Readers' Submissions

Why I Will Never Return To Thailand

  • Written by KK
  • December 26th, 2008
  • 8 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok


Being a rather old-fashioned guy despite my tender years, I never give anyone second chances. If a certain line is crossed that person, establishment, city or country will be crossed off my list and ignored forever. Take the capital city of my home country, Budapest, for instance. After my last 3-day trip of rude waiters, abusive bus drivers, thieving foreign-exchange assistants, dour and unfriendly locals, I have vowed never to revisit the place again and I have stuck to my guns ever since. The same rule applies to restaurants, cafes and potential girlfriends. One strike and you are out. So it is with Bangkok.

5 years ago, on my first trip to Thailand I was mightily impressed by the friendliness of the people and their ever-smiling demeanour. I used to enjoy smiling at people just to see if they’d smile back. They always did. Particularly the girls. I felt in heaven. On my subsequent trips I sensed some of the original magic slipping away which I put down to increasing familiarity at first. On my latest trip just this last week, I was in complete shock however. I heard the recent horror stories from other regular travelers to Thailand but I put them down to misfortune. As we were strolling about in Bangkok with my best friend, we both sensed that something has irreversibly changed for the worse. Since I have been living in Singapore for the last two years I couldn’t help but make comparisons with the Lion City. At first, walking about aimlessly around Siam Square and inside the shopping malls I had the eerie feeling that I was back in Singapore. People looked roughly similar, the shops and restaurants were largely the same chains, everything was in English and locals seemed as uninterested in foreigners as the average Singaporean. A few sales assistants made lame attempts to be somewhat friendly towards us but there was obviously no sincerity in their efforts. Then I noticed, that things were in fact worse than in the indifferent but polite and civil city-state of Singapore. There were some exceptions, but overall the famous Thai smile was nowhere to be seen. Pretty young girls just ignored us completely and the flirtatious fun-loving Thai girl seems to have been replaced with a bored-looking rather arrogant counterpart. We tried our luck at the Ratchada Road discos and pubs on Friday night. The night was totally dead. Hollywood disco had a few couples and a lot of guys but no groups of girls. Everyone was booted out before 2 AM and there was nothing left to do but head back to the hotel. The atmosphere reminded me of a funeral parlour. I never thought I’d say this but when it comes to going out and meeting people, Singapore is so much more fun. Pubs and discos are open late into the night and there are tons of gorgeous, if not particularly open girls all around.

Yes, the naughty nightlife scene is far better in Bangkok but with current prices I wonder why anyone would make the effort to travel all the way to Thailand. A decent-looking girl is surprisingly hard to find and the few that are good-looking charge serious money. A short-time encounter, including barfines and short-time hotel fees will set you back at least 3000 baht unless you enjoy sleeping with flea-infested, unwashed, scary looking, HIV-positive street hookers. Short time used to be 2 hours, but now you’d be lucky to stretch it to an hour and within 10 minutes some other guy will be bonking the same girl. In comparison, you can get a drop-dead gorgeous girl from any part of the world for the equivalent of 1000 to 1500 baht, room included, in the red-light district of any German city. Granted, you get only one shot, but the girls are far better looking and much cleaner than the ones in Bangkok.

Speaking of Germany, I’m sure you have seen the movies set in the 1930s, when anti-Semitism started to gain ground. It all happened gradually, but one of the first signs of trouble was when ordinary citizens started verbally and then physically abusing Jews and other minorities without fear of any repercussions. It ended very badly, but the first signs of where things would be headed were there for all to see. Smart people sold everything they had and emigrated to other continents. I do not know if similar things will happen in Thailand but there was one incident in Bangkok this Sunday that made me feel patently unwelcome and even threatened. To be honest, I couldn’t wait to get on my flight to Singapore Monday morning and I gave out a sigh of relief as the plane took off… This is what happened: My friend and I were enjoying a quiet afternoon in the Kinokuniya bookstore of Siam Paragon. I was sitting on a bench and reading while next to me there was a septuagenarian American gentleman with his wife quietly sampling the books on offer. Out of nowhere I suddenly heard several loud thumps. When I looked up, to my astonishment, I saw a rather big Thai guy throwing books at the poor old man, who was walking with a stick and was too frail to get out of the way. He was hurtling abuse at him in English to the effect of something like: “Don’t you ever call Thai people stupid again, you fucking foreigner!”

