The numbers are staggering; despite actual official statistics being hard to get, several sites quote the number one hundred thousand Israeli tourists in Thailand for the year 2003. Probably this number is larger now, since there is a continuous increase in the tourists' population segments arriving from Israel. In the past they were almost exclusively backpackers just after their military service; nowadays there are a lot of whole families as well.
For Israelis, visiting Thailand is very convenient, since the country is less expensive than Israel and is one of the few issuing handy visas on arrival to Israeli citizens. Moreover, the interaction between the acutely different cultures assures a vacation in which the endless troubles at home would be forgotten - at least for a while.
Khaosan Road became the obvious center in Bangkok of these tourists, mainly due to its being cheaper than areas as Sukhumvit Road, even after the recent years constant upgrading, but also due to the availability of travel agencies there. Once Hebrew speaking travel agencies opened on Khaosan Road, other areas of Bangkok wouldn't even be considered.
The many Hebrew signs on Khaosan Road are unmistakable; the language can be easily heard between the English of most visitors. The groups - if knowing what to search for - can be seen from far away. With no doubt, Khaosan Road features one of the largest concentrations of Israeli citizens in the world, especially during Israeli holidays. Trying to ignore them during earlier trips to the area, I finally decided to dedicate them a journal.
Interviewing tourists on the streets seemed as a bad idea for this journal. Most of them would probably refuse; if not, most of their answers would be in the style of "let's say what he does expect to hear;" I know my people and their - justified - fear of the Big Brother. The lack of freedom in Israel trains its citizens in very specific skills.
Thus, I decided to visit the main four Israeli institutions in the Khaosan Road area, as of August 2008. Some of the visits were incognito, others were done openly. Some went fine, other were weird on the verge of scary.
Such a crowd of tourists was calling for dedicated businesses; despite several changes during the last years, the concentration of Israeli businesses on the west end of Khaosan and the central part of Rambuttri seems to have stabilized. The big Israeli travel agencies and guesthouses located there openly advertise their services in Hebrew and attract shoppers from other parts of the world as well.
The biggest institutions - and the ones reviewed here as well - are: the Green House, Lametayel, HaKesher HaIsraeli and Beit Chabad. HaKesher HaIsraeli is the oldest and biggest, its huge sign is a Khaosan Road landmark for years; a surprise awaited me there.
All the four institutions included restaurants; I ate at three of them, while the fourth was beyond any compromise I was ready to make for the sake of this journal. Yet, I needed a plan allowing me to achieve comparative results.
On an airplane magazine - in my way to Bangkok - I read a food review where it was claimed "a restaurant cannot be assessed by tasting simple dishes like lobsters." However, these simple dishes often require very specific and delicate ingredients, and an exact preparation; the skill of the chef and the quality of the products used in these dishes cannot be hidden under a fancy sauce with a long name. Hummus and tahini are such dishes and are an important part of the Israeli diet; thus, I ordered hummus with tahini at all three restaurants, while promising myself to begin a diet one day after finishing the journal.
One of the travel agencies included a guesthouse; for my personal security I did not sleep there, but the owner of the place gave me a detailed visit of the place.
Three of the four institutions reviewed included travel agencies; at the fourth I was seriously told "we are above that (type of business)." I didn't book tours with them since I prefer traveling independently; however, I spoke with the people working there - in two cases incognito - while trying to find out about the services provided.
At one of the agencies they were busy trying to find alternative flights for customers of a company that suddenly ceased working. However, in general, I got the impression the services were responsible, though overpriced and catering for people not used to traveling independently; and that fits the patterns, few Israelis travel around alone.
After three days, the journal was finished - at least the data gathering for it - and I returned to the blessed anonymity of speaking English and wearing a Thai T-shirt.