I was walking to the shop last week for my regular goodies, when something appalling happened to my foot. One minute, my sandaled foot was doing what it does every day, when a giant lougie of snot, phlegm, and/or sputum made my bare skin it’s new home. Shocking, because this had never happened to me before that I can recall, and because the spitter didn’t see, didn’t notice, and just kept strolling along. There was no apology. No exchange of words (I was completely bemused and almost laughing histerically). I’m sure you, clever reader, can see where this is going…Chinese tourism of Chiang Mai. It wasn’t until I started looking for answers of ‘why?’ did I begin to realize that this is “already a thing” (just take a gander on Thaivisa.com or pantip.com). I mean I know that it is talked about, but had no idea to what extent and that my spat on foot wasn’t the first and won’t be the last.
Tourism in the Land of Smiles follows the weather, festivals and celebrations, that can be ultimately translated to high or low season; but for the Chinese this year, the low season has yet to come. After they poured in for Chinese New Year in February, it is like they have set up camp in sleepy ‘ole Chiang Mai. Though it feels that way to me, it’s been going on for even longer than just this past February! Here I will look into the rise of the Chinese tourist/traveler and try to see what is happening here—unlike the town of Kidlington that is still wondering why they came and left in just a matter of weeks (very comical read NPR, check it out).
Movies Give us Places to Visit
The first reason, other than visiting another person’s culture, is what we see at the movies. Like flocking to Europe after reading or seeing Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code or the Big Apple in/with King Kong. Having lived in Pai before Chiang Mai, I was first introduced to the film Pai in Love to explain the Chinese’s surge to Northern Thailand. Check it out here.
Visiting these iconic places from the movie like Wat Phra That Mae Yen, Memorial Bridge, and Walking Street have become the checklist of things to see and do when in Pai–and now there is even Pai in Love (again)! But the film that has garnered more followers and a bigger checklist is the 2012 Lost in Thailand. I wasn’t expecting much from this typical romp through the Kingdom of Thailand, but I was pleasantly surprised. Yeah, it’s formulaic and recycled, but the characters are a hoot with each other! Check it out here.
In an attempt to secretly get the usage of Baobao’s passport, Xu Lang says, “On the road, people have to help each other out”. And while his motives are kept quiet for now, the ever happy Baobao is stoked to get help ticking off his entire checklist, which though cute, is what traveling has become for a many around the globe, not just our dear Chinese. This notion of even having a checklist to tick sets us apart, or higher than those around us; in order to keep up with the Jones’ and be able to say “been there, done that” we must first step out of our own countries apparently. Though travel has always been more than just a checklist for me, I’ll save that for another day.
China and Thailand are so Darn Close
And then there is proximity! Northern Thailand and China are so close it is no surprise that a weekend trip (albeit a longer one) can easily be made from parts of Southern China—just look at all of those Chinese plates next time you are out and about! And if driving isn’t your thing, airfare is more than affordable. And now we find ourselves in the age a high speed rail (HSR). Currently in the works is the high speed trains that will whisk travelers across borders in no time at all. Although, it looks like Chiang Mai will be missed this first go-around, we are just a stone’s throw away from Chiang Rai or Sukhothai (although this may be a thing of the further reaching future, it’s still on the table).
Echo’s Pigs on the Loose and More Literature
When I decided to research this topic, I went to my humble stack of Citylife, and sure enough found a fantastic article in Volume 22 No. 8 of August 2013, by Rebecca Iszatt (digital version of From East to East: The Chinese Tourist Boom in Chiang Mai) which introduced another interesting author Yunmei Wang (pseudonym: Echo) that immediately caught my attention with her alarmingly titled e-book Pigs on the Loose, which looks at the questionable manners of our friends from China. Plotted out, Echo looks at Chinese tour groups on planes, at restaurants, in toilets and more! Even equipped with piggish cartoons! Yes, this stings, but Echo was tired and ashamed of seeing her countrymen shelling out such behavior. Honey, I understand this completely: I’m often embarrassed by my compatriots as well.
While bad and/or ignorant behavior is unbecoming on anybody, the Chinese get much of the flack because they are the ones coming in droves more than the other niches of travelers these days. But what has really changed since 1988 when the borders were opened for Chinese travelers to the Land of Smiles? In a much headier research paper by Korawan Sangkakorn aptly named “Modern Chinese Tourist’s Behavior in Chiang Mai After the Movie ‘Lost in Thailand’” claims the three main factors of this change is 1.) China’s newfound economic landscape 2.) the next generation of Chinese values and lifestyles and 3.) the Chinese government’s relaxation on traveling abroad. Their money is good, travel has become another commodity, and lastly because they can. In this survey taken in 2013, it is evident that they love it here and will continue to stay. When asked what was the best thing about Chiang Mai, the survey says: “the friendliness of the people”.
The friendliness of the people; this is was what got to me. This was one of the most striking things about Chiang Mai that beckoned me back; it is not just a beautiful mountainous region full of culture and tradition, but it is also a land full of many friendly people. Even though travelers act like pigs on the loose sometimes, the friendliness of the people is still there. Yeah, the 7-11 attendant might wait for you to walk out the sliding doors before groaning about your existence, but that friendliness is generally still there. And sometimes they might be so completely shocked that you spit on their foot to not say anything. But I have found more often than not, everything is often taken with a general shrug, which is definitely easier than said sometimes!