For much of Thailand’s recent history, the powerhouse of Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy has been its glitzy capital. Now, a convergence of local and international currents is reshaping the nation’s economic geography.
In the northeast, rising incomes, property prices and consumer spending have sent economic growth surging by 8 percent annually, or double the rate of Bangkok, according to Siam Commercial Bank Pcl.
Meanwhile, further to the south, Thailand’s burgeoning auto industry — in 2012 the 10th-biggest manufacturer in the world — has brought such prosperity to a region known as the eastern seaboard that one province, Rayong, has become twice as rich as Bangkok in terms of per capita income, according to government data.
A visit to Udon Thani (population 400,000), 565 kilometers (350 miles) northeast of Bangkok but only 90 kilometers from Laos’s capital, Vientiane, testifies to the transformation taking place.
In 2011, this rice-growing region’s gross domestic product per capita was just $1,700 — one-ninth that of Bangkok, according to government statistics. Yet today, Tos’s bustling Central Plaza mall in the center of town would not look out of place in Hong Kong, Singapore or even Milan.