Russian Elites Are Transforming Thailand’s Biggest Island as They Become More Unwelcome in the West

Thailand has long been a top destination for tourists. But one group in particular is now flocking to Phuket, the country’s largest island: Russian elites.

While many Russians are getting turned away from Western countries, thanks to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, they’re finding a friendly welcome in Thailand, Bloomberg reported on Thursday. From January to June of this year, more than 790,000 Russian nationals arrived in the country, a whopping 1,000 percent increase from the same time last year, according to the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports. More than half of those people flew into Phuket, with Russians being the No. 1 group of tourists to the island, the Phuket Tourist Association said.

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“The atmosphere for everybody is wonderful and peaceful,” Yuri Vorona, a restaurant manager in Phuket, told Bloomberg. “We have everyday Russians, who just want to rest and not fight.”

And Russians aren’t just stopping by for a quick visit—a good deal of them are snapping up property, too. In Phuket, 338 villas were sold last year, with about half of them going to Russians, according to data from the real-estate agency Knight Frank Thailand. And Christian Steinbach, the sales director at the FazWaz property group, told Bloomberg that Russian speakers are the biggest nationality of buyers on the island.

While Russians in general seem to be enjoying all Thailand has to offer, the country’s ultra-wealthy have also made their presence known. A superyacht said to be owned by the Russian oligarch Alexander Svetakov was seen in Phuket around Christmas, and the billionaire Igor Rybakov held business-coaching classes there in January.

In response to this influx of Russians, Thailand and its locals are adapting to the new population: Phuket’s airport makes announcements in Russian now, and you can find Russian delicacies like borscht and blini alongside more traditional Thai fare like pad thai and tom yum soup. There are also Russian bathhouses, Russian rock concerts, and a Russian consulate that just opened this month.

If Russian expats continue their migration to Thailand, Phuket may soon become known as the “Little Russia” of the East.

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