Bird-shit foreigners are what the Thais call them. Who am I talking about?
Well that distinctive traveller come organic-hippy that can be fleshed out as students on gap years, ageing Europeans in pantaloons trying to 'find themselves' through an overpriced Buddha statue or just plain trampy tourists and bumbags with a penchant for dreadlocks and cheap hotel rooms without hot water.
Ever since Alex Garland ridiculed himself and other travelers in the 90s excellent social parody and dreadful film 'The Beach' Thailand has found itself innundated with what the Thais call Farang Kee Nok.
Thailand relies on the tourist Pound, Euro and occasionally Dollar just as much as any other third-world country but like any other poor place there seems to be a fair amount of piss-taking when it comes to this particular person who travels (nak tong teaow).
Why am I being so sniffy and derogatory? Well, maybe this type of tourist open themselves up to such ridicule and here's why:
Firstly, like many poor places, Thais are into clothes big time- apart from ageing peasants who probably don't have much time and money for clothing, most Thai people always dress pretty well- they certainly wouldn't think about dressing down for anything and observe this phenomenon from the other side of the world with mild curiosity. It seems a little bit, inappropriate and perhaps a bit condescending in a way that going round to your nan's looking a bit of a tramp on a Sunday might also once have seemed wrong too. Also these people are well-off and shouldn't be trying to act like a 21st century 'slummer' wandering the streets of poor places hoping to feel a bit less middle-class.
Secondly, an alternative lifestyle choice for two weeks or perhaps six months (if travelling through other parts of SEA) simply doesn't exist. The worthy way in which the traveller wanders around Bangkok being ripped off by unscrupulous Tuk Tuk drivers, tipping all the poor people and frustratingly driving up the economy for the rest of us, chatting with market traders as if they're somehow experiencing the real Bangkok, when really it's all very contrived and certainly not quite the 'experience' they think they're having. D and I have a few Thai friends and acquaintances now but the social connection is based on any other in England not some kind of idiotic curiosity in a pointy fingered 'Ooh look at this gnarled old-woman lets have our picture took' kind of way.
Thirdly, it's all such a sad well-trodden path metaphorically and literally. Ever since The Beatles embarrassed themselves in Rishikesh with Maharashi Mahesh Yogi in the 60s and other westerners attempted to find some sort of 'answers' in this part of the world following the excesses of the 60s, Vietnam etc there's been some sort of magnetic pull like that tractor beam on the Death Star in Star Wars and the way Muslims visit Mecca. The French especially and their obsession with Indo-China in the first part of the 20th century also seems to hold some sort of historical and cultural context despite the Frogs never being able to colonise Siam/Thailand and the British being content with Burma and what is now Malaysia.
The previously mentioned 'The Beach' seems to sum it up perfectly as the protagonist Richard realises that there are no answers in this corner of the world any more than there are in the rest of the universe and the answers to the meaning of life all reside in one's head. Not in some ancient set of ruins or eating club sandwhiches down the Khao San Road or any number of the crustified hell holes that beautiful islands like Kho Pan Ngan and Phuket have become. Maybe these people already realise what a cliche it all is- or so they should do if they have any brains- but still they come, which makes it even worse!
Thailand has certainly, in the past, developed a niche for itself as a destination for backpackers etc. Indeed some of my colleagues choosing to return 10 years later (again trying to relocate themselves back through space and time like Dr Who to that innocent state of post-graduation when they thought, perhaps rightly, they could take on the world or at least visit...) and various other 'bumbags' and drifters living legally and illegally for next to nothing still pepper this part of the world.
Thailand needs them but sometimes you can't help wondering if normal holidaymakers wouldn't be better off with an affordable decent country to visit that helps the economy of the real impoverished people of Thailand and not greedy touts and rip-off merchants happy to exploit mega-rich students (indeed normal fresh-faced students simply can't afford to backpack around here anymore with the economy 10 times what it was 10 years ago- or did they ever anyway- everyone I knew at 21 and later having to get a job asap in most cases and having to live in the real world) with their electronic books, iphones, blackberries and mini-laptops attempting to get away from it all...
Although rich, educated and in some cases mature, they're no better than yobbos in Benidorm or Toremelinos although these people should know better. Their ignorant attitude, readyto pretend that they're going to be humble while really getting ready to lord it over the 'little people' over this end of the world already starts on the plane coming over if the amount of arguments I've had with them in the toing and froing (with the backs of seats also!) we've done is anything to go by. Us permanent folk over here can't wait till they return back home to a boring job in a bank in Strasbourg or somewhere, de-plait their hair, have a wash and count up the remaining baht they have left after having been ripped-off, stolen from and made culturally bankrupt for two weeks or sadly months in some cases...
Wish you were here? wish they weren't...