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.
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 whatever 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.
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?
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.
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 howling 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.