Bangkok (Tourism) Blues

I rose and shone, bright and early. I had what to me was the best egg Benedict in Bangkok. As it is often hard to find what can be considered breakfast food in this city, a dish of eggs and bread topped with Hollandaise sauce was instantly comforting and beautifully filling. On a table in front of the cashier, the Bangkok Post Sunday, a paper so thin it  rarely beckons, sat waiting to be picked. I was lured to a headline piece: “Tourist Complaints Already Exceed Last Year’s Total”. Now, my attraction to this was not because I was surprised; I only wanted to ascertain what I already knew.

Even without the figures quoted in the papers, I had suspected as early as 2008 that Krungthep  (in particular) is losing its appeal as a tourist destination. Sure, for many Westerners, this city is still 3rd-world enough to offer the kind of vacation romance that allows you to talk about it after you get home, and it has nothing to do with the shopping you did. How the tuk tuk driver charged you 200 baht to go from Soi Langsuan to MBK, how impassable to human traffic the BTS trains and stations have become, how the famous Thai smile  is quickly disappearing into the widespread urban insolence… these (and more) are as irascible and off-putting as the 1,518 complaints (0f which 681 were to do with theft, committed, interestingly less by vice operators than tourism service providers!) received by the Tourist Police Division between January and May. Yes, the tourists are still coming, as evidenced by the constantly congested Suvarnabhumi Airport (that’s another story altogether!), but do they want to come back?

Increasingly, Bangkok offers very little reasons for a repeat visit. As a friend from Hong Kong told me recently that since his first holiday in Bangkok 20 years ago, the city has nothing new to offer except shopping malls. There are the same attractions with nothing yet-to-be-seen and nothing yet-to-be-enjoyed in them, and, as he asked, “How many times do you want to go to the Grand Palace?”

The Bangkok Post report offers statistics not only on thefts, but also on those cases that saw tourists tricked into buying expensive jewellery in shops as well as complaints against tailors. While these retail hoodlums are not to be tolerated, those offering inferior goods in reputable establishments should not be let off either.

A Chinese friend who visited early this year bought some T- and polo shirts at Paragon Department Store. He tried the two styles on for size, and, liking them, asked for several in different colours, all in the size that fitted him. When he got home, all except one actually fit. The rest were too small. When he piled the garments on top of each other, he saw that they came in varying sizes (and shirt lengths!) although they were all tagged the same size.

If Paragon Department Store brands are allowed to get away with this, what’s there to stop the rest of them outside the Ratchaprasong shopping belt? Are devils quickly overtaking the City of Angels?

I shudder to think so.


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