not fair to twist and turn and create a utopia out of a nation that deserves to be honored and celebrated, not because it is a young spring-breaker’s dreamscape, but because it is a complex place whose people deserve as much credibility and respect as the Western tourists who flood their villages and their cities looking for a wild time.

But I guess I shouldn’t expect much from an author whose bio states her favorite places to travel are “in Central America because they have the cutest animals.” She’s clearly a world citizen. She’s clearly someone who thinks deeply about the places she travels and works to acknowledge the lightness and the darkness of these places. She’s clearly someone who would never want to misrepresent or use a people and its country as a device for a dumb article that other dumb people will post on their Facebook walls #travel #dreamvacay #gagme.

In spirit of the listicle, I’ve decided to make one of my own in response, debunking each and every wrong generalization she’s made about a people and a country I’ve come to deeply respect and love. For total comprehension, take a gander at her list and then read through mine.


1.) No one prefers motorbikes to minivans.

In a recent Global Status Report from the World Health Organization, Thailand ranked 3rd in total motorbike accidents with over 10,000 deaths caused by bikes annually. Many of these deaths occur when people try to cram more than two people on a motorbike, much like the fearless and intrepid moto-moms you talk about in your list. They cram all of their family on one bike because cars are extremely expensive and many families cannot afford more than one motorbike per household.

2.) No one is counting the days until the next full moon.

The full moon party culture is a culture made and completely funded by white Western tourists. Thai people hardly know and definitely don’t care about full moon parties. What they do know and do care about are the massive amounts of waste and violence that come with large groups of drunken tourists overtaking small beach communities.

3.) Instead of being so bamboozled by a Thai menu, do a little research before coming.

Go to a Thai restaurant in your local area and take a gander at the menu. Google search Thai translations for some of your favorite dishes. And remember that these “silly” menu translations only exist as a courtesy to tourists. 

4.) Fish sauce isn’t gross. You’re gross.

Thai people take great pride in the food they create. Calling a key ingredient of Thai cooking gross, but tolerable, is ignorant. Fish sauce has been around for centuries and has a very interesting history in this part of the world.

5.) No one wants to watch drunken tourists jump over a rope of fire.

Yet another culture created specifically for tourists, fire shows are dangerous and have very little to do with Thai culture. You write how these tourists eventually “work up the courage to (sloppily) jump into the flames after a few drinks,” which sounds about as safe and as Thai as jumping off the Empire State Building while simultaneously stabbing yourself in the eye with a clothes hanger.

6.) Thais favor fair skin because of articles like this.

The culture of fair-skin obsession is most definitely a culture in Thailand, but not one that should be joked about. It finds its source in a deeply embedded sense of racism fueled by Western ad campaigns that heavily feature dangerously-thin, snow-white skinned, blonde, blue-eyed women clutching onto the pale, muscly arms of similarly blue-eyed, hunky blonde men. Imagine being a darkly tanned person (like many Thai people are) and only ever seeing images of beautiful, happy white people smiling down at you from billboards and TV commercials. Imagine the adults in your life telling you that your black skin (there is no gradient between pale skin and black skin in Thai) is ugly. Of course you begin to hate yourself and of course you seek out creams that promise to make you whiter, more beautiful, more western. And imagine still being tan and seeing fair-skinned tourists wearing sexy clothes, parading about in a drunken romper as they skip from temple to full moon party to the 7-Eleven. These creams are more powerful than merely turning skin into a “desirable shade of pasty.”  

7.) I’ll give you this one. The malls are fabulous.

8.) Suzy Strutner, you think all we do is drink.

The emphasis on partying and alcohol (when we’re not even halfway through the list!) is alarming. Further, talking about the affordability of this alcohol consumption is irresponsible, dangerous and encourages a type of tourism that is belligerent and harmful to local communities. You’ve yet to list one actual cultural sight or tradition on this list.

9.) We avoid tuk-tuks, but not because they’re expensive.

We avoid them because they are often filled with noisy tourists who encourage the drivers to quickly zip through traffic, treating the whole ride like their own private roller coaster.

10.) Sorry Suzy, I was wrong.

