May 23 2014

Thailand: What are the alternatives?

Published by at 6:45 am under Coup 2014


So here we are with Thailand yet again in the throes of military rule. The junta (they call themselves the National Peace & Order Maintaining Council) took control on Thursday afternoon, demolished most of the constitution and declared a nationwide curfew from 22:00 to 05:00 daily. Aside from the fact that some people don’t particularly like the idea of holidaying in a country full of soldiers on the prowl, with the potential for serious civil unrest at a moment’s notice, the staging of a coup can invalidate part or all of your travel insurance. So if your tickets are booked and you expected to be heading to the airport tomorrow, you may wish to change your plans (or you may not — Thailand remains calm with no reports of unrest). What to do?

Thailand never fails to put on a good show.

Thailand never fails to put on a good show.

Are you insured?
Before anything else, check with your travel insurance provider (you do have travel insurance right?) that you are still covered while in Thailand. Some providers stopped selling travel insurance to the kingdom the day after the coup was declared. Others, such as Travelfish-recommended World Nomads, still offer cover, but will not cover issues directly related to the coup. As they put it “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.” So read the fine print and if you are not sure, call your insurer.

Insured? Stick your head out the window.

Insured? Stick your head out the window.

Assuming you do have travel insurance coverage, our advice for now is not to change your plans. Continue with your trip to Thailand. Yes, the situation is fast changing and fluid, but it is highly unlikely that the country is going to explode into nationwide violence between now and lunchtime. Keep informed, obviously, but our advice, at this stage — today, before lunch — is to continue with your trip.

But I don’t want to go to Thailand anymore
Some people will just be more comfortable holidaying elsewhere — after all, it is a holiday right? So before you bin the air tickets and pay a fortune to reroute to the Canary Islands, Caribbean or Cairns, consider staying in the region, but just skipping Thailand. Here’s how to do it.

There's none of these in Singapore right?

There’s none of these in Singapore right?

The first thing you want to do is re-route your inbound, long-haul flight from Bangkok to either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore OR organise a transfer from Bangkok to one of the others. While you can also fly direct to Hanoi, Saigon, Jakarta and Manila from around the world, KL and Singapore are the biggest international hubs and are those best served by budget airlines like AirAsia, Jetstar and Tiger Airways. Once that is done, you need to figure out where it is you actually want to go and sort out low-cost tickets from there to the destination of your choosing.

Where to go
Well it depends on what you’re after, so we’re going to use a very broad brush to suggest alternatives to some of the popular centres in Thailand.

Eating in Burma: The India to Thailand culinary transition explained.

Eating in Burma: The India to Thailand culinary transition explained.

Burma (Myanmar)
Direct flights run from Yangon to Bangkok, KL and Singapore. Yangon is arguably Southeast Asia’s greatest old-style Asian city. Fabulous food. Explore the temples of Bagan, go trekking in Shan State or relax at the southern outposts of Hpa-an and Mawlamyine.

Thai island is not in Thailand.

Thai island is not in Thailand.

Cambodia
There are direct flights from Bangkok, KL and Singapore to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Highlights include Angkor Wat, the offshore south coast islands (weather permitting), laidback towns of Kep and Kampot and national park trekking in remote Virachey National Park.

Just an hour from Bali.

Just an hour from Bali.

Indonesia
There are direct flights from Bangkok, KL and Singapore to multiple cities in Indonesia. Try Bali for a fancypants island holiday, Komodo national park or the Togean Islands for fabulous diving, or explore fascinating Java, home to culture hub Yogyakarta and stunning Gunung Bromo.

Lao perfection.

Lao perfection.

Laos
A direct flight runs from Bangkok and KL to Vientiane. Highlights include trekking in the far north, languid Luang Prabang, tubing in Vang Vieng, enormous caves in the south, and, at the far southern end, islands for lolling about on.

Just eat Penang.

Just eat Penang.

Malaysia and Singapore
Direct flights from Bangkok and Singapore to multiple cities in Malaysia. Eat your way through fabulous Penang, slum it on the beaches of Langkawi, the Perhentians or Tioman (weather permitting), trek in Taman Negara National Park, or head over to Borneo for diving in Sabah and hiking in Sarawak. Fit in a few days at the beginning or end in Singapore.

Some underwater ornate thing. Photo Chris Mitchell.

Some underwater ornate thing. Photo Dive journalist Chris Mitchell.

Philippines
Tourists with a bit of cash and a love of beaches should head to Boracay. For cool cities in the tribal, mountainous north, consider Banaue and Sagada. Go trekking into Mt Pinatubo or head to Palawan for rugged wilderness, pristine beaches and across the archipelago, outstanding diving.

(Thanks John, Dave & Chris for Philippines ideas as I’ve never been there!)

Bai Sao, Phu Quoc. Why aren't you there already?

Bai Sao, Phu Quoc. Why aren’t you there already?

Vietnam
There are direct flights to Hanoi and Saigon from Bangkok, KL and Singapore. Head to Sapa in the far north for all your trekking needs. Get your culture fixes in Hanoi, Hue and Hoi An. Beaches are best near Hoi An, north of Nha Trang and way south on glistening Phu Quoc Island.

Not a soldier in sight.

Not a soldier in sight.

Just one spot?
What about if you’re not travelling, but rather spending your vacation in one spot? Here’s a matrix to get you started:

Swap Phuket for Bali, Indonesia or Boracay in the Phillipines.
Swap Bangkok for Saigon, Vietnam or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Swap Chiang Mai for Luang Prabang, Laos or Mandalay in Burma.
Swap Ko Samui for Langkawi in Malaysia.
Swap Ko Pha Ngan for Koh Rong Samloen, Cambodia or the Gili Islands in Indonesia.
Swap Ko Tao for Flores and Komodo, Indonesia or Palawan in the Philippines.

At the end of the day, right now, at this moment, we wouldn’t be changing any plans, but if you’re feeling a bit toey then we hope the above is useful in formulating some alternative plans for your travels.

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