Last November I won the CIPR Award for Outstanding Business Education Journalism 2015 for a series of articles about Apps for Good, a scheme that gets primary and secondary pupils to create an app, plan their pitch and show how they would bring it to market. I already had a trip to Hong Kong and Australia in my sights and decided to use the prize money to visit Thailand on the way home.
I soon learned that April is not the best month to visit Bangkok. With temperatures of 38 degrees and high humidity, I spent my time scurrying between the tourist attractions and anywhere with even a hint of air con.
I found that £500 goes a long way in Bangkok as my prize paid for four nights in a hotel, a half day guided tour of the city, canals and temples plus a full day visit to the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi to see the famous Bridge over the River Kwai, the Allied War Cemetery and Museum and a trip on Death Railway followed by an elephant ride.
Along the way I talked to locals and discovered a little about life behind the tourist sites. Thailand means Land of the Free and celebrates the fact that this country is the only one in south east Asia which has never been colonised by a foreign power.
Some of the anxieties expressed by Thai people are very similar to concerns in the UK right now. They respect their King – now the longest-reigning living monarch in the world- but are not so sure about his heir, so much so that there is talk of changing the law to allow his sister to take the throne.
Immigration is a key concern. Many complain that the Chinese have bought up property as an investment and as prices have risen, young people cannot get on the housing ladder. The average age for marriage is now over 30.
They also worry that legislative changes to the rules on migration for countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will allow free passage of other nationals into Thailand, especially from the Philippines. ‘Filipinos speak better English than Thais,’ explained my guide Michael, ‘and they are also noted for their good voices so they are likely to corner the market in professional singing jobs.’
The minimum wage in Thailand is just £5 per day but the top jobs which many young people aspire to are as plastic surgeons and cosmetic dentists. This is a country where looks count. The most popular anti-ageing cream is Snail White. Yes, it really is made from snail slime and is also reputed to be very good for acne, rashes and reducing the appearance of scar tissue. I didn’t buy a pot. Some things just don’t travel well.