Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bpai Tiao!

Just gonna point out that today officially marks the completion of my first third of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. If I'd had a bun in the oven when I left the states, it'd be about done by now, what what?

Anyhow, "bpai tiao" is when you go somewhere for fun (as opposed to for seriousness). Sometimes I bpai tiao when I wander around my village, sometimes I bpai tiao when a Thai person says a bunch of stuff to me in Thai, I smile and nod, then am ushered into a car (we call that being "Thai-napped"), and sometimes I bpai tiao when I intentionally decide that I want to travel somewhere and then I do.

During bpit term (the month-ish break between semesters), my fan (that's Thai for "sho'ty") and I did some touring, hitting three points of interest: Ayutthya, Sukothai and Pai.

Ayutthya and Sukothai were pretty amazing. Sukothai was the first official capitol of Thailand when Thailand became Thailand (though they didn't call it Thailand at the Thaim, I mean time), like 700-ish years ago (I think, you might want to wikipedia that, I can't be bothered to fact-check all my claims). The king (or I suppose one of the kings) from that era is responsible for developing the written alphabet. Eventually, a king decided to move the capitol to another big city more centrally located (called Ayutthya) and Sukothai just got old, until it got old enough that people wanted to come see some history and they started to charge money to see it.

Ayutthya was cool to visit for many of the same reasons as Sukothai (old stuff is awesome, and the US doesn't really have anything comparable). In the 1700s, Ayutthya was attacked by the Burmese, and so the ruins are in shabbier shape than those in Sukothai. I don't know a lot of details about this conflict (sorry), but apparently the Burmese were repelled (or shortly thereafter booted out), since Thailand is Thai today. The destruction of Ayutthya prompted the relocation of the capitol to Grungtep (or Bangkok for all you farangs out there).

And now I will take this opportunity to rant for a moment. There is a fairly common practice at tourist attractions to have different (higher) prices for foreign tourists than Thai tourists, like anywhere from 3 to 20 times the Thai price. Usually, the signs announce the entrance fee in English with Arabic numerals, and then in Thai, with Thai numerals, it tells the native entrance fee, so probably many foreign tourists don't realize there is a different price. A small part of me understands this practice, but for the most part, I really don't like it. I think it reflects poorly on the Thai character. It brings the assumption across that all foreigners are rich and that Thai people just want their money. Bah. I have more feelings on the matter, but it's difficult to articulate. In any case, upon becoming a PCV and receiving our Thai ID cards, we were told that by showing those cards, we could expect to pay the Thai price for things, and it has worked at the zoo and national parks, but it did NOT work to see the ruins. Just to let any other volunteers who might read this know. And doing the chicken dance did NOT convince the lady that I was sufficiently Thai, though she did laugh.

After the old stuff, we headed to Pai for a couple days. Pai is a beautiful area in the mountains a few hours north of Chiang Mai, and it made me kinda sad. We stayed at a very nice guest house a few kilometers outside of the town of Pai, which I was quite happy about, as the town of Pai is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with tourism. Fortunately we were not there at the high season (as far as tourism goes) when the population of the area is approximately 90% farang, and it was only 60-70%. Heavens know, when I go visit a foreign country I'd hate to see local people doing anything besides selling me stuff and taking me on ATV tours. There were signs advertising "Go where most tourists don't go!" So everyone who wants to go see "real" Thailand will go there, and then someone will build a 7-11 and a pizza place there, and then they will have to find a new place to take people where "most tourists don't go!" Just a series of rapery until Pai is lame and people don't want to go there, and the tour companies go find a new place to exploit, and then the local people who have centered their economy around catering to tourists have an empty town full of guest houses and farang restaurants (because I hate eating local food when I travel). And I couldn't help but think that probably ten or twenty (or five, I dunno) years ago, Pai was just a quiet farming community until some businessman from Bangkok or Chiang Mai (or a farang businessman is just as likely) happened to wander through and say, "Boy! This would make a great tourist destination!" But our guest house was very nice and we had a great view.


Anyhow, traveling was fun, but it was definitely nice to get back to my site where I'm more than just another farang with money that I need to leave in Thailand.

Eli OUT!

Edit: So, I just clicked the publish button, and I felt kinda bad, like this might sound pretty harsh, and I suppose it is supposed to be a little harsh, but don't let it fool you. I still love this place, and y'all should definitely come visit. I just encourage everyone out there to practice responsible tourism.

1 comment:

  1. I completely understand. You have offically become a Peace Corps volunteer deep in your soul. Think about a trip out of country at a year. It helped me. Love you, keep going strong. Josh