Today, HSBC revealed that the Southeast Asian kingdom has come in at the top of its annual Expat Explorer “Experience” league table for “quality of life, ease of setting up and integration".
It is the second time in the six years that HSBC has been interviewing expatriates around the world about their experiences for its annual Expat Explorer survey that Thailand has ranked first in the overall “experience” category – it last did so in 2010. However, this is the first time that it’s taken the top spot “for these particular aspects” of expat life, an HSBC spokesperson said.
Last year, Thailand came second in this key ranking, behind the Cayman Islands, and ahead of, in descending order, Spain, Singapore and Malaysia.
The expats surveyed by YouGov researchers on behalf of HSBC also gave Thailand a high score this year – fourth place, behind Switzerland, China and Qatar – for its “economics” picture – that is, how well it is seen as providing expats with “earning potential and disposable income”, and for its general economic outlook.
Today’s HSBC findings come on the heels of other data that also points to a roll of sorts for Thailand, a country of some 67 million people sandwiched between Myanmar/Burma, Laos and Cambodia.
In April, an expat property website, TheMoveChannel.com, reported that Thailand had suddenly become “the third most popular property destination in the world” based on its enquiry data. It was Thailand’s highest ever MoveChannel ranking. Just months before, it was ranked only in 16th place.
A burst of foreigner interest in property in the coastal resort area of Pattaya was cited as the reason for its quick leap up the rankings.
In May, the MasterCard credit card company released findings of research it said showed that Bangkok would, for the first time, overtake London in 2013 to be “this year’s No. 1 city for travel”, ahead of, in order after London, Paris, Singapore and New York.
The research was based on total international visitor arrivals and cross-border spending, rather than MasterCard data.
Unrest, rubber and the UN
For Thailand, such achievements represent real progress, as the country, despite such claims to fame as being the world’s No. 1 producer of rubber and Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, is also no stranger to political unrest, volatility and periodic crises.
Indeed, as recently as Tuesday, memories of a nine-week period of street protests in Bangkok three years ago were revived, as a former Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and his deputy announced at a press conference that they would fight charges that they were to blame for the deaths of protesters during that time.
Some 90 people were killed during the skirmishes, as deep but normally hidden political tensions exploded in a burst of demonstrations and tyres set ablaze.
Known for being the only country in the region to have escaped colonial rule, Thailand has seen, depending on who is doing the counting, some 18 coups d’etat since 1932. That figure would include half a dozen attempts, as well as the successful one in 2006 that saw the interim government of Thaksin Shinawatra overthrown by a military junta, and martial law enforced until early in 2007.
Thailand is also where the Asian financial crisis began in 1997.
Even now, some observers say that the country is building up future problems with a massive government stockpile of rice, purchased to help support Thailand’s struggling farmers, which at some point it needs to unload on thus-far-disinterested world markets.
Nevertheless, its low cost base and central geographical location in Indochina has meant that it has also been a regional hub of long-standing for manufacturers like Proctor & Gamble, and organisations like the United Nations, which operates its third-largest facility in Bangkok.
According to British Embassy figures, more than 50,000 British nationals make their home in Thailand, and another 800,000 normally visit as tourists every year – although, if the MasterCard researchers are right, there will be more than that in 2013.
Thus, it would seem, the smiles in the “land of smiles” may well be particularly broad and heart-felt this year.