Golden temples, beautiful beaches, bustling night markets. Thailand has long been a world-famous tourist destination. It’s expecting a record number of 40 million visitors in 2019 – well over half the country’s population.
And it’s dependent on tourist dollars – it accounts for about 20% of GDP.
But the industry barely existed before 1960. Its origins were in fact born out of a dark passage of American history. Here’s how war made Thailand a tourist destination.
3 million American soldiers sent to South East Asia
The Vietnam War saw over 3 million American soldiers sent to South East Asia. Many would be stationed in Thailand, which became a major ally in the region and home to seven US air bases. At the height of the conflict, some 50,000 military personnel were stationed throughout Thailand.
As America’s involvement in Vietnam deepened, more resources were pumped into the support network in Thailand.
As well as building highways and ports, the US sent aid for other infrastructure and social projects, aiming to improve living standards and combat the spread of communism.
All the while, Thailand’s capital Bangkok became a centre for air travel, as international airlines found it a convenient location to refuel.
It was here in Bangkok where many American soldiers headed for Rest and Recuperation, or ‘R and R’ days.