David and Lili's World Tour

THAILAND

January 2011 - A visit to the northwest mountains

Sawadee! The most photographed people of Thailand are the long-neck women of the Karen tribe. Foreigners pay guides to drive them to remote villages where they immediately start snapping pictures, even posing with older women, without asking permission. Tourists. Some guide books now recommend not going to these "human zoos" at all. Perhaps a better idea is to go by motorcycle early in the morning with a bad map and no guide, and then take no photos while greeting the villagers and buying trinkets, and then ask politely to take photos in Burmese ("Ki zai naa da po ada"), and then take photos. Discuss world affairs with anyone who speaks English. Teach English at the school. Take more photos. Ask first. The villagers are lovely and deserve such respect.

Just down the road is a Burmese refugee camp, 30,000 people surviving in Thailand with help from the United Nations. Most refugees cannot return to Burma (Myanmar) and expect to stay alive. The "long neck" Karen tribe survives on tourism. Go have lunch with them.

Burma would be ripe for revolution ala Tunisia except that most everyone is too poor to access Twitter and Facebook, and the dictator is too cruel to allow protests. Our friend Embe just went there for a month. He reports that the people are wonderful and Bagan is amazing. The trick is to avoid giving money, even indirectly, to the regime.

The Burmese crisis does not make the news in Thailand, however. Manipulated by powerful media interests, ordinary people are instead calling on the government to escalate a contrived border dispute with Cambodia. Sigh. The corruption in Thailand is related to the recent Red Shirt revolt and the 2006 coup d'├ętat in that in both cases, the Thai military has been aggressive. Meanwhile, King Rama IX, whom everyone is taught to love since childhood, has made some vague declarations, a disappointing lack of leadership. Despite these problems, we recommend visiting Thailand. No worries. There are delicious foods, lovely people, and fabulous beaches, too. Kop kun kup.

Previous: USA . . . Next: Cambodia

More: Thailand (2014)

World Tour Home Page