April 2010

My first visit to Bangkok was in April 2010.

I’d timed my visit to co-incide with the popular Water Festival (also known as “Songkran”) — a yearly event, when all Thais go crazy with water-guns, shooting water at each and everyone on the streets all over Thailand :=))

Songkran Water Festival (Thailand)

Images for the Songkran Water Festival

I’ll be straight-up : Songkran is FUN =)))))))))))   At least, I certainly enjoyed it. Ok, maybe there a few over the top incidences. I mean, imagine getting drenched with water every where you go, all over the city (haha).  But……..well, I asked for it, and I got it :=)))

I didn’t buy a water-gun for myself; I was content to watch while others played “Call of Duty” with water-guns of all kinds and shapes and sizes.  All over the city.

All in all, I loved my first taste of this amazing South-East Asian kingdom. I’d heard stories about it, and I was pleasantly amazed. The stories didn’t even begin to do the country justice. Thailand was an exceptionally beautiful country; the people were the friendliest I’d ever encountered anywhere — always smiling, polite, and helpful.

No wonder Thailand was known by all as “The Land of Smiles”.

I was there only a couple of weeks. And, I wish I could have stayed longer. I really do. :=)))

August 2014

4 years later, I visited Thailand again. And……..I was in for one hell of a shock!

The country seemed to have undergone a major overhaul. Firstly, there had been a military coup in May of that same year, and the military had taken power. The country was now under a new kind of “control”, previously unseen in these parts. The entire nation was being subjected to an extremely tough scrutiny — economy, finance, trade, tourism, etc, etc.

But, all of this were minor issues. There are coups all over the world, and most of them are far worse than what had happened in Thailand. At least, the Thais could boast of a relatively “peaceful” coup d’etat — without bloodshed, or the other tragedies that usually accompany such acts of stupidity.

No, that was not the point. The major change in the country was noticeable in the PEOPLE themselves. What was previously known as the “Land of Smiles” had become the land of frowns and scowls!  Gone were the politeness, the friendliness, the welcoming nature. All of these were now replaced by a surprisingly high level of aggression, unpleasantness, foul moods, and just plain negativity. Thais no longer welcomed foreigners with open arms; on the contrary, foreigners were seen as “the reason why our country is in such a foul state”; they were seen as “targets for acts of aggression”.

The atmosphere was so thick with this negativity, that I actually felt it everywhere I went. It was just too obvious. Thais didn’t even seem to care that they were being so blunt about it. Every day, the reports kept flowing in : discrimination, injustice (social and otherwise), acts of violence, etc, all perpetrated against foreigners (mostly tourists, but also against those who live there, and who had even lived there for several years).

(To be honest, “discrimination” in Thailand, per se, was not an entirely new concept. Of course, it had existed for decades. And not only in Thailand, but in many Asian countries, too. Heck, any foreigner who’s lived in Thailand will tell you about the famous “Dual Pricing” — when foreigners are charged higher, sometimes double, fees, for goods and services, as compared to the local Thais; and then there are the instances of cons, swindles, scams pulled against all visitors to the nation. But, this was never cloaked in negativity and/or resentment. No!  It was always done under a veil of “good-naturedness”; even foreigners accepted this as a reality, and shrugged their shoulders. It was unspoken fact of life that : as a foreigner, you were seen as “rich” and, therefore, a potential money-making machine :=)  Everyone knew this, and accepted is as the norm. No harm, no foul).

But, what was happening now was another thing entirely. That “cloak” had been lifted. That veil was no longer in place. It had been discarded, and replaced with an open and naked resentment that seemed to fester.

One evening, while I was there in Bangkok, I was chatting to a close friend on Skype, and telling her about this new black atmosphere in Thailand. She responded with a profound statement which struck home : “Whatever darkness or resentment we are seeing now is nothing new. It was always there; but, it was always hidden below the surface — under the cloak of those so-called friendly smiles the Thais were so famous for. And now, the cloak has been stripped away. The Thais are finally revealing their true colors”.

Whether this statement was true or not, it made a LOT of sense to me.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was disillusioned with Bangkok. I couldn’t wait to get away from there.

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Hua Lampong Temple

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As it happened, I’d planned a trip to Phuket, one of Thailand’s most popular tourist spots. To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on going there; but, I’d already bought the tickets, booked the apartment, and so on. And, in any case, my return flight to Finland was a long way off yet.

So, after only 4 days in Bangkok, I was only too glad to get on a plane and jet off to Phuket………..