After nearly a decade of having little to do with tourists and their perspectives, I have just spent 2 weeks introducing my brother, Dan, his wife, Rita, and their son, Travis, to as much of Thailand as could be packed into that time. I was reminded of several things which I think might be helpful to share in this short blog-essay about traveling to a new country and being a host to people coming to yours.
First, you cannot do everything. It is best to focus on a variety of experiences that challenge without aggravating new travelers to this exotic country. What do the travelers think are “must do” experiences based on what they have found out from other tourists and from the omniscient Internet? If beach time is necessary, that will take precedence. I personally feel that 2 weeks is too short to travel to more than two or three different parts of the country since each trip takes a minimum of half a day. So if Angkor Wat is a “must” side trip, it’ll eat up at least 3 or 4 of the days.
Second, is the rule of thirds. A successful time in Thailand will probably be divided into a third for shopping, a third involved with eating and resting in one way or another, and a third spent on sight-seeing and cultural orientation. The shopping part needs to be carefully planned to overlap with cultural studies as much as possible. Too much of any of the three will spoil the trip, possibly without meaning to. Even with a larger group needing to include something like a conference, the rule of thirds will help keep everybody smiling.
Third, not all cultural or natural highlights can be fitted into two weeks. But the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha are almost mandatory. It is a mistake, however, to suggest that this covers everything that’s important about the monarchy and religion. In fact, these do not even fairly represent either of those institutions. Nevertheless, tourists are cheated if they are not helped to see Thai Royalty and Thai Buddhism from a Thai point of view. The other necessity, and the one most often overlooked, is to see Thai life from the perspective of the people living here. This cannot be done by staying on the “tourist routes” in tourist hotels, tour busses, and tourist destinations. Package tours make this mistake.
Fourth, everyone comes with a set of biases. These can distort the experiences of the travelers and even ruin the trip for others. It is best if the travelers correct one another, but the tour leader may need to intervene if things get out of hand. New food choices can be a challenge. The first signal of danger is when the initial question is, “What is it?” Except for food allergies and dietary restrictions, the best advice is to assume it will be OK until proven otherwise. Communication bias is the other most common issue. The best travelers assume that communication will be successful one way or another, as it almost always turns out to be. Travelers on the way to a failed time in Thailand assume that everybody ought to be able to understand if the conversation is loud enough and the language being spoken is dumbed down enough … “Me like this. You sell how much?” It really helps just to relax and enjoy what is happening.
Travis was a good traveler who seemed to thrive in new opportunities here on his first visit to Thailand. I liked it that he took personal pictures to record his experiences. Some people’s selfies tell you nothing, but Travis’s were better than that. You can almost know without being told what he’s up to in the pictures (at the top of this blog) and how much he is enjoying it. He’ll be back one of these days.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.