When you write about travels, and you want to keep people entertained (and not just up to date), some countries are easier than others. Iran, for example, was pretty straightforward: its culture is little known and often misunderstood, its sights are broadcasted infrequently and few tourists venture there. Thailand, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. Thai culture has reached the western world in many (if watered-down) forms, almost everyone I know has been there at some point, and to call Thailand touristy is probably a crass understatement.
So instead of posting pictures of Phad Thai and aubergine curry, golden Buddhas and jungle treks, I've decided to ramble about various topics that come to my mind while traveling this lovely country, and this post is about a social condition most of us find ourselves in at some point in our lives, a condition to which responses can be as manifold and individual as there are people on the planet, yet I find they can be classified. This condition is called being a tourist, and Thailand is one of the best places to study it in the wild. Here are some of the types I frequently encounter. Feel free to add me to one of them, if you wish.
Pictures are for illustrative purposes only.
"Yeah, I've been there."
The Ticklister is the ultimate tourist. Whether they come as tour groups or backpackers, they share a desire to see as many hotspots as possible. Armed with a Lonely Planet, they do not waste a day to go through all the recommended must-sees a the country has to offer. They are in a constant battle against reality, with weather and public transport being their worst (since most unpredictable) enemies on their quest to squeeze every drop of nature and cultural heritage out of their destination. Ticklisters hate unforseen events, and if something is not recommended or well known, they will not bother. They are best recognized by incessant picture-taking, as proof that they were there is more important than the actual experience. For the Ticklister, the number of countries travelled and the amount of sights visited within them is a direct measure of ego (I call it the Travelcock) and cosmopolitanity. The fact that he actually experiences little of the life around him does not keep him from considering himself and expert on local culture and travel destinations in general. After all, there's proof he has been there, right?
Traveling with Ticklisters is nice if you just want to tag along, or happen to want to see the same things. Make sure you are a good proof of successful travel, and don't dare to delay.
"If you want to see the real Thailand..."
For some people, coming and seeing is not enough. Some of these people simply stay longer, or learn the language a bit better or travel away from the tourist routes. Yet for a small select group, even that is not enough. This group are the Fauxcals.
Fauxcals want the REAL experience, and they will say that often. REAL stands for Remote, Extreme, Anachronistic and Local, and is the utmost Fauxcal compliment. When you meet Fauxcals in a touristy place, they will give you a sour face (because they have been discovered) and then go through every major sight explaining at length how it is all overrun with tourists, and if you want the REAL thing, you should go to (remote) village X and Y, where local culture still prevails. The harder it is to get there, the better. They are the equivalent of the urban music nerd, who will always talk about bands you have never heard of, and will stop liking them once you do. Fauxcals tend to pick one single country and then try to reach maximum immersion into the local culture: they learn the language (in the country of course), they follow all rules of etiquette to the letter, and they only hang out with with locals. They are obsessed with getting closer and closer to the "local price" for their daily commodities, which they consider a measure of how far they have progressed on their path to indigenousness. If they could, they would shed their skin to look like a native. The tragic irony is, however, that Fauxcals are doomed to sit in the uncanny valley of tourism, versed enough to be accepted, but too off to be considered a full part of society. Fauxcals console themselves with the fact that everyone else's experience is less REAL than theirs.
Fauxcals are extremely valuable if you want to, you know, experience the REAL place.
"What day is it today? Totally losing track o' time, man..."
Slackpackers, Slackos for short, come to other countries to chill out. Their main requirements for a country are that it be cheap and sunny, and they care little for it's sights and heritage. Finding their own countries an unbearable abundance of pressure and hassle, they enjoy the "slow life" of developing countries, and taking it easy for its own sake. Easily recognizable by their ten day beards and comfy-wear, Slackos are mostly caught ambling between their lodging, the beach and the nearest food court. They are rarely seen at tourist attractions, as there are too many people and touts, causing unnecessary stress and expenditure. They also rarely make much effort to learn the language, as this requires too much work. Slackos usually stay until their money runs out, at which point they try to find a job (usually teaching English or doing bar work) or return home, ceaselessly lamenting the weather and the pace of their lives back home. If they do find a job, Slackos become Stuckos, never returning home because they can't be bothered and no lack of money forces them to. Once they reach retirement age, they usually open a hostel or bar in whichever town they happened to get stuck in, catering to the next generation of Slackos.
