Amid Protests, How Safe Is Thailand?

by  Alex Schechter | Dec 4, 2013
Kuha Karuhas Pavillion, Thailand
Kuha Karuhas Pavillion, Thailand / greenpencil2009/iStock

As reports come in that the political situation in Bangkok is steadily relaxing after days of major anti-government protests, thee are still questions about the safety of tourists who find themselves in the Thai capital. On Tuesday, the BBC reported that concrete barriers and razor wire placed outside police headquarters had been removed, a sign of tension cooling between the government and protestors. The U.S. government, meanwhile, has not issued an official travel warning, though a "security message" was posted on December 1, alerting travelers of the demonstrations.

For those who have booked flights and hotels in the region, should you be worried? Here's what we've learned...

Reacting to the spike in violent protests that occurred last weekend (during which four people were killed), hundreds of Bangkok city tours were cancelled by Hong Kong-based tour operators – significant, when you consider that China supplies approximately one sixth of Thailand's visitors. When questioned about the travelers currently on the ground in Bangkok, a spokesman for one of the tour operators told the South China Morning Post, "All members of the tour groups currently traveling in Thailand are safe, and the situation in Bangkok has now seemed to quiet down."

But that calm isn't about to appease the thousands of travelers who have already booked trips to the capital in the coming month. Anticipating travelers' anxieties, TigerAir is allowing travelers to re-book or re-route their flights to Bangkok that were scheduled through December 8. Meanwhile, Thai Airways is waiving re-booking and cancellation fees for all passengers headed to Bangkok through December 15.

Governments in Singapore, India, China, and other surrounding nations are cautioning their citizens to avoid major areas of protest, which have so far centered around Parliament, the Metropolitan Police Bureau, and other government offices in central Bangkok. One U.S.-based tour operator we spoke to explained that tours are continuing as scheduled, and that guides are avoiding areas affected by the demonstrations. If it becomes necessary, it will make minor changes to the tour itinerary to avoid potential demonstrations. For now, the effects of the demonstrations are mostly being felt in Bangkok, so if travelers are headed to regions like Krabi and Chiang Rai, they should be able to travel without much concern.

Meanwhile, many news outlets are quick to point out the potential damage to Thailand's tourism industry, which makes up more than 7 percent of the country's GDP. It is reported that new travel bookings have dropped off somewhat in the past few weeks,  and tour operators are opting for excursions to Ayutthaya, Pattaya, Phuket, and Ko Samui instead of Bangkok.

An update posted on Tuesday by the Thailand Tourism Authority emphasizes that tourists "have not been targeted in the ongoing political protests," and that most of Bangkok's tourist attractions are keeping normal business hours. Most public transportation is running as normally (except around the aforementioned areas), and both Don Mueang Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport remain open. For now, though, simply the idea of winding up in the middle of a volatile political uprising will be enough to keep visitors away, no matter how many theme parks, hotels, and river tours remain open.

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