“But everybody goes to Thailand,” I quipped a few years back when explaining to a couple of friends why Thailand didn’t occupy a very high place on my Places to Go list. They laughed and poked fun at the hyperbolic explanation. “Oh yeah, Thailand, you may as well just go to the Jersey Shore, everybody goes there.”
Well, here I find myself in Thailand a few years later and I gotta tell you, everybody goes to Thailand.
I have been really surprised at the level of development throughout the country. Unlike some neighboring countries, development isn’t limited to the modern downtown urban areas, in stark contrast to very rural and traditional countryside. Even small provincial towns are remarkably developed. And the whole country is absolutely crawling in tourists.
It’s no wonder, as transit network throughout the country is thorough and easy, the mainland road system is excellent (island roads are another story), the beaches are sunny and beautiful, the water is warm and clear, and accommodation and food are very inexpensive compared with much of the world. The tourism industry has undeniably had a positive economic impact on the country, bringing the GDP per capita and standard of living far higher than those of its neighbors. However, it has also come at a cost.
In many beach locations, it is apparent that development was kick-started ten years ago or so and has continued unchecked at a breakneck pace ever since, resulting in beautiful beaches marred by trash and lined with pancake and beer kiosks. Virgin beach is nearly nonexistent, usurped by alternating ramshackle huts and characterless concrete jungle resorts. On many islands even the most remote coves are built upon. Much of the country feels as though it was a purpose-built hedonistic playground for Western holidaymakers. Which can certainly be fun, but it achieving that get-away-from-it-all sense of exotic isolation takes more effort than I expected. One thing is sure, Thailand remains a fantastic beach destination, but perhaps there are better spots for those in pursuit of authentic cultural experiences.