Five Things I’m Telling Myself to Feel Better about not Going to Thailand this Winter

It’s that time of year again, when expats in Korea either head to Thailand to lounge in hammocks and drink rum, or stay behind to freeze our asses off and read the facebook updates of the assholes our friends who did go. I love Thailand, but this winter I’m not going, so it’s more important to remind myself of all the things that suck about it. In no particular order, these are the 5 things I’m telling myself to feel better about not going to Thailand this winter.

The runs

If you stay in Thailand for any length of time, you’ve got coin-flip odds of getting diarrhea. Thai food is great, and often it’s even prepared under sanitary conditions, but it’s probably very different from WC helpwhatever you’re eating most of the time. Along with anxiety, allergies, and an odd microbe or two, this may cause you to suffer from common traveler’s diarrhea, so-called because you could have avoided it by staying the fuck home.

If you’re unlucky and ingest some E. coli or campylobacter, you get what might be better termed sick person’s diarrhea, which is caused by contaminated food and water in some of the shadier establishments dotting the Thai culinary landscape. In most cases, antibiotics will clear it up, but in the meantime you will crap yourself silly for days or weeks.  The thought that my friends are right now squatting over a toilet for the 10th time today is something I hate to consider – not because my friends might be suffering, but because thinking about people shitting is gross.

The Chinese Hordes

Move over Ugly American and nouveau riche Korean – for a few years now, there’s been a new tourist asshole on the scene. As China’s economy has gained steam in the past decade or so, phalanxes of camera-toting Chinese tourists have descended on places like Phuket, Koh Samui, and Pattaya, and woe to you if you stand between them and their itinerary objectives. Thanks to this phenomenon, I now know what it sounds like when one hundred people smash crabs open with wooden mallets at an otherwise mellow beach resort; I’ve learned that a beach bag, hat, and towel left on a poolside chair does not signal “occupied” in some cultures, and I more fully understand that the capacity for tourist ugliness is universal.

chinese1

Chinese swimming pool. No, really.

Part of me sincerely cheers the hardscrabble rise of the Chinese middle class and recognizes it as one of the great economic success stories of the last decade. But it gets hard to maintain that enthusiasm when they swarm like sunscreen-slathered locusts on the beaches of Southeast Asia, turning once-spacious strands into the crushing mass of humanity I went there to get away from in the first place. I’m genuinely happy that tens of millions of Chinese George Jeffersons are finally getting their day in the sun; I would just rather not witness it from a deck chair.

Isn’t there, like, a coup d’etat or something brewing?

redshirt2010

Who you calling a bumpkin, motherfucker?

Politically, Thailand is fucked up. In case your travel agent neglected to mention it, the story in a nutshell is that a coalition of urban elites and middle class (called the People’s Democratic Reform Committee) are trying like hell to oust the current prime minister and to suspend democracy in favor of appointed councils of smart, rich people, because they argue that the elections are too easily bought in the countryside, where the people are ignorant and unsophisticated. This of course doesn’t go over too well in the countryside among the “Red Shirts”, the aforementioned bumpkins who are in the odd position of upholding democracy by electing members of the same oligarch family every few years in exchange for pork-barrel projects and basic social services (which doesn’t sound terribly unlike the normal functioning of many Western democracies to me, but I digress).

During the last election on February 2nd, PDRC members obstructed voting in some places, and the results of this compromised election are still not finalized as of this writing one week later. There are still whispers of a coup, and if the democratically-elected government is overthrown, the Red Shirts have promised to raise holy hell as they did in 2010, when they rioted for several days and burned down buildings before being brutally squelched by the army.

What does this mean for travelers? Not much – for now – though it’s probably wise to avoid large gatherings and flammable buildings, which is to say, Bangkok. And if some major shit goes down in the capital, you may be a witness to history in the form of stray bullets, disrupted air travel, and the mall you are shopping in being burned to a husk.

Half-naked Europeans

speedos-001

Ja, diese are mein arsche und balls, ja.

I admire the liberal European attitude toward exposed flesh. They’re much more comfortable in their own skins than us puritanical Americans, and they love to let it show. But there’s a price: for every chiseled Adonis or 22—year-old Swedish bird sunning her rack there are twenty porcine German men in Speedos with their junk framed in such detail that you could pick their willies out of a police lineup with embarrassing certainty.

The women are no better. There are lots of breasts in this world that I don’t need to see; and some, like the flaccid, sun-freckled udders flapping on the ample bellies of 70-year-old French schoolmarms, that I would pay money to un-see. The scars run deep.

