I first visited Thailand as a tourist in November of 2011 with two friends. None of us had traveled outside of the western world, and we were keen to see the exotic treasures that awaited us on distant tropical shores. We ogled at the pictures of the saturated blue ocean and the 5 star resorts that were only $50 dollars per night and thought it would be a cheaper, less-traveled version of Hawaii.
I arrived in Phuket and found many things: a few of them expected, many of them unwanted. The beaches were there, but so were the crowds, the trash. The things that struck me were the people trying to sell tourists pictures with their caged gibbons and langurs, and the children outside bars selling trinkets to drunken strangers at hours when they should be dreaming, not working.
Being there made me feel the negative effects of tourism like I never had before. For me, travel is a way of experiencing other ways of life and being inspired by the natural and cultural wonders of a destination. In Phuket it seemed that tourism had replaced Thai hospitality and natural beauty with second-rate resorts, overcrowded beaches, and a slew of problems that existed in between the tourist thoroughfares.