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  • Kamilah Stevens

Thai Socialite Dussadee Talks About Thai Culture, Sex Tourism, and the Importance of Buddhist Monks

I recently had an enthralling conversation with a Thailand socialite, journalist, and resort owner named Dussadee Oeawpanich. We talked about all things Thai culture, lifestyle, and the impact of COVID-19 on the Thai tourism industry.

Volume 82: Has the tourism and hospitality industry started to rebuild from the COVID pandemic?

Dussadee: No, and that’s not just in my area! To be honest, COVID doesn't scare people to come to Thailand; what scares people is the thought of quarantine. They don't want to come and stay in a hotel for 14 days without doing anything, and then their vacation is over. I can speak for my hotel (Khalok Palm Hill Resort); before COVID, people used to book a year in advance, especially European travelers. And now they are worried about quarantine rules. Despite that, we actually don't have any quarantine rules at this time. And the Russia-Ukraine war is also having an impact, so I think it will be another two to three years until things recover and travel is normalized again.

Volume 82: Do you think the Monkeypox pandemic will also set things back?

Dussadee: Maybe. But, a lot of our tourists are retired people or families. They don't have the biggest risk of contracting Monkeypox.

Volume 82: Thailand is often described as a place with an abundance of beauty and peace. What are some specific things people typically see when they visit? The must-see stuff?

Dussadee: When you come to Thailand, you have to go to the south, which is famous for beautiful beaches! There are serene and long stretches of gorgeous beach. When you go to Florida, for example, a lot of the beaches are packed. But not all Thailand’s beaches are like that. So if you want to relax without many people, you can. If you want to party and have cocktails on the beach, there are beaches for that, too.

One of our main attractions is total relaxation!

We foster an easy lifestyle here. It's not as expensive as it is in Europe to eat and do things. In Europe you have to plan a lot and make reservations. But in Thailand, you can stop anywhere. If you're hungry, you can walk up to a stand and buy a pineapple sprinkled with salt and chili on top for about one dollar. You can also rent motorcycles and cars for very little money here. Thailand gives tourists such good and welcoming feelings. We're laid-back and kind.

Volume 82: Thailand has black sand beaches, right?

Dussadee: Yes, we do. They aren't as black as in Bali, Indonesia, but we have them! The sand is tinted black due to tin mining that happened during World War II.

Volume 82: I would never have guessed that. Very interesting!

Dussadee: There's even a black beach in front of my home!

Volume 82: What city do you live in now?

Dussadee: I live in Khaolak. I also have a house in Phuket. My mom is in Phuket, but I love living here because Phuket can get busy. It's like a small Bangkok. While Phuket is full of culture and a lot of things to do, Khaolak is more relaxing.

As for other popular things to see in Thailand, Bangkok is full of culture. A visit to Bangkok's Grand Palace is a must. People say it’s the most beautiful Buddhist palace in the world! It used to be the home of the King and now it’s a major tourist attraction. Bangkok also has the most interesting street food in the world. People come here to experience Thai food that’s different from anything you’d taste in America.

Volume 82: What's your current position with your family's hotel?

Dussadee: I own the hotel, and I pretty much do everything here, from marketing to management. Our hotel isn't a big business. It's a small property with only 40 rooms. I greet customers every day and I check the bookings online.

Volume 82: You're a busy lady. What else do you do in Thailand?

Dussadee: I'm a lifestyle writer. And I translate and teach English to other hotel staff and nurses. Currently, I'm teaching 12 nurses at the local hospital how to speak and read English.

Volume 82: And you used to have a restaurant?

Dussadee: Yes. I had a restaurant for nine years. I closed it when I had my second daughter. When she gets older, I would like to open another restaurant.

Volume 82: How is the entertainment there? Does Thailand get a lot of U.S. performers?

Dussadee: We do! I've seen Beyonce, Jay-Z, Rihanna, Boyz II Men, and 50 Cent in concert here. We're not the main destination for a lot of the bigger artists, though we still get some big names. I've also seen Lady Gaga, Madonna, Busta Rhymes, and Justin Beiber here.

Volume 82: Is Buddhism the main religion?

Dussadee: Yes. When I was young, the population was about 95 percent Buddhist, but now it's probably 85 or 90 percent Buddhist because the Muslim population is growing. But yes, Thailand is a Buddhist nation. If you go up north to the City of Temples, you'll see Buddhist temples in different styles and colors everywhere.

Volume 82: And you're Buddhist?

Dussadee: Yes, I am Buddhist, but I doubt some of its superstitious beliefs. However, I do believe in Karma: if you do good things, you’ll receive good things. And I believe in the power of meditation and having positive thoughts.

