Thailand and the Global Intimate:
Transnational Marriages, Health Tourism
and Retirement Migration

by Sirijit Sunanta

Working Papers WP 14-02
April 2014
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf

This paper analyzes the positioning of Thailand in the global intimate economy and the ways in which the projection of Thailand as a destination for bodily, sensual and spiritual fulfillment has shaped the kinds of mobility to and from the country. Drawing on existing research on Thailand’s booming health and beauty tourism, the retirement industry, and transnational marriages between Thai women and foreign men, this paper conceptualizes Thailand’s place in the global outsourcing of commodified care and bodily services. The Thai state in close collaboration with the private sector has marketed spicy dishes, spas, surgery, sun, sand and spirituality to attract short term travelers as well as would be residents from increasingly diverse destinations. While sex is not on the official Thai tourism campaign, it has, for four decades, entered the popular knowledge of international visitors and constituted one of the Thai attractions. As a provider in the global service economy, the Thai state and its corporate partners have capitalized on feminized Thai cultural traits such as warmness, hospitality, and servility, as well as bodily and emotional labor performed mostly by Thai women, to compete in the market.      

Sirijit Sunanta is a senior lecturer and chair of the PhD Program in Multicultural Studies at the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia, Mahidol University, Thailand. She received her PhD. in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of British Columbia, Canada, in 2009. Parts of her PhD Dissertation on transnational marriages in Northeast Thailand have been published in leading academic journals and an edited volume. She was a visiting fellow at Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity from May to July 2013. Her current research interests include the globalization of care and intimacy, discourses around ethnic diversity, cultural rights and the multicultural debate in Thailand.