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Chinese test beds at as part of a Phuket shopping holiday

Secret China Trail to Tourism's Holy Grail

Wednesday, August 14, 2013
PHUKET: Hundreds of thousands of Chinese are descending on Phuket but they do not follow conventional tourist habits.

They're never seen in Patong's Soi Bangla, never spotted sunning themselves on the beach at Kata or Karon.

Certainly they have been spotted on snorkelling day-trips, where every so often, one drowns.

Bar and restaurant owners puzzle over where the Chinese might be spending their money, because it sure isn't at regular Phuket bars and restaurants.

The turnstiles at Phuket International Airport are running hot, hotter than ever before, and the Chinese are the ones making Phuket tourism hum.

Unlike the Russians, who drive about in buses clearly branded Pegas T and make their presence obvious, the Chinese invasion is much more subtle.

Discreet, perhaps even secretive. And so Phuketwan went looking for Chinese tourists. And we found them, hundreds of them.

The ones we found weren't typical. There was no loud talking, eating or burping. No taking over the place. Perhaps we were just lucky.

The ones we met were in large new purpose-built establishments along a road near Prince of Songkhla University in the middle of the island. A road so new it still doesn't have a name on some maps.

At Modern Latex, a large modern building distinguished by the huge numbers of buses coming and going, we found a large showroom with Chinese on beds, scores of them, testing out pillows and mattress tops.

The products, said to be 100 percent pure, are not cheap. The pillows fetch 4500 baht while the mattress tops go for 30,000 baht.

In a corner, packers are working non-stop, putting the products into boxes for shipment back to China. It's quite surreal to see beds stretching off into the distance, with families of tourists stretching out on them.

In a second room, Chinese are lounging on beds while a spruiker up front, with chiropractic cutout spines on the wall in the background, enthuses about the benefits of the mattresses and the beds.

Or so we believe, because it's all in Mandarin. Some of the audience are possibly talking loudly and burping, but the scene is so surreal we fail to notice.

We are gently but politely shown the door.

Down the road there's a similar large, modern unobtrusive building, short of signage but with buses coming and going faster than you can say Beijing air pollution.

The main door slides open and we follow some tourists inside, fresh off the bus. Under a cloudy blue dome just inside the door there's a pit and ampitheatre-style seating.

Ah, we realise. It's a snake show. Before we can take a peek in the other rooms running off the main entrance, we are gently but politely shown the door once more.

Outside we discover a bit of signage. The place appears to be called Royal Park Phuket. Out front there's a pond with water sprays sprouting from what we now realise are snakes' heads.

In between the two large new buildings, right alongside a huge block surrounded by green screening which is clearly being developed for another tourist haven, sits CoCo Spa.

The signage here is more obvious but it's another place we are told is popular with Chinese tourists. The receptionist kindly allows us to check the prices.

They are very competitive, not too high or too low, and the place looks a pleasant spot for flesh-pounding.

All the buses we see the Chinese pulling up in are unobtrusive, typical Thai tour buses with Thai signage, with only a paper sign in the front window to show the Chinese connection.

The invasion is extraordinary for its numbers, its silence, and its completeness, with a small apartment-for-rent in Phuket City telling us that Chinese independent travellers now make up 30 percent of their guests.

Large jewellery outlets, roadside businesses selling exotic tropical fruit and performance outlets such as FantaSea, Siam Niramit and Tiger Kingdom are other places where the travellers go.

Local Thai guides continue to complain, making the point that scores of Chinese guides are now based on Phuket, even though they sometimes claim to be travelling with tour groups.

A meeting of all guides on Phuket has been scheduled for September 2. Some of the guides want changes quickly.

Yet if as reported by top-level tourism sources China bans zero-baht tours from October 1, Phuket may soon come to miss its loud talking, loud burping invaders.

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Several years ago, most of my airport hotel guests were 'westerners', originating from Australia, Europe and the USA/Canada.

Now more than 50% of my guests stem from mainland China. That data is supported by the extensive, demographic statistics that my booking agent (Agoda) provides to me.

That (for me), clearly shows the importance of this market sector, and how the western tourist sector is no longer of prime importance to Phuket.

I'm not bothered what nationalities book my hotel rooms, as long as they keep coming :) And to make my guests feel more at home, I'm off to study conversational Mandarin so that I can ask my new guests not to burp so loudly...

Simon

Posted by Simon Luttrell on August 14, 2013 17:42

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You wanna know where to find the Chinese tourists???...Go to Big C on any given afternoon around 2pm or so...They're all over the place!

Posted by sky on August 14, 2013 17:54

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Whilst I understand the meaning of Zero Baht tourists surely they are still welcome as they still pay hotels, stores which in most cases pay VAT and hire staff to service their business and also the airport Departure tax. Therefore they are not Zero Baht tourist but a different sector.

