• Thu
  • Dec 25, 2014
  • Updated: 11:05am

Anti-Chinese feelings in Thailand high as influx of tourists angers locals

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 10:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 April, 2014, 4:38pm

The bucolic, once laid-back campus of one of Thailand’s top universities is under a security clampdown. Not against a terrorist threat, but against Chinese tourists.

Thousands have clambered aboard student buses at Chiang Mai University, made a mess in cafeterias and sneaked into classes to attend lectures. Someone even pitched a tent by a picturesque lake. The reason: “Lost in Thailand,” 2012 slapstick comedy partly shot on campus that is China’s highest-grossing homegrown movie ever.

In order to bring out such strong feelings in Chiang Mai people, it must be really bad. Generally, Chiang Mai people are quite tolerant of foreigners
Guest house owner, Annette Kunigagon

Now visitors are restricted to entering through a single gate manned by Mandarin-speaking volunteers who direct Chinese tourists to a line of vehicles for guided tours. Individual visitors are banned, and a sign in prominent Chinese characters requesting that passports be produced is posted by the gate.

With their economy surging, mainland Chinese have become the world’s most common world traveler, with more than 100 million expected to go abroad this year. In 2012, they overtook the Americans and Germans as the top international spenders, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

But in Chiang Mai and elsewhere, Chinese tourists have acquired the same sort of reputation for loud, uncouth, culturally unaware behaviour that inspired the term “Ugly Americans” decades ago.

Many in the tourism industry are delighted by the influx, but 80 per cent of 2,200 Chiang Mai residents polled by the university in February said they were highly displeased with Chinese behaviour. The survey and numerous comments on Thai social media blamed Chinese for spitting, littering, cutting into lines, flouting traffic laws and allowing their children to relieve themselves in public pools. Some restaurant owners complained of Chinese filling up doggy bags at buffets.

The low point in local-tourist relations in Thailand’s second-largest city was likely a photograph widely seen on the Internet of a person, purportedly Chinese, defecating in the city’s ancient moat.

“Unfortunately, right now, the feeling is very anti-Chinese. In order to bring out such strong feelings in Chiang Mai people, it must be really bad. Generally, Chiang Mai people are quite tolerant of foreigners,” says Annette Kunigagon, Irish owner of the long-established Eagle Guesthouse.

But she and others point out that much of the inappropriate behaviour applies to tour groups rather than individual travelers who are generally younger, better educated and more attuned to local customs.

Some of the censure smacks of hypocrisy. The Thais themselves are champion litterers and have notched one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world.

Residents of Chiang Mai, a 700-year-old city rich in cultural traditions, may be particularly sensitive to some Chinese ways, priding themselves on refined, gentle manners and soft speech. Perhaps their most common complaint is how loud the visitors tend to talk. There is also anxiety, reflected in the university poll, that in tandem with the tourists an increasing number of Chinese are buying property, setting up businesses and taking jobs from locals.

Thais are far from the only people unhappy. Over the past few years, some hotels and restaurant buffets – where guests have filled doggy bags after eating – have made it clear that Chinese are not welcome. Hong Kong Airlines has trained crew members in kung fu to subdue drunken passengers and a sign in Chinese at Paris’ Louvre requests that visitors not defecate or urinate on the museum grounds. Widely publicised was graffiti etched into Egypt’s ancient Luxor temple reading “Ding Jinhao was here.”

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang last year said negative conduct had “damaged the image of the Chinese people.” The government issued a tourism law mainly to regulate the domestic market but which urges travellers abroad to “abide by the norms of civilized tourist behaviour.” It also produced a 64-page Guidebook for Civilisd Tourism with a long list of “do nots,” includes nose-picking in public, stealing life jackets from airplanes and slurping down noodles.

One of the most virulent critics has been Wang Yunmei, who recently published “Pigs on the Loose: Chinese Tour Groups” after six years of travel abroad. While the book drew mostly “nasty” comments from fellow countrymen, Wang says some told her that the book should have come out years ago.

