St. Lawrence University
Sean Morrissey, St. Lawrence University Class of 2016
January 10, 2016


Tourism in Thailand has a shared and unique history with the United States. While the country’s first formal relations date back to the first US-Thai Treaty in 1833, Thailand’s large tourism sector is due in part to the war in Vietnam from 1955 to 1975. While Thailand was never colonized by Europeans, it has constantly been subjected to and influenced by the major colonial powers of the world. Never succumbing to the “red tide” of communism, Thailand became an important military ally for the United States and is one of the strongest countries in South East Asia today, economically and militarily.

During the war, Thailand provided several military bases for the US and was well known for being the site of GI “R&R,” or rest and relaxation, meaning soldiers enjoyed prostitution and readily available opium while they awaited transport to and from the region. While the US’s relations with Thailand did not directly establish sex-tourism, the presence of the US military certainly helped promote travel to the country and created a lasting legacy in the sex industry (The Economics of Commercial Sexual Exploitation).

US-Thai relations have contributed to such rapid globalization that some Thais and monks disapprove of the accompanying wave of commercialization and consumerism. However, Thailand’s large tourism industry has added to the financial stability of many Thai families: It is estimated that tourism is accountable for roughly 10 percent of Thailand’s GDP (Travel & Tourism: Economic Impact 2015 Thailand). Last year, 29 million international visitors enjoyed the Land of Smiles, and while many travelers to Thailand are westerners, the majority of tourists are of Asian, specifically Chinese, descent (Visitor Statistics, 1998-2014 from the Department of Tourism Thailand).

The artifacts in this online exhibit speak to Thailand’s well established tourism sector, using Western iconography and symbols of status to promote bars and boxing events, yet a uniquely Thai experience. “Free WiFi” symbols attract iPhone-doting travelers with limited Internet access, while an image of Bob Marley evokes cultural familiarity and competency. Such images communicate to customers that Thai businesses are relatable, comfortable, accessible, and inviting to Westerners. In the case of the Thai-boxing flyer, the use of Chinese also speaks to the prominence of Chinese tourists within the country, similarly advertising cultural competency in order to attract as many customers as possible. Many Thais understand that if you’re a tourist, you’ve got bhat to burn.