Photo: Wong's Bar, Bangkok.

Idle banter forum

Mass tourism in SE Asia

Posted by somtam2000 on 29/3/2008 at 08:17 admin

We've just added a new feature story to the site discussing a recent USA Today story lamenting the state of affairs in some of the region's better known "must sees". The story picks out Luang Prabang, Pai and Siem Reap as cases in point.

It's a common, and a selfish, refrain; "it was so much better back then -- before everyone else found out about it." It seems many want to experience what Gray describes as "a cohesive, authentic, living community" but they certainly don't want to share it -- certainly not with 50 tour buses a day. But who is to blame?
You can read the full story here

What do you think?

#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,436
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Posted by Jon_Mak_Mak on 15/4/2008 at 01:21

I did write a "long ol' rant" about this and nealry submitted it but I've learnt along time ago to leave much of my opinion on strong topics off internet forums! lol.

So... I basically agree that the problem is tourist not understanding (OR REFUSING TO) the local customs and ways of the country they are visiting. Thailand is a country in which you can cause offence by doing somthing that you wouldnt think twice about in your own country.

At the end of the day its like the rest of the world. All about money.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 15/4/2008 at 05:41 admin

Don't hold back!

The Herald Tribune ran a very similar story yesterday lamenting the state of Luang Prbaang...the photo accompanying the story sums the problem up nicely...

Perhaps if the New York Times hadn't declare Laos to be the "place to go" in 2008, this wouldn't have happened quite so fast, but in the end, unfortunately it's a bit inevitable.

#3 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,436
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Posted by SBE on 15/4/2008 at 13:34

That picture in the Herald Tribune says it all. Reminds me of tourists on safari pushing and shoving to get the best snapshots of the lions. The cultural insensitivity of some tourists really is breath-taking, as is their arrogance in assuming that it’s the locals who need to adapt to Western attitudes and life-styles rather than the other way round.

I got an email yesterday from a newbie I met who’s on his first trip abroad and has just been to Luang Prabang. He described it as a tourist anthill and he didn’t enjoy Siem Reap much either. Anyway, to escape the hordes he went north to Luang Nam Tha and from there he decided he might as well cross into Yunnan so he’s wound up in an old town called Dali which he says is absolutely beautiful and by far the most authentic place he’s been so far… hardly a honky in sight according to him.

I don’t know Dali so I looked it up in Wikipedia. Here’s what they say:

“Dali is one of Yunnan's most popular tourist destinations, both for its historic sites and the "Foreigners' Street" that features western-style food, music, and English-speaking business owners, making it popular among both western and Chinese tourists, who come to gawk at the foreigners”.


There’s got to be a moral in there somewhere…

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Posted by Jon_Mak_Mak on 15/4/2008 at 17:15

"OMG!" Is what i said.

"They arn't aloud to do that" is what my wife said. So thats 2 reactions from seeing that picture.

I love taking photos and i have takened 1000's but i try to do it in away that would not cause offence. This picture is teriible and basically sums up the package tourist that i try to avoid!

Such a shame. :(

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Posted by fondo on 15/4/2008 at 19:07

Tourism literaure is full of discussions about searches for the authentic. the notion of authentic varies, but the experience of authenticity is necessarily elusive because it is essentially imagined. I don't think it's reasonable to condemn other people's ideas about what authenticity is merely because they don't match yours.

Have said that, for me, LP is a total mess but Geez, my home town has changed too. I guess noone expects it to be caught in a nostalgic timewarp for their voyeuristic convenience though.

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Posted by Tilapia on 15/4/2008 at 20:30

Don't underestimate the influence of a growing middle class and homegrown tourism, especially in Thailand. This is a massive market that is heavily catered to. Combined with the massive amounts of money pouring into the country from Singapore, Japan, and Malaysia, corruption, lack of environmental protection, and sky-rocketing waterfront values, it is reasonable to expect change in a very big way, especially in the more popular/scenic/exotic areas.

LP, Moon and other publications may have been instrumental in paving the way for backpackers, and they may even have helped awaken some Thais to a potential market, but they are certainly not responsible for the fact that there are now three vehicle ferries plying the waters between Laem Ngop and Koh Chang every single hour. For the most part, it is not foreign tourists in those vehicles. Nor is Cummings responsible for the overrunning of Koh Samet and Cha-am every weekend. And it's not tourists who are buying the thousands upon thousands of condos that have sprung up between Phetchaburi and Hua Hin every 500m, or less, along a stretch of coastline that was practically empty even 15 years ago. Nor are they patronizing the businesses that spring up around these developments.

If people want authentic, then perhaps they should consider planting rice with a farmer in some rural village around Lopburi. There are plenty of them, and they're easy to find on Google Earth ={:?D) It's about as authentic as you can get around there.

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Posted by exacto on 15/4/2008 at 21:30

Having been visiting Thailand regularly since the mid 80's, Tilapia's comments ring very true to my experience. I think much of this is a function of domestic/internal economic development rather than the polluting influence of tourism. No doubt there are tourists who visit a place without making the effort to understand it on its own terms, but from my own observations, the chances in the must-see places in Thailand is definitely a result of more locals having the time and money to visit, and I completely agree that the dramatic changes in places like Samet and Samui and Chiang Mai and even Luang Prabang are more the result of local tourists and their particular tastes and needs than anything else.

I'd also point out that many types of worthwhile local handicrafts and particularly local art forms, like the Lao dancing shows in LP and VTE or the puppet shows in Cambodia have experienced a renaissance because of tourism. At least that's not necessarily a bad thing.

In any case, the experiences in LP and Chiang Mai are authentic, since that is what those communities are really like now. However, they aren't necessarily the idilic and perhaps over-romanticized experiences many of us crave. Perhaps the best bet is to do what SBE's friend did and push on to the next place or to pick a relatively obscure location to explore on our own. Those are still out there for those who wish. Cheers.

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Posted by Tilapia on 15/4/2008 at 23:04

Yep ... I have no doubt that my friends and old neighbours in Prachinburi and Khao Takiab, though always interested, grew weary of having to hear about and look at photos of their own country from someone like myself. Nowadays, besides having time, money, vehicles, and organized tours, they also have a mind-boggling array of flight options that will take them to any and all points of interest in SE Asia both quickly and inexpensively.

Even the farming family I lived with are able to take vacations now, and the last things they are going to want when they go away are rickety bungalows, quiet evenings, rustic surroundings, fairy lights, and kerosene lamps. They were born into and exist with these things every day. They want restaurants, concrete bungalows or hotels, karaoke, a/c, shopping malls, road access, and swimming pools.

Another thing I think that this article doesn't address is the interest in these places from within. Many Thais I know are extremely, genuinely interested in visiting places of historical and religious significance whether they be in Thailand, Cambodia, or Laos. I've even met a few checking out Burma and being very surprised at what they'd found out.

One always runs the risk of being disappointed when returning to a place with certain expectations. It's better to go expecting change and hoping for the best.
Having said that, I'll never go back to Lazy Days on Koh Mak, or Joy Bungalows on Koh Jum. I frequented those places countless times between 1992 and 2003, but I know that if I go back I WILL be disappointed. Koh Si Boya ... now there's a place ...

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