Volume 82: What should a traveler see if they want to experience Buddhist culture?

Dussadee: You can give offerings to the monks. You can pray and reflect in a temple. There are so many temples around here. When my international friends come, I usually take them to a temple, so they can pray and see how the monks live. Religion is very simple here. It's not like if you went to the Vatican City.

Buddhism is a daily lifestyle for us. For example, if you wake up around 6:00 am, you can go to the market and you'll see the monks on the street because people come out of their houses and offer things to the monks. In Buddhism, the monks are supposed to walk and get food from the towns' people, because they aren't supposed to buy food or want for anything. They only eat to survive. We offer things to them, and they give us a blessing in return. There's nothing fancy about it; this is just our daily lifestyle. Interacting with the monks is a good way to start your day; you do something good and get a blessing in return.

Volume 82: What is a monk’s daily life like?

Dussadee: The monks pray a lot. They are a part of the town's religious activities. If you feel bad or down about life, you'll go to the temple, take the monk something, and they will pray for you or preach. I can't explain it, but a lot of times, they can sense what your troubles are. Their jobs are just to be there for us. They also teach us to be simple. They only eat twice daily and eat all their meals before noon. Then, they clean the temple. We invite the monks to weddings, birthdays, and funerals. Say if someone opens a business, the monks will come to bless their business.

People are not forced to give them a specific amount of money, but the monks don't have income, so everything they get comes from the citizens. The temple is like a community center. People with more resources and assets usually donate more to the monks and the temples. We have great relationships with them. One of the monks named my second child. He also predicted she would be a girl born on Tuesday, and he was correct! Thai culture believes that children born on a Tuesday will be stubborn! Every day of the week represents something in Thai culture. For instance, there is one day that you can't do funeral cremations. And I always get my hair done on Monday because it's thought of as a charming day.

Volume 82: I've heard that Thailand feels like a magical place.

Dussadee: It is a magical place! You have to come here and be open to things. I first visited America when I was 15. It was so different from Thailand. The energy of the people and surroundings in Thailand is what makes it magical. We have such good energy and warm people. And Thai people are also lazy.

Volume 82: Why do you say Thai people are lazy?

Dussadee: Because we are so laid back!

Volume 82: I've heard Thailand is an excellent place to regenerate yourself or have a spiritual cleanse.

Dussadee: Yes, definitely!

Volume 82: How safe is Thailand? Supposedly a lot of human trafficking happens there.

Dussadee: Because of this belief, Thailand street trafficking was the topic of my final research project when I earned my master's degree. I wanted to dig deep into women's issues, especially in Thailand. There used to be a lot of trafficking around the border area. Now, many Burmese people come to work here through illegal agencies. Human trafficking is not as bad as in Eastern Europe or India, where many women are forced into that lifestyle. I can't deny that we are known for sex tourism, especially in Phuket and Bangkok. But probably 98 percent of the prostitutes in those areas choose to be there because they want to make money. Prostitution in this country is not how the United Nations describes it. It's not a hard lifestyle where women are violated and forced to be in brothels.

(Google Images)

There is a place called Patong in Phuket. People talk down on it because it's like a red-light district. You will see many prostitutes there, but they don't carry themselves like typical prostitutes; they are pretty and high class. They work there voluntarily. Russian prostitutes are starting to work there too. A lot of prostitutes in Putong are spiritual. There are temples there, and many sex workers give offerings to the monks and pray when they're there. Thailand is truly a country with two extremes: one side is spiritual, and the other is naughty. Prostitution is legal here. Sex work became big here during the Vietnam War. We used to have a rest and recreation center, and many soldiers bought sex when they came to the center.

But Thailand truly has something to offer everyone. It's a diver's paradise. We have so many islands where you can dive or snorkel. You can also experience the city of Chiang Mai in the north where there are indigenous tribes. Their culture and language are different from those on the mainland.

Also, we are very artistic people. Thai people are crafty, so if you come here, you'll see art everywhere. And we can turn anything into art. And the museums here are good.

Volume 82: How safe is Thailand for tourists overall?

Dussadee: In the 15 years I've lived in Khaolak, I've only heard of one case of rape near my home. It's pretty safe. Of course, you should be wise and not go to dodgy areas. Sometimes taxi drivers try to scam foreign customers. Even big cities are safe, but you must be careful in large crowds, as is advised with travel anywhere.

Volume 82: I’m truly excited. It sounds like I need to visit soon!

Dussadee: Yes! You must come visit!

Volume 82: Will do!

Photo Credits: Dussadee Oeawpanich/Instagram & Google Images


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