Everyone knows something about Thailand. The country is known to many as the home of a wonderful cuisine, great package tours, child prostitution, fabulous silk, fake Rolex watches and magnificent temples. We learn about the country through tourist advertising, business and educational exchanges, films and news reports; these fragments reinforce the country's seductive appeal. For Thailand does not permit distancing, but rather sucks us into a sensual world of exotic sights, sounds, tastes, and smells.
Attraction to Thailand is partly aesthetic – the beauty of the country's natural and constructed environments; the Thai enjoyment of things beautiful – orchids, textiles, temples, people; the civility and grace of its peoples; their appreciation of the present moment, and the ease with which the ugly and painful is slipped out of sight. Only within the ascetic system of Theravada Buddhism is sensual pleasure denied, drawing even more attention to the beauty of ascetic simplicity made more striking beside baroque extravagance. Even the dramatic contrasts between wealth and poverty, between Buddhist denial and total indulgence, fascinate rather than repulse. There are no rewards for suppressing beauty or pleasure. This has been in the past and continues to be the fascination of Thailand for travellers and analysts alike.
‘Amazing Thailand Year’ was celebrated in 1998. Even in the midst of financial crisis, Thailand amazes. Tourist materials for this campaign feature beautiful men and women wearing the heritage of Thailand on elaborate headdresses including flowers, Thai food, women from upland minorities, boats, Buddhist monks and Buddha images, flanked by Ban Chiang burial pottery, orchids, painted umbrellas, elephants and waterfalls. New Year's cards celebrating Amazing Thailand Year contained cardboard cutouts of miniature monuments including the Giant Swing, temple of the Emerald Buddha, temple of the Dawn, a