Who am I?
I am a German/Polish 22-year-old currently in my 4th year of international business studies in the Netherlands. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic I am currently doing my minor in international relations online based in Bangkok, Thailand. More on me later in this Blog.
As I am a European and have never actually travelled to the land of smiles, I am a complete Thai beginner with me not speaking Thai nor understanding the Thai culture in its fullest. For this reason, I have chosen the title of this blog post “From a perspective of a Foreigner”.
When mentioned to my friends or family Thailand sparks the imagination of a great holiday destination with a lot of beautiful beaches, nature, fantastic cuisine, and more leisure related fantasies. However, there is much more to see; despite Thailand’s massive tourism industry that contributed close to 20% to Thailand’s GDP in 2019 (Statista, 2021). It is a country with a long history including many foreign interferences, shifts in power, and economic as well as cultural development.
The questions arising: How did Thailand become one of the most visited countries in the world? How is Thailand dealing with the Covid-19 Pandemic disrupting tourist arrivals? and most importantly: What makes the country so attractive that so many Westerners and rich Asian nationals travel to Thailand?
These are the questions I will try to answer in this Blog with my limited contact with Thai people and the culture.
I personally had barely any knowledge about Thailand before starting university in September 2018. When researching where to study I stumbled upon NHL Stenden in Friesland offering a good placement with many student exchange possibilities. One of the possible exchanges with a minor in international relations was in Bangkok which caught my attention. From this point on until this day I have been keen on visiting Thailand with the Covid-19 pandemic crushing my dreams of enjoying a book and cold drink under a palm tree on the island of Koh Samui. Many say the process is better than the journey and I am yet to discover if that is true. This long time has allowed me to do much research about Thailand through reading, talking to people who have travelled there before, blogs/vlogs and much more.
In contrary to the knowledge of many westerners (and mine too) Thailand has a big number of Asians travelling to Thailand with close to 10 million of just Chinese arrivals in 2017 (OBG, 2019) which accounted for more than ¼ of all foreign arrivals in Thailand for that year with other Asian nationalities following. This is very interesting as the interest of many non-western nationals is different to western cultures. So, what is the deciding factor for tourists around the world travelling to Thailand. From my understanding it is the diversity of recreational options and the affordability. Let me explain. Many westerners see Thailand as a premium travel option because of the long distance which makes the travel costs high, however many see it as a necessary cost to then enjoy a cheap vacation. Thailand has a hot climate with hot temperatures all year round with a rainy and a dry season. The high season being the winter months in Europe and the US. The country offers great beaches and beautiful nature for relaxation at an affordable price. Apart from relaxation and pleasure the country is rich in history and culture which goes back thousands of years differentiating itself from other travelling destinations. If you are hungry after a long excursion, be sure to try Thai street food which is world renowned due to the diversity and traditional cuisine. There are plenty of markets to explore in the city and outside of the bustling capital of Bangkok there awaits more adventure in the jungles with Thailand’s being a biodiversity hotspot with over 15000 different plants and 1/3 of the country being covered by forests (Convention on Biological Diversity, 2021). Furthermore, it is a highly developing country with a thriving economy and entrepreneurship. From the Thai culture sessions during the first of my online exchange I have learned that Thai people are very resistant to difficulties and are quick to adapt to the situation
Remember when you go to Thailand there are certain things that are great unlike any other country. This includes but I not limited to: Island hopping, visiting a floating market, trying Thai street food, watch a Muay Thai fight, getting a Thai massage and more. You can always argument that not all of these are exclusive to Thailand, but I am sure they will be very memorable and unique in what they are.
Another reason Thailand is regarded as a great travel destination is because it is safe for travelling even when one is by themselves and although the country has suffered from many coups a safe travelling option especially when comparing the country to its neighbours. It was even ranked as one of the safest countries in Southeast Asia with small petty crimes, however with no real grave dangers, which allow for a relaxing vacation without needing to always look over your shoulder (ViaHero, 2021).
Even though Thailand is not a democratic country and does not have full freedoms of speech or other benefits of democratically governed states the country is still deemed free for tourists. We can see the drastic changes that can be implemented during a time of emergency as we have seen Thailand do. The country has implemented very strict restrictions including stay at home orders, strict quarantine measures, tracking apps and more to which tourists would need to adapt when travelling to the country. This leads me to my next question being how Thailand deal with the COVID-19 pandemic hit its tourism industry that hard. This is a still a fresh topic with Thailand handling the beginning of the pandemic very well, however it lacked proper vaccine deployment until the second part of 2021. This resulted in very difficult coronavirus wave with many parts of Thailand going into complete lockdown. This had however not changed the tourist entry rules. At the time of me writing this article Thailand is preparing to welcome vaccinated tourists from “safe” countries quarantine free which is a big step as it allows entry quarantine free for the first time in nearly 2 years. With travelers needing to quarantine for 15 days in special government designated hotels and other measures and rules that were so restrictive people were not interested to travel due to high costs and strict rules. Many travelers and bloggers have complained about these restrictions, which are one of the strictest in the world, however the country has also been praised for the ways it has been dealing with the outbreak.
The locals are the ones that had to suffer the most from both the virus and the loss of tourists especially the tourist dependent regions were hard hit with many depending on charities and generous people to survive (Chris, 2021).
After traveling from Europe or the United States many would consider Thai people to be very friendly and happy however that is not always the case. Thai people probably are no different in their happiness than any other nationalities, however Thai people are used to smile a lot often hiding their true emotions. Thai people are taught to be respectful and smile especially when foreigners confront them, especially if the Thai person does not speak English this might be part of their natural reaction. It also might have to do with the fact that they are Buddhist as smiles are considered an expression of enlightenment. Coming from a European country many tourists are surprised by the positivity of the Thai people and see Thailand as a happy place to which they would like to return to.
One final reason many westerners like to travel to Thailand is simply because of the prices. Many people travel to the land of smiles to improve their purchasing power and to rise to a higher “social class”. Travelling to Thailand then allows many people to enjoy 4/5-star hotels, fine dining, and many activities they would have never been able to finance in a different location. For example you can expect to pay approximately 100-300% less for your groceries or housing when living in Thailand compared to the European country of France (MyLifeElsewehere, 2021) The value for money has drastically fallen in Thailand, however it is still very much worth a trip. Of course, you would ask “Why Thailand? There are plenty of other possibly even cheaper options”. Together with all the benefits mentioned before Thailand is offers a lot of ‘value’ as a holiday or excursion option.
We have come a long way exploring Thailand and the reasons for why Thailand is such an interesting travel options for many tourists worldwide. Everyone has their own reason for going to Thailand being it the peaceful beaches, the wild nightlife, or the tropical jungles; there is much to see and explore for every age group.
As I have never travelled to Thailand it is difficult for me to tell if I will like the country or not, but my personal reasons for why I would like to Travel to Thailand is that I would like to enjoy the weather, nature, the culture, food and of course the better standard of living thanks to the rise of my purchasing power. When I get the opportunity to Travel to Thailand, I really want to understand things and learn more about the country I was not able to experience outside of the country.
I hope you able to gain a small glimpse into the perspective of a foreigner on the Thai tourist industry.
Laew jeur gkun mai krap- Till next time
Statista. (2021). Retrieved from Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1143467/thailand-share-of-tourism-to-gdp/
OBG. (2019, July 26). Retrieved from Oxford Business Group: https://oxfordbusinessgroup.com/overview/tapping-new-sources-visitor-numbers-increase-officials-look-diversify-offering
Convention on Biological Diversity. (2021). Retrieved from Convention on Biological Diversity: https://www.cbd.int/countries/profile/?country=th
Chris. (2021, August 14). Retired working for you. Retrieved from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWwzZobI5cw
ViaHero. (2021, August 2). ViaHero. Retrieved from Is Thailand Safe for Travelers in 2021?: https://www.viahero.com/travel-to-thailand/is-thailand-safe
MyLifeElsewehere. (2021, October 22). Cost of living comparison. Retrieved from My Life Elsewhere : https://www.mylifeelsewhere.com/cost-of-living/thailand/france