Dec 30 2013
It’s that time of the year and yet again Thailand has failed to disappoint by being in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yes, it’s what you could almost refer to as protest season and some are getting increasingly concerned about the potential for serious disruption in the Thai capital Bangkok in early 2014. So if you’re wanting to insulate your travels from any potential disruption, what should you do?
Before we write another word, at this stage in the closing days of 2013, we see no reason to change one’s travel plans. Talk of “civil war” and large scale nation-wide insurrection, are in our opinion, overblown — for now. Yes, the leadership of the current round of protests has said they plan to “seize Bangkok” but they’ve also been at pains to say the protests will be peaceful and that no move will be made towards the capital’s transport hubs. On both these counts some of the protesters have a very spotty track record, but at this stage, as we wrote last week, do we think you should cancel your trip to Bangkok? No.
However, This Is Thailand, and, well, just about anything could happen. So for the more cautious travellers, or those whose plans will not easily adapt to changed circumstances on the ground, here are some pointers to keep in mind.
Read your insurance small print
You are travelling with adequate travel insurance, right? Be sure to read the small print to check that you are covered should you need to cancel or significantly change your holiday plans. In particular, check that airfares and prepaid accommodation are covered.
Buy a changeable ticket. Some airlines will allow the ticket to have its dates changed or rerouted — often for only a small surcharge. This would be a wise investment.
If the bulk of your travel is in southern Thailand, consider re-routing your ticketing to fly into Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or Singapore. Aside from the obvious overland routes, from KL AirAsia has excellent and often very affordable flight connections into southern Thailand, including Hat Yai, Krabi and Phuket. From Singapore Tiger Airways flies to Hat Yai, Krabi and Phuket and Jetstar flies to Phuket. Bangkok Airways flies from KL to Phuket and Ko Samui and from Singapore to Ko Samui.
If you want to get to northern Thailand from the south without passing through Bangkok, Thai AirAsia flies from Phuket direct to Chiang Mai and Bangkok Airways from Ko Samui to Chiang Mai and (somewhat conveniently for Ko Chang) Ko Samui to Pattaya. Once you’re in Chiang Mai, the north and northeast of Thailand is easy to reach by bus — all without going anywhere near Bangkok. NokAir also flies from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani in the northeast.
Heading to Burma, Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam?
In the unlikely scenario of serious disruption in Bangkok, foreign embassies may be closed. While this isn’t an issue so much for Laos or Cambodia, both of which allow visa on arrival for many nationalities, in the case of Burma and Vietnam, this could be a bit more complicated. Vietnam at least has an online pre-arranged visa available, but in the case of Burma you could get stuck — though it is easy to get a visa for Burma in KL.
While Thailand is to an extent the main gateway to Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, it is possible to get flights from Kuala Lumpur direct to Yangon (Burma), Vientiane (Laos), Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (Cambodia) and Hanoi (Vietnam) and from Singapore to Yangon, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. So again, if either of Bangkok’s airports see significant disruption, KL and Singapore are your friend.
Sit it out
Bear in mind that any serious security issues are likely to flare in Bangkok before anywhere else. While a marked deterioration in the capital is unlikely, it’s even less likely in a tourist centre like Ko Pha Ngan or Ko Samui. Stay abreast of developments, keep an eye on the news, watch for embassy alerts and so on. Some popular embassy alerts include:
Get me outta here!
What if you’re already in Thailand and feel the need to cut your trip short? Thailand has overland border crossings now with all its neighbours, and if you’re in Bangkok the closest practical crossing is via Aranyaprathet to Poipet into Cambodia. There are regular buses from Morchit (Northern) bus station and a twice a day rail service to Aranyaprathet — in the event of a crisis, we’d opt for the bus. For elsewhere in northern Thailand, one of the half dozen plus crossings into Laos would be your best bet. In the south, just keep heading south and cross into Malaysia.
Just to reiterate: we feel that a serious escalation of the situation in Thailand remains unlikely. At no stage have tourists been targeted in any way by the ongoing protests in Bangkok and we feel there would be a move by the military to take control at the first sign of a serious outbreak of violence. That in itself would probably cause further problems however — which is why we advise readers to remain as informed as possible about what is happening in the Thai capital.
Be aware that these protests are occurring against a backdrop of Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej approaching an advanced age and of tight les majeste laws, which means a degree of self-censorship is a feature of the majority of reporting you’ll be reading on this issue.
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