Thailand is rightly proud of its frequent appearances on lists of the world’s best islands, cities, restaurants and spas. These attest to the country’s enduring appeal to millions of foreign tourists, even as a military junta tightens its grip on power. But a slew of less flattering statistics says much more about the health of Thailand’s society and the ability of its leaders to improve it. For example:
Road deaths – Thailand has the world’s second highest rate (after lawless Libya), with at least 14,000 deaths in 2012. The World Health Organization says the actual number could be more than 24,000.
Plastic pollution – Thailand is one of five countries responsible for most of the eight million tons of plastic dumped in the world’s oceans.
Teenage pregnancy – Thailand has the second highest rate (after impoverished Laos) in East Asia and the Pacific, and it’s rising rapidly.
Human trafficking – Thailand occupies the lowest tier (with North Korea and Syria) in the U.S. State Department’s annual ranking of countries for their efforts to combat human trafficking.
Black economy – Thailand is seventh on a list of top ten developing countries for illicit capital outflows, third if you re-plot the data as a percentage of GDP. These outflows totalled $35 billion in 2012.
Gun crime – Amazingly, Thailand’s gun homicide rate is almost equal to that of the United States.
Of course, Thailand is a relatively big country, and all big countries contain good and bad. But what takes the breath away is how blithely the two seem to coexist here. Look at Koh Tao, where two young British backpackers were murdered in September 2014. Seven months later, despite fears that the culprits remained at large, Tripadvisor released its list of the world’s top ten islands. Koh Tao came fifth.