Thailand

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UPDATE 13 October 2016: The king is dead, long live the ... well, we'll see how this politically already shaken country will now turn out, after the the demise of the longest-reigning monarch ever (70 years on the throne!). For now a "year of mourning" has been announced. There will likely be some political repercussions. How serious and to what degree they may affect tourism, remains to be seen.     
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Thailand is probably not the first country to spring to mind in the context of dark tourism. You'd rather think of beaches, temples and other more mainstream attractions – and one of the world's best national cuisines (esp. for those who like it hot! – see below). But the country also has its bits on the dark side, including some for tourism.
   
 
 
 
The most famous dark site of the country – and a classic one regarding the role of popular media in making dark tourist destinations major attractions – is the Bridge on the River Kwai. Yes, it really exists ... though it looks very different to the fictional bridge in the famous film. And it has become a major sight for mainstream tourism and dark tourism alike. The reason it's dark is that it forms part of the so-called Death Railway, a rail line built by the Japanese during WWII. More precisely: the Japanese had it built, largely by POWs, including many Europeans and other Westerners (most notably Australians), under an incredibly brutal regime that claimed countless lives. There are also several memorial sites/museums on the topic, primarily in the town of Kanchanaburi, where the famous bridge is, but also further afield (at Hellfire Pass).
 
The capital Bangkok also has its dark sites in between the usual mass tourism and nightlife that the city is much better known for. One is a rather grim prison museum, the other a monument and documentation centre dedicated to one of the uprisings that shook the country, in 1973, near the better-known Democracy Monument, which is regularly the rallying point when there's political trouble in the country.
 
Disruption still comes periodically in the form of political upheaval, which can directly affect tourism too, e.g. during the siege at the international airport leaving thousands and thousands of travellers stranded in 2008. A couple of years later even civil-war like violent clashes broke out right in the city centre. And again mass protests against the government mounted in late 2013.
 
However, the most disastrous blow to the country's tourism industry came in the form of the catastrophic tsunami of Christmas 2004. Much of the destruction has been cleared up and rebuilding has resurrected much of the devastated coastline infrastructure so crucial to tourism. But it's probably still not quite back to where it was before the disaster.
  
In case you're wondering: there are a couple of memorials in Thailand relating to the tsunami that could be of interest to the dark tourist too (but also see e.g. Sri Lanka's tsunami monument at Yala or Banda Aceh in Indonesia). One that I'm aware of is underwater (for snorkelers to visit, in Krabi), another one is a Wall of Remembrance in Phuket, which apparently is now in rather bad shape. Apparently a national tsunami monument is being planned too … but I'm not up to date with this.
 
As Thailand is very much geared towards tourism in general, it's also an easy country for the dark tourist to get around in, although a few sites may be a bit trickier to reach independently unless you hire a guide/driver (e.g. Hellfire Pass).
 
Most of the sites covered here can be visited as an independent traveller with relative ease. One exception is the Death Railway beyond Kanchanaburi, especially up to Hellfire Pass.
 
To include those bits in a manner that do them justice, and maybe also takes in some of the natural wonders in the wider area, it's probably best to get a car with a driver and guide (from Bangkok). This can be more expensive, true, but it's money well worth investing for the added value it brings.
 
Another advantage of such a package arrangement is to be had by those interested in the real Thai cuisine – i.e. not the watered down third-rate stuff they tend to serve westerners in hotels and other tourist-oriented places. If you have a guide and driver you can tell them to make lunch stops at authentic roadside eateries and your guide can then instruct to cook(s) to prepare the real thing. It's much easier having a Thai guide explain this than trying to negotiate it yourself. At tourist spots, Thais often simply won't believe you that as a westerner you could possibly want real Thai food at the genuine level of fieriness. But if you can convince your guide, he or she can then convince the cook. For me it worked a treat thanks to the superb guide I had. In the end I enjoyed by far the very best Thai food at those lunches on my three night, four day tailor-made package, which took in all the Death Railway sites.
 
A company I can recommend for putting together such packages is the UK-based agent Experience Travel Group (sponsored page).
 
For Bangkok you don't really need guiding, but they could book you cool hotels (I found their recommendation of the Siam@Siam a superb choice).
 
 
 
  • Thailand 1aThailand 1a
  • Thailand 1b - the king livesThailand 1b - the king lives
  • Thailand 2 - rural templeThailand 2 - rural temple
  • Thailand 3 - temple drumThailand 3 - temple drum
  • Thailand 4 - elephantThailand 4 - elephant
  • Thailand 5 - religous symolismThailand 5 - religous symolism
  • Thailand 6 - street foodThailand 6 - street food
  • Thailand 7 - street food - insectsThailand 7 - street food - insects
  • Thailand 8 - spicy street foodThailand 8 - spicy street food
  • Thailand 9 - yummy street foodThailand 9 - yummy street food
  
  

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