Ideologically unsound tourism?
I visited northern Thailand for the first time on Friday, driving up from Chiang Mai to the town of Mae Sai which borders Burma, and from there to the famous Golden Triangle. It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip although, against my better judgement, I agreed to take a side trip to visit a ‘hill tribe village’ just north of Chiang Rai. These groups are desperately poor and ‘entertain’ Western tourists in order to eke out an existence. I felt most uncomfortable as I observed other tourists delighting at the opportunity of taking photos of these people as they ‘performed’ in what are supposedly their natural surroundings. The ‘top attraction’ were the Karen Long Neck women. I felt like I was making a trip to see the ‘bearded lady at the circus’. Behind the forced smiles of these women, there was an emptiness in their eyes which made me very sad. I gave my money because I figured this wasn’t as bad as giving nothing at all, but in my embarrassment I couldn’t leave quickly enough. As for the inhumane practice of applying brass coil (see below) around the neck every few years from the age of five, as my mother commented (who accompanied me on the trip), only a man could have come up with this idea.
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