The word is out! Thailand is becoming the destination for people visiting Southeast Asia. In response to this, the country is striving to present itself as a safe and friendly place. The effort appears to be paying dividends. Two years ago, I could take an evening stroll through my beloved red light neighborhood and the only Westerners I’d encounter would be my fellow horny, middled-aged compatriots. But now some misguided men are actually bringing their families to take in the sights (“Look junior! There’s a pros-ti-tute!). It’s a bit much for an old-timer like myself
On the other hand, I can understand the newfound interest, at least here in Bangkok. Name almost any kind of mainstream international cuisine and chances are there is a restaurant somewhere that features it. (And if you into Indian cooking, welcome to nirvana!) For sightseeing, there are temples, museums, parks and open markets galore. Enough to keep a tourist busy for a month with the skytrain and subway systems making getting around an easy proposition. And for those with a hankering to see more of the country, the city’s central location is a convenient springboard.
But if one is going to spend some time here, it’s important to understand a little bit about the Thais themselves. An illustrative example would be the manner in which they endured World War II. In the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese overran much of Southeast Asia. The resulting occupation was harsh and brutal, engendering a bitterness that in some places lingers to this day. So what did the Thais do? Well, they more or less collaborated with their new rulers. Maybe that is too harsh a characterization. Let’s just say they put up with them. An American acquaintance of mine, who speaks the language, says the Thais don’t give a sh*t about foreigners, an attitude I believe allowed the country to emerge comparatively unscathed from the war.
This means a visitor here will not be hassled. You won’t be gawked at, or have people pointing their fingers at the silly farang (Thai word for foreigner). At least not in Bangkok. But this indifference should not prevent you from being friendly with the natives. The Thais are also a shy people, meaning it’s up to you to smile first, often to be rewarded with a genuine one in return. The country is in fact known the “Land of Smiles”. This doesn’t mean they are all Happy Harrys, but interactions with them (taxi drivers excepted) can be pleasant and worthwhile.