We had a different message prepared for this newsletter, but the historically significant event in Thailand last month has shifted the focus.Firstly, it was with saddened hearts we learned of the passing of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand on October 13, 2016. He was well loved and respected, ruling benevolently for 70 years, longer than any other living monarch in the world. This is a sad loss for the Kingdom of Thailand, and we are all fortunate to have lived during the reign of one of the world’s truly great monarchs, HM King Rama IX.
This momentous event has thrown the international spotlight on Thailand, and has illuminated the need to update world-wide perceptions of the country as a travel destination.
Thailand is rich in culture and art. Having never been colonised, it is one of the few countries in the region that has maintained its strong Buddhist faith, beliefs, way of life and national treasures. The people are welcoming, the food is fabulous and the climate is agreeable year-round. No wonder the “Land of Smiles” is a favourite holiday destination.
With over 30 million tourist arrivals annually – the second most popular travel destination in Asia after China – we often have guests ask if there are any authentic experiences left in Thailand. We can reassure them that there are! Lot and lots of them. If you define authentic as being genuine and not modified for visitors, then 99 percent of Thailand is authentic. And 99 percent of Bangkok is authentic!
You can find authenticity five minutes from an international airport or two blocks from one of Bangkok’s busiest streets. Far from the headlines found in mainstream media, the vast majority of Thailand remains impervious to collective tourism. Sure, eight million people visit the Grand Palace each year (over 22,000 each day!), but a five-minute walk away from the throngs at the palace, through narrow lanes of the old city, brings you to neighbourhoods that are entirely sheltered and unknown to outside visitors. You’ll find artisans plying their skills, passed down through generations under the same roof, local hawkers, community noticeboards, spirit shrines. You’ll discover many enchanting things, but you’re not likely to find tourists.
And because of its popularity with travellers, Authentic Thailand is easier and more comfortable to reach. The transportation network is well developed offering efficient access to the most remote corners of the Kingdom. There are vast forests, mountain ranges, rivers and national parks where we host active adventures that almost always include a visit to a (authentic) hilltribe. You don’t need to trek for two days into northern Myanmar, a 30-minute drive from Chiang Rai airport lies ethnic tribal villages steeped in tradition, customs and beliefs that puzzle and fascinate westerners.
King Rama IX the Great inspired unity and progress during his reign, helping the country surmount the many challenges over the last several decades. We are confident the kingdom will extend its peaceful progression and see a prosperous future… and continue offering authentic experiences for her guests.
Daniel B. Fraser
Smiling Albino Adventurer-in-Chief, authenticity scout