If I ever made memes, this picture would be the perfect one to use. I could use the caption, “If 2020 was a ship.” It would be the perfect representation of what life was like last year in all parts of the world. We as a society were not completely sunk, but we also weren’t floating along gracefully. We were operating at half tilt and hoping to somehow make it through. It isn’t just the larger countries either. Thailand is a great example of this. If you were able to travel to Bangkok at this time, it wouldn’t appear that it was a problem, but if you made it to some of the other destinations that relied heavily on tourism, you would have seen a different picture. It would be a place that was barely hanging on to what they had built and would barely be plugging along. This is what I saw of the southern island of Koh Lanta during the last leg of my winter vacation before the country moved towards a lockdown situation.
Koh Lanta is one of the bigger destinations for Europeans because of its long beaches, amazing surf, great food, and charming downtown area. I have been told that it is especially popular with people from the Scandinavian countries. There are the typical things you would see from a tourist destination in a tropical country. It has multiple resorts perching themselves in prime spots on the beaches, open air restaurants and bars, and shops selling merchandise to remind people where they had been at one point in their lives. The only thing it was missing was the tourists.
The old town there is one of the biggest draws for the tourists, and this is what the parking lot on the edge of it looked like right at the height of the lunch rush. Being there at a time like this had its advantages. I did not have to fight the crowds that I would have usually had to fight, and the beaches were for the most part mine, but at the same time it was a hard thing to see. There were many shops that were closed up because they just did not have the business that they needed, or if they were still open, the owners would sit at the edge of their business begging anybody who walked by to come visit their shop before they had to join the other businesses with closed doors.
Of course this meant that the cream of the crop were the establishments that survived. The restaurants we went to were some of the best food we ever had while traveling in Thailand. There was the French Bakery that served great sandwiches and burgers as well as making some great looking pizza. There was the Greek Taverna that was owned by a man from Greece. They did not have a big menu but the gyros that they sold there were made by hand and had an authentic flavor to them. There was Tuesday Morning, a small shack that on the side of the road that could have easily been missed, but had the best smoothies and great Asian inspired sandwiches and salads. And my favorite had to be the Diamond Cliff, a bar on the southern side of the island. It had the atmosphere of a ship and served great Thai dishes as well as western fare. It just showed me that the touristy places that usually thought about location and not so much about food could not compete with the places that actually knew what they were doing in such an economy.
There was still the charm of the location as I still came across various wats, temples, and mosques that allowed the citizens of the islands to hold on to their faith, but once again these places were empty. Normally in a place like this, I would have waited for a couple of minutes to get a picture as I waited in line for the other people to get in their pictures. This time I was able to walk right up and did not have to settle for a picture with some random tourist in it.
I don’t know if this was because of the aftermath of the situation that the world is experiencing right now, or if it is because the situation had finally arrived in full force in Thailand and the country was now preparing for its second wave in this catastrophe. It points out an important thing about places. No location should focus all of their energy in one direction. It is nice to know that a place can perfect themselves in that one direction, and there was enough evidence in Koh Lanta to see that they knew what to do with tourism, but they did not know what to do when this one thing was taken away from them.
I know that there is hope on the horizon and eventually the world will be able to turn that corner to getting back to the way it used to be. Some places are just going to have to limp along a little longer until that time comes, and Koh Lanta is no exception. It will take a long time for them to return to the place that I could see they once were, and I hope that they will be able to do that some day because I would like to be able to come back and experience it the way that it was meant to be experienced and not just watch it limp along like it is right now.