Chiang Mai: Nothing more than a breath of fresh air?

 | Tue 25 Feb 2014 13:43 ICT

“The people of the North like peace and quiet.”

This quote appears in the recent article, “Taking a Breath,” which was featured in the lifestyle section of The Bangkok Post. As the subheading of the original article suggests, much of the piece is devoted to discussing the “cultural traditions [of the North] that are sure to please the soul”: the food, the architecture, the “lilting speech of [its] women”. These cultural traditions are offered in contrast to the cultural traditions of Bangkok, a city whose people apparently do not appreciate the same “peace and quiet” as their brethren to the North.

While nothing is wrong with what the author says in his article (what could be wrong with descriptions of tasty local cuisine or the charming nature of Northern folk music?), there is certainly something off about the way the author chooses to convey Northern people and the lives they lead.

A quote from a section detailing life in villages outside of the major Northern city, Chiang Mai:

“Entering a village…even now you will always feel the warmth and sense of community its members share, and as you see the clear, fresh water flowing past it is easy to feel envious of the people who enjoy such a lifestyle.”

What we have here is a simple and dangerous case of exoticization. Instead of writing about local village life in a way that explores and honors the complicated nature of small communities, the author instead writes of its flowing waters, its smiling citizens. There is no mention of poverty, no mention of education inequity, no mention at all of any of the very real and very serious issues that plague citizens of the upcountry. To pen an article that reduces an entire region of people to nothing more than a tourist attraction for Bangkok urbanites is irresponsible and bad journalism.

No matter that this article is tucked away into the small section of an even smaller section of a newspaper whose readership most likely will never even read it—that it exists at all is a problem and one that leads to the misunderstanding of such a beautifully diverse culture.

What are your thoughts? Do you believe Chiang Mai is nothing but a fresh breath of air? Or is it a culture far more complex? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!