From the Blog

October 11, 2016

China the worlds new Ugly Americans

Are today’s Chinese tourists simply Ugly Americans?

China the worlds new Ugly Americans constantinoariasuglyamerican

Constantino Arias Ugly American


Ugly American” is a derogatory  term used to refer to perceptions of loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home. Although the term is usually associated with or applied to travelers and tourists, it also applies to U.S. corporate businesses in the international arena and to some of its sports men and women.

The term was used as the title of a 1948 photograph of an American tourist in Havana by the Cuban photographer Constantino Arias, but seems to have entered popular culture as the title of book by authors William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. In 1963, the book was made into a movie directed by George Englund and starring Marlon Brando. (Wikipedia)


The Hi and lo of Chinese tourism

The reputation of Chinese tourists over the last few years here in Thailand, has swung like the head of a lion dancer. Where once they were welcomed, opened armed by the majority of Thai people; not surprisingly as Thailand is home to the largest overseas Chinese community in the world, accounting for 14 percent of the Thai population (2012). Things in recent times have turn from sweet to sour.


In the last few years the Thai and international press has been full of stories vividly commenting, on the behavior of some of these new wave of Chinese tourists. Including the flagrant disrespect shown at temples and religious sites, the frequent occurrences of people defecating and urinating in public, added to this the common trait of trashing washrooms and using sinks to clean their feet and shoes.


China the worlds new Ugly Americans great-wall-lots-of-people

The Great Wall in China Swamped by its own tourists


If rude and disgusting acts were not enough, there have also been instances of people trying to open aircraft doors.  Then there are the unflattering images, of Chinese tourists acting like animals at a buffet and then leaving behind copious amounts of wasted food, not to mention the road chaos reported, due to Chinese in camper vans in northern Thailand.

All these incidents have left some attractions baring all Chinese tourists from entry; White Temple in Chiang Mai.

Combine this with the recent clamp down on “zero dollar” tours (see below), which the Thai government says tarnishes the country’s image and you get to see why the tide is turning.


The Chinese Governments Response

On the 1st October 2013, the Chinese Government in a bid to counter some of its people’s unruly behavior, which they rightfully believed was tarnishing their countries reputation, published the national tourism administration, 64-page rule-book containing regulations, forbidding its people to behave in “uncivilized” ways while overseas.


The rules, urge travelers to “behave” and “abide by the norms of civilized tourist behavior”. It went further and states that tourists will have to “observe public order and respect social morality in tourism activities, respect local customs, cultural traditions and religious beliefs”.



Several of its points cover some of the most basic of etiquette such as:

  • Expose the chest or back, or look dirty in public areas
  • Eat a whole piece of bread in one mouthful or slurp noodles noisily inside an aircraft
  • Avoid occupying public toilets for too long
  • Should not take excessive amounts of food at buffets.


China the worlds new Ugly Americans washing feet in sinks


The rulebook also includes a designated section listing behavioral guidance for specific countries:

  • Thailand – Do not discuss the royal family and do not touch people and their belongings with your foot
  • Ask for pork in Islamic countries
  • Call Africans “Negros” or “black”
  • Use shower curtains in a hotel
  • Keep quiet when waiting to board a plane & Keep mobile phones turned off until the aircraft has come to a complete stop

Source: “Guidelines on civilized travel abroad”, released by China National Tourism Administration


Crime and Punishment

There’s no concrete evidence on what the penalty will be for tourists not following these rules, but CNN reports that tour guides and agencies that break any of the articles face fines up to $49,000. In 2015 the Chinese government named four tourists who are now on a new blacklist, which could affect their credit ratings and freedom to travel for years.

Li Zhongguang, a researcher at an arm of the China National Tourism Administration, stated that China has had laws on the books for nearly two decades banning bad tourist behavior, but he says they haven’t had the desired effect.

Tourism Authority of Thailand, followed the Chinese example and in 2015, listed its own etiquette manuals for Chinese tourists


China the worlds new Ugly Americans Chinese Aftermath

Chinese Aftermath


A Brief History of Chinese Tourism in Thailand

It is worth noting the history of Chinese tourism in the Kingdom; Thailand was one of the first countries in Asia to welcome Chinese tourists, when it opened its doors in 1988 (Hong Kong and Macau were the first in 1983 and 84 respectively), while China’s own neighbouring countries did not sign agreements with them until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Impetuous Fire

The 1990’s saw what is called the Impetuous Fire, of luyou re (or ‘the craze for travel) sweep across this wakening power house. After the years of overly bearing socialist ideals, the nation’s once mainly impoverished people, saw the new found freedom to travel, fitted with their traditional ideology and their upward looking mentality.

The Chinese believe, that if there is a need to move to enrich oneself, then one moves, this can be seen in how mass population, left rural life and moved to the new cities within China (1950-70’) and how centuries before they moved around Asia to find new lands and wealth.

