Thailand Protests 2010 – When Violence Breaks Out, Can/Should You Still Travel There?

by brian on April 15, 2010

Loyal reader Cherish sent me the following question:

Hey, I hope all is well with you!

I have a friend who was scheduled to travel to Thailand at the beginning of May. It’s his first time going to Asia and his buddy is pretty scared and wants to re-route the trip. Do you have any suggestions (other than the travel.state.gov) for where he can get realistic/up-to-date information on Americans travalling to bangkok… maybe a local blog site or something that I can send him? You’re the travel-guru, so I figured I’d ask!

Thanks,
Cherish

This is a real concern for people who are heading to Thailand or any other hotspot.

Mexico had travel plans cancelled when swine flu broke out and more recently after violence in border towns related to drug trafficking.

Kenya had riots in late 2007 over their presidential elections that caused many trips to be rerouted to Tanzania.

Paris has had youth riots with rock throwing and burning cars in 2005 and 2009.

The USA had the Rodney King verdict sparked LA riots back in 1992.

Thailand’s Red Shirts

thailandprotests1 Thailand Protests 2010   When Violence Breaks Out, Can/Should You Still Travel There?
Credit: Flickr/SpecialKRB

No country is immune from civil unrest. So what can you do if you have travel planned for a locale where the usual images of sunny beaches, great food and interesting artifacts is replaced with shouting protesters and burning cars and dead in the streets?

- Find blogs and Twitter accounts of people in the place where the problem is
Check out this blog post from Arthur Frommer where he warned people not to go to Thailand at all. Then in the comments, the consensus was Thailand was safe – from people who are on the ground in Thailand. As far as I know Frommer is not in Thailand and is basing his recommendation from news reports and his own feeling about the situation. I would trust information from people who are there.

So how do you find these people. How about simply putting

Thailand blog

or
ex-pat in Thailand blog

in your favorite search engine. Or entering those same phrases in the Twitter search engine. People are constantly tweeting about conditions in Thailand and elsewhere around the world AS IT HAPPENS. No delay waiting for your favorite news station to broadcast or website to get updated. Twitter has become an instant and seemingly credible news source for those who can access it.

One hint: If you read that ex-pats (people who have moved to another country for work or school) are leaving, you shouldn’t go. They have been there long enough to know the culture and when to get out. There is NO indication that ex-pats in Thailand are leaving en masse. None at all.

I was in Athens when there was rioting by farmers. I heard explosions when I was out food shopping, saw the protest and got out of the way. My time in Athens was not interrupted and I hardly noticed anything was going on.

Now if you saw a 60 second segment on TV, you might have avoided Athens thinking there was anarchy in the streets. Far from the case, which is why info from people who are actually there is so vital.

And I was next door in Cambodia when protesters closed Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok’s main airport and the hub for Southeast Asia. Again this looked really bad from afar, with thousands of tourists trapped at the airports. But the airports opened and everyone went home… eventually.

Everyone got home alright and the people who were in Thailand did not experience any problems beyond being severely inconvenienced. Some, like me, were out of money initially because I had to change my flight plans to get to Hong Kong, but that was all reimbursed.

Two people I know that are in Bangkok right now and who have info on their blogs and/or Twitter feeds are
Jodi from Legal Nomads

You can easily find others.
- Use your embassy resources
Checking in with your embassy before you get there is always a good idea. Cherish mentioned the US State Department, and each country has travel warnings for its citizens. The problem is that the travel warnings and advisories that come from government agencies tend to be a blanket statement not to go to a certain place without any specifics.
Also the agency might err on the side of caution (which is not a bad thing) and just steer you away from any potential conflict, even when not necessary.

- Go with Your Gut
Even after reading news reports, first person blogs and Twitter feeds and you’re still nervous about going, just don’t go.

You can’t enjoy yourself if you’re constantly worried that something is going to happen.
Hopefully you have travel insurance that will help reroute you to a different destination or reimburse if you absolutely have to cancel.