Some Chinese media commentators say improper behaviour is often an extension of domestic habits. Wang says many Chinese tourists are rural people who recently acquired money through land sales but have little education and speak only their own language. If public toilets don’t exist in their villages, she says, they may not know to look for them when the need arises. She also says education has also not kept pace with the rapid rise of the middle class and its growing wealth.

“It’s going to take some years before they behave better. There has been a campaign in China for some time, but these things are still going on,” she says.

Those who are making money off the influx are looking on the bright side.

“We have talked to many businesses and they are very happy,” says Wisoot Buachoom, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand in Chiang Mai. The gap between the city’s high and low tourist seasons has been narrowed because of the Chinese influx, he says.

Wisoot says several Chiang Mai agencies are working to regulate some of the Chinese behaviour, like insisting on international driving licenses for car rentals. They have also enlisted movie stars to deliver messages about proper conduct while lauding Thailand’s attractions on Chinese television.

“In the past, we had some of the same problems with Westerners coming to Chiang Mai, but now we see very little of this,” he says.

Even on the campus overwhelmed with Chinese tourists, Chiang Mai University Vice President Rome Chiranukrom calls it “an opportunity, not a threat, a raid.” He says the experience has given his students a “reverse culture shock” that will teach them to behave appropriately in other societies.

“We live in a globalised world and need our students to see the differences with others – and these came right here for us to see,” he says.

Rome notes that 60 per cent of Chinese tourists to Thailand are first-time travellers abroad, coming wide-eyed and generally speaking no foreign language to a place where all signs are in Thai or English.

“We need to learn to communicate and provide information, and then I believe that many will listen, understand our culture and obey our laws and regulations,” he says.

Rome himself has just started Mandarin lessons.


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

Mainland China is afraid to educate their countryside population, many of whom have some money now and travel. These same people defecate and urinate in the big cities of their own country, and no one says anything to them. Thus when they go overseas they feel its ok since the biggest cities in China dont seem to mind them doing the same things. That said, the rest of Asia is not much better if at all. Japanese these days are much less polite and civil than their parents, Phillipinos are not well mannered and are themselves so prejudiced, Korean males often drink excessively (just look at the arrest records for drunken disorderliness) and are racist against anyone not Korean, the list goes on and on. The real bottom line for Asia is that they need to rid themselves of the bad elements of their past if they are truly to embrace their future. Its not enough to just have money, money does not make you a good person, a global citizen, nor someone worthy of respect. Asia GROW UP.
It's not being racist if one states the facts.
Jonathan Smith
Thailand and the Philippines would prefer the hordes of Japanese, Australian, American or German tourists especially the drug addicts, ****s spreading HIV etc. The Chinese tourists are loud and spit everywhere and appear obnoxious. However the greater damage comes from the former low-lifes that spread their diseases etc. If not for American homosexuals and bisexuals there wouldn't be AIDS/HIV in Asia today. I suppose Thais and Filipinos are happy to be infected with deadly diseases from the West and Japan.
"Chinese tourists have acquired the same sort of reputation for loud, uncouth, culturally unaware behaviour that inspired the term “Ugly Americans” ", the media needs to add the term "Chinese from the Mainland PRC". Just spoke with a SouthEast Asia Chinese, like wise, they think the middle aged Mainland Chinese tourist are a disgrace!!! Just because they have a little money, they think they own the world
I'm sure the Chinese will return your favour of a warm welcome with their own warm welcome. A nice warm steamy welcome on your front lawn.....
Did they hit a nerve with the facts of how some from your homeland act when they are turned loose, Jonathan Smith (actually, Tee Nee Wang)? Please do not come to the Philippines or Thailand, we do not need your arrogant kind.
Wow, that was over 60 years ago!!! I doubt the current generations of Japanese are known to rape and kill people.
Where ever mainlanders go, even to Hong Kong and Taiwan, they leave a good impression. /sarc
One would think the "leaders" would address this problem.
They better start putting signs in Chinese then. Chinese are the paying customers, therefore, it is the responsibility of the business to accommodate their paying customers.
A Matsui
Jonathan Smith (actually, Tee Nee Wang)? probably is a straight talking decent man and is probably not into sex tourism and wouldn't need to go to Thailand or the Philippines. What he says is right!



SCMP.com Account