May 23 2014
This post was published the day after the coup; see our most recent update here.
The Thai military staged Thailand’s latest coup without resistance on Thursday — just two days after General Prayuth Chan-ocha invoked martial law while declaring “this is not a coup“. Protesters have been dispersed, broadcasters shut down and a nationwide curfew enacted from 22:00 to 05:00. What does it all mean for travellers?
If you’re in Thailand now or are planning to enter the kingdom soon, the first thing you should do is find out exactly what your travel insurance covers in the case of military coup. This will vary depending on where you’re from and which underwriter covers you. In the words of Travelfish’s recommended travel insurance provider, World Nomads:
Generally — military coups are a general exclusion — which means anything that happens to you because of the coup IS NOT COVERED, but everything else IS. So, fall over and break a leg — you’re covered. Miss a flight because the public transport system is closed — sorry, not covered.
The situation in Bangkok is calm as of Friday afternoon. What was formerly the anti-government protest site near Government House on Ratchadamnoen Nok Road is currently being cleared and cleaned. City buses are shuttling protesters — some of whom have been camped in different parts of Bangkok for over six months — to long-distance bus and train stations where they’re free to go where they please.
A similar clear-and-clean campaign is taking place at what was a second anti-government camp in front of Government Complex on Chaeng Watthana Road in north Bangkok. The formerly pro-government red shirt rally site in west Bangkok is also being cleared, with no problems reported. Red shirt protesters were not happy to see a coup, while it’s viewed as a positive by many in the formerly anti-government camp. All of the former protest areas will remain closed for at least the next couple of days.
No coup-related violence has been reported anywhere in the country, though travellers should continue to avoid Ratchadamnoen Road from Democracy Monument to Sri Ayutthaya Road (see map). Popular tourist attractions near this area, such as Wat Saket, the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, are open as normal. The Khao San Road backpacker area is only slightly quieter than usual, though the curfew will thwart nightlife across the city. All shopping malls and grocery stores will close between 20:00 and 21:00.
While we saw many soldiers in the Democracy Monument vicinity earlier today, it was business as usual in the rest of the city. We had no trouble getting around by taxi, motorbike taxi, skytrain or express boat. The closure of schools (due to reopen on May 25) has made traffic lighter than normal. Military checkpoints have been set up on certain roads, but there’s surprisingly light military presence in most of Bangkok.
All public transport is operating normally during the day, but closing at 21:00. Traffic on Bangkok’s roads and crowds trying to use public transport were much heavier than normal last night. We expect it to be lighter this evening and certainly over the weekend, but it’s best to avoid travel around the city after sunset if possible.
Both Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang international airports are operating as normal, with specially labelled taxis available 24 hours to take travellers who arrive during curfew hours to their hotels. The free shuttle buses between the two airports are also running normally. Airlines are reportedly putting Bangkok-bound passengers on earlier flights if they request it.
While the military has explicitly stated that travellers are allowed to go to the airport during curfew hours, we suggest getting there before 22:00 no matter when your flight departs. We have a piece on a few airport hotels near Bangkok’s primary international airport, while here are the full lists of airport hotels near Suvarnabhumi Airport on Agoda and those near Don Muang Airport on Agoda.
Travellers are advised to carry their passports and other travel documents with them at all times. You’ll also want to keep a copy of your air itinerary or tickets ready if travelling to or from any airport in Thailand during curfew hours. Long distance buses and trains are operating normally during non-curfew hours, and when we called Lomprayah and The Transport Company two of the prime services transporting people by night bus across the country, we were told, on both occasions, night bus services were running as usual.
All TV channels, including local and international news, were forced off the air last night. Announcements and news reports direct from the military are being aired periodically on all stations. Thai channels 3, 5, 9 and 11 will apparently resume broadcasting by this evening. It’s not yet clear whether international news channels will also be back.
The internet has thus far remained largely unaffected, with all local and international news outlets weighing in regularly on their homepages. Social media is also open for business, though it’s very possible that Facebook, Twitter and other sites could be blocked if the military feels they’re being used to stir up unrest. Some Thai TV journalists have resorted to social media to get their reports across.
While the curfew is in place nationwide, the level to which it’s obeyed will likely depend on how remote the location. For example, we’ve heard that some bars stayed open past 22:00 on Ko Phi Phi, and “no one was restricted from walking around“.
Thai borders are being intently guarded by military officials keen to stop certain political figures from leaving the country. Conflicting reports have come from the Thai-Lao borders on who can, and cannot, pass in and out of Thailand overland. This report claims to have come direct from a Lao border official:
Thai cannot go into Laos. Lao cannot go into Thailand. Foreigners can pass freely.
A Japanese man residing in southern Laos has reported:
International buses from Savannakhet to Mukdahan have been cancelled. I decided to go to the border by my motorbike, and trying to walk into (Thailand) by myself. As a result, no problem. They say, foreigners can get in, but Lao can not.
Then there’s this report from yesterday evening:
Traffic across the border was allowed to continue with severe restrictions. Thai commuters were not allowed to leave the country, and foreigners were not permitted to enter.
Have you had problems crossing the Thai border since the coup began? Share your experience in the Travelfish forum >
Signs of peaceful resistance have begun to emerge with small groups gathering at the Defense Ministry and Democracy Monument to protest the coup. As of 18:30 on Friday, a growing group of anti-coup protesters were facing down dozens of soldiers near MBK and Bangkok Art & Culture Centre in the Siam Square area. Some are rightfully concerned that the red shirts will take to the streets, which could trigger a violent crackdown or worse.
The military have explicitly stated that all foreigners and foreign embassies will be protected. Unless you’re not covered by travel insurance due to the coup, we do not feel it’s necessary to cancel your trip. For those who simply don’t want to take the risk or deal with the potential stress, we’ve put together a piece on alternatives to Thailand.
The situation is fluid, and those who are already in Thailand or are planning a trip soon should follow it closely. Along with a thread in the Travelfish forum (linked to above) where travellers can ask questions and offer comments, a Twitter feed with up-to-date info is live on the Travelfish homepage. We also recommend checking in with the Travelfish Facebook page and the following media outlets.
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