If you are planning a trip to Thailand or Bangkok, or flying there over the next few days, you can’t have failed to notice the news stories of political protests. If they have you worried, concerned or even considering changing your plans, then read on to get some expert tips on how to stay safe in protest hotspots and not let the political situation affect your trip.
On January 21st 2014 the Thai government issued a state of emergency in Bangkok and the surrounding areas to tackle the mass protests aimed at overthrowing the government. These protests have in recent weeks caused disruption around the city.
Predictably, this has led to the British Foreign Office and other state departments issuing cautions for visiting Bangkok and the mass media rehashing old stories of military crackdowns and using inflammatory diatribe with terms such as ‘deadly violence’ and ‘bloody violence’ in order to evoke a visceral emotional response and sell more papers. Again, predictably, this has led to a rash of backpackers and travellers worrying whether it is safe to carry on with their planned journey or even visit at all.
What’s it all about?
Basically the protesters want a ‘peoples council’ to be put in place as an emergency measure while the current prime minister is forced out and a new government sworn in, because they believe that the current government is being controlled by the former deposed leader who is living in semi exile to avoid corruption charges. The Thai government is refusing to step down and is accusing the protesters of trying to initiate another coup, but has called for elections in February.
The reality of the situation.
Despite some isolated violent incidents and the reported ‘shutdown of the city’, the protests have been predominantly peaceful with the protest leaders specifically distancing themselves from any form of violent action, and the government stating specifically they have no wish to have a confrontation. Hardly a war zone, is it?
You have to remember as well that Bangkok is a very large city, and the protests have occured in isolated and small parts of that city making them easy to avoid. Tourists and travellers can still visit the city very easily, very safely and without incident. There are hotspots of course, but these are easily avoided for anyone who still wishes to visit, and life carries on as normal in the absolute vast majority of the city. The same was true for the last protests in Bangkok, and was even true in cities such as Cairo in the Arab spring uprisings. It is just a shame that due to the mass media the rest of the world assume the entire city or even country is engulfed with waves of protests and violence because of constant streaming of isolated incidents.
What to do and how to stay safe.
- As with any ongoing political rally, the situation will be very fluid. Hotspots and rally points may change, so keep an eye on the news and listen to local advice. Local news websites such as the Bangkok post and social media such as twitter are generally excellent ways to keep up to date.
- Evaluate the situation constantly. Most of the time the situation will be absolutely safe and you will be fine in most of the city. If things do escalate or the trouble spots get closer to where you are, then simply reevaluate the situation and act accordingly.
- Avoid any protest areas as much as possible. On the whole this will not be a problem as they tend to be in small, isolated areas and are generally away from tourist spots or backpacker hangouts. If they do occur near somewhere you want to see or stay, then simply stay somewhere else away from it and go see something else. It really is that easy.
- If you do find yourself inadvertently near to or in the middle of a protest area then simply walk away. It really is that simple. Get off street level and head to the skytrain bridges or get inside a shopping mall (many are linked to the MRT system which makes things easier) that will allow an easy exit.
- This really should go without saying, but don’t get involved!
- The Thai’s are fantastic at showing their allegiance through unofficial uniforms. The red and yellow shirts became synonymous with the protests a few years back, and coloured shirts are also worn on the birthdays of the monarchy or other significant events. I don’t care how cool they may look on you, don’t be tempted to wear any clothing that identifies you with the protesters, including that with the colours of the Thai flag, as this may mark you out as a supporter of the protests and get you in trouble with the police, even deported. Remember, stay neutral and don’t get involved!
- Remember you are not a foreign correspondent in a war zone, don’t run into any protest area trying to get a few photos! If you go looking for trouble, it is likely to find you!
- Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism has set up tourism assistance centres at both airports with help desks at numerous BTS skytrain stations and MRT stations, and the Thai Tourism Police are always available to offer assistance.
A lot of these tips may seem like common sense. That’s because they are. No one is denying that there are protests occuring or that the risk of things escalating are not there, but there is absolutely no need to fuel the media driven paranoia and change the light bulb to red for a full on panic mode (extra points for getting that reference)! Common sense, keeping yourself informed, and avoiding trouble spots will reduce any risk to acceptable levels and allow you to enjoy this wonderful and amazing city in all its glory.