What Really Happens in Thailand TV show: Is this what Thailand is really like?

Jenny and Alaina, two "Perth beauty queens", are young, pretty, utterly gormless – and classic "Ugly Australians".

They're also the "stars" of the first episode of Seven Network's warts-and-all travel doco series, What Really Happens in Thailand, a follow-up to last year's What Really Happens in Bali.

"I've met some Israelians," Jenny tells us, explaining how travel broadens the mind.

This is after the 19-year-old charter boat attendant has finished second in the bikini dancing competition of the warm-up party that happens the night before "the infamous" Full Moon Party on Ko Pha Ngan – "Party Island" – near Koh Samui.

Her silver medal performance is essentially pole dancing without the pole.

It involves a supposedly impromptu display of explicit "booty shaking" that has obviously been much practised in front of several mirrors.

So she's not at all bothered that her booty will be depicted well and truly shaking all over national television.

But at least Jenny and Alaina weren't alone as they squirmed while watching their holidays in Thailand broadcast to a national audience of around a million fellow Aussies last week.

Spare a thought for Mikaela, a 23-year-old nurse from Newcastle. Why she gave her permission to be included in the first episode is mystifying. Her only coherent lines are "I need to spew ... I want to spew".


Apparently her drink has been spiked, and she recovers – but not before her radiologist friend has to ring Mikaela's parents to say their daughter is in serious danger.

Naturally the men in the first episode also hardly cover themselves in glory. Take the three male mates from Darwin. One loses his wallet containing all of his money on the first day, the other two are duped in a jet-ski scam.

So all three work, begrudgingly, for a day at Phuket Fish Market not knowing tourists can't earn money. Ultimately, they seem happy with their bottle of Thai liquor.

In last night's second episode, we met Kade, "the Buddhist biker" in Patong Hospital after a bad motorcycle accident.

We said Sawat dee khrap ("hello" in Thai) to those guys from country Victoria who discover what it is to be one of the Ladyboys of Bangla Road.

And were reintroduced to Nadine, the Brisbane nurse and hero/heroine of the first episode who was then Wayne, but has since gone through a sex-change operation to become the Nadine she always felt she was.

Is this the true Thailand? Are these first two episodes of the glossily-produced TV series representative of what most Australian tourists to Thailand experience?

Of course not. You'd need to be as gormless as Jenny and Alaina to believe that.

Around 600,000 Aussies take their holidays in Thailand each year. According to some Aussie expats quoted in the series, only half of those check their brains in when they arrive at Bangkok International Airport.

Most of us still travel to Thailand for old-fashioned reasons: its rich culture, its outstanding physical beauty, its exquisite food, its glorious beaches and its generally hospitable people.

Naturally, What Really Happens in Thailand doesn't reflect the vacations most of us have. Is it real Thailand? Unquestionably, since it was filmed in Thailand.

But the TV series isn't really about Thailand as a destination. It's focus is on Australians as travellers. Is this how we behave abroad? In Thailand?

Over the 10-part series we'll meet lots of Aussies whose reason to be in Thailand is exemplary.

Take sisters Savannah and Michaela who try their hand at training elephants in next week's episode, or Melinda who arrives to donate supplies to a Thai school devastated by the 2004 tsunami.

But we also see plenty of characters who – as pretty and benign as Jenny and Alaina are – show the ugly side of Australian tourism.

It has been 50 years since Eugene Burdick and William Lederer wrote their political novel, The Ugly American. Their book was a powerful critique of the failings of the US diplomatic service. Yet the phrase came to mean the rude, ignorant, insensitive and vulgar behaviour of a particular type of American abroad.

Well, move over America. When it comes to ugliness overseas, we Australians do it better than any other nation, and it is all displayed here, in cringe-worthy fashion.

So is there anything we can learn from What Really Happens in Thailand?

Quite a bit, actually.

Who knew the Full Moon Party is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year? Or that Nadine/Wayne has gone under the knife of a surgeon who has performed over 1000 sex change operations in his 20-year career?

But most of all – if you're young like Jenny and Alaina, or older like "the tattooed hotties, a loved-up Aussie couple who express their feelings for each other with a few extra tattoos – Thai Style" in next week's episode – beware.

Travel is about making your own choices. In your own time. With new friends who might, or might not, be Israelians.

And as an Aussie, Thailand might best be experienced if you keep your "Ugly Aussie" mistakes to yourself?

Otherwise it tends to get really ugly.

See also: Turn back the bogans: What Really Happens in Bali shows Australians at their worst
See also: Paradise earned: The toughest way to reach Thailand's beaches