BANGKOK — Each year since 2016, about 320,000 Swedes visit Thailand. One of them is ambassador Staffan Herrstrom.
Ambassador Herrstrom, 64, has been stationed in Thailand since 2015, having previously taken diplomatic posts in Vietnam and Poland. He helms the diplomatic relations between the most populous Nordic country and Thailand, with its various points of contact, one of the most visible ones being the people.
“I’ve found Thai restaurants and massage places in the most random places in Sweden,” Herrstrom said. “This is a reflection of contact which has its origins in tourism. A Swede might vacation here and find a future wife.”
Of the one-third of a million visitors a year, some decide to stay. Many of the approximately 10,000 Swedish expats are retired in Phuket, Hua Hin, Pattaya, Rayong, Chiang Mai, and in Isaan.
The embassy also issues about 18,000 tourist visas a year for Thais going to Sweden. However, the outlier in this data is that there is a whopping 80,000 people with Thai background living in Sweden.
Some Thai expats in Sweden have returned to Thailand to make it big in the entertainment industry. Kanticha “Ticha” Chumma, winner of modelling reality show The Face Season 2 as well as Philip Thinroj, the winner of the show’s male modelling season, The Face Men, both grew up in Sweden.
Top: Khaosod English’s interview with Philip Thinroj. He speaks Swedish at 9:30.
Herrstrom also credited the close relationship between the two countries’ royal families as contributing to good bilateral relations.
The late King Bhumibol and Queen Mother Sirikit and Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia met each other on state visits throughout King Rama IX’s reign. Sweden even held a ceremony to honor the late king, who was a Knight of the Swedish Royal Order of the Seraphim, in Oct. 2017 in Stockholm.
“The present royal couple are also very close,” Herrstrom said.
Most recently, Queen Silvia visited Thailand in February 2018 on a trip for her World Childhood Foundation program.
In April 2004, King Bhumibol gifted two Thai elephants to King Carl XVI Gustaf, Bua and Saonoi, which are now in Kolmarden Zoo. King Carl and Queen Silvia visited the zoo in 2013 to see Namsai, Bua and Saonoi’s new calf.
Going Green Like Greta?
The most talked-about Swede worldwide is Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist inciting the world to “panic” about climate change, and warning us about “mass extinctions,” and other impending harms upon the planet.
Recently, Thailand has spawned her own version of Greta: 11-year-old Ralyn “Lilly” Satidtanasarn, who has a foot in the door with powerful corporate executives to lobby for malls to reduce plastic use.
“Lilly is a fantastic girl,” Herrstrom said. “It’s fantastic that Greta, Lily, and all the Gretas and Lillys all around the world are mobilizing.”
Greta’s “flygskam,” or flight shame movement, which discourages people from using plane travel for environmental reasons, hasn’t had an affect on tourist numbers to Thailand yet, Herrstrom said, but it has affected domestic travel within Sweden as people opt to take trains instead.
About 70 to 80 Swedish companies have offices in Thailand, with some such as home appliance manufacturer Electrolux, food packaging company Tetrapak, and Volvo having some production operations here. Sweden-Thai bilateral trade is around USD1 billion, or 30.4 billion baht, a year.
But of course, none are as wildly popular as furniture store giant Ikea, which already has two branches in Bangkok.
“Our trade is defined by Ikea,” Herrstrom said. “The image of Sweden is influenced by Ikea, in the private sector.”
The ambassador’s favorite Ikea item?
“This thing which you close bags with. You press them together,” Herrstrom said, making bag-sealing motions with his fingers. “I use them every day.”
Although he couldn’t recall the name, he was most likely referring to the Bevara sealing clips, available at the stores for 39 baht for a set of 10. (Note: this article is not sponsored in any way by Ikea)