Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Guardian: Thailand "blank and unwelcoming"

Stumbled upon this interesting piece from (UK) Guardian online promoting Burma as underestimated tourist spot.

I've long been tempted to take a better look at the country know as Myanmar ever since my brother spent a week there in between a couple of stays with us last year.

He was full of praise of the country, particularly its temples, beautiful countryside, friendly locals and value for money (even cheaper than Thailand) prices.

Burma can sell itself based on its merits, so why on earth writer Jonathan Steele feels the need to jab at Thailand in the process is beyond me.

In the piece Steele writes:
In contrast to Thailand, where linguistic communication is a struggle and faces in public transport are blank and unwelcoming, Burmese friendliness is a delight. Burma is multi-ethnic and, until the military coup of 1962, was open to the world. For decades its elite spoke good English and even today most people in Rangoon and Mandalay have a smattering. Keenness for contact with foreigners is strong, for its own sake and as resistance to enforced isolation.
It is clearly a case of whacking the popular kid.

Yes, Thailand is more popular than Burma. It has been a long established holiday destination, one of the world's favourites (give or take the ebb/flow of holiday makers put off by political issues.)

Thailand isn't prefect but why Steele highlights faces on public transport I'll never know?!

Most Londoners are less than sociable on the tube or train but that doesn't make London any less of a destination for tourists, and so it shouldn't.

Thailand is know as the land of the smiles and, whilst I don't often agree with this (in time I've found Thais are smiley and be friendly once you engage first) it gets in name for a reason and - if we're going to dish out generalisations - Thais are incredibly friendly.

As for linguistic issues, sure if you venture off the beaten track English is not widely spoken but many locals are keen to practice and in general being understood is not a problem. As for the tourist destinations (where one finds locals are unfriendly on public transport) is English not only widely spoken, but locals will often approach foreigners to practice their English speaking skills.

So I'm sorry Mr Steele, whilst I am keen to visit Burma (mainly from my brother's recommendation) I think you're chatting utter rubbish. Then again, that can probably be down to the blank and unwelcoming demeanour I've inherited from Thailand.

For more on Thais smiles check out this post from a fellow Thai blogger.


Talen said...

I can't say I am keen on visiting Burma...I have heard the people are friendly and the temples are beautiful but the government is a mess, much more so than Thailand's.

Seems the journalist has a gripe with Thailand and didn't want to particularly show it in a good light...seems to be happening more as of late.

Martyn said...

Jon I can't understand where the journalist is coming from with regards to Thailand, Talen must be right about the gripe.

I'm sure Burma is a lovely country and the people are charming and I did see a little bit of it once before. I stood on the Thai side of the Friendship Bridge in Mae Sot and the Burmese coming over weren't smiling much at all. I was happy to stay on the side I was stood.

Unhappy faces on Thai transport? Utter rubbish.

Thanks for the link.

Nick Towers said...

My guess is the writer was looking for an angle for the piece and a negative slant was the best he could come up with. Personally I'd have gone for the interesting mix of Indian/Nepalese and Thai culture.

As far as Thai friendliness on transport goes, yes, you do have the BTS guards who whistle bloody murder at you if your toe touches the yellow line, but hey, in Singapore if you drink a bottle of water on their MRT the guards will fine you $500! It's hardly a valid reason for avoiding the country.

T said...

Seems to me that half of this guy's reasoning on why it's good to go to Burma is that people speak English. A worthy reason to travel if ever there was one...