Bai nai?

September 3, 2012

Thais on Bikes 2

“Where are you going?” nearly every Thai person I’ve ever encountered has asked me, sometimes reverting to the popular Thaiglish “Where you go?” I wish I had the language skills to explain that I was staying in this area for a few days and had no desire to accept a ride on the back of those deathtrap motorcycles, but thank you ever so much, khop khun khrap.

The tourist industry in Thailand is very much the same as I remember it back in 2008, but it doesn’t seem to annoy me as much on this trip. I don’t want a suit, a lady, a man, a tuk-tuk, or a taxi. I’m happy to walk between the Thai Mueang Volunteer house and downtown several times during the day. And strangely enough, that’s inconceivable to Thais. Even amongst themselves, walking is reserved for those without motorbikes or cars; if you have one and make the 200-meter trek to your destination, many might ask “Why didn’t you take your motorbike?”.

As a foreigner, I suppose there’s a variety of reasons why Thais stop and offer me rides in this sleepy little town: to practice their English; to spare me the “pain” of walking, as I don’t have a bike (having a motorbike is as much a status symbol as it is a means of transport); to take me to the nearest tourist attraction… after all, why else would I be in Thailand?

This last line of reasoning confuses me the most, as it should all visitors to the land of smiles. For a country with such amazing natural beauty, Thailand does a really poor job at selling anything outside of the biggest beach resorts (Patong on Phuket) and islands (Kou Samui). And these places are nothing but strip malls with KFC, McDs, gem shops, and DVD merchants… not exactly compelling reasons to fly halfway across the world.

A similar touristy area exists about 30 km north of Thai Mueang, on Khao Lak beach. Without fail, EVERY time I have walked along the road going north, a car or motorcycle taxi will pull up and ask “Where you go? Khao Lak?”

Maybe this just makes perfect sense to Thais, that foreigners would only go to places abroad that are familiar and safe. Still, I’m not tempted to ask every Thai person I see in Austin “Where you go? Thai food?”

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