Thailand has long been called the Land of the Smiles or LOS for short. However, over the years, it would seem that the smile is starting to fade. And the ones that are left are sometimes used to hide something completley different. The letters pages in The Nation and the Bangkok Post have been full of stories of unsurly immigration officials. Foreign tourists were complaining that compared to other countries the Thai immigration officials never smiled or appeared to be rude or uniterested. Someone reported that when they crossed the land border from Malaysia to Thailand the Malaysians smiled and said “Please come again”. The atmosphere on the Thai side was completley the opposite and he didn’t feel welcome at all.
A week after I had read that letter I found myself at the new airport. I was curious to see what the immigration were really like. The queues were long and slow moving and so I had at least 30 minutes to observe what was going on. I could see that the man at the counter in my queue had a straight face and didn’t once smile. In contrast, the man at the counter for the neighbouring line was very animated. He had this famous Siam Smile and seemed to be chatting energetically with each of the people in his line. Well, that is what I thought. When I got nearer I realized that he was chatting with his girlfriend on his mobile phone! From my immigration officer I got neither a smile nor a greeting.
But, all of this is due to change. For the past month immigration officials are now on courses to teach them how to “wai” and how to do that perfect Siam Smile. They are being taught to be more friendly with their greetings. This is so important as these people are the first Thai people we usually meet when going to Thailand for the first time. They are also often the last people we interact with too. How difficult would it be for them to say “Thank you for visiting Thailand, please come back again”? Let’s see if there are any changes and how long it lasts.