Back in Thailand - back in Bangkok for the first time since H.M. King Bumiphol died and the country was in mourning for a year. Already during my last visit at the end of 2016 I noticed that the smiles had been gone, but that was natural, given what had just happened to my favourite country!
Ever since the 1990s we used to come to Thailand, the LOS - the Land Of Smiles, for the smiles! And the smiles are gone!! Completely gone! Not because of mourning anymore but because a whole nation is just staring into their mobile phones! A full train of the MRT (the subway) or a full train of the BTS (the sky train) will sit or stand there and EVERYONE is staring at their phone. Chatting, gambling, playing, listening to music, watching TV shows, scanning Facebook posts! Naturally young people, but also the old folks sit their with their tablets! On one train I was the ONLY person not using the phone.
I used to meet new people in Thailand all the time. All over the country. I went to 68 provinces and met new people on every trip. On this trip? Not a single person! The only people I interacted with and I met were friends I had met before on earlier trips. Nobody is looking at you anymore. Not in the streets, not in the subway stations, not in the restaurants, not at the pool of the hotel! Even service staff in restaurants or shops! Sad!
So, why go to the Land of Smiles if there is no more smiles? I can also spend my money some place else. Maybe in a country which is a bit more backwards in terms of technology usage? Laos maybe! Myanmar maybe! But things are also changing fast there. However, those were never called the Land of Smiles, so the disappointment is not there.
The only new person I met on this trip was a novice monk from Laos on the flight to Bangkok - he smiled at me and we started a conversation, sat next to each other on the plane and exchanged contact information. But the Land of Smiles is definitely gone!