I’ve travelled there around 20 times, seen most of the country, had some really memorable experiences and promoted it in countless travel features as somewhere I recommend – I was even recognised by the Thai government for doing so and was given an award which, though relentlessly waning in relevance, is something I’m still proud of.
This video recently came out. It has been hailed as a masterstroke of reverse psychology and an impressively inventive way for travel marketing to go viral. It’s also been panned as cheesy, patronising and portraying a fantasy world.
Shall we watch?:
Context aside, I think it’s a tweak heavy handed, especially considering the agency (and the Tourism Authority of Thailand) chose to film it in a way that looks as if they’re trying to disguise the source of the film. I’m sure they hoped that some people would watch it and think it was user-generated (no obvious branding/logos/mystical eastern soundtrack).
Fair play: for an official tourism video, it actually IS pretty edgy. How many promotional films for destinations have you seen where the lead guy says the word “fucking” in the first 30 seconds and then goes posh-white-boy raggo on a passing taxi with a brick? Is this a sly dig at foreigners by the Thai authorities (because if so it’s probably a fair one – I’ve been to Phuket and it’s essentially Magaluf in the tropics).
There are obvious signs – the way the camera switched to a third person filming things, the dodgy acting, the fairytale romance – but it’s a laudable attempt, especially considering the absolute excrement that tourist boards have been cinematically responsible for.
I think my problem with it is more with the subtle messages. Reddit user astronoob summarises the narratives of the video with impressive accuracy:
“I hate Thailand because I didn't keep track of my belongings! I love Thailand because I showed this hot woman my dick and now we're totally having sex!”
Hey, at first that island girl is all straw-haired and rural-looking (giveaway cheekbones, mind), and then in the end she’s made up and chic and talks great English and kicks water at his camera like a true Manic Pixie Dream Girl. James don’t care she endangered his GoPro! He’s in love!
“I lived the way of the Buddhist.” Ehhhhhhh….let’s just leave that there.
And I’m not sure how James is staying there for two years in what looks like a pretty casual teaching job. I might be wrong but I think those freshly-tightened visa laws make that a logistical impossibility (unless he’s building up to burning that passport as he looks at it wistfully).
Is it even possible to promote an entire country without inherent cheesiness? Maybe it’s not. Maybe James and the Giant Beach is as good as it gets. At least there’s some curse words.
I love Thailand. I lost my bag there once. I just kind of hated myself for being an idiot. I’m glad it worked out differently for James, though. He seems like the kind of entitled farang things WOULD work out like that for. Now he's a Buddhist, I'm sure he sees things this way, too. We can only hope.