We enjoyed Thailand for 13 days in four different locations around Bangkok and Phuket. We interviewed nine folks such as a hotel manager with an engineering Ph.D., an American ex-pat of 9 years who lives in a rural part of the south teaching English to Muslim nursing students, and four Thai women under 30 who each shared a powerful story about their relationships with family.
In Bangkok, busy streets are congested with tuk-tuks, buses, pedestrians, and brand new colorful Toyota Corolla taxis. The city doesn’t sleep and you never know what night market or food sanctuary is waiting to be discovered just around the corner.
Our favorite experience was visiting Khlong Latmayom Floating Market about 20 kilometers outside of the city where we were one of three Westerners amongst at least a thousand locals. Here we witnessed the strong family bonds our interviewees referenced in their responses. Grandparents, parents and children sat down at long picnic tables to feast on dishes such as salt roasted fish, papaya salad and sweet sticky rice. We bought tasty and exotic juice from a woman and her young son as well as warm, steamed-on-the-spot corn and taro cakes from a woman and her brother. It was a refreshingly authentic experience and unlike many of the other markets in Bangkok, which cater to tourists with cheap branded and manufactured goods.
Thailand is often referred to as the land of smiles, and it could also be known as the land of rice. The country is the world’s second largest exporter of rice yet farmers and people in rural areas are languishing as a government attempt to manipulate global rice prices backfired and stunted the country’s development.
In Phuket, a popular holiday and resort destination, we witnessed the deleterious effects of billions wasted by a short sighted government decision. We expected to spend eight days in paradise, however after our first couple days in Surin Beach, a location touted by travel websites as upscale and luxurious, it was clear something was amiss. Prices were outrageous yet the quality of experience was low. Businesses and beaches were run down and largely empty. An anonymous 29-year-old Thai woman born and raised in Phuket shared that her peak experience was one of despair and worry when she didn’t have a job or a place to live. And Winnie, the manager at Pen Villa, a quality boutique hotel in the area lamented at the destruction of Thailand’s natural beauty from an unregulated tourism industry and uneducated local population.
We spent our final days in Thailand in Patong Beach, a popular area for backpackers and vacationers. The coast is lined with cheap plastic lounges for rent and locals selling massage and water sport adventures to tourists. The lack of regulation and safety protocols was astonishing! We saw parasailing tourists guided 30 meters into the sky by an unstrapped local hanging on for dear life. Then two teenagers risked not only their lives but those of nearby swimmers as well when they zoomed a jet ski full speed into powerful waves and flipped the 700+pound vehicle near the shore. It was clear they went out without proper instruction when the man responsible for the jet ski had to wade into the water after they flipped to show them how to restart the engine and steer.
On our final day we took the bus 15 kilometers to Phuket Town, and along the way to visit a Buddhist temple we saw shantytowns and intense poverty. It was a stark contrast to the rows of restaurants, resorts and hotels in Patong Beach. The third world conditions of the local town were further evidence that many people in Thailand are suffering despite their relatively happy dispositions. Our experience highlights once again the primary reason for qualitative field studies in positive psychology. As researchers we need to see and experience the environments people live in to more fully grasp their interpretation of love, passion and peak experience.