The Thai man was fluent in English and was apparently well educated. The frail old man was trying to get out of the way but was unable to duck fast enough, so he was repeatedly hit on the head with hard-cover books. He tried to protect himself by saying: “I didn’t say anything. Really. I didn’t say anything.” I can confirm that he really didn’t say anything at all, as I was sitting next to him. The Thai man obviously just went berserk. Even if he did say something offensive about Thais, which I doubt, I have never heard of a tourist being attacked in an upmarket, foreigner-oriented public place like this in any country, let alone Thailand. I briefly contemplated stepping in, but given that this was a racist assault and I was of the wrong race in this instance, I decided to wait it out. Nobody leapt at the foreigner’s defense and security just ignored the whole thing. A female sales assistant came by, but did not intervene at all. Eventually the Thai man calmed down and went away, but all the Thais were completely indifferent and nobody tried to reprimand the crazy Thai or to comfort the old man who has just been a victim of racist abuse. In a country where face is everything and losing temper is unacceptable, I felt seriously uncomfortable. At that instant everything came together and I connected the dots. Individually, dour locals, unfriendly waiters, humourless bargirls, shortened visa-stays and stories of foreigner-abuse were tolerable. Added together however I suddenly realized that I am in a hostile land among hostile people who would not bat an eyelid if a racist bigot started kicking the shit out of me. In effect I got a whiff of what it might have been like to be a Jew in 1930’s Germany when you gradually felt a previously accommodating majority population turn against you just because you were of a different race. I had the feeling that in sharp contrast to a few years ago, Thais have come to despise foreigners. I am reminded of what a friend who used to live both in China and Thailand said to me once: “Chinese people never smile, therefore, if a Chinaman smiles at you, look out! Thai people always smile, therefore if a Thai stops smiling at you, run for your life because he is about to kill you!”

It is clear to me that Thai people have stopped smiling at us foreigners (and possibly each other), which means there is trouble ahead. I hate to be a fearmonger, but if you are currently living in Thailand, sell everything you have and get the hell out of there. At the very least, have a contingency plan and a quick escape route to the Malaysian border with your own private vehicle. I would not be the least bit surprised to see pogroms against foreigners and possibly even Thai-Chinese as the economic and political crisis deepens. As I mentioned in a previous post, this would not be the first time such things happen in Southeast Asia and the last anti-foreigner pogrom happened in Indonesia during the far less serious Asian Financial crisis just 11 years ago. Older readers might recall the way Westerners were treated during the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia and as American power wanes in the region I predict that anti-Western sentiment will rise with it, particularly with the Anglo-American induced financial crisis progressing into the heart of Asia. An armed conflict between the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and NATO is also a remote possibility and you do not want to be in the region if and when hostilities break out. I feel that currently Malaysia, Singapore, India and the Philippines are safe for Westerners, but things can change very rapidly.

Now, you might accuse me of being a doom and gloom guy and you would be right, but it is usually the cautious, forward-looking people who survive once-in-a-century cataclisms like the one we are currently witnessing. Believe me, in a very short time there will be a lot of hungry, unemployed, pissed-off people all over the world and westerners, particularly Britons and Americans will take most of the blame. It is already rather risky to travel to large parts of the globe as an American or Briton and things can only get worse in this respect. I really wish the conclusions of this submission were brighter, but the truth is the truth and it sometimes hurts. I feel that we can all gain from observing current trends and anticipating future events. It sure won’t make you happy, but it might save your life.

Stickman's thoughts:

Things are certainly moving in the wrong direction and that fracas in the bookstore is very disturbing indeed. Just how bad it will get I do not know…