I went to Thailand. It happened…over a calendar year ago, and the guilt of never actually producing a full blog post about it while I was actually traveling there has plagued me ever since.
…I’m humanly fallible.
And so before I head off on my next adventure in ONE WEEK (yippee!) I’m going to try an exercise in memory. Because I am sure that more tomfoolery lies ahead and I don’t want to forget a thing.
One of my favorite aspect of travel is actually… the tourists. Now, I would never want to label myself as a tourist (I’m a traveler, darn it). Quite frankly there are too many lists of embarrassing tourist behaviors that I hope never show up on my itinerary. Nevertheless, tourists are so fascinating to me that I often find myself taking photos of them experiencing grand tourists sites as if to validate my own experience. Mostly my traveling has been solitary and sometimes seeing the world through the awe and photo snapping wonder of a tourist is cathartic. I’m not a tourist, you. Nowhere was this truth more evident than at the Grand Palace, one of the biggest attractions for tourists (not me).
To preface my story, I suppose I should distinguish what I believe to be the main markings of a tourist and the distinction between travelers.
1. Tourists are grouped. Like one giant body, tourists take the world on together with selfie stick advanced. They block views, they move together, they are pervasive.
Travelers try not to take up more space than needed and they’re flexible — they know if not today, they’ll be back to see what they need to see another time.
2. Tourists are loud with each other. Travelers seek out other voices and other stories.
But on this last point tourists and travelers are alike:
3. Tourists and travelers wear sensible footwear.
And I guess that third one is my downfall.
Being Thai and speaking at least passable Thai, most of my site hopping was free. I know, I know, unfair. Normally, where hordes of tourists queued up to pay exorbitant admission fees in Bangkok, I flew through the “Thai” line for free, often with my sister, Judy, who lives in Thailand. And I guess having the attitude of self-righteous traveler finally caught up to me at the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace in Bangkok, so beautifully situated on the Chao Phraya River used to be home to the monarchy until King Bhumibol relocated the crew. It’s gorgeous and historical and semi-important.
I was actually pretty excited to see the place.
You have to do a lot of crowd surfing to get into the place, there’s always someone selling something (like delicious coconuts!) at the gate.
Then if you are not appropriately dressed, you can rent a little cover — like if you’re a woman wearing shorts or if you don’t have a proper shirt on. Don’t worry about the baht you lose, it’s only a deposit for the pretty Thai covers they give you.
Now here’s the prickly part. You eventually pull up to a line that looks like this:
FOREIGNER THIS WAY PLEASE.
And I guess…I’m a traveler…not tourist…
…and also one that happened to be Thai and speak Thai…
Guess which line I tried to go through?
No, not that one.
…I tried to go through the คน ไทย one. Because I know what that phrase means…
And I was even with my Thai sister.
And so before I could sail through the line like usual…I got stopped.
I wish I had pictures of the embarrassment that followed and the shouting match that me and my sister got into with the grumpy security guard.
Basically it was this:
Me: “I’m not a tourist”
Guard: “You’re a tourist, pay $5,000 to get in”
Me: “I’m Thai, I’m speaking to you in Thai.”
Judy: “She’s speaking Thai!”
Guard: “You’re clearly Mexican.”
Guard: “Please leave. And you have dirty sandals.”
And so that was it.
For the record, this is what I looked like according to photographs that day:
Sometimes…as a traveler you just have to realize that you too have to pay your dues. Sometimes…as much as you may travel and love a culture, that culture and that history is not yours and you have to respect that you can do is look into the glass as respectfully as you can.
But for now I maintain that this is what I must have looked like that day: