Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
First published 26th November, 2008
This story refers to an earlier period of civil mayhem in Bangkok. For more information on the current (May 2010) debacle you want to check this story and this forum thread. Thanks!
Long-running protests in Bangkok have escalated this week with protesters overrunning Thailand's main international airport, Suvarnabhumi International Airport, resulting in flight cancellations across the board. All flights in and out of the capital have ceased -- the capital's second airport, Don Muang has also been closed. Some carriers have been using alternative gateways -- primarily Chiang Mai in the north of the country and Phuket in the south, but for the bulk of travellers wanting to move in or out via the country's top gateway, Thailand is closed for business. So what to do? Here are some suggestions on ways to mitigate disruption to your holiday.
What's this all about?
In a nutshell, the yellow-shirted protesters want either the government to resign or the military to intervene by staging a coup. It's a long-running, complicated and seemingly neverending saga, but from a foreign traveller's perspective, the following points are important:
a) This is an internal, political drama -- foreigners are not, and have not been, targetted in any way whatsoever.
b) The yellow team, or the protesters in the yellow shirts, are the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). They claim to be royalists, want the sitting government dissolved, want ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra extradited to Thailand for trial, and want Thailand's electoral system altered from one-vote one-person to a bizarre quasi-appointed government. Their primary support stems from the Bangkok elite and some segments of the middle class.
c) The red team, or the protesters in the red shirts, are the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). They also say they are devoted to the King and are pro-monarchy, but they want the sitting government to remain sitting, want Thaksin to return to Thailand and lead the country, and want Thailand's electoral system to stay how it is. Their primary support stems from working class Thais and in particular rural Thais.
d) The yellow team are the ones who have shut down the airports and in the past the train system and feeder roads into Bangkok. They've also occupied Government House. Generally speaking the yellow team are far more high profile than the red team.
e) When the red and yellow team have clashed, violence has occured, including the occasional death.
How does this affect you?
Well, as long as you're not flying into or out of one of Bangkok's airports, the biggest affect is likely to be traffic jams in the capital. The country remains safe. There have been no attacks whatsoever aimed at foreign travellers.
So why is my government putting out travel alerts?
Because foreign governments are very conservative and are very prone to make sure they cover their own backsides.
That said, the situation as it stands is fluid and could change very quickly. If the military step in, or if force is used to clear the protesters out of the international airports, there could well be a lot of casualties. That the PAD name their protests "Hiroshima" and "Nagasaki" says a lot about where they think this is heading.
So should you still go to Thailand?
As things stand, we'd say yes, but we'd suggest planning the vast majority of your trip outside Bangkok, as nearly all of the country is totally unaffected by these dramas. However, if matters were to deteriorate in Bangkok -- and we believe that if they do deteriorate, they will do so very quickly and severely -- then we'd suggest altering your plans immediately.
I don't feel safe going to Bangkok, what should I do?
The first thing you need to do is talk to your travel agent or contact your airline and read the small print on your travel insurance carefully -- you've got travel insurance right?
Next step is to change your hub. Assuming you're able to change your ticket we'd suggest flying into either Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, or Singapore. Neither country requires a visa for most nationalities and both are budget airline hubs -- Kuala Lumpur for AirAsia and Singapore for Jetstar and Tiger Airways. From either of these cities you can then catch a low cost flight into Cambodia (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap), Laos (Vientiane) southern Thailand (Phuket, Krabi, Hat Yai) and Vietnam (Saigon, Hanoi).
If you want to visit areas of Thailand outside Bangkok, look at flying into Siem Reap or Vientiane and crossing overland into northeast and eastern Thailand. Note you will have difficulty getting from southern Thailand to northern Thailand without passing through Bangkok -- the majority of domestic flights pass through the capital. If you're travelling overland you can go from Ratchaburi to Kanchanaburi to Suphanburi and then continue north, without passing through Bangkok.
Remember, Thailand is, by and large, a very safe country
These protests are localised and foreigners have not been targetted. We'd suggest it would be prudent to keep your distance from the protests as there have been random shootings and bombings and people have been injured and killed.
If you've got the time and ability to be flexible, we'd suggest just rearranging your itinerary to dodge Bangkok. If that's not possible, we'd suggest switching to a neighbouring country -- Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are all terrific locations this time of year.
Watch the news and check travel websites for on-the-ground reports. Matters could flare up very quickly or die down just as fast. Our reading list includes:
The Bangkok Post
Google News Thailand
Discussion on Travelfish
TravelHappy on flight information for Bangkok
Related readingBrilliant Bangkok
2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
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