Letter to Summer Program Participants
"Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice, and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, and charitable views cannot be acquired by vegetating in one tiny corner of the globe."—Mark Twain
Congratulations on your decision to travel to Thailand with Prevent Human Trafficking this summer! I know you will have an amazing time on your trip and will learn so many unexpected things! I'm writing to share some thoughts of travel in the developing world and to answer some of the questions that you had asked. I hope you'll find it useful!
Flexibility and Travel in the Developing World
In many developing countries, Thailand and Cambodia included, travel is not always as comfortable an experience as it can be in the US. Transportation is also another big difference between the US and the developing world. Public transportation is likely to be filled to capacity, and buses are likely to be bumpy and hot. Hotel rooms are probably more sparsely furnished, and may not have Western toilets. Speaking of toilets, it is sometimes hard to fine what Westerners would consider adequate bathroom facilities while traveling. So you might want to plan ahead for this by carrying some of your own toilet paper in your backpack. In addition, things tend to get done a bit more slowly in Thailand than in the US. While some Western tourists might find these things annoying, I prefer to think of them as small challenges! They are easy to overcome if you remain flexible and keep a sense of humor.
Traveling With Your Passport
I suggest that you make several copies of your passport. Take one with you, but keep it in a separate place from the original, and leave one in the US. Also, never pack your passport in your luggage. When traveling from country to country, keep your passport with you at all times, preferably in a money-belt or attached somehow under your clothes.
Here's a list of safety precautions I took off of my study abroad program's website. I think they are pretty useful and generally applicable.
- When traveling, do not leave your bags or belongings unattended at any time.
- Never keep all of your documents and money in one place or one suitcase.
- If you find yourself in uncomfortable surroundings, try to act like you know what you are doing and where you are going. Exercise good judgment about what sorts of places to frequent during the day and at night, and avoid being on the street at late hours more than necessary.
- Keep the on-site program coordinators informed of your whereabouts.
- Be alert to your surroundings and the people with whom you have contact. Be wary of people who seem over friendly or overly interested in you. Be cautious when you meet new people, and do not give out your address or phone number. Report any unusual people or activities to on-site staff immediately.
- Don't flash money or documents in public places. Keep small bills in your pocket and use them whenever possible to pay for things. Be discrete in displaying your passport.
- Obey host-country laws.
- Avoid illegal drugs and excessive or irresponsible consumption of alcohol.
- Follow the program policies for keeping program staff informed of their whereabouts and well being.
Suggestions for Staying Healthy
Take big, reusable water bottles with you so that you can drink plenty of water! It will probably be pretty hot in Thailand, so you'll want to keep yourself hydrated. But, as I'm sure you already know, you should always drink boiled/filtered/bottled water, and be wary of eating from roadside vendors. That way, you'll dramatically cut your chances of getting a stomach bug! Speaking of stomach bugs, most of you will probably feel a little (or a lot) sick to your stomach during your three-weeks. I would suggest bringing plenty of over the counter diarrhea medicine and perhaps asking your doctor for a prescription of Cipro (an anti-biotic that helps fight diarrhea).
While staying at Bangkok Apartments, you can buy tokens in the manager's office for 25 cents. They have Western style washing machines and dryers that you can use.
Keeping in Touch with Family and Friends
There are many ways to keep in touch with your family and friends while you're in South East Asia. You can buy international calling cards that give you pins to enter into the phone, but we have found from experience that it is better to have your family to call you. It often turns out cheaper that way. If you have a cell phone with a SIM card (call your phone company if you're not sure if you have one) then you can receive calls. You'll need two additional items to receive calls. You can buy a local SIM card for $20, which will give you a local Thai number which you can share with your family and friends. Then you have to buy prepaid minutes. Both of these things can be bought at the airport or at a 7-11 (there are 7-11s on almost every street corner in Thailand!). If you don't have a SIM card, see if one of your family members can lend you one.
Your family and friends can most easily (and cheaply) contact you by purchasing a $10 or $20 phone card from phonecardsforsale.com. They'll have to get on the website and choose one of the cards that is capable of calling Thailand. Then, they'll create an account and pay with a credit card online. I recommend buying the GreenCard; you get less minutes with this one than some of the other cards, but the connection quality is really good. Note that they won't actually get a physical card, www.phonecardsforsale.com just sends an email with a pin number to the person who purchased the "card." You can send/receive emails at any of the many internet cafes that can be found on practically every street corner. Also, Starbucks has wireless internet access that is more expensive than the cafes.
Learn more about Thailand
Before you leave, you should learn as much as possible about Thailand. That way, you'll know what to expect, and impress the Thais with your knowledge of the issues you're there to discuss. At a time when many foreigners feel Americans are arrogant, it is important to show others that you respect and are interested in other cultures/countries. You might check books out of your local library, search for Thailand in the newspaper (BBC.com does better international news than most US based media). I also recommend you read as many of the articles on the "Publications" page of the website as you can. You should also check out Christina and Andrea's article entitled Addressing the Sex Trade in Thailand: Some Lessons Learned from NGOs, which can be also be found on the "Publications" page of the website. I've listed some additional websites on Thailand and trafficking below.