Firstly, the town has changed. Massive amounts of Chinese tourists are pouring through Chiang Mai. The Thai's are responding by translating signs, selling Chinese food and smiling in spite of the characteristics that make Chinese tourists so unique.
Also, backpackers have changed. Very few people people sitting in the front garden of Julie Guesthouse are reading a book, or having a chat - or even asking advice of where to go! I stopped by Julies last night for dinner, and was amazed. The corner seat (seating for about five people) had 4 people sitting there each on Skype/Facetime in the middle of the bloody common area! A glance towards the pool table showed 3 people sitting on their phones, with headphones in, and across the room was a guy scrolling through the infinite Facebook newsfeed on a laptop.
I believe that the invention of medicine, tours, the internet, Skype and broad social circles (courtesy of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) has almost removed part of the adventure from traveling. I have to laugh at some of the people I see here in Chiang Mai. They are not travelers, they should be at home. But instead due to pressure from their culture, friends and this ethereal "gap year" that they must partake in - they are here. Shitting their pants in Thailand unsure of what to do.
Even in three years, the general attitude has shifted alot more into the fear of brushing your teeth with tap water, the fear of riding a motorbike, the fear of eating street food.
I met a German couple at the bus station on the way up here, it was 7am and when I sleepily stumbled my way off the train (I got lost) I found them huddled in the station wide eyed and panic stricken. I mumbled something about tourists to myself, bought a coffee and some fried chicken, and was approached by a Thai man who told me to get into the back of a pickup truck. I obliged and soon the German couple joined me. They asked where it was going, and I told them that the guy that found me had said bus station but who knows! They didnt look amused. They asked how much it cost, I said I dont know. They asked when it left, I dont know. "What time does the bus leave?"
"I dont know."
"Is your coffee made with boiled tap water that still contains bad things or bottled water?"
"I dont know."
"You shouldn't sit on the edge of the truck, its dangerous. What if they hit a bump? You better have good insurance if your sitting on the edge."
I realized that our conversation was probably over, and I didnt have the heart to tell them that I dont have insurance. They looked like scared puppies nestled amongst the cargo in the back of the truck, holding on for dear life, as we bounced around Sila At. The ride turned out to be free, a service by the bus company.
Backpackers used to desire authenticity. Real experience. The way I see it now though, it looks like they desire the iconic profile pictures, and a few trinkets. They want to get back to their home country as soon as possible. Put in their time overseas however much they hate it, so that they can put it on their CV and appear cultured. When in reality they never left their culture - just their country.
There is a whole town within Chiang Mai, its called Hong Dong, and its an expat community. Gated communities, western food, western schools, security. The chains are the hangout spots - McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks. Im sure that most of the people who live in these places are not trying to get into the culture. They dont want to be here. They are masochistically here because of religion, or they are here on business, and would rather not be. I have always figured that was normal for those people, but never thought that backpackers would be the same.
|The Minister of Tourism in Mae Chaem asks us how to bring tourists in.|