By Melissa Yeager
Along the beach in Ao Nang, Thailand, a long line of little huts winds along the shore where one can purchase a massage, a piece of pineapple and rent a beach chair for the day all for $5 US. A steady stream of Westerners, from Australia to the U.K., pour in daily to take advantage of the deal.
While the tourists sit in their beach chairs, soaking in the sun and spectacular sights of little island cliffs dodging in between the waters of the Andaman sea, a man with a large wooden pole across his back slowly makes his way across the sand. On either side of the pole sit two hot make-shift grills cooking spring rolls and Pad Thai.
The man offers the meal to beach goers for less than a dollar US.
This type of tourism is a cornerstone of the Thai economy and according to Reuters, accounts for 10 percent of its GDP. A myriad of recent events has threatened the industry, yet after each one, the tourists keep coming to the place known as the “Land of Smiles.”
Then came the explosion at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. The bombing killed 20 people and wounded more than a hundred others. Police arrested a suspect, but not before Thailand saw a dip in tourists traveling to the country.
But even so, in late October, the Thai Tourism council announced it expected to see more than 30 million visitors by the end of 2015, a 22 percent jump over last year.
Much of the growth is attributed to the expansion of the Chinese middle class, as many Chinese now have the money to travel more than ever. More than 8.1 million Chinese tourists will visit Thailand which, according to the Thai Tourism council, is a 76 percent increase from 2014.
That number could grow even larger in the future if Thailand and China are able to complete a project linking the two countries by railway. Both governments had pledged to have the long awaited project moving by December, but just last week, a Thai Transportation Ministry official announced the plans had stalled once again. The governments still plan to break ground in December, but the project will likely take well into 2016 to complete.
Photographs by Melissa Yeager