When my partner suggested a trip with his family to celebrate his brother’s 50th birthday in Thailand for Christmas, I drooled at the idea. Literal. Real Thai spicy food as opposed to tempered for European broad ecclesiastical tastes, delivered in depressing Deliveroo boxes! Enjoy durian (aka the smelliest fruit in existence, so much so that it is illegal in parts of Asia to carry it on public transport)! Body massages that are not softy-softy, but delivered with a deceptive smile and a grueling intensity! Sure, we’d have to lug the three-month-old sprog around with us, but the chance to go to Asia for the first time since pre-pandemic was the main draw. Of course, what I wasn’t counting on was my significant other’s epic bout of gastroenteritis, the emergency hospital visit, and the lost luggage that would plague the outward journey. But the comically disastrous start to the holiday is just an aside here.
How to say this subtly? It was possibly the ‘whitest’ experience of Asia I’d ever had, and I say that with tongue firmly in cheek, for only to issue a full disclaimer lest my partner’s family excommunicate me , I have nothing but love and respect for them . We found ourselves nestled in a picturesque villa on Koh Phangan, which was clearly in the midst of a post-Covid tourism boom that I hadn’t quite accounted for when dreaming of a local trip back to Asia.
There was Zen Beach, where several very blonde women wore dreadlocks without a speck of cultural care. There were the bands of yoga practitioners, who also practiced a profession of tantric sex therapy. When we went to a night market, instead of the trucks of legitimate street food and local Thai barter banter I craved, there were feather necklaces and gritty bars of soap made by middle-aged Los Angeles women who clearly came to this island to “make themselves find and never leave. If The White Lotus pisses off very privileged, very white tourists at a luxury resort, then this was the alt-hippie version, where trust safaris enjoying Mai Tais in a macramé hammock describe themselves as ‘digital nomads’ without an ounce of irony. To be fair, Koh Phangan was also preparing for its infamous Full Moon Party hence every place we went felt like a global village filled with hippie clichés and fire poi throwing.
If ‘The White Lotus’ is poking fun at very privileged, very white tourists in a luxury resort, this was the alt-hippie version
Then there was the food situation. Regular readers will have clocked the importance of food in my life. In Asia, it is even more urgent to make every meal count. In a food trail beyond our control, unfortunately I didn’t get many fixes from true Thai-spicy. When we ended up at a pasta restaurant I realized I had flown 12 hours just to eat spagbol. As I typed this to my WhatsApp group of friends who incidentally REALLY enjoyed trips to Bangkok and Tokyo, I was duly chastised. ‘Girl! Do you eat damn pasta? Go rinse your mouth and do better!’
When I ate limp pizza in a boujie beach bar on New Year’s Eve and the sight of £48 toro sashimi listed in a ‘Peruvian-Japanese’ hotel concept restaurant, I felt truly embarrassed. Put it down to a lifetime of bouncing through Asia with frugal parents whose raison d’être goes to South East Asia to see how many meals under £1 per person they can find. I wanted to pay and find a shack with bright strip lights, no English menu and sit and suck juicy shrimp heads. Unfortunately, the journey came to an abrupt end on the first day of 2023. Don’t worry, I’ll be back and there won’t be any fire poi or pasta.