Mosquitoes and friends

In Thailand, every season is mosquito season, though some places are worse than others. Many otherwise fine evenings outdoors are marred by the little bloodsucking beasts, especially if you’re caught outside without repellent. If you’re really unlucky, you might be one of the tens of thousands of people who get dengue fever in Thailand every year.

And dengue transmission rates are getting worse.   In 2012, 70,000 people contracted dengue fever in Thailand. In 2013, the number was more than double that and was the highest figure for dengue fever in twenty years. The good news is that you probably won’t be one of the scores of victims who will die mosquito2howling in agony as acute dengue causes your gastrointestinal tract to hemorrhage, plasma to leach from your blood vessels, and your vital organs to shut down. I mean, what are the chances?

You can also take some comfort in knowing that it’s relatively difficult to get malaria or Japanese encephalitis, both of which affect thousands of poor saps every year in the Land of Smiles. Those diseases are mostly limited to the border areas near Cambodia and Myanmar, though, considering that much of Thailand lies on a narrow isthmus it shares with Myanmar, that’s effectively a third of the country.

Still, it would be a shame to let that stop you from having a fantastic time in Thailand this winter. The best thing to do is cover up with DEET, sleep under a net, and pray for bedbugs.

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37 comments

  1. Well done John! How well I remember the travelers “you know what” By the way, are the persons in the photo those “he-she” people?

  2. Might get a little ranty here…

    One thing I don’t miss about Korea is the winters. And on my Facebook feed are pictures of snow, complaints of the cold, and so on. I’m in Chiang Mai, now, and I was wearing shorts in FRIKKIN’ JANUARY. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    To get on to our fearless writer’s positions:

    The runs – in 10 1/2 months in Thailand (6 months in Bangkok, 4 1/2 months in Chiang Mai), no runs from food. Not one. Several from intoxication, but none from food. The key is to not shovel sh!t down your mouth. Eat where the locals are eating. If something looks undercooked, have them try again. I’d rather offend a local than be sitting on a toilet for the next 2 days.

    The Chinese hordes are almost as bad as the Korean hordes – and the waygookins whose main interest is drinking cheap rum or expressing their yellow fever. I’d have thought the soju would’ve cured you of cheap alcohol. Don’t like the “nouveau rich?” Cool – pick a place that’s not in the Chinese Lonely Planet, or a place that just raised its prices for the same sh!tty hotel rooms just because they’re on the beach road.

    No, there’s no coup d’etat – not yet. There’s enough political bullsh!t to make dozens of countries warn their citizens about traveling to Thailand. Do I even need to remind you how major news organizations get their hits? Some reality for a second: Bangkok sucks anyway. Relative to the rest of Thailand, it’s expensive, dirty, unfriendly, and will rip you off the instant they see you in those RIDICULOUS pants. Phuket and Pattaya are little better, mainly because they’ve had decades of experience at ripping off or overcharging dumb tourists. The political turmoil is almost entirely Bangkok’s thing – with one exception, I’ve seen zilch of that angst here in Chiang Mai. In the meantime, folks, that turmoil is *good* – your dollars buy more baht, while the prices / inflation hasn’t changed much.

    Take the good with the bad, and the mosquitoes / mostly-naked Europeans are a couple of those. The latter came to Thailand for the same reason some of you will – sun, booze, fraternization – and you probably look just as silly to them. Unless you fall into the ‘Adonis’ category yourself, stop calling the kettle black.

    To conclude this essay, Thailand rocks. It’s cheaper, there’s plenty to see and do, and the people (especially outside the touristy areas) are pretty friendly.

    1. It was my hope that by pointing out that “I love Thailand” and also by titling the piece “5 Things I’M TELLING MYSELF….” [as opposed to “Five Reasons I’m glad I’m not in Thailand”] it would signal to the perceptive reader that I don’t actually consider those things deal-breakers and that what followed would be tongue in cheek. When drafting the piece, I considered mentioning that I’ve been to Thailand over a dozen times and have spent over a year in total travelling all over the country, but I thought that might be overkill and instead decided to trust the intelligence and humor of my readers. Most people seem to have taken it that way. To you I can only say: oops!

      Thanks for reading.

  3. A brilliant post John, very funny ! I agree with your points re.downsides of Thailand, I think that you’ve actually been generous and relatively concise, we could all mention many more downsides. However, the beauty of travel (and living abroad) is taking all of the downs alongside the many ups. That said, I might add to your negative list: plagues of motorbikes, Karoake singers droaning on into the night in the jungle karoake bars (at least near my house), the rude, drunken, belligerent farangs, the hellishly dangerous roads etc. I could go on, but I actually love Thailand, as I think you do as well.

