Vol. VI No. 15 - Tuesday
June 5, - June 11, 2007
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Life in Chiang Mai

Life in Chiang Mai

Temporarily on holiday in England

Mark Whitman
A couple of weeks ago there was an article in The Guardian newspaper about the excesses of worldwide tourism and pretty depressing reading it made. Unsurprisingly Thailand featured prominently since its delights have long been known.
Sadly, it seems, this is less and less the case, with many tourists now regarding the lands they temporarily inhabit as fair game for their mindless behaviour.
Luckily for Thailand it is too far away to be a site for the ‘stag’ and ‘hen’ parties which are now commonly held in such places as Prague and Tallinn, with groups of louts (of both sexes) invading them for boozy weekends. Obligatory mode of dress seems to be baggy shorts and t-shirts emblazoned with the British flag. But possibly the longer trips are even more destructive.
It’s a case of backpackers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your dignity. From every part of the globe they no longer head just for Bangkok and the Khao San road but on to more free and easy activities on Ko Pha Ngan, once famous for its full moon parties on Hat Rin beach and its beauty.
Those still exist alongside Black Moon parties, half moon parties and any other party as an excuse for a weekly drunken spree. The latest craze (for crazy people) is dance floors built within the jungle. Just what the indigenous world life needs: 500 noisy people, drunk and drugged to disturb the local habitat.
Not just in Thailand though. A prime destination if neighbouring Laos where (and this is a direct quote from the article): Backpackers sit in rubber inner tubes drinking bhang lassi (a cannabis laced yoghurt) and float down the rivers to bars along the banks where there are TV screens showing The Simpsons and Friends.
No wonder the locals are said to be increasingly cynical and opportunistic about the multi-national visitors who blaze a trail soon followed by more conventional tourists on package tours The islands of Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Le (location for the dismal movie of the overrated book The Beach) attract visitors for an hour or two only. During that time they manage to further destroy the coral, pollute the water with diesel from the many boats and leave mounds of rubbish on the beaches and in the sea.
Obviously Chiang Mai welcomes its share of tourists and many people and businesses could hardly survive without them. But I feel that Chiang Mai still belongs to Thailand and retains much of its community spirit. In short it has resisted tourist colonisation, unlike the obvious places such as Pattaya and Phuket which have succumbed completely after a 30 year battle.
All of which brings me to a final word on the ageing super star, Barbra Streisand. You may remember that she is making a return visit to Europe and ticket prices are very high. In Rome they were quoted at the top end at 1000 Euros, or about 40,000 baht. The Italians it seems are made of sterner stuff than some of their neighbours and became somewhat vociferous on the matter. Babs has cancelled her opening gig in Rome since people would not cough up the ante so it’s a case not of ciao caro but arrividercci Roma. Naturally her minders have tried to put another spin on it but have not come up with a plausible excuse. I suppose they could make it a socio-political case and say that it is her displeasure at the Pope’s recent utterances in South America where he has been widely quoted as saying that the people there were ‘silently wanting’ to be converted to Catholicism. A man who does not just listen to people but can read their minds too. Do I believe in miracles? In a word no.



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