Slackos are easy to befriend and great to hang out with, just don't expect them to follow you anywhere.
The Knight Errant
"I've been in a monastery retreat for the last month, and it's really given me something but I think I need to move on, and now I'm trying this."
Mostly female, but frequently male, the Knight Errant is on a quest for...well, see, now here's the problem: she doesn't quite know, but she figured going somewhere not home would somehow fix that. Knight Errants are usually hard-working, successful and driven individuals who somehow feel they have lost themselves somewhere along the way to perfection. On a quest to "find themselves" they roam different countries, smothering themselves with extracurricular activities and semi-spiritual experiences in that hope they might get an answer (or at least relief) from their quest for meaning. Between travels, they take up some lucrative job (they have many talents) somewhere until the feeling of emptiness overcomes them again, and they feel they must go on another quest. You can find Knight Errants anywhere, from temples to beaches, as they try to be very complete personalities (on paper), mixing with almost all types of other people.
Traveling with Knight Errants is usually very inspiring, but since you are unlikely to hold their attention for long, they will leave you long before you even consider the same.
"Everybody here is so nice to me!"
Whereas some people make elaborate preparations before they visit a country, reading up on its beauties and pitfalls, its political situation and culture, the Hippy does none of that. Once she (or he) has seen this one amazing picture in this magazine, and ever since her dream has been to go there, to this magnificent mysterious world of unknown colours and scents, full of untouched, heart-warmingly friendly people. Her travel preparations consist of booking a flight into (not out of) the country and gathering enthusiasm and excitement, which she believes will get her through everything. A hallmark of the Hippy is her total and persistent ignorance of all dangers and potential problems; she will ignore cultural boundaries ("We're all the same!"), safety warnings and people's bad intentions altogether, believing that her ever-positive attitude and the natural goodness of the world will always work in her favour. If she has to acknowledge anything bad happening, she will blame it on capitalist western influences, rather than to challenge her dream of the eternally good native. Most of the time you find the Hippy either stuck in the middle of nowhere because she forgot to exchange money, or practicing Yoga at any random green spot she can find. While the Hippy's trusting attitude does indeed get her further then most people would expect, things go wrong quite frequently, and often terminally (lone hikes, drug parties, "friendly" strangers).
Hippies are great travel mates, as their unwavering positive attitude will keep you afloat while you make sure that they actually manage coming along. After two weeks the very same thing will annoy you so much you will part ways.
"You should go to Phuket. It's the best, really, we go there every year. It's got a KFC and everything."
By far the most common tourist species in Thailand, the Sheep actually hates the place, which is reflected in their constant complaining about anything local. He would much more prefer it to be warmer in England or Germany instead, but, alas, has to come to a faraway country to experience reliable sunshine and white, sandy beaches. Most Sheep never see more than one or two places in the country they are visiting, and get carefully herded around by benevolent travel agency shepherds. In the more extreme cases they might actually not even see more than two buildings (airport and hotel) on their whole trip. They shun local food for fear of diarrhea or spiciness, instead settling for good, well known homeland grub, such as burgers, schnitzel and wurst. The exact opposite of the Fauxcal, the closest contact a Sheep will ever make with regional culture is local beer (as it's cheaper than at home) and prostitutes (same). Some of them leave their resorts in groups, but their fear of the unknown keeps them close to areas with English menus and expat bars. Of all the Sheep, the Lager Lout and the Aging Thai Girl Aficionado breed are the ones you are most likely to encounter while traveling.
Sheep are the people you want to talk to if you feel really, really homesick, and you really long for some rural accent and a drunk shag with someone who looks like a cooked lobster.