A very, very strange story has spun out this month in Thailand: It centers on the Bangkok luxury hotel Lebua, a resort that last year hosted an infamous “meal of a lifetime” quote-unquote charity dinner at $25,000 a head. This year, the hotel had planned a similarly sybaritic dinner: a 10-course meal cooked by a trio of France’s top chefs, who’d be flown to Bangkok. This meal, however, would cost diners zero dollars. Instead, the hotel required that the 50 guests first be flown to a village in northern Thailand to see and learn about poverty. Then they’d be jetted back to eat truffles and Roquefort ice cream.
The hotel called this bizarre bit of feel-good exploitation “emotional tourism,” but as the Guardian reported, “It got more emotion than it bargained for when the French media saw it as a poverty tour for the rich, triggering a mighty furore.” Within days, all the chefs had dropped out. Two dozen other chefs then turned down Lebua’s offer of $8,000 for a night’s work, although the hotel says a few European chefs have now accepted (it refuses to name them, though). All of the guests, by the way, are apparently still in.