I warn you that this blog post isn’t going to be 100% family-friendly for those of you sharing my journey with your littluns. I’m not about to get crass and rude, nothing like that – just that this part of my world journey was definitely the stop for enlightenment about the whole spectrum of the tourism industry and the world we live in (the good, the bad, and the sad).
Being on the ship, I have the opportunity to see the first-rate entertainment shows on-board…and for the world cruise there are a few special ones that capture the theme of the ports of call we are visiting. The show before Thailand provided for me an incredible overview and, dare I say, preparation for what I was about to encounter. For, honestly, I didn’t really know what tourism in Thailand was all about. Some fellow crew asked me if I was going to a “show in Pattaya.” I had never even heard of Pattaya before.
I soon realized that Bangkok was about 2 hours away from our port of call and, therefore, way too distant to visit (furthering my suspicion that there’s an Asian plot to get me to come back to see what I missed). So, aside from those people who have all day…many on board went to the closer tourist town of Pattaya. Which, again, I had never heard of.
So, the on-board production show was a compilation about Thai history and its tourism industry. The way they told the story was tasteful and deep, but also honest…and that’s when I got it: that the tourism industry is indeed a very conflicted one…one that brings in tremendous revenue for the country, but that also brings in a lot of unpleasant elements.
Pattaya was Thailand’s first tourist trap. A gleaming white sandy beach and undeveloped city. Tourists found it, and went wild. REALLY wild. Like wild as in this is NOT a family tourist stop (although, bewilderingly, I saw parents on vacation walking their 8 year-old kids down the street at 9pm. In Pattaya. To each their own; but…)
Wealthy people flying in from distant parts of the world had a destination where they could put their thoughts away, and which they could forget about it when they left. They could do what they want, indulge all their greatest temptations. And leave.
So, an entire city and industry built up around them.
In the process of uninhibited (in more ways than one) tourism development, the beach (Pattaya’s original calling card) was pretty well decimated. It’s cleaned up a bit from the toilet bowl it was…but I wouldn’t go swimming there.
No matter though, for Pattaya had morphed very quickly from a beach destination to a pleasure destination where anything goes. Actually, scratch that… where EVERYTHING goes.
So tourists had a place for disposable holidays of indulgence. But, someone had to provide that indulgence, of course. There is now a very complex, somewhat sad, somewhat frightening, and certainly eye-opening sex tourism industry.
Did I observe any of it? Well, my fellow crew and I went to see a show. Nuff said.
Well, actually, I will say, that part of the entertainment was gained by witnessing who else walked through the door to see the show… and their reaction when they were “found out” by their fellow crew. It’s absolutely impossible to go ashore with any anonymity…you always run in to other crew members.
So why did we all go? Why be a part of supporting the negative side of the tourism culture?
Curiosity. A bit of entertainment, sure. And the chance to witness it. The chance to understand and see all that our world was really about: the full spectrum of the tourism industry that we, too, are a part of. The good, the bad, the sad. To really “get it” I suppose. But yes, of course we can’t claim any innocence…we weren’t helping the cause by being there.
We also had a simply incredible Thai meal at an open-air resort restaurant, where they had traditional Thai dance. A nice break indeed from the raucous nature of the rest of Pattaya.
I also took advantage of the incredible buying power of the American dollar in Thailand and partook in one of the most quintessential “male in asia” experiences: I had a custom-tailored three-piece suit made overnight for WAY less than an off-the-shelf suit goes for in Canada. That was fun.
Oh…and here’s a funny closing note on Pattaya. You’ll soon see the photos of all the bright tempting lights everywhere. Well, that crazy party spirit even carried through to the city hall. A big governmental building…all completely aglow with flashing patterned neon lights. Alrighty then…