You’ve probably heard of the phrase, ‘Lies, damned lies, and statistics’. No one is quite sure who the originator of those words was, but it is often attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, who was British Prime Minister between 1874 and 1880. The famous phrase which is often used to discredit the persuasive power of numbers to add disproportionate credibility to otherwise weak arguments is sometimes also attributed to Samuel Langhorne Clemens — more popularly known to you and me simply as Mark Twain, the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn!
Why this whole preamble concerning statistics on a travel blog, you might ask? All in the interests of accurate claims my dear readers! We all love lists of the most expensive this and the biggest that and a question that is often pondered by travelers is which city is the most visited in the world and equally importantly — how can we trust the statistics that support that top spot? Local tourist boards are likely to inflate their own visitor numbers for obvious reasons so one needs a more objective metric by which to measure such claims and none seems to be more objective that the analysis conducted by leading credit card company, Mastercard who have drilled down into the data on where all their customers spent their money in 2018. The number one spot, you may be surprised to find, is not in Europe but in the Far East — the Thai capital of Bangkok in fact!
If you’ve never been then I must encourage you to correct that error without delay as Bangkok is truly a delight — to be enjoyed exclusively in its own right as a holiday destination or as part of a larger itinerary that takes in other destinations within Thailand itself or further afield in, say, Singapore or Hong Kong. Like all big cities, Bangkok has something to offer every traveller from world-class, deluxe hotels that wouldn’t look out of place in a James Bond movie to more down-to-earth hostelries that are so reasonably priced, you’ll think the management are financially illiterate. Bangkok is cheap but it’s not tacky (OK, there are parts of it that are tacky, but you can say that about practically any large city nowadays!) There are no shortage of visitor attractions, temples and historic sites to see along either side of the Chao Phraya river that intersects the bustling metropolis. The traffic is still chaotic admittedly but nothing like what I experienced the first time I visited the city over 30 years ago. The elevated skytrain and metro systems in this huge city of 10M souls now help to moderate the road traffic to volumes closer to what we tend to experience at rush hour in our own large cities.
With over 20 million international overnight visitors descending on the city each year, according to Mastercard. According to their report, each stays an average of 4.7 nights and spends $173. If that figure sounds low, it is because Bangkok is a value seeker’s dream destination. This is due to a combination of the general low cost of living throughout Thailand by comparison to other countries and the exchange rate that prevails between the Thai Baht and other strong international currencies. By way of example, on my last stay in the city about five or six years ago, I made an impulse purchase of a guitar in a music shop in one of the largest shopping plazas in downtown Bangkok. It may have been Central World which is reputed to be the 11th largest shopping centre in the world. The guitar (a beautiful Crafter copy of an iconic Martin parlour guitar from the 1920’s complete with inlaid abalone and rosewood back and sides) cost me the grand total of just €160, including a flight case. The same model guitar without the case cost in excess of €800 back home in Ireland! By comparison, the average daily spend in Dubai is $537 — more than three times that of its Thai counterpart. Bangkok is, and always has been a shopper’s dream. It is also a food lovers paradise as who doesn’t love Thai cuisine?
With long haul air fares reducing due to stiff competition from the super abundance of carriers using the city as a stopover point on flights out to Australia and beyond, there’s never been a better time to sample the delights of the Far East and although the 14 hours or so that it takes to fly to destinations such as Bangkok can be intimidating, you’ll be delighted that you made the effort, once you’ve arrived and had time to recover from the jetlag.
Of course, if long flights are not for you, then have a look at what other cities appear on Mastercards’ roll-call of the world’s most visited cities — there may be one near you:
- New York
- Kuala Lumpur