Thailand: The Ugly

There are so many good things to say about Thailand, as I described earlier.  However, there is this really, really dark side to the country and quite frankly, these are the deal breakers for me returning. 

Major Scam Alert
As I stated earlier, scams are very prevalent in Thailand.  I was able to experience first-hand someone trying to pull one over on me.  While in Bangkok, I was trying to decide if I wanted to head to southern Thailand. I am not a huge party animal, and not really interested in beaches but I needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.  I had been looking through my Lonely Planet book and settled on a small town south of Bangkok, called Ban Krut.  There was a Hosteling International hostel there, which usually means there is a certain standard they have to adhere to.  I was wrong on this.  Very, very wrong.

Let me be very clear.  DO NOT STAY HERE!  The HI-Ban Krut may have stellar reviews on many of the hosteling sites but my experience was horrible. 

I made my reservation the night before I left Bangkok.  The price online was 300 baht/night for a dorm bed, which I thought was fair for a beachside hostel.  I reserved five nights.  I made the mistake of not printing a copy of the reservation, instead just making note of the reservation number in my travel notebook.

Getting there was a bit of a challenge but I arrived unscathed after a scary ride on a scooter.  I went to check into the hostel and was met with a blank stare by the woman at the desk when I said I had a reservation.  She asked what the price for the room was. I told her 300 baht and mentioned I had booked on the HI website.   Never once did she even acknowledge that she had my reservation, but she did ask to see the booking reference number, which I had written the final balance due right next to it.  She asked if this was the rate "per night" (the final balance was 1425 baht) and I said "No! This is the total balance due after a deposit I made on the HI site when I made my reservation."  

She logged onto the slower than dial-up satellite internet and I showed her the HI site where it plainly stated the dorm room beds were 300 baht per night. She told me, "Internet wrong price, dorm bed 400 baht a night".  She continued to tell me about a "bungalow" (I use that term lightly) for 300 baht a night (which is not what I reserved) so I said, "Fine, I'll take it if that is what my reservation is for." She offered to show it to me first. 

We walked over to a bug-infested "bungalow" that was barely large enough for me and my backpack, with a 2 inch thick mattress and looked like it hadn't been cleaned in weeks, with no bathroom anywhere in sight. I again told her I would take it if this is what the reservation was for. She was not too pleased with my enthusiasm and went back to the front desk. She made a few phone calls and finally said she could give me the dorm room for 300 baht per night.  I spent an hour negotiating with her and never once did she look to see if I had a reservation!  I shouldn't have had to negotiate a reservation from a reputable site like Hosteling International.

For the record, I did send a letter of complaint to Hosteling International.  Their response was to refer me to the Thai YHA and of course, they never addressed my concerns.  I am not a complainer.  It takes a really egregious offense for me to even write a letter of complaint, much less write a long blog post about it.

My recommendation to avoid a situation like this anywhere is to always print a copy of the website displaying the prices and to make sure you print out a copy of the reservation.  This is not always possible on the road, but if you can, it may save you some headache in the future.

Sex Trade
While I can deal with the scams and people trying to rip me off, one of the things I cannot tolerate is the sex trade in SE Asia.  It disgusts me.  It varies from prostitution to ping pong shows (google it if you don't know what I'm talking about) to using children for pornography and sex.  Sometimes I feel like SE Asia is the equivelant of Tijuana in Mexico. It's a playground for Americans, Canadians, and other Westerners.  There are actual tours designed for sex tourism.  If you see an older Western man traveling solo, chances are he's in Thailand to satiate his sexual urges with children, ladyboys, or prostitutes.  Bangkok is one of the big players and so is Pattaya, down on the coast.  The sex trade runs rampant and there's no escaping it.

Three friends from my hostel were on Khao San Road one night and a prostitute was propositioning one of the fellows and he kept telling her to leave them alone.  Finally, he put his arm around one of the girls (an Asian-Canadian) and said he was with her.  That was the wrong thing to do!  The prostitute started screaming, yelling and hit the poor guy in the head with one of her 6-inch stillettos!  He had to go to the hospital for sutures and it left an impression, to say the least.
super putty on patpong road

My last night in Thailand, I went walking with another friend and we inadvertently found Patpong Road, one of the well known places to catch a ping pong show.  There also happened to be a night market going on (when is there not a night market going on somewhere in Bangkok?) so we wandered around so I could do some last minute shopping.  Then we started to walk around Patpong and noticed places like the "Pussy Connection" and "Super Pussy".  I snapped a few pictures and by doing so, got some threatening glares from the club owners and bouncers. 

Thai Girlfriends
Yep, I am going to go there.  In every city I traveled to, I noticed Western men with Thai women.  Some were married, many were girlfriends.  And some were just plain prostitutes (I'm getting ahead of myself here with that story).  I understand that some men can't find a girlfriend in their home country and they come to Thailand and other countries in SE Asia to find their "match".  But really, who are they kidding?  I sat in bars and restaurants and observed interactions with the Western men and their Thai girlfriends.   The look of genuine boredom on the faces of most Thai women was priceless.  Do these men really think these women find them attractive and want to be with them?  Or is it just the companionship they seek?  I don't get it.

One of the last days I was in Bangkok, I wanted to watch a movie.  I headed over to MBK to see what they had showing.  I didn't find one I liked so I went over to Siam Paragon to see if there selection was any better.  I found a movie and got in line behind a rather morbidly obese American.  He was standing next to a petite, skinny Thai woman wearing a tight tank top, a short skirt that barely covered her lady bits and six inch stilletto heels.  Apparently, this man was oblivious to the fact I was standing behind him.  It's not like I "blend" in SE Asia.  I'm a short, white Western-looking woman wearing travel clothes. 

The line was moving slow which allowed me plenty of time to hear him talk to this woman about his wife and kid at home.  He even showed her pictures!  He was wearing business casual clothing-a tie, dress shirt and khaki dress pants with standard black dress shoes.  I could tell by his body language he knew he was doing something wrong.  He was laughing nervously, even sweating a little.  He kept looking around, trying to be careful not to touch the woman standing very close to him.  It took all of my energy to not call him out and say, "Um hello??!!  Yes, I speak english and yes, I think you are an f-ing bastard for cheating on your wife."  Actually I would have used much choicer words, but you get the idea.  But I was in shock.  So, I continued to listen and my disgust continued to grow until eventually the line moved, they bought their tickets and went into the theater.  I decided I had had enough and didn't want to pay $30 to see the movie, so I went window shopping instead.

These three things are deal breakers for me.  These are the reasons I might not go back to Thailand.  At the very least, I won't be going back to Bangkok.  Chiang Mai is still a very special place to me because of the experiences I had there.  But, all of the above things exist there, too. They just left a bad taste in my mouth.  I just wish Westerners didn't treat developing countries like their personal playgrounds.  It makes the rest of us look bad.