I went to Bangkok for five days during Christmas. I was surprised at how Thailand is in many ways similar to Mexico.
The weather was almost exactly like Japan during the summer, but after a few months of cold here, I was unbelievably happy to be sweating in the humidity. T-shirts and sandals.
Cheap, delicious food:
Meals at real restaurants for less than $3, food off the street for less than a dollar.
You can't drink the water:
Only bottled water or beer, all drinks no ice.
People are devout believers:
Thailand is perhaps the most Buddhist country in the world; the average person seems genuinely content despite their situation.
Giant department stores and expensive restaurants that only foreigners and a thin upper caste of Thais seem to be able to frequent
A country almost entirely based on tourism and cheap labor:
Thailand is a third-world country that functionally exists solely for the first-world. Thai schools require either English or Japanese language study - which you pick determines who you're going to serve, I suppose. Whether you're working in a hotel, a restaurant, or a sweatshop sewing wallets, you are serving some foreigner. Contrary to popular belief though, Thais themselves are the most frequent customers of brothels, not foreigners.
Almost everyone you meet is warm-hearted and helpful, except that the few that rip you off:
Kids approach us on the street to give us directions, the guy directing traffic in front of our hotel dances all day, the shop-keeper thanks you with a sort of elegant tranquility, the waitress in the restaurant asks how you are doing because she really does want to know. Then some guy tries to tell us a temple is closed to lead us into some back-alley trap, a taxi driver attempts to take us somewhere entirely different, and I catch another eyeing Maiko's bag. Suddenly I suspect these four little 13 year old girls that approach us to talk are just running some scam to distract me so another person can sneak up and pick my pocket. But then I notice they are all carrying English phrasebooks and just want to meet us and take pictures with us, and I feel terrible.
I really enjoy visiting and yet feel somehow guilty:
I am laying back in a recliner having my feet massaged for one hour by a squat, middle-aged Thai woman while sipping a fresh banana shake. This will all cost me less than $10, so I've been going every day. Rolling my neck, looking down and watching her brown, weathered hands kneading my deathly pale white feet, untouched by a day of hard work, I can't help but feel like I'm living some colonial fantasy. Though this amuses me greatly, I also feel guilty. Perhaps she is content in her work, something safe and easy that provides her with a stable income. Or maybe this is a great symbol of our relationship with poor nations; a white man sits in luxury tossing a sum of money literally at his feet to a servant that is but a pittance to him but her entire livelihood.