All we seem to do is drink a lot AND THEN force local store owners to grill us food as we drunkenly barge into 7-Elevens.  

11.) 7-Eleven is also a symbol of, like, westernization and, like, the oppressive power of capitalism.

7-Eleven didn’t come into Thailand until 1989. Before that time, cities and towns were full of small, locally owned snack shops but most of the grab-and-go food culture was found in the rich offerings of street-food carts, which carried curries, soups and delicious grilled meats. However, once 7-Eleven started to spring up in South East Asia, these local snack shops and food carts saw a major decline in business. The new generation of Thai kids now sustains itself on the fatty, greasy foods found in 7-11, which has led to the first every epidemic of obesity in this region of the world. But no it’s, like, SUCH GOOD DRUNK FOOD THOUGH!!  

12.) No comment.

13.) THAILAND IS SO CHEAP! …for tourists.

Perhaps this is why tourists often treat Thailand like some large, leafy playground. Their money feels like monopoly money to us. It’s not real and everything is so “cheap” that we feel like we can just throw this money around. We can, for the first time in our lives, truly “make it rain” as it were. But Thai money is not monopoly money to Thai people and the street food that you think is cheap and, like, sooooo inexpensive is hardly so for the everyday Thai person working a blue-collar job. On average, Thai construction workers make around 150-200 baht or about 5 US dollars a day. Think about the next time you dive into your 1-dollar plate of fried rice.

14.) Seeing children fighting is and should always be shocking.

Thai kiddos are a hot commodity in this country. They’re cute and tourists love them and so businesses and human traffickers capitalize on this by having them sell flowers on the street or, sometimes, engaging in extremely violent boxing matches with one another. There is nothing cute about children being treated this way and we have to remember that the only reason they are is in direct response to the positive attention/feedback/response they get from Western tourists, who are often more than happy to dole out a few extra baht to these “cuties” as you call them.

15.) Have privilege, will travel.

Gross. Musty regional airports. Thank GOD for the cheap luxury of Bangkok Airways (which is, by the one, one of the most expensive airlines in Thailand).

16.) All I learned about Buddhism I learned from this article.

Really? This is the only thing about Buddhism you choose to write about? How much footsie do you play that this has left such an imprint in your mind, Suzy?

17.) Eh. Kind of agree.

However, it’s worth noting that, in recent years, this culture of sweet-eating has contributed to 1 in 10 Thai people contracting diabetes, a life-long disease that carries both physical and economic burdens. Thailand has one of the highest concentrations of adults and children with diabetes in the world.

18.) Sweet fruit drinks (which always have a ton of added sugar, BTW). See above.

19.) More respect, less cleanliness.

The removal of shoes when entering places of business, wats or other people’s homes is a sign of respect to the person you are visiting. Cleanliness is a part of this respect, but it is more about not bringing the ugliness of the outside world into these places where you have been personally invited.

20.) Comparing temples to parking lots seems reasonable.

Except not at all because parking lots are ugly slabs of cement and temples are beautifully designed buildings that are often the center of communities and villages. Life revolves around the temple, both in a religious and cultural sense. That they are ubiquitous is purposeful and might only seem strange in modern day because they were built before guesthouses, restaurants and roads, and were meant to provide different services.

21.) Breaking news—Thai people are as kind and as cranky as any people anywhere.

Thai people are great and nice and welcoming but they are also grumpy and cold. They are open and they are closed off. They are full of smiles and full of curses and deserve to be more than just “nice.” Referring to Thai people as “nice” is like giving the “nicest student award” to the quiet girl at 8th grade graduation that nobody ever really bothered to get to know. It’s too easy and too stereotypical and too ignorant and too unfortunate that an article on the travel section of a major news source would ultimately choose to categorize an entire nation of people as “nice.” And as far as thanking them for allowing you to explore their land, according to this article at least, it seems like all you explored was Pattaya and the local 7-Eleven.

 

Maybe next time you find yourself in this part of the world, you’ll ask deep questions of yourself and the locals you are fortunate enough to meet. Maybe then you’ll be able to craft a piece of travel writing that is substantive and responsible and honors the culture you are writing about.  

