BANGKOK - Thailand's exports rose a much faster than expected 19.5% in March from a year earlier, boosted by surging shipments of gold and electronics, customs department data showed.

That compares with a forecast for a rise of 2.4% in March in a Reuters poll and February's 16.2% increase. Imports rose 18% year-on-year in March, also beating a forecast 8.9% increase in the poll.

The value of exports, a key driver of Thai growth, was a record $28.86 bln in March, while imports were also at an all-time high of $27.40 bln in March, resulting in a trade surplus of $1.46 bln in the month, according to the customs department.

In March, exports of gold were 11 times higher than a year earlier while shipments of hard disk drives rose 68% year-on-year and passenger cars increased 14%.

March's imports were led by crude, electronics, and natural gas.

The commerce ministry is planning to hold a briefing on the March trade data early next week.

Earlier this month, the national shippers' group said the growth of exports could slow to 2-4% in the second quarter due to uncertainty over the war in Ukraine.

(Reporting by Orathai Sriring, Editing by Ed Davies)