Everyone’s doing it. It’s the ‘in’ thing at the moment. It can involve full moons, big trunks, floating fruit, has plenty of land masses in salty water and is home to places called Phuket, Bangkok, Bang Sue and Phanom Dong Rak.
I am, of course, talking about the Southeast Asian country of Thailand.
Since the beginning of the millennium, tourism figures have been rapidly rising in that part of the world. Starting with 9.58 million visitors in 2000, the country saw its peak of 26.55 million tourist arrivals 13 years later – a 277 percent increase.
Over the last 14 years – up to 2014 – the country has only had four dents on its upward curve. But they’ve come with good reason. In 2003, Thailand visitor arrivals fell by 790,000 after the outbreak of SARS virus which claimed the lives of 725 people in Asia.
170,000 was the total drop off between 2004 and 2005, presumably due to the Boxing Day earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 2004. Then came a financial crisis in 2008, which meant people had less disposable income – the most likely reasoning behind a loss of almost half a million arrivals in 2009.
The most recent fall came last year, which ThaiWebsites.com attributes to the 2014 Thailand political crisis, demonstrations and the country’s coup d’état.
So what is there to do in Thailand?
If you’re under the age of 30 and have been on Facebook and Instagram for longer than five minutes, then you’ll have probably seen something to do with Thailand. It is rapidly gaining popularity amongst young travellers, with its cheap prices for pretty much everything being an attraction by itself.
One of Thailand’s most attractive qualities is its ecological diversity. You’ve got the big city, the jungle, the beautiful beach life in addition to plenty of history, nightlife, landmarks to see and outdoor activities.
The temples of Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Traimit and Wat Arun are all impressive in their own right. Bangkok’s Grand Palace, used to house the Kings of Siam and, later, Thailand, his court and the royal government between 1782 and 1925 also looks like it is well worth a visit, too.
Then there’s the skyscraper haven of Bangkok. With spas, malls, a trip on the BTS Skytrain, temples, nightclubs and Jim Thompson’s old house all to explore, there is plenty to keep you going in urban Thailand.
And if none of that tickles your fancy, then there’s Phuket. Visit the big Buddha, take in some Thai boxing, use the province as a gateway to the glorious scenery of the Phi Phi Islands, or engage in some traditional Thai fare and go elephant trekking.
Thailand: The Bandwagon State?
Just gauging the travel habits of my peers over social media, it’s clear to see that a lot of people have made the pilgrimage to Thailand over the past 24 months. 101 Holidays captured this trend perfectly by saying that Thailand “continues its meteoric rise from backpackers’ haven to mainstream holiday favourite.”
But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are advantages to having plenty of likeminded people travelling before you. Less chance of language being a major barrier, first-hand travel recommendations and the potential for others to make mistakes before you do is a benefit.
In 2013, the ratio of Thailand’s population to tourist arrivals was 5:2. Too much tourism can ruin an otherwise authentic experience, but there are also benefits like those suggested above.
Plus, I’ve always wanted to live in New York City. Whilst my affinity to the place is probably stronger than most peoples’ in the UK, it is still the most-visited destination by British tourists – meaning that it’s more of a bandwagoners’ paradise than the rest.
Is it safe to travel?
In August this year there was bombing in Thailand’s capital which resulted in the deaths of 20 people, and injuries to 125 more. Because of this, the UK Government advises a high threat of terrorism in the country, and note that there were other explosions that took place in February and April.
According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, “British nationals make over 900,000 visits to Thailand every year. Most visits are trouble-free, but there have been attacks (sometimes violent), particularly on the islands of Samui archipelago.
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla on the Thai-Malaysia border.
“On 10 April 2014 the Australian authorities indicated that extremists might be planning to target westerners in the southern border provinces.”
With the 2004 tsunami still relatively fresh in the memory, is the country likely to be affected by another devastating earthquake? It’s highly unlikely. Especially in Bangkok as the faults underneath Thailand are divergent and only tend to cause small earthquakes, making the capital fairly safe. There have been four earthquakes in the past year in Thailand, with the largest coming it at a magnitude of 4.8.
Whilst Thailand clearly has a lot of appeal, from its azure blue seas and golden sands, to the metropolitan grandeur of its capital, I think it would be cheaper and more convenient to travel closer to home.
Last year I priced up a trip to Thailand for three weeks. That included flights and accommodation in Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui and Chiang Mai for around £1,600. For that, I could visit ten or more countries in Europe and northern Africa. Though I should note that it was a quote from a travel agent, who are known to charge over-the-top prices. But you’re probably looking at four figures nevertheless.
It’s hard to judge a place when you’ve never been before. I can neither recommend Thailand, nor discourage anyone from going because I haven’t had the experience visiting myself.
From a personal perspective, I feel like it’s worth hitting places closer to home whilst they’re on my doorstep. Plus if I was going to do Thailand, I’d do it right by visiting some of the surrounding countries as well.