 

UniThai course, 20,000 baht - the cheapest in town

wandered

21 March 2014 16:40

my my, arent' we sensitive. What exactly was so offensive about this article?

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jonbkk

21 March 2014 18:25

22. There are a lot of expats like you that are rude and think they know everything about Thai culture but still seem to misunderstand plenty.

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flagada jones

21 March 2014 18:42

brilliant Cody ... you'r my hero
the more you go to thailand the more you want to stay away from those people "who spend too much time in thailand"
and sure ... they really spend too much time in TH

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Pablo

22 March 2014 00:31

Sabai Sabai... Relax, I am not sure the original article was slight on the Thais.

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Marian

22 March 2014 00:36

Cody, Cody...this is very bitter writting indeed. Relax little bit and enjoy your way of living, and let other people enjoy with whatever make them happy. And stop writting.

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Ben

22 March 2014 18:18

One article is black and the other one is white, Thailand is neither of them...

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Adam

22 March 2014 20:27

Was the original article representative of Thai culture? Absolutely not, but it was never meant to be. The article was trashy and touristy, but yours was just as inauthentic.

Cody, maybe you should leave the defending of perceived slights to Thai culture to Thais themselves. There are plenty of English speakers in Thailand who are perfectly capable of defending themselves and writing far more accurate rebuttals that truly represents the Thai point of view.

And can we just talk about this:
"9.) We avoid tuk-tuks, but not because they’re expensive."

"We"? Seems to me, you are no more Thai than the author of the original article (unless Cody is some traditional Thai name I've never heard of). And yeah, they are very expensive which is why they are usually avoided by locals. Many tuk-tuks are often small enough that 2-3 people will occupy the entire tuk-tuk, so it's fairy rare that they would be shared with another group in the first place. Here you are abandoning truth just so you can get in another jab about how ignorant and stupid Westerners are.

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ZombieDuck

24 March 2014 00:36

Good Job Cody! We need more intelligent people like you. :)

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Malena

24 March 2014 03:37

Fair skin is favored by Asians because is assimilated to higher class since the peasants and workers spend more time in the sun, this a fact that a Thai told me and I corroborated reading about other Asians such as Japanese and Chinese, thus the body suits chinese use for the beach covering their entire bodies.

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Joe

24 March 2014 17:21

What's wrong with tuk tuks? Obviously don't get a tuk tuk from Khao San or Suk11 but tuk tuks are part of every day life all over Thailand.
How do you get your shopping home from Big C without a tuk tuk? They all have standard set prices so what is to avoid?

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Osedaxx

24 March 2014 21:29

Great reply Cody,

The original article is pretty much the reason I choose to avoid South East Asia now. Full of entitled early 20 somethings that think they're on some life changing trip while going to a full moon party without actually getting to know the country.

I do think that given the fact that the writer seems to fall under that demographic I shouldn't get too upset since that's what she choose to know about Thailand. Her ignorace should partially be excused as such. Honestly I take her as serious as that photo of the "typical douchebag traveler" from #2.

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A Thai

25 March 2014 00:30

Both of you are right Suzy & Cody, thank you for sharing your experiences. If you leave yourself to be at the middle line you will find that everywhere in the world always has beautiful and dark points.
Also You are right Malena, first reason, since long time mostly Thais were doing agriculture under the sun. Only people rich man could get education and work indoor, all indoor and office jobs are respected to be educated and rich people and tan skin or black skin is poor cause of they could not get education made them to work under sun which is hard job. Second reason, Thailand is super hot country, we do not have winter, maximum only cold season in the North part and it is only few months, means all whole year the Thais live with the sun and it burn skin a lot which different with people from cold countries that they need sun for warming body and need tan skin to show that they are rich to can get out of their cold place to get sun. Now world changes a lot, more people do not care skin color cause now a day people get education and believe in their capacities. Some places and some cultures that your get experiences were created to satisfy the tourist, if you well observed rarely Thai join full moon party cause it is not for Thai, just for tourist to have fun.

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elgee

25 March 2014 08:09

This article is really bad... Too much nonsense presented as "true". Author needs reality check badly...

