Thais idealize Japanese, Korean and Chinese countries. Just look around your local shopping center and you’ll see all sorts of Japanese eateries. Japanese cartoons and anime are staples in every young Thai person’s childhood. Korean pop culture, TV shows and celebrities have infiltrated into Thailand and are very popular amongst young and old alike. Finally, Chinese culture is the grandfather culture to which many Thais are strongly connected to. Large parts of the Thai population still celebrate Chinese holidays and practice Chinese rituals and traditions. Many foods in Thailand are Chinese or influenced by Chinese cooking, such as dim sum and rice noodles.
In contrast to the Korean, Chinese and Japanese cultures which are highly respected by the majority of Thais, many Thais have negative viewpoints of countries closely neighboring them. Poorer countries which have struggling economies like Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar are looked down on. The culture of these countries is seen as inferior to Thai culture and not held in high regard like Korean, Chinese or Japanese cultures. Malaysia is the only country which borders Thailand that escapes these inconceived notions and is seen more as an equal to Thailand.
It’s hard to believe that in all the years that I have visited Thailand and been living here, I’ve rarely stepped foot in Thailand’s neighboring countries. My family is originally from the south of Thailand, so I have been to Malaysia’s interior and some border towns a few times. I once went to Cambodia to help a friend do a visa run and the experience was not very pleasant. I also ventured into a Myanmar border town near Three Pagoda’s Pass once for an eye opening experience.
Aside from Malaysia, I have not ventured far into any of Thailand’s neighboring countries. I think that the reason is mostly because none of my family wanted to travel in Laos, Cambodia or Myanmar. It is common for Thais to travel all over Thailand before considering travelling in any of those countries. Many people prefer to visit Hong Kong or Singapore for a short holiday and spend their time spending lots of money in modernized settings. For those with more time and more money, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the US are more desirable destinations.
I’ve met many foreigners who have travelled to Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia more than I have even though they’ve been in Thailand for only a few years. Perhaps farangs are more adventurous and ready to “rough it” than Thais are or perhaps they are not held back by their negative impressions of these developing countries. I hope that in the future I find a travel partner who wished to visit one of Thailand’s neighboring countries with me, but somehow I don’t think it will be one of my relatives.