Macron factor raises tourism hopes
First European leader invited to Apec summit took time to see the sights
The sight of French President Emmanuel Macron popping up at attractions in Bangkok last week has kindled hope his presence could add shine to the country's fast-recovering tourism industry.
Mr Macron jetted in for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Bangkok from Nov 18-19, where he was a guest of the chair and held discussions with some of the leaders of the 21 Apec members.
His visit was unprecedented in that it marked the first time since the creation of Apec in 1989 that a European head of state or government had been invited to the Apec summit.
Despite his busy schedule, the French leader made time to visit tourist attractions in the capital before heading home.
Taking to his Twitter, Mr Macron encapsulated his visit to the Jim Thompson House Museum, which he said reminded him of the close bond between France and Thailand and the partnerships that France implements in the Indo-Pacific region.
Mr Macron is pictured mingling with staff at Hua Seng Hong restaurant. (HUA SENG HONG Facebook Page)
Images were also circulated on social media of Mr Macron paying a solemn visit to Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho) before observing the fierce action first-hand at the Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium.
He was also seen taking an evening stroll during a private tour in Yaowarat, or Chinatown, where he tasted Bangkok's street food. It is here that many dishes are popularised worldwide on social media by online influencers.
However, his visit did not go unnoticed due to his visible security detail.
Mr Macron turned heads as he sat down to a meal at the Hua Seng Hong Chinese restaurant in Yaowarat.
Many social media users greeted the image of the French leader at the restaurant with delight, hoping it will be a public relations vehicle that can help accelerate tourism recovery after the sector, vital for the country getting back on its feet, suffered badly for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, others doubted the authenticity of the pictures of Mr Macron out and about on Bangkok's bustling streets.
Nuenghathai Atthawathee, 44, a Hua Seng Hong employee, told the Bangkok Post that at first, she and other staff were taken by surprise when he stepped into the restaurant. They could only assume at first it was someone important, judging by the people surrounding him.
It did not take them long to figure out he was the French president.
"He's good-natured. He came in just like anyone else and didn't order anything fancy. We had nothing prepared in advance [for him]," Ms Nuenghathai said.
The staff asked to have a photo taken with the president and the picture later went viral on the internet, she added.
Since news about Mr Macron's visit spread on social media, the restaurant, which is normally busy, has welcomed more foreign customers, Ms Nuenghathai said.
She denied the pictures of Mr Macron dining at the restaurant were doctored.
"More people came to Yaowarat after the Apec summit. It has done much to stimulate tourism," she added.
Supol Lertpanyaroj, owner of a Limjinghieng shop selling processed meats often bought as souvenirs in Yaowarat, said the French president's visit to the area might only give only a brief boost to tourism.
"We have to wait and see what happens in the long run," he said.
Wareerat Trairong, 58, owner of Ha Kee Lim Jing Heang selling ready-to-eat food products, said her shop's products might not be popular with some foreign visitors, but in general, though, tourist numbers have begun to pick up.
Jamrun Matoh, 50, a seller of Chinese decorative items at the old China Town Cinema, said most people came to Yaowarat in search of food. Few of them shopped for souvenirs.
He could not tell if the French president has made a difference to tourism numbers now that the hustle and bustle associated with Yaowarat has returned.
Pakkaseet Sawangwong, 59, a durian vendor, said Yaowarat is well-known to several foreign leaders and important figures who have visited the area.