Fresh from reading a travel article about Bangkok by a popular travel writer I am compelled to say….’What’? I understand the challenge and influence that new cultural experiences can have on the psyche of a western traveler but this was full blown tropo from the get go. Booking a hotel room in the Patpong red light district might have been accidental, a rookie mistake. To write about the entirety of the city as an extension of the red light district is wrongheaded. No city should be judged solely on it’s flaws . I live in Bangkok and couldn’t find a sex show if I wanted to see one. I would have to consult a sex tourist website and seek out such a thing. Apparently they still exist. What I read was the narrow view from a Bangkok virgin unwilling or unable to seek out what lay beyond the few square blocks surrounding her hotel. This town is not all about sex, it never was. But it is very hot and humid and I forgive the writer for not wanting to venture far from the air conditioned security of her hotel and into the fray of this very busy city.
Travel touts got hold of the sex tourism idea and exploited it through the 1970’s to the 1990’s after a brief period of rest and recuperation stationing of American troops during the last few years of the Vietnam War. Stateside media popularized the flesh pot reminiscences of returning soldiers through the medium of dirty magazines. Sex tourism has contracted every year since and is dying in fits and stops. The dynamic economy has put a knife through it’s sordid heart. Of course, a novice traveler wouldn’t know that by walking the hoary beat along the few blocks of the red light district in central Bangkok or the gang infested stroll of Pattaya. Thailand is no longer the desperate Asian country bowing and scraping for sex tourist dollars as it might have been forty years ago.
The economy has taken on a distinctly western flavor and this is reflected in the people. A pervasive affluence and level of education has turned this country into a thriving modern democracy where expectations and lifestyle parallel any western nation. The modern malls and mega shopping developments are packed with Thai people enjoying their modern miracle to the fullest. Thai’s own homes and drive new cars. Credit is as easy to obtain and abuse as anywhere in the west. Of course the Thai’s are experiencing growing pains, they are mired in the politics of the past. What nation isn’t? But this is a rapidly changing demographic where eighty percent of the population is under thirty years old and has never known the global poverty of their parents generation.
From a city that had no high rise buildings or shopping malls when I first came here thirty seven years ago, Bangkok has been transformed into a modern megalopolis threaded with the infrastructure of a burgeoning giant, where people live in suburbs and work at skilled jobs much the same as they would in Europe or North America. Yes, there is prostitution, but do you come to Thailand strictly for that in 2012? I would suggest not, there are too many other wonderful attributes to observe and enjoy as seen through my eyes. Thailand has become ‘The Hip Kingdom’. What is a real joy for the keen observer is how the culture has retained it’s innocence and sense of fun throughout the rapid changes of conversion into this twenty first century economy. Unlike the US model, people are generally being swept up and not being steamrolled under. In that way Thailand reminds me more of the 1950’s. Kid’s are having fun being kids and it’s OK for an adult to have a giggle in public.