Talking With Tourists

June 24, 2002

According to the Tourism authority of Thailand, Thailand hosted 10,132,509 tourists in the year 2001. Their average length of stay was 8.66 days and 49 percent were between the ages of 25 and 44. Some of the better-known destinations in Thailand include Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ko Samui, Krabi, Pattaya and Phuket. The presence of tourists is evident at most any corner in these towns, and Thailand transforms its menus, entertainment venues, spoken language and vending wares to suit their tastes and needs. Thailand is a friendly and hospitable place. If you show up as a tourist with money in your pocket, hospitality tends to increase.

‘Tourist’ is not always a positive word. In Thailand, many expatriates look down on tourists as being somehow ‘inferior’ to themselves, preferring to hang out in expatriate or Thai circles and typically avoiding listening to travelogues of those passing through. Thais probably (and justly so) secretly scratch their heads wondering about what both240602k1.jpg groups are doing in Thailand. Often found pointing their feet in the wrong direction, sporting the most bizarre of fashion statements, showing public affection between members of the opposite sexes, venting anger when things don’t go their way and walking way too fast in the tropical heat while exclaiming, “Gosh, it is just too hot!” naturally causes some confusion for the locals, but they manage to take it all in while smiling.

Why do people visit Thailand? The most popular belief is that it is because of the beaches, shopping and women. I recently spent the afternoon walking around asking various tourists questions regarding their visit to the ‘Land of Smiles.’ The answers were delightfully surprising! Rather than list comments and nationalities individually, I’ll sum up by saying those I talked with ranged in age from 24-66 and came from Holland, New Zealand, Ireland, England, America, and Sweden, and answers came from males and females.

To the question, “What240602k2.jpg made you decide to come to Thailand?” the answers were as follows: “I heard it is cheap and beautiful.” “It’s a part of my trip around the world for one year. I chose destinations that seemed as different from my native country as possible.” “For the climate and the sunshine.” “A friend of mine came here a few years ago and told me that I should really come here and consider it as a possible place to retire.” “Originally it was just a stopover for me on the way to England. I was supposed to stay for only four days, but fifteen months later I am still here.” “I had enough of my job. I decided to rent out the house I own and live in Thailand.” “I came here to get away from the western world and its values.” “I’ve come here to find a wife.” “I’ve come here to hang out, take a step back from the world and relax.” “I am an alcoholic and I thought coming here might help me drink less.” “Thailand is cheap, it is easy, and there is no conflict or hassle when you walk around.”240602k3.jpg

Things that these visitors want to achieve while in Thailand include taking cooking classes, exploring markets, watching Thai boxing, shopping for clothing, trekking, exploring national parks, taking drumming classes, learning Kung Fu, buying things to sell at a business back home, exploring Thailand itself and taking advantage of cheap medical care.

When questioned about what they thought about Thai people, everyone was more than positive. The sentences, “They are fantastic!” and “Thai people have fun, no matter what they do!” summarize nicely the feelings that were expressed by all but some negative experiences or impressions were also voiced. “It is too westernized here!” “It is much dirtier than I ever expected!” “Thais are very mellow, but that can also be a disadvantage.” “Infrastructure can be lacking.” “Thais are nice but they always want to sell you something!” were some complaints.

When asked what they would do if hypothetically given 5,000 baht (US$ 120) answers varied. “Get some nice shirts and suits made and send them home.” “Give it to an orphanage or to someone who really needs it.” “Use the money to travel some more.” “Buy a drum.” “Spend it on my every day life, like for food and a place to stay.”

Although I thought spending the day talking to tourists would be an exercise of long boring stories and repetitive answers, I could not have been more incorrect. Although tourists tend to get lumped into one big category, the reasons why people come to Thailand and the reasons why they choose to stay are as varied and interesting as the people answering the questions. And all those incorrect signs in English throughout Thailand that are guaranteed to provide a good belly laugh would be missing if not for the millions of foreign visitors passing through each year.

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