Posted by Fiesty Farang on August 14, 2013 18:29

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On the road to Bangkok Hospital from Tesco coming, there is a big "all you can eat" meat buffet (cheap cheap). I was wondering why the big empty parking space. But not long. Near nightfall the buses turned up like out of nowhere and out jumped the loud and burpy chinese, crashing any line to the buffet. Once in a while you could even see little and not so little boys pee near the seating arrangements in a flower or so. The good thing, they are gone as fast as they came. It is like a all you can eat feeding time frency. After the buses gone (nobody paid directly btw), the place turns quiet, only for the service starting chattering with the leftover dishes. What a sweet music that was.

Posted by Lena on August 14, 2013 19:29

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They're a strange lot, aren't they? But i guess if they want to spend their holiday choosing a new bed, or wandering like lost souls into the oncoming traffic EVERY time i get on my motorbike...its "up to them".

Posted by jimbo on August 14, 2013 19:48

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They are rocking up in tour buses to buffets and day spas....Most of the time its hard to get a park.

You guys should write up on the roads being destroyed by these buses and trucks too!

Posted by Jaded on August 14, 2013 20:20

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there was always a coachload or two at the aphrodite show whenever i pooed in for a beer.. also they flock to vanich plaza near the ELT language school offices behind the old phuket bus station to visit chinese imports shops for some strange reason..

Posted by another steve on August 14, 2013 21:37

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Agree on this particular road, an amazing amount of industry has sprung up over the last year. This land, and I believe the businesses, are owned and operated by the Anuphas family, which of course is one of Phuket's 'influential' people.

Posted by Phil on August 14, 2013 21:44

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The quality tourists phuket wants that never leave their 5 star resorts being the worlds greatest spectators unless your buisness is accomodation or a visual spectating show the smaller shop keeper or bar owner will see no benefit

Posted by slickmelb on August 15, 2013 00:23

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They can be found in swarms at what once was one of a very few 'safe' monsoon-season swimming beaches: Laem Ka Beach in Rawai. They are not there to swim, however, but to board one of the dozens of speedboats that make frequent trips throughout the day back and forth to Coral Island.

As the beach is rather small and the speedboats and customers many, they have all but put paid to any chance of a relaxing swim or a restful day at the beach. Should you find a rare lull in the action and can manage to get into the water, you will most likely spend the rest of the afternoon smelling like marine diesel fuel.

If one prefers loud talking, eating and burping to go along with all of the delights that a large flotilla of packed speedboats add to a small, secluded beach, then this is the place to be.

Posted by Treelover on August 15, 2013 10:13

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Most of 'cheap' Chinese tourists stay in the hotels in Phuket town. 'More expensive' slowly invade 4-5 star hotels like Hilton, Thavorns, Kata Thani, Laguna, etc., replacing Europeans and Russians (who also divided in two currents: huge and relatively 'cheap' staying in 2-4 star hotels along Western coast and 'luxury' preferring private villas and luxury hotels like Amanpuri, Trisara, The Shore, etc.). Huge amounts of Chinese also can be seen in Jung Ceylon and around (in Bangla too!).

Posted by Slava on August 15, 2013 11:56

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Diving in the lee of Racha Yai last week, there were at least 8+ speedboats with Chinese tourists. They jump into the sea with their lifejackets on & then huddle in groups.

Weird behavior but maybe they have been watching too much National Geographic & reckon that protects them from sharks!

Posted by Logic on August 15, 2013 12:01

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It was my misfortune to fly back from Singapore to Phuket 2 weeks ago, to be seated amongst a group of Chinese tourists.
To my disbelief,after they had finished inflight meal,the tourists seated opposite me, quietly put the tray,dishes and knives and forks in a shopping bag.
When the flight attendant came to collect the trays, the tourists just stared ahead blankly, when asked for the trays to be returned.
When the announcement was made that we were coming in to land a guide stood up and proceeded to walk up and down the isle giving instructions and even when requested by an attendant, to sit down, the guide continued giving instructions.

Posted by Stuart on August 15, 2013 12:26

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Where is the editor to condemn this blatant racism/generalisation of the Chinese? Since when do newspapers allow themselves to label a race as dirty people spitting and loud?
I see many australians loud, vomit on the ground after passing out with alcohol consumption. Does that mean every australians are like that?
And to imply this is a zero bahts tour is nonsense. How about the hotels where they sleep? The staff at the restaurants? Oh yeah sorry all the staff are burmese because tgais are too lazy to work and complain about another one making a quick buck. So the thais are in disbelief that a chinese guide is making money, but they totally accept taxis and thai guides charging double prices to tourists.

Posted by danny on August 15, 2013 15:07

Editor Comment:

You are the only one so far at this site to ''label a race as dirty people spitting and loud?'' Given the way you distort the facts, nothing you say can be believed.


Friday April 25, 2014
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa

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