Remember part of the reason we travel is the see the rest of the world for what it really is, without the filter of media. Don’t let 10 second video snippets stop you from traveling in the first place. Try to get first person accounts of what’s happening on the ground. Shots of bloodied faces and rioters turning over cars tells a dramatic story that brings in big ratings, but may have nothing to do with your trip. And may be a very small part of what is really going on.

thailandprotests2 Thailand Protests 2010   When Violence Breaks Out, Can/Should You Still Travel There?
Credit: Flickr/pittaya

Anyone in Thailand right now want to chime in on what you are seeing and hearing? Would you discourage people from visiting just Bangkok or the entire country? Every been caught up in riots or civil unrest in your travels? Help fellow travelers with your comments below.

468x60 Thailand Protests 2010   When Violence Breaks Out, Can/Should You Still Travel There?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy Jones April 15, 2010 at 6:47 PM

My comment is only based on speculation from what I have read, so I am not a first hand source by any means for people who are going in the immediate future.

From what I understand the Thai people do not want the protests to affect or sometimes be even noticed by visitors. Some equate it to an internal struggle pure and simple.

With that being said unless the entirety of Bangkok goes under a mass emergency and some form of military rule / major crack down occurs, I am still going there in December. As far as I can tell the Thai people are not willing to resort to violence to get their point across which is a major point that people should take note of in this situation.

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Jeremy Jones April 15, 2010 at 6:48 PM

On a side note, I am more afraid of the Tea Party here in the US then almost all forms of protesters anywhere in the world. But thats just me (meant to be taken in humor)

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Aussie Expat in Bangkok April 15, 2010 at 10:50 PM

As an expat living in Bangkok for the last 12 months, I would like to encourage people from around the world to continue visiting Thailand.

Take the time to inform yourself about the current state of the protests before you come and check that the hotel you intend to stay at is not in one of the hot spot areas.

If you keep yourself informed of the current situation while you are here then you should be able to keep yourself very safe from violence. Some tourists have taken to visiting the Red Shirt protest sites as an interesting sight seeing trip. I would not recommend visiting the protests because if there is going to be any violence then that is where it will occur.

The Thai people are gentle and kind and foreigners are in no way a target from this unrest. This is a domestic debate that is all part of Thailand becoming a more open and strong democracy in the future

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TheRealCherish April 15, 2010 at 11:01 PM

Thanks so much for sharing this!! I referred my friend to your blog and he was really impressed by the info. He is considering making the trip solo, which many of us at work encouraged him to do because he seems to really have his heart set on seeing Thailand.

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AdventureRob April 16, 2010 at 12:27 AM

I find it quite annoying people dishing out information when they are not really 'in the know' about what's happening, or even worse when they have no experience on the place at all simply writing online what they read elsewhere.

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Legal Nomads April 16, 2010 at 8:04 AM

Hi Brian, thanks for tagging me in your post.

I've been in Bangkok since mid-February, and have been in the middle of the peaceful rallies and have also jumped on the back of a motorcycle to film/photograph the mobile red march. In addition, I got stuck in the not-so-peaceful protest last Saturday (I can now cross off 'getting tear gassed' from my bucket list…sigh) and have continued to follow the news and the Twitter feeds/blogs of those on the ground here.

In my personal opinion, I would encourage people to come to Thailand, as well as Bangkok itself. My parents are currently visiting me here, and they were surprised to see how Bangkok is truly 'business as usual' despite the news coverage saying otherwise. I brought them to Ratchaprasong today, to see where the reds were gathered and to show them how peaceful it has been. Yes, things did get ugly on Saturday – but it is important to keep in mind (1) that this is the 4th time a State of Emergency has been declared since 2008 and that coup attempts have been extremely frequent throughout the 20th century and (2) that the 'ugly' part was concentrated to an extraordinarily small part of the city. Without detracting from the tragedy of the deaths last Saturday, it is important to contextualise the activities here. In addition, I think it is important not to declare a whole country as 'off limits' because of an isolated series of events in its capital.

I'm not a journalist by any means, but I was at several of the rallies and have also rounded up relevant news, blogs and pictures from the red shirt protests. If you are interested, you can check these links here – http://legalnomads.blogspot.com/search/label/Red%20Shirt%20Protests%202010

Jodi

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brian April 16, 2010 at 9:24 AM

@Jeremy Jones
The Thai people try to hide visitors from their issues, they don't think it is that big of a deal, or both.

I remember when I first got to Bangkok I tried to ask my taxi driver about the shooting btw Cambodia and Thailand on their shared border. He basically said, "Everything is OK. No problems here."

I ended up traveling by van from Bangkok to Siem Reap over the border and I had forgotten there was even an incident.

@Aussie Expat in Bangkok
Completely agree with you. I would not run towards the protests. Even my pics in Athens of riot police were at a distance. I didn't want to someone to take a club to my head.

@TheRealCherish
Thanks so much for your question. It made for a great post and I hope your friend was reassured by what he read here.

@AdventureRob
I have tremendous respect for Arthur Frommer and how he is an advocate for those of us who love travel. He has his opinion that I disagree with but he is a wealth of info you can't ignore because we disagree on this particular subject.

@LegalNomads
Jodi, thanks so much for your writing and Twitter posts. I have been keeping up thru you, Gary and others who are giving us the real scoop.

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Anonymous April 22, 2010 at 1:17 AM

Thanks Jodi … that was reassuring.. we are planning a visit to Phuket and Pattaya from the 1st of May to the 11th of May .. I assume nothing much has changed since your last post on the 16th .. please let me know if you foresee any escalation in the situation in the coming weeks and if so, whether that should worry us at all about our visit.

Shyam.

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brian April 22, 2010 at 11:41 AM

@Anon
You should definitely follow Jodi if you want to stay on top of the situation in Thailand.

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Anonymous April 28, 2010 at 1:09 PM

Hi guys,

Please can you keep me informed about the situation from your side?

I am traveling to Bangkok with a friend on 10th May for two days before heading to Chiang Mai for about 6 days and then down south around all the islands for about 3 weeks before heading back to Bangkok (for about 4 days).

We're both ill at ease with the reports of political unrest and the advice from the foreign office against heading out there. I have planned to go to Thailand for over a year now, and it would be heartbreaking to not go.

Please can you give us any updates?

Many thanks,

Ivy and Katie

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brian April 30, 2010 at 7:38 PM

@Ivy and Katie
Bangkok is still having problems, but the rest of the country seems OK. There have been sporadic shootings and clashes btw the govt and protesters with deaths reported.

Again this was the situation last week so in that sense things have not changed. If you're looking for a signal that everything is back to normal and it is completely safe to travel to Thailand, that won't happen for a while. The political unrest lingers.

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Legal Nomads May 1, 2010 at 4:29 AM

Hey everyone! Jodi here again. As most of you know, several foreign offices (the UK, the US and Canada) recently updated their travel warnings to advise against all non-essential travel to the Kingdom of Thailand as a whole. Thus, despite the fact that from a 'ground' level the situation has not worsened markedly, those of you traveling here ought to check your travel insurance policies to see whether or not you will be covered if you are injured (unrelated to the protests – just a regular injury) whilst in the country. World Nomads insurance has posted a'what it means for you' article re Thailand: http://journals.worldnomads.com/safetyhub/post/57228.aspx.

While I am not advocating ignoring these warnings by any means, practically not much has changed here in Bangkok. Several parts of the city remain off limits – Ratchaprasong and Silom's Sala Daeng area primarily. There are now soldiers at every BTS stop that I've been to, and they are all armed. I would recommend staying away from the red shirt protests entirely – the initial 'festival like' atmosphere of March has certainly hardened. As Thailand has had many unfortunate stand-offs like this one in the past, residents are fairly blase: going out to bars/pubs is the same as always, no one even gives the soldiers on the BTS a second look. The luxury hotels around the protest side have been hit the hardest, and with some additional activity in the North of Thailand by the redshirts, tourism is certainly down. My point is merely that on an hour-to-hour basis, you do not feel the impact – and I still find it surreal to see the juxtaposition of realities all around me.

For updated information, follow one of these:

1) If you are on Twitter, I have a Thailand list that includes those journalists on the ground and/or the people who have been providing live translations of speeches by the reds, the PM and others as they happen. Links is here: http://twitter.com/legalnomads/thailand

2) Travelfish's State of Emergency board is updated very often with the latest info: http://www.travelfish.org/board/post/thailand/10221_state-of-emergency-declared-in-bangkok

Sorry that this post is so long – am happy to provide any additional answers to the extent I can, but those on the lists above are certainly more qualified than me.

Best,
Jodi

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