I just spoke to a Thai woman who was excited about taking a bus tour to a nearby mountain, the highest peak in Thailand, which isn’t all that high, and records the coldest temperatures, just below freezing. She would rather pay two days average wages to ride on a bus with some other Thai people than drive there alone on her scooter.
I’ve done most of my traveling alone. Always have. I don’t like being told what to pay attention to. Sure, maybe I’ve missed out on a lot that way, but the sense of adventure and self-determination agrees with me.
Tours sell well with Asians. They like to recreate with lots of other people. There is no tradition of the solo vagabond. The lonesome drifter isn’t a romantic character here. Billy Jack, the mysterious stranger who drifts into town, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper…the man without a family or a past aren’t part of what normal people aspire to. “Let’s all dress alike and do the same thing together” is more like it.
Most Chinese tourists come to Thailand as part of tour groups. They cheerfully fall in line to follow their tour guide, who walks in front of them holding a flag-topped pole. When I was in Nicaragua, I witnessed a group of Japanese young men, all of whom dressed alike and had the same haircut, file neatly into a motorboat. These tourists claimed their seats so quickly and efficiently I thought I was watching a film of an automated procedure. It took years of training and social conformity to pull that one off. As a former camp counselor, I remember what getting twelve American kids onto a boat would have entailed.
Families drive twelve hours from Bangkok to Doi Inthanon, the mountain I described, to experience cold weather. They try to get there early in the morning so they can photograph frost. They bring winter clothing so they can take selfies, the girls framing their cute faces in fur-lined hoods. It’s an upper-middle class status thing.
I thought maybe I could make some money buy buying a hooded winter coat and renting it for selfies. Then I thought, somebody has probably already dreamed up a Snapchat application that replicates it. Good, now I don’t have to drive three hours to the mountain that replicates the weather I’m used to in America for half the year.
This morning in a Thai city, I drove my motorcycle slowly along a street that contained an entire grade school full of children, most of whom were proudly wearing Boy and Girl Scout uniforms, walking on a field trip. Their teachers didn’t have to cajole or threaten the children to keep them in line. A few minutes before in front of a museum, I also saw a group of older boys sitting on the asphalt of a parking lot, waiting for instructions from their teacher. Such obedience would be hard to come by in the land of the lonesome drifter.