This paper explores contrasting narratives of place meaning in a tourism site in Southern Thailand. Specifically, I analyse the parallel discourses of community change through tourism development embedded in international backpacker narratives, and those of the local Thai elite. By configuring identity and power around binary oppositional categories such as West as economically powerful and dominant/non-West as economically weak and subordinated, 'traditional' tourism studies often locate the dynamics of change in the international tourism industry. To date, there is little research on the very real and important ways that people working in tourism assert agency and understand their own identities in everyday contexts. I argue that local communities can, and often do, shape the changes that tourism development initiates in very creative and adaptive ways.