A Prayer for Thailand
Natthinee Khot-asa Jones and Hardy Jones
As a teenager I left my village and worked in Bangkok for a Japanese company, where my Thai co-workers often made fun of me. I was from the Northeast area called Isan, on the border with Cambodia, and when they wanted to hurt me, co-workers said, “Return to Cambodia. You Khmer are poor and uneducated.”
My family speaks Cambodian and we are ethnically Khmer, but we are Thai citizens. People in Bangkok didn’t have the right to look down at me. They should have respected me like any other Thai citizen. I grew so tired with their racism that I didn’t talk with them. Silence became my weapon.
I promised myself that when I was an adult, I would visit Cambodia to see why Thais made fun of us.
A few years later I married an American man and we moved to America. We had a good life together, spending the summers traveling around America and Asia. We wanted to see Angkor Wat, so Cambodia was the first Asian country, aside from Thailand, that we travelled to. I was able to conduct my research: how was life in Cambodia; how were Khmer people; why did Thais ridicule us?
Cambodia has a wild reputation, so before traveling there, we researched its safety. We learned that it is best to have your hotel pick you up at the airport, and to have a guide when seeing Angkor Wat. When we arrived at the Siem Reap airport a driver and a receptionist from the hotel picked us up. They provided us with cool towels and bottled water. On the way to hotel the receptionist answered every question we had about tours of Angkor Wat and other outings as well as explaining to us that the old French part of the city is now called Pub Street—it’s a neighborhood, so don’t let the name fool you—where most of the restaurants and nightlife were located. At the hotel, they sat us in their lovely lobby—surrounded by handcrafted teak cabinets and furniture—and provided us with a welcome drink of fruit juice while a receptionist checked us in and booked the SUV to bring us back to the airport for our return flight in a few days to Thailand. In addition to their outstanding service, the hotel was clean, beautiful, and while it was in town, it was quiet and felt secluded.
We have travelled around Thailand for years and never experienced such wonderful service. However, the trip’s only negatives were: the food, while delicious—Western and Khmer—it was not as spicy as Thai food. Since my husband is Cajun, he enjoys spicy food as much as me.
The second negative: children at tourist sites attempting to sell us items. We visited Angkor Wat at sunrise, and while we enjoyed watching the sun rise over the temple and shed light on its reflecting pool, a small boy pestered my husband. “Buy Cambodia map. Buy Angkor book,” the boy said in a non-stop loop.
“No, thank you,” my husband said a few times.
When the little boy would not cease, my husband turned away from him, but the boy continued.
“Sweetheart,” I said, “please leave us alone.”
He stopped speaking and stared at me. No one had spoken politely yet firmly with him, and he tried to figure out his proper response. After a few moments, the correct response for him was to walk on to other tourists.
The little boy was an example of the bad experiences we had in Cambodia, and I see where our encounter with the Khmer boy can lead Thais to believe that Khmer are poor, and perhaps from such anecdotes, the racist Thais develop their beliefs.
Each evening we visited Pub Street. It was nice and clean, and when we strolled past a restaurant or pub, the greeter always smiled and welcomed us. They didn’t look down at me for being with a Western man; that happens on occasion in Thailand. But the Khmer were not judgmental. In restaurants and luxury hotels in Thailand, the staff often talked down to me. Partly this is due to my skin color: a cinnamon brown, which is considered dark and ugly by Thais; my skin color and Thai ID card lets them know I am from Si Sa Ket Province, where the majority of the people are Khmer. Plus, when we travel, my husband and I wear t-shirts and flip flops, and when Thais sees us, they think we are poor. Even when I pull out cash to pay for the room, their attitudes don’t change.
The worse treatment was from the concierge at a Thai hotel—the one adjacent to the old airport—who told me I needed my room key to operate the elevator. “Why?” I asked.
“Because you are Thai.” He ducked his head and looked away.
“I’ve never been told that by other Thai hotels. Please explain your hotel’s policy.”
He refused to make eye contact and ignored my question. Seeing that I was not going to receive an answer from him, I went to the front desk and asked for the manager on duty. The manager was an older Thai woman, and when I asked why her hotel had such a policy, she said, “We do not have that policy. Someone misinformed you.”
I stomped to the concierge counter, but he had vanished. He had spoken out of turn, thinking I was an uneducated village girl, and when asked to explain himself, he refused to face me.
Treatment like this from my own people: aggravating.
A sad state of affairs, especially when I think about the taxes I pay each year to the Thai government for my rice farm, and still I am treated like a second-class citizen. I simply want them to treat me equally and respectfully.
Khaosan Road in Bangkok is similar to Pub Street—bars, restaurants, vendors for tourists, but there is on one thing that you will see on Khaosan Road: vendors making fake IDs, passports, press passes, diplomas. Despite Cambodia having a wild reputation, I never saw any such places. Granted, we were only in Siem Reap—perhaps to be completely fair we must compare capital cities: Phnom Phen to Bangkok. But I am relegated to only speaking of my experiences; thus, on this matter, Cambodia looks better than Thailand.
Thais look down on Cambodia, but on Pub Street in Siem Reap, I didn’t see any vendors making illegal IDs or diplomas. I knew this was illegal in Thailand but the Tourist Police walked past oblivious. I was sad seeing my country breaking its laws for foreigners. I would love Thais to open their eyes and stop condescending to Cambodia when Thailand has many problems. I love my motherland, and I pray nightly that it will improve, not for tourists, but for the next generation of Thais.