Having spent a couple of years living and traveling in the region, I thought I’d give the personal opinion I’ve formed on a few countries. This is by no-means meant to be taken a gospel. For the most part my interaction in these countries was limited. Sometimes that’s because I only visited as a tourist, others it’s because I only visited for work. Some it’s because the visit was so quick. The only one I would stand my ground on would be Malaysia, as that’s where I’ve been based.
In no particular order:
A lot of people have visited Thailand once in their life. For some it’s Bangkok, for others it’s Phuket. I can imagine for most people the experience goes along the lines of, “It was fun. I got scammed a bit. The food was good. The people were nice”. That was my first experience too.
Some time, after my first visit, I was on a plane, and got chatting to a guy that had travelled in the region a fair bit. He said, “Thailand is like a child that needs to be spanked”. I was a little surprised by what he said, but partially understood what he was saying. After that I visited Thailand a few more times and began to understand what he meant much more.
It is a scammy place. It’s mostly a soft scam. They don’t want your identity (although that goes on). For the most part, they just want more than what you originally wanted to pay, or thought you would pay. I am sick of getting in a taxi in Bangkok and having to argue to get him to go exactly where I want. Most of the time they will try to convince you to go somewhere you don’t want to, because they get a kickback for taking you elsewhere. When you get to the modified destination, you will pay above the average for whatever you are doing.
I remember being in the city once and asking my driver to take me somewhere quick for lunch. I wanted to stay in the city and see other stuff in the afternoon. He ended up taking me to some shopping mall half way back to the airport.
Every time I go to Thailand someone tries to pull a similar stunt with me. I’m sick of it.
I think the guy on the plane is right. Thailand needs to grow up as a tourist destination. The best thing that could happen to Thailand is if Westerners and Russians were to stay away from the place for a few years.
Although, strangely, I think I could live in Thailand. I think, as a resident, you could get past that tourist façade and it could be a fun and exciting place to live.
If, however, you are thinking of visiting as a tourist, I’d suggest Cambodia, Vietnam or even the Philippines as alternatives. Thailand is just too hard work for me these days.