land of smiles sours thailand

Is ‘the Land of Smiles’ Beginning to Sour?

Bangkok - Thailand

As I returned to Bangkok’s Khao San Road tourist district, I asked myself: Was this a freak day or is “the land of smiles” turning sour?

I just didn’t get it today.

First, out of the blue the taxi driver shrieked at me – as I decided against the expressway route but when he refused to go further, I conceded and we turned around as I’ll forgotten about the capital’s nasty traffic snare-ups and usually this is a must-avoid for me.

But I was tired.

And taken aback by his sudden, violent reaction.

What happened to smiley reasoning? To not losing your cool? To not losing face?

Never had this happened before in all my visits since 1994 (and I’ve visited Bangkok 17 times – but this is my first-ever blog on the city or the country, now in 2012).

But anyway, it was soon forgotten, and I left him the change as I chambered out towards accommodation.

Getting a (cheap and okay) room took some searching as I can’t recall arriving so into the peak season, but all appeals for a long-stay discount were refused.

The sudden second snarl was when I was checking out some travel bags and the lady suddenly, without a word spoken except for a “Sawadee Kup” greeting by me and a price inquiry, when she yelped, “Ok. No help.” I thought, what are ya on about?

She sat down in a huff. I reckoned she’d dealt with too many mega-frugal, hard-bargaining Israeli travelers from the Israeli-favoured hostel nearby.

I tried to engage her again, and she sourly answered at a few prices. “You wanna buy?” “No, just checkin’ out prices for now”. I thanked her, to no reply. I passed it off as a that-time-of-the-month mood.

The next snap was nastier.

I asked a travel agent if he could secure a Chinese Z working visa for me.

He replied, “I don’t know what a Z visa is?” “It’s a working visa.” “Why didn’t you say that?” “I did.” He got angry. “No, no, no. Too complicated. Go away !!!” as swished at me with his hand while on his phone.

I felt a fight would ensure if I didn’t leave immediately.

Maybe his girlfriend was online and getting him mad.

The final sharp encounter within this hour – yes, that intense – was walking back thru the backstreets of Khao San locale in Rambuttri Soi when a pickup knocked into the back of my legs – just lightly but rudely, without an apology or any slowing down as he kept nudging down the road. Arrogant c*nt; no excuses for him.

What the f*ck’s up with today?

In all my visits I recalled nothing like this directed towards me – let alone a rush of Thai anger within a scant hour (but I had seen Thais in a market brawling years ago; wooden stool smashed on other’s head).

land of smiles sours thailand
Bargirl ‘lost’ in a bar of Patpong in 2001

But anyway, I will dismiss it as a weird day, a freak day of bad timing not directed intentionally towards mellow MRP.

Surely, not typical of Thailand, Bangkok, or even Khao San Road. Just a freak day, that’s all.

How Khao San Road has changed

I survey the cross-range of Western tourists – once the haven of simple, mellow restaurants closing at midnight with TV movies, the only option serving rugged travelers (mostly crazies and backpackers).

Now today’s facades of ritzy, hip hotels and bars and two MacDonald’s on this stretch of street where now it’s all elements of the traveling society staying here: families, young lovers, backpackers, business-types, retired couples, tour groups, crazies, sex-pats, bikers, football louts, hustlers, criminals, campus nerds, and extreme fashionistas, etc.

Such a typical developing world scenario: From a mellow, cool travel zone to a mainstream mega resort.

Yeah, the world is changing fast and we all know that existence is impermanent; cycles forever moving, evolving, dieing.

And so I wonder, is Thailand is losing its smile to a deepening frown?

There really seems to be less sincerity here than in the old days (1990s) and fewer ‘Sawadee’ greetings are returned.


Yes, I know that Khao San isn’t representative of Bangkok or Thailand or Thai culture BUT this piece is about this place and tourism as I’ve felt it change and possibly the souring effects of too much Western (and wealthy Asian) BS for the locals to take… this I’ve seen happening of other developing-world tourism hotspots.

Havana, Marrakesh, Cusco, Mopti, Cartagena, etc.

Or maybe it’s a simple case of the 2012 doom and gloom setting in – as we all prepare to die 🙂

I hope everything will be smiley tomorrow…

PS: As a counterbalance.

Earlier, following my arrival from Armenia and the end of my Central Asia overland trip, I spent 3 days – left today before I become totally broke – within the Nana Plaza adult entertainment district, entertaining and being entertained by Thailand

And it was all smiles.

Travels in Thailand – 2012

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