Hong Kong travellers, especially the young ones, may be having second thoughts about visiting Thailand after popular student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung was denied entry by its immigration officers.
Wong, 19, was detained for 12 hours at the Bangkok airport before he was sent back home on Wednesday.
He had been officially invited by the Chulalongkorn University to address its faculty of political science on the 40th anniversary of a government crackdown on student protesters.
The image of Wong being detained in a windowless holding cell without being allowed to speak to anyone is quite difficult to reconcile with Thailand’s promotion of itself as “The Land of Smiles”.
Thai authorities are denying any responsibility for Wong’s predicament, with the country’s military leader insisting that he was refused entry at Beijing’s request.
“It’s China’s business,” junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters.
The incident happened just as Bangkok overtook London as the world’s top destination city, according to the latest Mastercard Global Destinations Cities Index.
According to the study, the Thai capital is projected to receive 21.47 million international overnight visitors this year, compared with 19.88 million for London.
Thailand is also the most popular outbound destination for Chinese, overtaking South Korea this year, thanks to its tropical islands, cheaper shopping and massage services as well as relaxed visa rules.
But interestingly, the number of Hong Kong visitors to Bangkok has been declining.
That’s based on chats with well-travelled friends who are now opting for Tokyo or Taipei, instead of Bangkok, for a quick getaway.
All three cities, along with Seoul, have been the most popular destinations for short-haul visitors.
Close to 670,000 Hongkongers visited Thailand last year, up 38.5 percent from 2014, according to data from the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
But the number should have dropped this year after the explosions at the Erawan Shrine in the heart of Bangkok in August last year killed 19 people and injured around 125. Among those killed were two young women from Hong Kong.
Little wonder that even Cathay Pacific had a hard time filling its business class seats to Phuket, which was offered for as low as HK$2,900 each during a promotion this week.
Likewise, amid security concerns, the number of visitors to Malaysia and the Philippines has also dropped, although I have seen a growing number of tourists opting for Singapore for lack of a better choice.
Still, Japan has always been the No. 1 destination for Hong Kong people, with more than a million visitors from our city visiting the country in the past 12 months.
The radiation scare that followed the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, or even the strengthening yen, has not stopped people from going there for its delectable meals in cozy restaurants and wonderful culture in general.
Air fare to Tokyo has returned to normal rates, or in excess of HK$8,000 for December.
Going to Bangkok, or even Vancouver, which requires a 13-hour flying time, would cost half as much.
I am sure Joshua Wong, who was denied entry to Malaysia last year and to Thailand this week, will have more fun in Japan, which, as we know, doesn’t listen to requests from Beijing.
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