I will never return to Thailand.
A grandiose statement, sure, but I took my first trip to Thailand last October with my husband. The beauty of the southern islands such as the Phi Phi Islands, Railay Beach, Koh Samui and Phuket was obvious. However, despite their magnificent locations, the islands are losing their natural beauty as land is used for resorts by investors and developers. Garbage and pollution pose a risk to quality of life and living standards and their unfortunate standards of hygiene left my husband sick with food poisoning for four days.
Meanwhile, another side of Thailand sees young girls and boys forced into the sex trade industry, which has been growing since prostitution is not strictly illegal in Thailand. It is quite abundant in Phuket due to its notoriety for nightlife and entertainment. Their customers come from all walks of life, age groups, and backgrounds.
Yet another thing that struck a nerve for me was the treatment of animals. Typical tourist photos from Thailand including people riding elephants; however, after purchasing a ticket to visit an “elephant sanctuary,” we were thoroughly disappointed. The animals were treated inhumanely, chained to trees with little or no room to move, and whipped for misbehavior such as not listening attentively to commands. An interview conducted by British newspaper The Telegraph with Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WTTF), expat Edwin Wiek said “In many cases tourists are told they are supporting elephant conservation or tiger breeding for conservation in these places, when all they are actually doing is supporting animal abuse and the breeding of wildlife in captivity, which is counterproductive to conservation.” The minimum daily wage is the equivalent of around $5 per day, which is a significant income for a local in Thailand; however, despite a much better understanding of animal welfare now than 10 years ago, corrupt officials still protect their income by exploiting wildlife with bribes.
Finally, there was a distinct different between the rich and poor where 24 hours earlier in Koh Samui I had seen a child no older than 10 try to sell me a handmade chime at 11:00 p.m. to women walking around in Bangkok with Dolce & Gabbana purses.
The trip wasn’t all negative. There is a rich culture with warm, inviting people. The Grand Palace (Thailand’s Royal Palace) and other temples around the country are striking and ornate. There are adventures with treks that has visually stunning landscapes, lush flora and fauna, and colorful goods and eats! There is a variety of flavors from an international array of food from Indian, Sushi, and even Mexican.
The sunsets are also stunning, and there is an incredible energy and friendliness from locals, and even high-end restaurants and 4-star hotels cost less than $100 for two people! Thailand is a country where you can act as local or foreign as you like. Because of all the tourists and expats who live there, the country is very cosmopolitan and international. There are global food chains, international restaurants and stores, Starbucks, and Hollywood movies (we saw a 4D movie). Thailand is a melting pot of people, and you’ll find people from around the world. We met people from Sweden, Columbia, Germany, Australia, Japan, and Israel, just to name a few.
Traveling in Thailand didn’t make me want to join a non-governmental organization (NGO) and save the world. It also didn’t make me want to give up the freedoms and luxuries I enjoy in the United States, give them to people who don’t have them, and adopt a life of poverty so that I may understand the plight of the less fortunate. But, it did make me thankful and caused me to consciously manifest an attitude of thankfulness. Thankfulness is the foundation of creativity and is the opposite of entitlement. While I may never return to Thailand, I believe it is a place to start or end an exciting adventure that can create transformative moments, valued experiences, appreciation for another country’s culture, and introduce you to different way of life and broaden your perspective.