• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 12:02pm

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

Japanese tourists are known around the world for their politeness and good behavior.
Japan encourages its people to maintain the Japanese "brand" of excellence and high quality.
The Chinese "brand" is associated with poor behavior and bad manners.
Mainland leaders should be worried about China's negative image.
Please explain where Chinese Mainlanders ever "leave a good impression?"
Certainly not anywhere i have lived in Asia over the last 40 years. As for Chiang Mai forget "80%" they are universally loathed for their out right rotten, ill- mannered behavior whether in tour group or individuals.
Certainly my friends who own guesthouses and hotels will not let them stay or eat in their restaurants, their manners are non-existent and they leave their filth everywhere they go.
As for 'spending' that is rubbish, except for trinkets in the walking streets, they are financially controlled by mainland tour guides and do absolutely nothing for the Thai economy or the well being of Chiang Mai.
The sooner they move on to other destinations to befoul the better - "melon heads!"
mainlanders always leaves bad impression wherever they go...it's simply because of their country low rank communist education...they tend to have a selfish and greedy attitude...they always think that what they're doing is right....they're really very annoying and nuisance to the international communities...such a bunch of MORONS and UNCIVILIZED MAINLANDERS...Thailand needs a decent tourist to upgrade their tourism and not RUBBISH !
"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."
Americans were much more well behaved now that we compare them to the Mainlanders. I hesitate to use the term "Mainland Chinese", because it gives us Chinese people in HK and Taiwan a bad name.
LOL...like the Chinese tourist kid in line in front of me at Disneyland HK who defecated right in the line up, then her mom at least had the decency to throw the p-o-o-p in the bushes next to the line up.
If only 10% of those 100 million tourists are idiots, that's still 10 million idiots that escaped the mainland!
Formerly ******
Ah, at last, someone uglier than the ugly American. Once again, China excels over America in yet another category.
Mainland Chinese should ask themselves why Japanese tourists have a good reputation and countries are happy to have them as guests.
But mainland Chinese tourists are considered "lo**sts" even by Hong Kong Chinese.
Why is that? What can be done to change this situation?
What business wants "paying customers" who pee and sh*t in the swimming pool or fountain?
The Mainland Chinese who belongs to the "Rude" group usually do not drink coffee. I think you are serving the younger and more educated population from the mainland
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!
yeah, Thailand needs more creepy white guys like you right?
Nope, we cannot be tolerant to poor behaviors. Someone needs to teach them proper manners. This is for their own good. If the country is doing a bad job in educating their citizens, then we should take on that responsibility and teach them the lessons that they lack.
This article is not supported by the facts. The two Thais quoted do not share the bias of the author. I own a coffee shop in Chiang Mai and I LOVE Chinese tourists. Better English than Thai people, reasonable disposable income, and grateful when you treat them with kindness. (I admit--Chinese should learn to drive back home before they rent motorcycles here.)
So to all Chinese people--ignore the bias of this article. It is not shared by us in Chiang Mai. Come see me at my coffee shop--you will receive a warm welcome.
Formerly ******
Hey ******:
Ah, gee, sh*t-for-brains, so, let's view the logic of your statement. Chinese tourists need signs that inform them that they shouldn't sh*t and p*ss in public. What do you think that says about the Chinese tourists? What about f*ucking? Do you think that it'd be a good idea to post signs informing Chinese tourists that they shouldn't f*ck in public? How would the sign read?
'Dear Chinese Tourists: Please don't sh*t, p*ss, or f*ck in public.'
嘿 * * *:
啊,哎呀,該死的頭腦 ;所以,讓我們查看您的語句的邏輯。中國遊客需要通知他們,他們不應該屎和尿在公共的跡象。所說的中國遊客?怎麼辦 f * 永遠的好嗎?你認為它將是一個好主意張貼通知他們不應該在公共場合搞的中國遊客的跡象嗎?該標誌將如何讀的?
' 親愛的中國遊客: 請不拉屎、 撒尿,或操在公共場合.'
oh dear. Out of phils, boycott msia, now thailand. Looks like they are all coming to HK
The only real problem I have with the SCMP forum is that it allows ignorant racists to air their views. Such racial prejudice from whoever you are ***** is not welcomed from the majority of us non-Chinese who read these columns. Stick to airing your views at your KKK or BNP meetings.
sudo rm -f cy
The Thais are stupid to hate all these Chinese investing in their economy. Why can't they be more welcoming? We're all Asians, after all. (end sarcasm)
I wonder if people understood your sarcasm~ But nonetheless, you used pretty strong language...
great way to advertise.... too bad, i do not think that they read SCMP and anything that is negative about China. However, as Hong-Kongers, we would definitely check u out without ****! ;-)
Formerly ******
P Blair:
Does the P stand for P*sshead?
P Blair
Japanese are famous for raping and murdering. You must be making a lot for helping the Japanese rape and murder in your F country.
I own a coffee shop in Chiang Mai, ennoun. You do NOT state the facts.
Now people should know how the people in Hong Kong feel, and why Hongkongers in general are so negative about tourists from mainland China. Mainland Chinese would disparage people in Hong Kong for being dogs to its former colonial master (Britain) for criticizing the uncivilized and unruly behavior of the mainland Chinese.
The sad thing is, decades ago when Japanese tourists poured out of Japan to all parts of the world during its economic heydays, no one ever complained about the Japanese being uncivilized.
The mainland Chinese should be ashamed of this, and learn the lesson, rather than getting offensive and turn around to criticize others for criticizing them.
"And in the end, the love you take
is equal to the love you make".
-John Lennon
P Blair
Formerly ******
Have you been sucking some **** again? Mouth full of ****. Damn Filipino.
Not got the manners or guts to use your name. You are a racist and a disgrace to your fellow countrymen from wherever they come be it Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Korea. It matters not. You are clearly educated but you are still a racist, but worse a racist by choice. You are symptomatic of the problem.
You are clearly part of the problem
Very nation has bad travelers. Go to the Mediterranean and you will find loud, rude, obnoxious, drunken and violent tourists from all over Europe. At least the Chinese tourists whilst they may be loud, rude and obnoxious, they are not generally drunken or violent. Does that therefore make them better travelers. All this racist diatribe is doing nothing to help. Vent your spleen. Be rude. But does it actually assist in dealing with the problem or the greater debate. Of course it does not. Lets all just try to be a bit more tolerant.
Hey foreigner, why don't you get out of Asia and focus on your own problems back home?


SCMP.com Account