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Trouble in Thailand: Chinese Tourists Gaining 'Ugly' Reputation

One of Thailand's top universities is under a security clampdown. Not against a terrorist threat, but against Chinese tourists.
Image: Chinese tourists
Chinese tourists pose for a photograph on March 30, 2014, at the main entrance to Chiang Mai University in Chiang Mai province, northern ThailandApichart Weerawong / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The bucolic, once laid-back campus of one of Thailand's top universities is under a security clampdown. Not against a terrorist threat, but against Chinese tourists.

Thousands have clambered aboard student buses at Chiang Mai University, made a mess in cafeterias and sneaked into classes to attend lectures. Someone even pitched a tent by a picturesque lake. The reason: "Lost in Thailand," a 2012 slapstick comedy partly shot on campus that is China's highest-grossing homegrown movie ever.

Now visitors are restricted to entering through a single gate manned by Mandarin-speaking volunteers who direct Chinese tourists to a line of vehicles for guided tours. Individual visitors are banned, and a sign in prominent Chinese characters requesting that passports be produced is posted by the gate.

With their economy surging, mainland Chinese have become the world's most common world traveler, with more than 100 million expected to go abroad this year. In 2012, they overtook the Americans and Germans as the top international spenders, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

But in Chiang Mai and elsewhere, Chinese tourists have acquired the same sort of reputation for loud, uncouth, culturally unaware behavior that inspired the term "Ugly Americans" decades ago.

Many in the tourism industry are delighted by the influx, but 80 percent of 2,200 Chiang Mai residents polled by the university in February said they were highly displeased with Chinese behavior. The survey and numerous comments on Thai social media blamed Chinese for spitting, littering, cutting into lines, flouting traffic laws and allowing their children to relieve themselves in public pools.

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang last year said negative conduct had "damaged the image of the Chinese people." The government issued a tourism law mainly to regulate the domestic market but which urges travelers abroad to "abide by the norms of civilized tourist behavior." It also produced a 64-page "Guidebook for Civilized Tourism" with a long list of "do nots," including nose-picking in public, stealing life jackets from airplanes and slurping down noodles.

— The Associated Press