By: Revanche

Traveling philosophically: Thailand, the End

February 16, 2012

I didn’t ever finish up my recap of our Thailand trip (reasons: due to life) but I wanted to take a minute to revisit some of that trip.

While we truly enjoyed the company of our friends, the beauty of the country and the environment and the breather from stress, we also took away some serious food for thought.

I felt a strange homesickness even though that wasn’t actually my homeland. The landscape engendered in me this striking familiarity: green-blue waters, shallowly built boats propelled by pungent gas motors, overcrowded harbor and ports overshadowed by buildings elbowing other and balconies leaning into each other, families pulling in and out of the beaches of a morning and an evening with the day’s catch.

While the day-long snorkeling journey we took around the islands in the boats was visually stunning for my friends it was just emotionally stunning for me – I felt as though I was reliving my parents’ escape from their war-torn home and every face I looked at hepost his huge potentiality of Story behind it. It was a strange duality. Over thirty years ago, this trip was risking death and now? It was just a pleasure seeking cruise. It was incredibly hard to reconcile.

On Ko Phi Phi especially, one of the overwhelming feelings that PiC and I shared with each other was something that this post by Jennifer Derrick in Money Lessons Learned from Traveling Well covers in a few different ways: we were uncomfortable with our (comparative/relative) wealth.

Wealth, particularly Americans traveling with wealth, marks you out as different and as a target. Not a target for thieves or robbers which is just a traveler’s usual caution, only that, traveling Americans with money seemingly tend not to know how to behave with that money, more often than not and it was nowhere more viscerally obvious than on this, the most tourist of places. While we were traveling on a very strict budget, we were strikingly aware that every single person on that island was dependent on tourist spending for income and for some reason, that make us terribly uncomfortable in a strange way.

I had never felt like this before, not quite laid bare like this before, having always traveled internationally either on business or to see family and PiC had only ever experienced a shadow of this once before in Mexico when his family had an incident.

Jennifer notes that “People will try to take advantage of you” in bargaining and “When you have money, the gap between rich and poor seems (or should seem) much bigger all of a sudden. You realize that you have so much more than many other people.”

Both true, but that doesn’t get at the soul of the feeling that there’s something deeper, that it feels like there is something brittle in the choice to be where there’s nothing left but a tourist trade to sustain a region.

We didn’t feel that same sensation in Phuket or in Chiang Mai – and perhaps it had worn off because we were in the city or were more tired or perhaps because there was more depth to those areas.  It was a lovely trip and we met some absolutely lovely people, especially our hoteliers in Chiang Mai who were really more like an aunt and uncle who let us stay over in delightful bungalows with their menagerie of animals and other guests and served homecooked meals.

Since that trip, I haven’t had much time to think over those feelings but we did agree that it was disconcerting. We really aren’t looking for decadence and luxury when we travel, and even less so when we’re in regions that have such widespread poverty but for the tourist trade, and a striking disparity between classes and wealth. Neither of us are comfortable trying to play upper echelon traveler, we’re much happier blending in with the everyday crowd. It’s the experience of learning a new culture, language, history, and people that we look for in a trip, all of which can be accomplished on a low-key budget.

Related Links:
Embarking on a journey: Choose your own adventure
Discovery: Rediscovering romance in Thailand
Travel: Thailand, Leg the First
Travel: Thailand, Leg the Second

5 Responses to “Traveling philosophically: Thailand, the End”

  1. mOOm says:

    I definitely feel more comfortable travelling to places where I can at least speak and read some of the language and I don’t stand out as obviously foreign. I don’t like to force people to speak English to me… I prefer France to Italy for example for reasons of language ability. Though actually on my most recent trip to Thailand I felt more comfortable than on previous trips, perhaps because Snork Maiden was with me. And I didn’t feel so out of place in Korea, but maybe because it is a wealthy country… and then India is the reverse poor, I look foreign but speaking to people in English is OK of course. It is complicated.

  2. Chantalle says:

    “It’s the experience of learning a new culture, language, history, and people that we look for in a trip” I completely agree for you. I also look for that connection when I travel…luxury and decadence can be attained anywhere (for a price). I like to blend in and observe, and just take everything in. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to do that.

    Love the image of the elephants! So cute!

  3. Shelley says:

    When we travelled to Goa and to The Gambia, we tended to weasel out and do package tours. If one didn’t leave the ‘compound’ other than on organized trips, one could just enjoy the weather and the exotic foods. Go outside, however – and we did – and you are struck by this vast gap. People hassle you to sell, to beg, to show you goods, there is no peace. And I felt terribly guilty. I bought a certain amount of stuff I didn’t terribly want, feeling I should contribute to the economy. It is very disconcerting, particularly when in The Gambia I felt that by staying at the President’s Hotel, we were only making the rich richer.

  4. This is really moving. Going to include it in Links I Like Thursday this week!

  5. Revanche says:

    @moom: I didn’t realize I’d feel quite so awkward but I’ve not traveled as much as you have.

    @Chantalle: The babies were SO cute.

    @Shelley: Yes, that exactly.

    @Below Her Means: Thanks 🙂

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