When I first told people I was going to Thailand for eight months, many reacted questioning the quality of the water, infrastructure, whether I knew the language, and some even asked if I was excited to be in the sex capital of the world (a disappointing question considering the work I’m doing to fight westerners appetite for “exotic” sex and eroticism here in the “Land of Smiles”). The stereotypes were all laid out on the table, and the misconceptions about Thailand that are constantly perpetuated by the media were more than evident in the conversations I was having. If you spend your nights on Loi Kroh road or in the Go-Go bars that line many of the streets, or even hit enter one of the massage parlors lined with women cat calling you in for a “massage, massage,” it’s easy to see where people might get the wrong idea about Thailand and its locals. The people here are beautiful in spirit AND appearance and the cities boast beauty that’s only surpassed by the natural world outside of them. Of those I talked to who had previously been to Thailand, I had only heard good things, and I am definitely seeing the greatness described. From the gorgeous Wat Chedi Luang of Chiang Mai and the Royal Palace of Bangkok, to the carst cliffs jutting out of the turquoise waters off Railay Beach and the graceful mountains that call home just beyond Chiang Mai, Thailand has a lot to offer— and I’ve only just scratched the surface.
Under that surface of good infrastructure, overall safe cities, clean streets and an amazing trash pickup system (I’m still figuring out how they manage trash pickups everyday on every street), there lies an underbelly of Thai culture, largely driven by western demand. It’s like the many cockroaches I see every night on the sidewalks— visible, but easy to dismiss as they quickly disappear through the cracks of the sewers and walls for an escape. You can see exploitation in Thailand but must be conscious of it in order to avoid enabling it.