December is a highly significant month for Thai nationals. The tourist-friendly country will celebrate Thailand’s Independence Day, commemorate the birthday of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and mark Thai Father’s Day too. Bahrain This Month’s Farrah Saville sat down with the Thai Ambassador, His Excellency Piyapak Sricharoen, to talk about the South East Asian country’s friendly relationship with Bahrain.
Could you tell our readers about your distinguished career and your journey to becoming the ambassador?
You must be a civil servant in the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I’ve had a career for 28 years, and have been posted in various countries including India, the neighbouring Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, and now Bahrain. My experience has been mainly in bilateral diplomacy, dealing directly with the host country or a bilateral country, rather than in multilateral diplomatic settings. Coming to Bahrain, my assignment, having never been posted in this region, was to expand my horizons.
How many Thai nationals are currently living in Bahrain? Which sectors are they employed in?
We estimate we have about 4,000 Thai nationals living in the Kingdom. In Bahrain it varies because people come and go for a short time. Most of the people you see in Juffair are owners of small businesses, or working in Thai businesses such as restaurants, shopping and retail businesses, and holistic spas. Many of them come here to open small businesses in spaces such as Thai Mart.
How has Thai Mart been received, and what are the plans related to it?
I was quite excited about the opening of Thai Mart in Bahrain two years ago. It’s vital to assess the Thai presence in Bahrain, which is a work in progress and an ambitious agenda. At this moment, activities you see being held are sometimes held by the Royal Thai Embassy while others are organised by the Thai community. These have been well received, especially by those who have previously visited Thailand, and would like to relive some of those exotic moments whether that be through Thailand’s popular food or spa products. Down the road, I understand that Thai Mart will be a hub for all sorts of Thai products in Bahrain. It’s also quite advantageous to be located just next to Dragon City, which is quite popular among shoppers.
What are the current trade figures between Bahrain and Thailand? What are some of the key products and services traded between the two countries?
Despite being a year of recovery, last year’s figure (2021) was also an all-time high of an estimated USD 420 million. The products exported to Thailand include cars and other vehicles, spare parts, electronics, construction materials and furniture. What we import from Thailand are, of course, energy products, as well as some seafood products. We’re on track to post a growth of about 10 percent, which when compared to 2021 is good news.
Is there a particular area that you see further potential in that you would like to improve on?
Since my arrival here, I have been consulting various stakeholders. There’s more potential for our presence in food security products, which can be tested in any market. Another area in which we haven’t had more of a presence is construction and household materials. Thailand is a big country with a long tradition of property and housing; so, we have a robust construction sector making it an excellent opportunity for Thai construction.
We are confident in the growth of the whole region, which has made a remarkable recovery following the outbreak and effects of COVID-19. In the medium to long term, this will likely be a market that will continue to grow strongly. Hence, I would encourage Thai SMEs which are venturing out into the Middle East market to look at Bahrain as the best and most business-friendly.
Are these some of the ways you plan on improving bilateral relationships?
I came here with an economic agenda. Any bilateral relationship or economic relationship underpins the overall financial relationship. Thailand and Bahrain already have a strong, long-standing, special friendship at all levels. This has made it much easier for people-to-people relationships and the development of business cooperation.
What do you enjoy most about living in Bahrain?
The welcoming nature of the country and an understanding of Thai culture makes me wake up every morning wanting to enhance the relationship even more. The people are very open, and optimistic with a positive outlook.
How has Thailand’s tourism sector recovered since the COVID-19 pandemic?
Thailand has been a popular holiday destination for Bahrainis and other regional tourists. COVID-19 restrictions have relaxed and the number of Bahrainis travelling to Thailand has increased. Before COVID-19 the number of tourists travelling from Bahrain to Thailand was around 13,000 every year. That’s about four percent of the population which is quite significant. The number of Thai nationals visiting Bahrain is about 10,000 following the pandemic. Overall, the Thai tourism industry is still recovering this year.
December is a significant month for Thailand, which includes Thai Independence Day. How does the Embassy intend to mark this occasion?
In December, three occasions for the Thai nation are of significance: the birthday of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol, Thai National Day and Thai Father’s Day. Those are three occasions in the span of one week and quite important ones in the Thai community. We have a Thai community function on December 5 and, of course, will also have a diplomatic reception on the December 4 which is organised every year at the embassy.
So, what can each learn from the other’s culture?
Understanding and appreciating each other’s culture is essential to our role as global citizens as it opens horizons for young people in our respective communities. We have some cultural traditions which we are very proud of. What comes to mind first is Thai food, which a lot of people may know about already as it is already quite popular; but you’d be amazed if you go back to Thailand. I would recommend trying out some of the Northern specialties; in Bangkok for example it’s much spicier. Another way we can enjoy each other’s cultures is through traditional music. Lastly, Muay Thai which is Thai boxing is very popular in the United States and Europe. These are some of things that could be introduced here.
What have you found to be the biggest similarities between Thailand and Bahrain?
It’s the friendliness of the people who are very open and have an optimistic outlook. I think we both believe that life is for enjoyment, for friends and family.
Are there any high-level delegations planned for the upcoming month?
We are due for a visit for foreign ministers which could take place next year.
For updates from the Thai embassy, follow @thaiembassybahrain on Instagram or call 17 233-588.