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27th September 2011

Thailand

Trying to break the ‘tourist trap’ in two… weeks in Thailand

Having been forewarned of how Thailand, especially the South West coast around Phuket, is one large, overcrowded tourist trap I set out to see not only if this is true but also whether it would be possible to break out of this trap. The only way I thought this would be possible, other than completely avoiding it (which for various reasons we could not do) was to take it to its very limit in the hope that it would burst at the seams. Inspired by the boy who was forced to eat cake by the school headmistress in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, I believed it might just work. For those of you unaware of the outcome in the novel, the little boy who is being punished is forced to then eat the whole, ginormous chocolate cake in front of the entire school at assembly through which the headmistress hopes to teach him, and the rest of the school no doubt, a lesson. Hilariously he victoriously defies her and essentially ridicules her methods by managing to eat it all in one sitting and somewhat happily so as well! Whether similar things can be applied to Thailand and its tourism industry I was yet to find out but one thing about being in a trap is that you are by definition trapped! For me, and my travelling buddy, we had to succumb either way to two weeks of this and our only hope was that somehow at the end of it all we didn’t feel like typical tourists but had somehow actually ‘won’ in the war between traveller and host.

Now for those of you unaware of just what a tourist trap is it can be explained in one simple sentence. As you walk around a destination you are extremely aware that you are a foreigner because people stare at you, bargain with you, try to sell you everything under the sun, you pay twice what the locals do, there are signs advertising any and every kind of trip imaginable, you cannot speak the language, they can barely speak yours and there are lots of people like you milling around the streets looking just as confused and out of place. See, simple.

Now before you get the wrong impression, Thailand is spectacular and the South West coast especially so. There are good reasons places become tourist traps and in general the natural beauty of Thailand has not been ruined at all. Mangrove swamps, long white sandy beaches, tropical vegetation, abundant marine life, huge limestone cliffs rising out of land and sea both and  best of all a warm climate year round to enjoy it all in – it doesn’t get much better than this.

In the end we did practically every single touristy thing advertised on the brochure and definitely didn’t ‘break the trap’ as I’d thought we may have. However, when I think that we did it all cheaply, on purpose and had a great time doing so I don’t think we really lost out at all! Perhaps we did break the trap and all it took was an attitude of submission to the mode of tourism over there. It certainly is helpful having people fall head over heels wanting to take you on their tours; in fact I’m not sure how we would have coped without them all!