Say you're in your hometown - be that New York, York, Melbourne, Madrid, wherever - and an obviously foreign couple walks by. The very hairy, pot-bellied man is wearing a loincloth with his butt fully exposed and the over-weight, saggy-buxom woman is wearing nothing but a few stripes of neon yellow body paint. The couple walks into a church, stomp in during a service, walk around without smiling and start snapping flash pictures. Are these people cool in their expression of their individuality and are they groovy ambassadors for their culture? They're a bit of a freak show perhaps but not much more.
To a Muslim man in Kota Bahru, Malaysia or an old woman selling fruit at a Thai Wat, this is about what it looks like when foreigners, the guy perhaps with his shirt off, the girl in short shorts and spaghetti straps, come through and tromp through their religious sites like they're a 7-11. Usually I keep quiet about what I think of people's travel style, but these types of travelers seem to be taking over the region more and more - in turn the locals start to dislike tourists and see them only as a depressing means by which to earn a buck.
During my last trip to Thailand I saw countless topless sunbathers on Muslim beaches, bra-less women wearing see-through tops while walking around conservative market towns and shirtless men walking around town. The most depressing moment was at Wat Tham Seua near Krabi Town where nearly every tourist I saw (and there were around 35 to 50 of them) was wearing shorts, tank tops or no shirt at all. Signs had been posted asking visitors to dress conservatively but no one seemed to notice - and of course a monk isn't going to come up to some couple dressed for the beach and give them a piece of his mind. Over and over again I wonder, what are these people thinking? Why do they travel so far only to disrespect the people in the country they're visiting? If they came to party why couldn't they just stay in Patong? And I'm not whining or yelling these questions, I really want to know. I'm stumped.
If you're reading this you're probably the type of person who would think to cover up before entering a foreign place of worship - or at least I hope you are. So thanks for listening to this rant. And if you have any ideas of how to ease this ballooning problem, please leave your comments. Also please share any thoughts you might have. I've heard people argue that they think they should be able to wear whatever they want wherever they want - you know freedom and all. But I'm a staunch believer of travelling light in all sense of the word including my impact on a culture.
PS: My paparazzi photo skills aren't tops but these are all photos from my last trip to Thailand.