Over the past few weeks tensions have been rising in the Thai political scene and over the weekend, and this week, have continued to escalate. Several people have asked me if I would go to Bangkok right now. I have, in fact, been looking at a late January business trip to Bangkok which I will likely delay.
I am not a safety and security expert, nor do I have official information about the situation (other than what everyone can read on the State Department & US Embassy Thailand website.) I have been able to call a few friends in Bangkok, one who is a civilian working in the embassy, to ask about the situation.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok has urged U.S. citizens to avoid large gatherings in the city and to ensure they have a stock of cash and essential items in case the situation deteriorates.
In short – Anti-government protesters have launched a campaign to shut-down the Thai government and claim that Thailand has been held hostage by the corrupt financial interests of former (and exiled) Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his corrupt comrades and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who is the current Prime Minister.
Conservative groups in Thai society, including the middle class and those in southern communities have normally backed the ruling party (backed by the Royal Family.) The opposition party, consists mainly of voters from rural regions and the North and Northeast and tend to support the Prime Minister.
Earlier this week, the leader of the protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, threatened to detain the current Prime Minister. It has now been reported that she has left her home in the Bangkok suburbs and is moving through a series of secret locations. The protesters have threatened to escalate the protests if the Prime Minister doesn’t resign by the end of this week.
The protesters have blocked off key intersections in the capitol city and more than 170,000 protestors have filled the streets and parks. In 2006, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup and in 2008, a similar antigovernment protest movement blockaded Bangkok’s two international airports for more than a week.
Tuesday night, two people were shot and wounded, an explosive device was thrown at an opposition leader’s house, buses were set on fire and several police officers were attacked. On Saturday, seven people were wounded after gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on anti-government protesters in Bangkok’s central district. The same day clashes between pro and anti-government protesters left 6 people wounded. Eight people, including two police officers, have been killed and dozens have been injured in violence between protesters, police and government supporters in recent weeks.
As a tourist or business person working in Bangkok, you have to take your safety very seriously. You never know when a mob will turn violent or one individual will shoot into a crowd. In addition to the embassy’s warming to stay away from crowds, my friends in Bangkok have also suggested staying out of the areas where protests are occurring.
Impact on Tourism
The protests are having a major impact on tourism. The most serious impact comes from the inability to get around the city easily. It is impossible to get to several areas by car due to the protesters who have shut down major intersections. There have been reports of taxi cab drivers charging astronomical amounts just because they can. Public transpiration is the primary way locals are getting around right now, and my friends report that the BTS and MRT are jam packed.
The areas where protests are being held include: Victory Monument, Lad Prao Intersection, Phatumwan Intersection (MBK indoor market/Siam Paragon Mall), Ratchprasong Intersection (Central World, Grand Hyatt Erwan, St Regis Hotel), Asoke Intersection (Terminal 21 mall, Westin Bangkok, Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit), Sala Daeng Intersection (Silom/Patpong and financial district) and Wireless Road (embassy row, Conrad Bangkok) . Unfortunately, many of these areas are central to tourist destinations.
What Should I Do?
One of my fellow bloggers, Susan of Southern Travel Girl, asked me what she should do. Last night I was somewhat conflicted. After reading more today and talking with friends my suggestion is to avoid Bangkok right now (as much as I hate saying that). I am delaying my trip. If you already have plans to be there in the immediate timeframe, here are some things to consider:
- Talk to your hotel (a manager on duty) and ask them to help you find alternate accommodations in another region.
- Consider flying from Bangkok to Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui or other islands that are isolated from the Bangkok protests. (It’s important to note that violence can break out anywhere. Two years ago I was in Phuket while there ware protests in Bangkok and there was a bombing at the old Phuket marina (not the tourist marina) and a man was killed. But you’re less likely to get swept up by protesting mobs.
- Consider visiting the North, Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, where you’ll find beautiful weather (it’s winter there technically) and a lot of outdoorsy things to do.
- If you’re not comfortable going to Thailand, consider a trip to nearby Singapore, Malaysia or Hong Kong. You could also visit Vietnam or Cambodia but both of those require visas for US Citizens (the process to apply is simple and can be done online, but takes a few days – week to process sometimes. )
In the end, you have to do what you feel comfortable with. My fear is that tourism will take a big hit because of this and people will be afraid to go to the country I fell in love with 5 years ago. While I will postpone my trip a few weeks, I will absolutely go back.
These pictures were taken by a friend yesterday. He and his friends are visiting Thailand for the first time. I was actually somewhat mortified (and scared for them) when he said they went to check out the protests! Thank goodness he is safe and on his way home. He gave me permission to share some photos: