After travelling through Central Asia and western China, we were ready to take it easy for a while. Southeast Asia was our exciting prospect on the horizon—warm, relaxed, friendly and cheap—and it was these prospects that kept driving us forward through days of -12ºC cold or being ripped off, and nights of hellish bus rides or struggling to find accommodation that would accept foreigners. No matter how bad it got, we knew in just a few weeks, days, we would be in paradise.
But when we got here, Southeast Asia really surprised us. Not because it wasn’t warm, relaxed, friendly or cheap. It was. But we were surprised to find that we didn’t really like it.
It took us a long time to admit that to ourselves. Our first destination, Cambodia, was a shock to the system, with the hoards of tourists and Spring Break-style beaches. But it was still possible to take two steps away from all that and get a solid look at real Cambodian life, plus the country’s relatively new tourism industry is still rough around the edges, which makes it something of an interesting challenge.
But Thailand, oh Thailand. Thailand really burned us out.
Like any good metropolis, Bangkok was a blast. We hardly wanted to leave. But when it came to nightlife the place was seriously sub-par, with expensive clubs catering to the “see and be seen” crowd that all closed at 2am because Thailand is under martial law. We were really aching for a good party, but they were nowhere to be found.
It was our third trip to Thailand and we still hadn’t seen anything of the north or south. Neither of us are really into beaches, and everyone and their uncle seemed to be heading to Koh Phangan, so we decided to avoid that area completely and head north into the jungle. Who doesn’t like the jungle?!
Everyone apparently loves the jungle, because the north was as rammed as the south must be. As we walked around Chiang Mai on our first evening, the streets were seemingly teeming with farang, surely at least two for every Thai (until we found Nimman Road—a small blessing). After a few days trying to avoid the crowds there, we headed up to Pai because it sounded cool. But it was Pai that really drove us into the ground. The pseudo rasta-hippy bullshit and the sheer number of tourists was just too much to handle for two people who had spent four months with the world all to themselves.
So we moved on further north to Chiang Rai, hoping to get our travel mojo back. But after five days there, we felt even more demotivated than before. Neither of us felt like doing anything besides sitting in front of our laptops, and we felt simultaneously bored and exhausted by the idea of even looking for things to do and places to go.
Finally, after nearly three weeks of moping around northern Thailand, we sat down with a big pizza and some beer to figure out what was wrong and what to do about it. Were we really so sick of travelling? Or was it just the majestic tiger kingdom that got us down?
We could count dozens of things that had gradually worn us down over the past month. Was it Bangkok’s crappy nightlife? Or seeing all the sexpats—overweight, smarmy, unintegrated—with younger Thai girls yawning on their arms? Maybe it was the lack of good booze in Thailand. or the constant inconvenience of not being able to buy beer from 7-Eleven between 2pm and 5pm and after midnight.
Maybe it was that neither of us really had much we wanted to see in Thailand. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m not into the beach, I don’t like trekking, and I think yoga is boring.
There’s also the fact that so much of Thailand has been heavily permeated by tourists, many of which are first-time backpackers with brand new Lonely Planets who think that Thailand is one big playground-slash-meat market for Westerners, and have little-to-no interest in meeting the locals. Maybe it was hearing so many Americans, with their silly-sounding drawl of an accent, hyped up about full moon parties, giving baths to elephants, and hitting all the stops on the great Banana Pancake Trail.
It was also being run down by sleepless nights, thanks to the lack of hostel etiquette (or common sense?) of novice backpackers who would take phone calls in bed at 2am, snore all night, or bang around in their lockers and chat in the room from 7am.
Then there were the herds of the wannabe-hippy tourists in Pai, with their fresh tattoos and their hair wraps and their yoga retreats. Or all the grumpy families and grumpy couples and grumpy groups of friends who, in the midsts of their unrelenting drama about stupid things, would make us wonder if we weren’t in fact on holiday in Spain or Greece. To top it all off were the elephant-print linen trousers, the ubiquitous backpacker uniform that these people will probably never, ever wear once they leave Asia, and will probably become landfill fodder before their flight home even leaves the tarmac.
Maybe our malaise was rooted in the fact that everything was just so easy, and there was so little challenge in figuring things like transport and accommodation out. So much English and so few scams, so little independent thought needed to go from point A to B.
Maybe it was because so much of the authenticity has been drained out of places in the north, and everywhere you look there’s nothing but Disneyfied hill tribes and elephant rides. Maybe it was because, once we found a socially-responsible, really hands-on, non-touristic tour, we got told it would cost us almost £300 for a two-day, one-night guided trek.
Maybe it’s because we don’t give a fark about tigers and elephants, don’t want to learn massage or practice reiki, and don’t want to get covered in day-glo paint and drink Sangsom buckets into oblivion to the sound of trance music.
Ultimately, maybe it was because, despite the fact that the people are really nice and the food is amazing, neither of us are very interested in Thai culture.
We wanted it easy, but Thailand was so easy it got boring. We felt so drained by the experience that we couldn’t even motivate ourselves to actually take great opportunities when they came our way, like joining the chavvy local festival in Chiang Rai, or visiting a refugee camp nearby. For a while, I felt like I actually wanted to throw in the towel, and go back to Europe where people are slightly less obnoxious and the music is better. After being in Thailand for three weeks, all I could think was, “Is this it? Is this all travelling is? What’s the point?”
But over pizza and beer, we came to our senses. We didn’t hate travelling, and we didn’t hate Thailand. It’s just not our kind of place, really, and we’d been here too long. Thankfully we have the luxury of just leaving whenever we get bored, and that’s what we decided to do. It’s back to Bangkok for two nights, then further south on to our 24th country, and hopefully some better adventures.
We had an okay run, Thailand, but it’s time to move on.
We did some other stuff besides moping and drinking, really!!