Thailand is fast shaping up to be one of the key players in the ASEAN Economic Community, which is set to become officially established in 2015 and expected to significantly increase the region's economic strength.
The kingdom's location, entrepreneurial business environment and reputation as a leading global tourist destination all give it the edge, but the government and private sector are also keen to implement strategies in the next two to five years that will help Thailand shine on the regional stage.
Infrastructure improvements are already underway in many countries across the region to facilitate better cross border travel and trade, Thailand included, with expanded road and rail links likely to offer visitors more transport options within and between the countries that will make up the community.
Thailand recently announced the first of five high-speed rail projects that will cost an estimated 980 billion Baht (32 billion USD). The government says that by 2017, visitors to and residents of Bangkok will be able to reach the northern city of Chiang Mai in just three and a half hours, opening up the kingdom's second metropolis to a predicted 34,800 passengers daily.
The trains will travel at 250 km per hour and officials say they will also provide the kingdom's most environment friendly form of public transport, based on the amount of fuel used per passenger. The high speed link will also boost tourism to Thailand's increasingly popular northern provinces and several large companies have already announced plans to launch new retail and hospitality projects in the city in anticipation of a rise in visitor numbers.
Travel time by rail on the 745 km journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is currently seven hours, which means most visitors arrive by air. Upgrades to the airport are also planned, as well as improvements to the city's Ring Road, which is increasingly grid-locked during peak hours.
Other high sped rail links planned from the Thai capital include Bangkok to Nong Khai near the border with Laos, Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani, Bangkok to Rayong, and Bangkok to Padang Besar on the southern border with Malaysia.
Another area of importance being stressed by leading figures in Thailand in the lead up to AEC is English language skills. A high demand for international education and English programmes is expected to continue when the AEC comes into effect as several countries in the community such as Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines already count large numbers of English speakers among their populations.
A recent article in the Bangkok Post quoted Khun Chanwit Tubsuphan, acting secretary-general of the Office of the Private Education Commission (Opec) as saying the number of private schools with English Programmes has increased from 144 in 2008 to 162 in 2012, while the number of English Programme students rose from 35,800 in 2008 to 54,800 in 2012.
In all, 400 state and private schools across the country are now offering English language training to hundreds of thousands of students, which officials hope will mean that the general level of English proficiency improves in Thailand allowing for greater efficiency and ease of trade with other countries in the AEC.