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Damien

25 March 2014 10:17

Great response!!! I got so mad when I read that stupid, clueless HuffPo article. What kind of idiot thinks Thai people give a flying f&*@ about Full Moon Parties and watching tourists jump over fire?

But then again, I'm pretty sure HuffPo will publish anything.

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mel

25 March 2014 13:05

im thai, living in america. my family is thai. and i can't speak for all thai people but i think thai people prefer fair skin because it has to do with social status. it has very little to do with racism or western influence. it might be a little influence. but it's the same in america. having tan skin is seen as good in the US because it shows you've been out in the sun or on vacation, where as having pale skin means you are stuck in an office working all day.

in thailand. having dark skin shows that you are a laborer, who works hard under the sun everyday. whereas having fair skin is a symbol that you are working in a cool air conditioned office. it's more of a status symbol than about racism. but again, i can't speak for all thai people. just a personal observation living between the two cultures

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Someone who actually knows the author

1 April 2014 05:35

I don't think you have any right to bash Suzy Strutner. Do you know anything about her? Do you know what her views really are? Have you ever talked to her? No, you haven't, so the way you call her ignorant is really disrespectful. She went to Thailand, observed, formed opinions, and wrote about it. That's it. You can respectfully disagree with her but you have abesolutly no right to bash on her or her article like you did. GO FUCK YOURSELF

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Loptr

1 April 2014 07:44

You lost me at Huffington Post, the bastion of liberal and LGBT progressiveness.

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Pan

26 April 2014 01:01

If you're going to be a total wet blanket, it helps if you're not also really patronising and condescending. Just a tip.

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Ting tong

4 May 2014 12:27

Blah blah blah!!! Enjoy it!!! People go to Thailand for many different reasons whether to party, chill at their lazy beach bungalow, explore the jungles of the north or maybe just to have sex with a young boy. Tuk tuks are fun and cheap. Temples are interesting and beautiful, buckets hit the spot and Thai`s are wonderful and terrible the same as any other country on this earth!!! The shambolic behavior of some tourists is tolerated by many because the money from our pockets puts food on so many plates. Shoot the hippies and the soul searchers!! Love you long time!!!

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jack daniels

4 May 2014 12:55

THIS IS BORING YOU FUCKING IDIOT

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The Truth

4 May 2014 15:06

That is why many western men move to Thailand,to escape overweight winging western woman.

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HumYay

4 May 2014 16:43

So bitter.

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Randy

11 May 2014 02:26

I thought vacations were meant to be fun? I don't remember seeing the mandatory customs and cultures classes on the entry visa.

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luk krueng

20 June 2014 15:02

whoaaaa....relax...the original article wasn't meant to misrepresent thailand. there are many expats for whom that article is very true. just let them be - fyi - ur theory of black and white is equally as inaccurate...it has little to do with the all american paris hilton smiling down on u from a billboard - she is just adding to the sentiment. when i was a child, my grandma had a pitch black cat (many cats actually but only one that was pitch black), she named him saddam...at least i thought so (because saddam hussain was constantly on the news back then) - at first, my mum confirmed it but then said, actually it's "see dum" which means black but because to the western ear it sounds like "dumb" my grandma preferred to call the cat saddam - coz being evil was somehow more appealing than being dumb. If ur not glow in the dark white - ur simply black aka dumb...and now we are goin back into the old days...the simple man was just a farmer who worked outside and was exposed to the sun, hence he was dark...only those with money could afford education and only those with education could afford to work in an office and free themselves from being "(see) dum(b)"...it is very much the same sentiment in the west...those with money can afford to go on holidays and see the sun - those with fewer funds slap on bronzer. Skin colour is a sign of status - the darker u r, the less educated u must be hence u must be dumb - thais are very senstive about that - it's not so much the skin colour - much more the attached sentiment. If u love thailand, just let it be...we are one happy and laid back people, what's the point in having an anger fit - ur just ruining ur own day - smile and just let others be :)

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John

2 August 2014 19:34

Awesome reply Cody.

The original story is one of the most stupid and poorest pieces of "journalism" I've seen printed in a major publication. If it was an attempt at humour it fell well short of the mark.

It also breaches the LM law.

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