The growth of Bangkok – Part 6


The growth of Bangkok – Part 6


This is the sixth and final part of our series on the growth of Bangkok since its inception as a makeshift capital in 1782 through to its current place as a genuine megalopolis. Among the reasons for the rapid expansion from the 1950s onwards were higher wages, greatly improved rural roads, the Second Indochina War, and industrialisation.


In 1950, Thailand had only 6,000 kilometres of national highways, with just 800 kilometres paved. By 1966, this had increased to just over 11,000 kilometres, half of it paved. The improvement in the roads led to the rise of bus services from the provinces to the capital, thereby aiding the migration of the rural population into Bangkok.


It was during the 1950s that wages in Bangkok began to significantly outstrip those in the rural regions, thus making a move to the city more attractive.


The downside of this influx was the rise of the urban slum, especially noticeable during the 1960s. The growth in slums paralleled the building and extension of highways linking the countryside to Bangkok, as well as the spread of television and radio. This encouraged rural dwellers, especially the young, to make the move into the bright lights of the city.


The Second Indochina War, more colloquially called the Vietnam War (1965-1973), led to an interesting economic phenomena. The large numbers of American servicemen and women who were either based in Thailand or came here on leave spent the equivalent of 30 to 40 percent of total exports. The huge cash injected into the economy meant many people saw an opportunity to set up tourism related businesses, and most of these were, of course, in Bangkok, where the Americans were.


By 1975, people working in the capital were, on average, earning twice that of any other region. By the 1980s Bangkok accounted for some 30 percent of Gross National Product (GNP).


In 1986, the export of manufactured goods exceeded that of agricultural products for the first time. It was in this decade that tourism became the number one export earner for a period of time.


Between 1960 and 1990, industrial production grew at around 12-13 percent a year, compared with agricultural productivity that had increased at just three percent.


In 1951, agriculture accounted for slightly more than 50 percent of Gross Domestic Product. This dropped to just over 12 percent by 1990.


Manufacturing, worth just 10 percent in 1951 had grown to slightly more than 39 percent of GDP by 1990, most of it concentrated in and around Bangkok. It was this labour-intensive sector of the economy, providing a cheap workforce for manufacturers that saw the population of the capital increase to nearly seven million by 1990, turning Bangkok into the megalopolis we see in the twenty-first century.