Thailand's turmoil spotlights a colorful country

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 21, 2014 at 6:30 am •  Published: May 21, 2014
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BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's latest round of political turmoil has prompted the army to declare martial law, once again propelling into international headlines a colorful country known for its beaches and pagodas, spicy food and nightlife, and relative prosperity in a developing region. Here's a look in closer focus at some of Thailand's significance:

TOURISM

Thailand's turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, serene Buddhist temples and piquant nightlife have made it one of the world's top tourist destinations. Even in times of crisis, it lives up to its nickname, "The Land of Smiles." Martial law Thai-style means tourists can take home souvenir selfies with smiling soldiers. It's too soon to say if the martial law imposed Tuesday will scare off future visitors. Political turmoil that started in 2006 has hit the tourism industry in waves, each time bringing dire predictions that the kingdom's allure for foreigners may be harmed. But each time it recovers, and its beaches, jungles, spas and urban malls soon swarm again. Annual arrivals reached an all-time high of 26.7 million in 2013, a 20 percent increase from the 22 million a year earlier. Movies set in Thailand, including "The Hangover Part II" of 2011, have added to the appeal. The wildly popular 2012 Chinese film "Lost in Thailand" introduced the country, its scenery and its transgender people known as "ladyboys" to China's public and made Thailand all the rage for its increasingly globe-trotting travelers. A regional traffic hub for Southeast Asia, the Thai capital Bangkok has one of the Asia's busiest international airports.

ECONOMY

Thailand's openness to foreign investment and tourism has provided a model of development for other developing nations and helped power its rise to the sixth biggest economy in Asia. Significant investments in manufacturing by global corporations have broadened the economy beyond its agricultural base and added to its resilience. Though dwarfed in the region by giants such as China and India, Thailand is a crucial player in several industries. It has long been known as one of the world's top producers of rice, sugar and rubber. Less well known is its technology role, with about 40 percent of computer hard drives manufactured in the country. It's also a production base for automakers such as GM and Toyota and now makes about 3 percent of all vehicles. A notorious downside of the country's rapid economic and financial development was its role in spawning the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s that rippled around the world.

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