Whether it’s your first time or you are returning for a Thailand vacation, you’ll appreciate a new cultural atmosphere, along with a warm welcome.
Thailand remains one of the most popular countries on the planet. In fact, in 2016, Bangkok was the most visited city in the world, according to Forbes. It received a little over 21 million international visitors!
That said, the Kingdom of Thailand is in a state of flux. With the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the government has adjusted some of its travel policies and focus to accommodate the fluctuating landscape of modern tourism. Does this mean you should hold off on your planned visit to the country? No! In fact, quite the opposite.
Although Thailand is in mourning, its economy is largely dependent on tourism to continue functioning as normal. Tourism is not only essential to this nation’s infrastructure, contributing almost a fifth of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but if you visit and decide to pay tribute to the late king at the thousands of memorials across the country, it’s even seen as a great token of respect.
2017 is as good a year as any to visit this Southeast Asia gem for the first time. And if you have been on a Thailand vacation in the past, this year invites you to return to this brightly-coloured nation and experience a changing kingdom.
A New King and a New Kingdom
Although he hasn’t formally been crowned, there is a new king in Thailand. On October 13, 2016, King Bhumibol Adulyadej died in Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok. King Bhumibol was the world’s longest serving monarch and defined the nation over his 70-year reign. To say his people loved him would be putting it mildly. They adored him. Thailand has had a rocky history of governance, with a military coup as recently as 2014, but King Bhumibol was a source of calm and stability over most of the past century. He will be deeply missed by his nation, which is holding a one-year period of mourning to honour him.
After King Bhumibol’s death, his only son, Maha Vairjalongkorn, became the monarch. He didn’t accept the throne until December due to a personal period of mourning, and the coronation ceremony will not occur until after the late King Bhumibol’s cremation this coming October. However, Vairjalongkorn is now the King of Thailand.
In many ways this is a new Thailand. A new king and a new outlook on life and stability. Visit on a Thailand vacation to witness this historic period of growth and to support a nation in the midst of mourning and adjustment.
If you think that the period of mourning will stop the adventure and fun that Thailand is known for, think again. Thailand is just as much fun as ever. Just be mindful of the locals whose nation you’re visiting, as any good Globetrotter should. Respect the little adjustments, from changing transit schedules to stricter enforcement of dress codes, especially at the Grand Palace.
Thailand has always been a country of contrasts, with both high-scale resorts and backpacker hostels, or floating markets next to state-of-the-art skyscrapers. So the juxtaposition of revelers on Khao San Road and mourners outside the Grand Palace is merely another representation of the country’s own diversity.
Expect a Slightly Different Tourist Crowd this Year
The policies of Thai tourism are shifting as well. The past few years have seen the explosion of the Chinese travel industry. While conventional wisdom suggests that Americans or Germans spend the most on travel, the Chinese outdo them all when it comes to tourism dollars, spending over $215 billion in 2015, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
With Thailand so geographically close to China, the country is a prime destination for Chinese tourists. Every major temple or tourist attraction is lined with tour buses and Chinese crowds. However, this emerging wave of Chinese tourism is forcing Thailand to adjust tourism policies.
In late 2016, Thai authorities cracked down on “zero-budget” tours offered by Chinese agencies. Tourists would pay all their fees up front, slashing the costs of these Thailand tours. But in response, the tour operators would expect tourists to buy souvenirs and other items from partnered retailers so they could collect a commission. The authorities rightly considered this to be a form of blackmail, which shorts the government and respected vendors some hard-earned money. Instead, the Thai tourism agency is seeking higher-income tourists that’ll spend more money within the open market of Thailand.
So next time you’re at Wat Pho, expect fewer Chinese tour buses and perhaps more space to snap a photo in front of the famous reclining Buddha, one of the largest in Thailand.
Five-Star Resorts and Restaurants Coming to the Land of Smiles
Speaking of high-income travellers, Thailand is gearing up to become a hit luxury destination, on par with Singapore and Hong Kong. While the country has traditionally been one of the world’s leading budget destinations (and still is), there’s a growing market to accommodate wealthier travellers on a luxury Thailand vacation.
Recent years have seen a boom in five-star resorts and hotels in Thailand. The country has also been trying to attract yacht tourism to its port cities, and wellness vacations have become all the rage during trips to Thailand. Revitalize yourself on the southern islands of Phuket or Ko Yao Yai by indulging in spa treatments or famous Thai massages at luxury resorts.
Recharge Your Health and Wellness on a Thailand Vacation
The fine dining scene is also exploding. While Bangkok is justifiably famous for its amazing street food, the city is increasingly becoming a hot spot for gourmet restaurants. For instance, the so-called “Chef of the Century,” Joel Robuchon, opened a new restaurant in Bangkok in 2015, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. The movement of Robuchon and many other French gourmets into the country has fueled rumours that Michelin Guides will start covering Thailand in the near future, giving out their illustrious star ratings in the process.
Thailand’s Growing Elite Tourism
Air travel to the country is increasingly upgrading beyond the usual roster of Asian airlines. The luxury Middle Eastern airlines, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar are all increasing their number of daily flights into Thailand to cater to wealthy tourists. Since there are no direct flights into Thailand from North America, these airlines are offering competitive prices and convenient timing to attract North American tourists.
As always, Bangkok caters to wealthy shoppers. Malls like the Siam Paragon boast designer brands at cheaper prices than in Western stores. And the fashion market is second only to Singapore and Hong Kong on the continent. Buy yourself a custom suit or dress, tailor made from expert Thai tailors and seamstresses, and expect to pay a fraction of what it’d cost you in North America or Europe. Your suit or dress will likely end up being nicer than the Western alternatives as well.
There’s no reason to be daunted by travelling to Thailand during this time of change. In fact, it’s a great opportunity, whether you’re a first time visitor or have a long history with the country. You’ll either have all the signature experiences of a first-time tourist: seeing the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, visiting the floating markets, and eating pad thai from one of the city’s many street vendors, which are second-to-none in the world, or you’ll return on a Thailand vacation to appreciate a new cultural atmosphere and see the country in a new light.
Thailand is transforming. Be there to witness it.