Why I Did Not Change my Travel Plans to Bangkok
Political turmoil exists in many parts of the world at any given time and such was the case on my planned trip to Bangkok in January. An extension of my trip to Singapore for the FlyerTalk SIN Do, I had been looking forward to this portion of my trip for months when the protests began to gather momentum again. I had to make a decision on whether to continue on to Bangkok and stay with my original plans or possibly catch a short flight and spend my time elsewhere. My travel friends had mixed opinions. While some were urging me not to visit the country, others who live in the area (Singapore and Bangkok) encouraged me to continue with my plans.
So what is the best thing to do when faced with a decision like this? It pays to do a little research and learn about any unrest in order to make an informed decision. Interestingly enough, this situation was almost identical to what my husband and I faced on our trip to Istanbul in July. This time, however, I was traveling solo.
I began to learn as much as I could about what was taking place in Bangkok, the major area of protest. In October, government protests began aimed at removing the influence of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from Thai politics. The protests were peaceful in nature until the end of November when a clash between the anti and pro-government groups resulted in 4 deaths and 57 injuries.
Subdued for a while, the protesters then began the ‘Shutdown Bangkok’ movement on the 13th of January, a mere week prior to my planned arrival. When this happened, I was already in Singapore. The anti-government group set out to block five major areas of the city – Pathumwan, Lumpini Park (Silom), Asoke, Larprao and Ratchaprasong. The Ratchaprasong intersection is located a mere 100 meters from the hotel where I had planned to stay – The Grand Hyatt Erawan. I contacted the hotel which provided me with their official statement on what was taking place, and, after reading it and the response from the Hotel Manager, I made my decision to continue on to Bangkok. As it was my first time in the city, I did arrange for car transportation with the hotel which eased my mind quite a bit.
In spite of a few instances of violence, overall the protest rallies were quite peaceful and had more of an air of a huge street party. There were speeches, music performances, and lots of cheering and whistle blowing. Vendors had set up along the streets selling fashion accessories using the colors of the Thai flag (red, white, blue) as well as T-shirts and more food carts crowded the areas of protest. There were even chairs set up for on the street for Thai massage or foot relaxing massage. Many protesters slept in tents around the designated sites.
The staff at the hotel could not have been more helpful during my stay. Each day, I would simply stop at the Concierge desk and discuss what I had planned for the day and phone calls would be made checking on the status of any area I would be visiting. I was advised on which Sky Train stops to use and which areas to avoid if necessary. Every day there would be a letter from the General Manager to the hotel guests apprising us of the situation. And, unless I sought out a few photo opportunities, every trip to and from the hotel was a safe one. I never felt in danger of inadvertently ending up in the middle of a large crowd of protesters. I visited temples, strolled through street markets, dined at curbside carts, and even managed a little shopping. Bangkok is still Bangkok.
Economically, the businesses and people of Thailand are hurting the most from these demonstrations. An article in today’s Bangkok Post noted that revenue in the Ratchaprasong area shopping malls has dropped by 60% since the demonstrations began.Some stores may be forced to reduce staff because of the lack of business. Hotel occupation rates have also dropped from 85-90% to only 20% and many hotels have dropped their rates significantly. So keep in mind that Bangkok will be more than ready to welcome you and your tourist dollars in the coming months.
What are some of the things to do when you are faced with a decision such as mine? Here are some tips:
- Do your research. Is the entire country or city affected or are the areas of unrest limited to certain areas? In my case, I was informed by the hotel and knew which specific areas of Bangkok to avoid as I made my way to various sites around the city.
- Know the danger. It is important to know if the unrest involves attacks that target foreign visitors or is limited to civil unrest among locals. As in the case of Bangkok, few of the demonstration areas were located near the primary tourist attractions and therefore, there was less risk for visitors.
- Be aware. This pretty well goes without saying, but be aware of your surroundings at all times and if you feel that a situation is escalating, find your way back to your hotel as quickly as possible.
- Avoid. Avoid any active protests, demonstrations, and large public gatherings as they may potentially turn violent.
- Embassy or consulate. Find out ahead of your trip if your country has an embassy or consulate in the area. Know its location contact information.
- Register. It may be wise to register your travel plans with the State Department’s STEP program.
- Stay in touch. Be sure that your family and friends are aware of your itinerary. Stay in touch on a regular basis either through phone calls or email. For me, this is where Viber proved indispensible. I could contact my husband or other friends without having to worry about internet connection.
- Have an alternate plan. In my case, I could have chosen to visit another area of Thailand – Chang Mai or one of the islands or coastal areas. If the situation had proven to be untenable, the hotel would have helped me get to the airport safely.
While American tourists are rarely at risk in countries with civil demonstrations, it pays to be aware of what is taking place. Travel warnings are issued by most countries. Here is a list of sites you may find useful. You may also want to download the State Department’s Smart Traveler App for your smartphone.