In the heart of mainland Southeast Asia, the Kingdom of Thailand - formerly Siam - is one of the world’s most visited countries - for good reason. Never colonized, Thailand’s rich cultural heritage is evident in its many gilded Buddhist temples and opulent palaces, the impressive ruins of its ancient kingdoms, and in a tantalizing national cuisine prepared by ever hospitable locals. From the country’s lushly forested mountainous north to its balmy south, bordered by the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, Thailand and its network of over 100 national parks are home to over 15,000 species of plants, 1,000 types of birds, and dwindling populations of wild elephants, tigers, gibbons, and Asian bears. Southeast Asia’s most important prehistoric settlement is found in Ban Chiang, dating back to 1495 BCE, which is likely one of the world’s oldest agrarian societies. Sukhothai, founded in the mid-13th century, served as the first true Thai kingdom and inspired a cultural and artistic renaissance before being absorbed by the Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1438. The nation’s varied geography lends itself to world-class rock climbing on soaring karst cliffs, cultural treks to diverse ethnic minority hill tribes, and scuba diving off the nation’s many idyllic islands. Whether exploring the frenetic capital of Bangkok by canal boat, visiting the cultural capital of Chiang Mai, or relaxing on postcard-perfect beaches, captivating Thailand holds something for everyone.
As Thailand’s tourism continues to surge, national initiatives attempt to harness and disperse its benefits while mitigating harm from mass visitation. The government agency DASTA, Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration, implements policies and administration plans that guide the responsible development of six regions across the country to balance their economic success with natural and cultural preservation, using Co-Creation, Low Carbon Tourism, and Creative Tourism as pillars. The Second National Tourism Development Plan, launched in 2017, aims to elevate Thailand to the top tier of global destinations over the next 20 years by using principles of ‘prosperity, stability and sustainability’. The collaborative Green Leaf Foundation vets members of Thailand’s private sector with a hotel rating system that evaluates environmental practices and management, while the Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association (TEATA) promotes a network of certified operators and sustainable tourism routes throughout the scenic country.
Thailand is one of 13 tiger range countries. The national parks of Mae Wong and Klong Lan are critical to the tiger’s recovery. With fewer than 4,000 tigers remaining in the wild today, down from 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th Century, Thailand has committed to the effort to double global tiger populations by 2022. Thailand’s elephants, the country’s national symbol, have also been severely reduced from 100,000 domesticated elephants in 1850 to estimated 2,000 today. Poaching of protected species remains a major problem. Hunters have decimated the populations of tigers, leopards, and other large cats for their valuable pelts. Animals, including tigers, bears, crocodiles, and king cobras, are farmed or hunted for their meat, which is considered a delicacy, and for their supposed medicinal properties. Although such trade is illegal, the famous Bangkok market Chatuchak is still known for the sale of endangered species.Why the Tiger Ranking?