Thailand: victim of its own success?

Do you know someone who has been to Thailand? Probably. After all, it’s an extremely popular backpacker destination and there are certain sites in Thailand which draw students like moths to a flame.

One event students flock towards is the infamous Full Moon Party held in Koh Phangan. Thousands of people, mostly Westerners, rave all night on Haad Rin (Sunrise Beach) absolutely loving it. Why all the love? Quite simply, there seem to be no rules. The iconic buckets of alcohol sold on the beachfront get the backpackers sufficiently inebriated, and a few hours into the night tourists are romping on the beach and weeing in the sea. Whilst professionals do tricks with fire, the lethal buckets of alcohol are responsible for tourists burning their legs as they attempt to leap over long flaming skipping ropes twenty at a time. And, despite Thailand’s strict anti-drug policy and policemen wandering up and down the beach, there’s still ample opportunity to buy illicit substances if you want them.

A couple of overnight trains away from Koh Phangan and the other South Islands is the city of Chiang Mai, the second biggest in the country. The overnight rainforest treks on the outskirts of the city are a backpacker must. After a difficult hike often led by cheeky tour guides, students stay the night with a Thai tribe. An indoor fire is built and quite an atmosphere is created, with the tour guides and backpackers singing and proceeding to chat away through the night. A trip to the waterfall, an elephant ride, white water and bamboo rafting are also included in this reasonably priced trek. There are plenty of booths around Chiang Mai to book your tour.

The experiences of Thailand detailed above paint a lively picture. But is it sad that a generic route has been mapped out for students, both for our own enrichment and for the Thai people? The hypocrisy of many indigenous people reducing their culture to easily-packaged money-making schemes is a sad reality.

Travel website,, recently placed Thailand as the number one backpacker destination: “Everything is cheap, everything is available. You want drink beer, you want banana pancake, you want Thai massage, you want see tribe hill people, you want rent beach chalet, you want DVD, you want bungee jump, you want lady boy?” Added to this list could be: “you want temple, you want sex show, you want boat trip to Maya Beach for 400 baht (£7.88), where The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed including food, equipment for snorkelling and a stop at Monkey Island?” Admittedly, the Thai experience can sometimes be superficial, but at least it is fairly easy to travel around the country. It might be argued that this makes Thailand a good place to go for a first-time traveller – a gap year student perhaps.

On leaving Thailand, and having experienced its exotica and having had an awesome time, some questions remain. By the majority of us taking the same route, are we being unoriginal? Does the manifestation of Western supremacy and the hypocrisy of Thai people catering for us students while their weak currency prevents many of them from travelling themselves taint our experience? Or might some of us not even think about these issues and be excited for Ocean’s next full moon party in preparation for a second trip to the one at Koh Phangan? The choice is yours.

Anisa Kadri

One Comment
  • Charlie Lewis
    25 October 2009 at 21:26
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    Time is ticking for Thailand…once the backpackers realise that it’s no more than an over-crowded, over-populated ‘Brits-abroad’ destination they’ll soon head north and do the same in Cambodia.
    ‘The Beach’ is a sorry state, I counted more than 20 other boat companies, it was jam-packed – quite the opposite of paradise! (and even more empty bottles of floating in the water). We need to start taking responsibility for our actions.

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