Yesterday Billy and I met an Australian guy named Mike who has visited Chiang Mai numerous times over the last ten years. He’s something of a Chiang Mai guru, so we asked him lots of questions in the back of one of the red trucks that drive people all around the city.
Billy. Have you noticed many changes in Chaing Mai over the last ten years?
Mike. Oh loads. Ten years ago there weren’t nearly as many foreigners, and if there were foreigners they were almost always Europeans.
Billy. Not many Americans back then?
Mike. Very few. If you were in a restaurant back then and you heard an American it would be a surprise. But now what with all the terrorist activity in the south the Europeans traveling here have dropped off completely. Now it’s mostly Americans visiting. There are still Europeans of course, just not as many as there once was.
Billy. So just more Americans really?
Mike. Yeah, that and the whole city has become more tourist friendly I would say. Not that it wasn’t tourist friendly ten years ago in the sense that it was safe; Chiang Mai has always been pretty safe. I mean there are a lot more “touristy” things to do. Like look there, that segway rental store would never have been there ten years ago.
Billy. How do you think the locals feel about all the tourism?
Mike. I’m sure it’s mixed feelings all around. Some no doubt feel that with an influx of foreigners comes the destruction of tradition. Others welcome the tourists. After all, tourists bring in lots of money and you could argue that it’s foreigners who have put Chiang Mai on the map so to speak. I can’t say whether it’s ultimately a good or bad or thing, I just know that I don’t like seeing the apartment buildings going up outside the old city walls. They’re ugly, and ruin the feeling of authenticity you get when you drive into the city.
Billy. We’ve talked to a lot of people who have visited Chaing Mai and they say something similar. They’ll say it’s great and all, but then most of them will gripe that there are too many foreigners.
Mike. Yeah, well let’s just hope they keep letting us visit and don’t shut the gates, then we’d all be buggered.