    Thanks for the post, great blog !

    1. Thanks Daniel. I do love Thailand – been there many times and hope to go many more. Indeed, the very premise of the piece was that I would much rather be there than here right now. I agree too that living abroad means taking the good with the bad, the ups and the downs, etc.

      It’s funny – the motorbikes was one of the things I initially thought about adding, particularly the way that people who have never driven one in their lives suddenly decide that renting a bike as their means of transportation around Thailand is a fantastic idea. It seldom is. And I totally agree on the obnoxious farangs: by far the most awful aspect of Thailand to me are the dregs of Western society that wash up there. As you picked up on though, my purpose wasn’t to write an earnest treatise on how awful Thailand is.

      Thanks for coming by. I appreciate the thoughts.

  4. So funny! Those things are too true. Especially the pink, overweight Europeans that I’ve noticed gather in hoards on Patong Beach. Shame, they obviously don’t know its possibly the worst beach in Phuket. Anyway, thanks for giving me a good laugh… and anxiety about getting that mosquito disease that I didn’t know even existed before now!

    1. Hi Maxine, I don’t think anxiety is justified, but dengue is the only thing on that list that I would take somewhat seriously. It has been rising around the world, not just in Thailand, though it is rarely fatal….except it can be quite dangerous a) to young kids and to b) people who are infected for the second time for reasons no one quite understands. Most of the rest of us are OK. I personally know a couple of people who’ve had it, and while it was certainly not a walk in the park, it was something they bounced back from fairly quickly. Be concerned, but don’t fret over it.

      And thanks for dropping by!

  5. Hahaha. This is a funny post and I believe that this post is just to make you feel better for not being able to be there with the assholes…err I mean, friends. LOL

    Anyway, I like your description of the Chinese tourists. It is damned true. And even my fellow Malaysian Chinese said the tourists from mainland China are different. ;D

    1. Hi Khai. Thanks for the kind words. You got it right – the inspiration for the piece was reading my friends’ facebook updates and seeing their photos of warm beaches while I’m working in chilly Korea and walking through snow and rain on my way to work. I thought it would be fun to write as that 8 a.m. grouch.

      As for the Chinese people, I’ve managed to avoid the big groups mainly when I used to travel solo. Now I travel with 3 small kids, so we tend to find ourselves in places that are somewhat easier to get to (Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Phan gan) so I find mysel foccasionally surrounded by the hordes from out of nowhere. I’ve had some annoying encounters, but it hasn’t been a major issue really. You really have to go out of your way to ruin my holiday when I’m in Thailand, and no one has managed to do that yet.

      Thanks for dropping by.

  6. I’ve never been to Thailand..and I have a tendency to be a tad bit neurotic..so basically your piece has ruined Thailand for me, forever…I will now only invision it as a place filled with death bringing Chinese mosquitos with aging flappy breasts..Thanks Bosmosis:)

  7. John’s right – Dengue is a serious problem, 3 friends have come down with it on Koh Phangan in the last year. They all recovered, but it was a very rocky road to recovery. The Dengue mossies bite during the daytime. Take care out there…,

  8. John, here where I am in Canada we’ve had weeks of sub-zero weather, some days as low as -25 degrees Celcius. I miss Korea where it was warm.

    1. Hey Bri! Sweet Jesus, that’s fucking COLD. I forget sometimes that to some of my Canadian friends, Busan is the tropics. This winter on the whole hasn’t actually been bad at all.

      THanks for reading and commenting!

  9. thanks for visiting my blog – thoroughly enjoyed this piece. The bit about the bedbugs was a bit close to home as we’ve just suffered such an attack and the other invading hordes this year seem to be Ruskies with no feelings/respect for the locals who would prefer not to see acres of bare breast etc. exposed to all and sundry. I think we’ll have to find somewhere quieter to go……

    1. Yes, could be time. My wife has already had enough of Thailand, though I still find it pleasant enough. Haven’t bumped into the Russkies yet tho…

      Thanks for the visit!

  10. Stay away from Asian countries (except for Japan). They are filthy (wiping their ass with their hands), politically, corrupt (they will arrest or kill you with virtual impunity) and they hate us ( except for our tourist dollars). Spend your money on helping an abused or abandoned animal: at least animals love us unconditionally and clean their anuses with their tongues.

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