Thailand instantly amazed me when I first visited Bangkok in 1991 mainly because of its majestic palaces and imposing temples. It fascinated me even more when I lived and worked in the heart of its metropolis for six months the following year.
That was about a quarter of a century ago and until now the kingdom continues to amaze and fascinate me.
Back then, our economies were still in fierce competition, the winner of which we non-economists determined in terms of the value of our currencies relative to each other. At that time, the value of 1 Thai baht has already appreciated to 1.14 Philippine pesos and has reversed the 1 PHP: 1.42 THB parity that used to prevail in late February 1986 immediately before the end of the Marcos era.
Our countries have had their own share of military coups d’état and political and financial crises since then and while the Thai economy has grown to attain a tiger economy status, ours remained a developing one.
Thus, we were caught surprised last Jan. 29 when a very proud Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan announced that the Philippines is now “well ahead of Thailand” simply because our economy grew by 6.9 percent last quarter and “capped three successive years of above-6-percent growth.”
However, for us non-economists, the Thai economy is still more robust because the exchange rate between our currencies remains in its favor at 1 THB: 1.30 PHP.
Coincidentally, we both have been plagued with counterpart problems in traffic management and flood control. But amazing indeed were the solutions that the Thais have taken to address these twin problems.
Bangkok’s main streets back then in 1991 used to be called the “biggest parking lot of the world” long before Edsa earned the title.
Thailand had no elevated roads or mass railroad transits yet then while we were already operating, since Dec. 1, 1984 during the Marcos, era our Manila Light Rail Transit System that cut across Metro Manila from Monumento, Caloocan to Baclaran, Parañaque.
By Dec. 5, 1999, they have installed and operated the Bangkok Mass Transit System, commonly known as the BTS or the Skytrain. It is an elevated rapid transit system that is augmented by the underground Metropolitan Rapid Transit or MRT and by the elevated Suvarnabhumi Airport Link or SARL that links several stations in the city to the airport.
The Thais seem to have also maximized the use of their Chao Phraya River and canals in transporting commuters and goods using fast ferry boats, and minimized unnecessary traffic jams by constructing numerous pedestrian overpasses and road flyovers in intersections.
Back then, motorcycles and “tuktuks”—the equivalent of our tricycles—were common sights. These have become less visible now due perhaps to the Thais’ recently-acquired economic prosperity.
As recently as 2011, the industrial areas of Bangkok and its five surrounding provinces were inundated by floods that were so bad they reached historic proportions. The Thais have admitted that these floods have also crippled their manufacturing sector aside from inflicting massive damages and inconveniences to their people.
To prevent a repeat of these floods, the Thai government approved flood mitigation projects worth $11.7 billion that it implemented immediately in 2012. In addition, infrastructure projects worth $75 billion were started the following year for completion within seven years.
What fascinated me even more was how these twin problems were addressed by Thailand’s beloved monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Known also as Rama IX, he has reigned since June 9, 1946 and is presently the world’s longest-serving head of state.
In one of my subsequent visits to Bangkok in 2000, I had the golden opportunity to listen to him as he outlined his royal solutions to these problems in a nationally televised message that lasted for four hours. Fortunately, a Thai friend volunteered to be my simultaneous English translator.
Now a senior citizen, I could no longer recall every detail of his message except for his encouragement to government agencies and business establishments that they set up district branches to reduce traveling across Bangkok’s congested streets.
He also urged the people to save rainwater using their roofs for this purpose. Water is thus prevented from immediately clogging waterways while it is being saved for cleaning toilets and watering plants later.
His concern and love for his subjects were clearly manifested, but it was the simplicity of his solutions and the purity of his intentions to help solve the king…dom’s traffic and flood problems that impressed me the most. They were so practical.
I was told then that he used to give mountain tribesmen piglets as gifts—not for immediate slaughtering but for breeding purposes—to help improve and sustain their present livelihood and future needs.
Now 87 years old and sickly, the king is given much credit for having led Thailand into becoming a united, prosperous and peaceful kingdom—a recognized country leader of Southeast Asia.
I would credit him though for his royal solutions to Thailand’s traffic and flood problems even if they have not succeeded in completely banishing away these problems.