It's a chilly January morning on the streets of Bangkok. Amid the myriad back alleys and lanes, residents hover around open fires and wrap themselves up in woolly hats, warm fleeces and big fat coats. As night-time temperatures plummet to a miserable 20C, workers don thick balaclavas. Last month, for the first time in memory, the Thai king cancelled his birthday speech, due to a chest cold that some commentators said was brought about by a snap of chilly Chinese weather (daytime temperatures are currently 26C).

Thailand has good reason to shiver at the moment. As the world economy takes a hammering, the country is having to fight off not only a huge downturn but also the damaging effects on its tourist industry of demonstrators occupying both of Bangkok's main airports. The beaches and tourist attractions are eerily empty, while the Thai capital's five-star hotels are struggling to fill their rooms.

But while Britain is blasted by Arctic winds, the Thai notion of "winter" is somewhat comical. Consider the dinner table I shared one evening with six Thai army officers in the northern hills, when the night-time temperature was a balmy 18C. These tough-looking military men baulked at this terrifying cold, adorning themselves in jumpers, scarves and woolly gloves. I sat beside them – slightly provocatively, perhaps – in T-shirt and shorts.

Worst off have to be Thailand's dogs. Their owners ignore how thick and lustrous the fur of their pets might be, and clearly believe that the animals will expire during the freezing hell of a Thai night. So they dress them in the most ridiculous get-ups imaginable. I've witnessed Alsatians in pink mini-dresses, Labradors in polka-dot T-shirts and stylish city dogs in "Von Dog" parodies of the Von Dutch brand. Their dignity thus demolished, the dogs of Thailand sit forlornly, praying for the weather to improve. Theirs is truly a winter of discontent.

'Southeast Asia' (Footprint Handbooks) is available now, £16.99