Group Travel

The early days saw group travel dominate the landscape, (this was the only route open to its citizens). This involved busing the tourists from city to city on a grueling schedule. A common visit to continental Europe with a package tour might hit five countries in as little as 10 days.

These groups have a reputation for staying in budget motels, only eating Chinese food, passing through the major attractions as quickly as possible and spending most of their travel budget on luxury consumer goods.


Independent Travel

The prestige of bringing back gifts and souvenirs for friends and family at home is a high priority, for many Chinese tourists. While this form of group travel still dominates the Chinese travel market in Thailand, according to the report:, things changed in 2014, when more than 70% of outbound Chinese tourists were independent travelers.

Prior to 2003 and the introduction of the Individual Travel or Visitor Scheme, the Chinese were not allowed to travel outside of their country unless in a group.

Zero Dollar Tours

In 2016 the Thai government came down on groups of Chinese travelers who they classed as Zero Dollar Tours. These tours involve Chinese visitors paying Thai-based operators, low prices for their package holiday. But once in Thailand, they are often pressured into buying overpriced food, accommodation and gifts, which in turn did not flow into the pockets of local Thai people.


China the worlds new Ugly Americans


Past and Present – China the worlds new Ugly Americans

Today many of our guests still tell us that they will return to their homes in China, they can proudly claim that they chu guo guo (have gone abroad) and many will have one thought on their mind, that of their next adventure to lands further afield in the west.


Chinese the next Ugly Americans

Thai Visa -Taken in 2017 Chinese tourist on Beach Road Pattaya next to a shopping center and public toilets



So just maybe, these new breed of Chinese tourists are the next evolution of Ugly Americans. Like their predecessors they will learn that the best tourists are those that take in what is around them and act in a manner that does not piss off their hosts.

Time will tell.




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  1. Steve - November 12, 2016 4:30 pm

    I too, live in Chiang Mai… Chinese tourism, oh boy, everyone has a opionion… from my personal experience, I haven’t seen a ton of stuff to indicate that they are the greedy, slovenly, uncouth and distasteful people many people suggest they are. The best thing in my opinion the Thai Govt did, has been to make bringing a vechicle from China into the country, prohibitively expensive. Before, many drove here, and it seemed if there were any delays, foul ups and such on the roads, it would be some Chinese car or minivan ( more often ) deciding that aright hand turn from the far left lane was perfectly acceptable, or if a turn was missed at a major intersection, they would just reverse back to the corner and carry on, stuff like that. Hire motorbikes in swarms of 6-8 weaving all over the road, selfie stick in one hand whilst trying to drive, or congregating in the middle of a large intersection waving their phones around, all arguing over the right way to go, is still pretty normal..
    This middle class travel thing is still pretty new to the Chinese, but I believe the message is gradually starting to kick in… I’ve Seen the hordes of grabbing, pushing,swearing and bossy Chinese, it ain’t pretty, plus I used to work as a chef in a large Australian resort, the groups would come in late one afternoon, get bussed out the eat and hit the gift shops, stay the night, destroy the brekky buffet and leave huge plates full of uneaten food on the table whilst taking all the fruit and pastries as the tour guide said the resort was ripping them off so take whenever they could get… so, blankets, pillows, sheets, remote controls, and until the staff stopped doing it, the mini bars were emptied… until I locked the kitchen door, I used to get a few come in a try to rummage through my fridges, and bang buffet trays on tables because they were emptied by the guy before him. That was front line stuff from a few years ago, when the travelling thing was still a bit new. I doubt that would happen there now.
    Point is, everyone learns eventually, even the lowliest Chinese farmer will learn it’s not a good thing to let your wife have a dump in the lift or piss in a flower bed … the younger generation of Chinese I have seen here, are savvy, quite hip, and seem conspicuously low key and polite.
    Give it time, I think you’ll find everyone can change

  2. Jenny Lincoln - October 15, 2016 5:41 am

    As someone who has stayed 3 years here in Chiang Mai, I have personally seen very little that is wrong with the behavior of the Chinese tourist, many of whom I have shared rooms with in dormitories. Most of the habits mentioned above are, sadly, characteristic of the Thai people here especially in the North in the city – though this is less true for people in the village areas and in the South. The Thai people here in Chiang Mai waste food and water, drive in dangerous ways and don’t seem to give a shit about pedestrians, park their motorcycles in ways that block the pavement and the entrances to parks and shops, have almost no concept of customer service, and seem generally lacking in manners and social skills. There are traditional manners taught to Thai people, but they aren’t found much here in the North in the city, and seem to have mostly gone from modern society, perhaps lack to strong ideas about enforcement of Buddhist rules for non-monks in Thai Buddhism. The Thai people actually make up only about 50 percent of the population here in Chiang Mai – the others are Myanmar Shan and hilltribe peoples, mixed Thai and Chinese, Muslims, Nepalis, Indians, and Western expatriates – but they lord their preferences over the whole population and give very little opportunities to members of other groups to work, vote, do business, or participate in public life.


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