Monthly Archives: May 2010

Is Thailand Really Safe to go on Holiday?

For the past two months we have received many inquires from people asking if Thailand is really safe for them to come on a holiday. For the most part, I was telling people that “yes” Thailand is a safe country and that Thai people are kind and generous. They would never dream of harming foreign tourists. I even said that many parts of Bangkok were safe as the protests were limited to certain areas that could easily be marked on my Bangkok Dangerous map. I went on to explain that protests and rallies in Thailand are not the same as in many countries in the West. There is hardly any violence and certainly no looting or setting fire to property. The Thai people are mainly Buddhists and gentle folk. They will steer clear of confrontation and will always keep a cool heart. History now shows how wrong and naive I was.

I have been living in Thailand long enough to be able to see behind the “Thai Smile” and to accept the Thai for who they really are. I consider Thailand to be my home and would never consider moving anywhere else. However, what happened on the 19th May during the army crackdown and the rioting in the aftermath shook me deeply. We were very close to a civil war where Thai people were fighting and killing fellow Thais. The rioting and burning of malls and theatres and the looting of shops made me feel very disappointed. In the late afternoon of that same day, my newspaper editor sent me to investigate reports of red shirts gathering at their radio station in Samrong. When I arrived I found hundreds of Thai people gathered around television sets. It saddened me deeply to see them laughing and cheering every time another burning building was shown on the television. This was not the Thailand that I fell in love with.

I have been promoting Thailand online for 12 years and after that incident I felt like giving up. I just couldn’t bring myself to write about the wonderful Thai culture or the amazing holiday destinations. It just seemed pointless. After all, this wasn’t the first time the country was in chaos and the way things are going now, it probably won’t be the last. After the last sets of protests and the airport closure I kept saying that tourism will bounce back. And it did to an extent. People started to come back. However, the video images of army snipers shooting at the red protesters and the burning malls went around the world again. I think this time, more than before, people will hesitate before coming to Thailand for their holidays. It is not just the protests alone. The strong Thai baht is making holidays to Thailand too expensive for many people. In addition, many Thai businesses continue to charge foreign tourists higher admission prices than what they charge for Thai people. Bring all these factors together and you will see that people will start to consider visiting other countries with beautiful beaches. After all, Thailand doesn’t have a monopoly on white sand, blue skies and a rich culture.

I know time will heal all wounds. It is starting to be that way for me. I think it helped when I went to witness the Big Clean Up Day where ordinary Bangkok people came together to clean the streets. Then a few days later I was back in Bangkok for the big merit making ceremony where Bangkok people gave alms to 1,000 Buddhist monks. Then last weekend thousands of Thai people went to Silom Walking Street to support local business who had been affected by the fires and looting. There seems hope for the country yet, though I think it will take time to heal the wounds. The red shirt protests didn’t end with their needs and concerns addressed. There are still a lot of angry Reds out there and many of them are leaderless. They don’t like the seemingly double standards that is going on at the moment. Although the yellow shirts took over Government House and also the international airports, none of them have been sent to prison so far. If the Red leaders are being seen to be unfairly targeted, then we could see some troubled times ahead.

Which brings me back to the original question of whether it is safe to travel to Thailand for a holiday. It is true that the night-time curfew was lifted at the weekend which would seem to suggest that things are back to normal. But we still have a State of Emergency in Bangkok and 23 provinces. We even have soldiers guarding our city hall in Samut Prakan. Many foreign countries have started to downgrade their risk assessment of Thailand saying that it is now safe to travel to Thailand. However, at the same time, they advise their nationals to “exercise caution”. This is because things could turn ugly once again depending on the political situation and what happens to the red shirt leaders. If you are coming to Thailand you should keep up with the news. You can follow me on Twitter and I will be posting breaking news there daily.

At this moment in time, I don’t feel either threatened or in any danger by living in Thailand. If it was me planning a holiday in Thailand then I wouldn’t hesitate. I think the same goes for repeat visitors to Thailand as they have a better understand of the country. The people who should exercise caution are families coming here for their holiday for the first time. I think the Bangkok Governor put it best when he said the other day “Before we advise foreigners to come to Thailand, we must be able to ensure their safety.” I am not sure if I am qualified to say that Bangkok and Thailand is safe. So, I will only say that at this moment in Thailand, it seems that things are getting back to normal, but there is a real risk that things may boil over again. If you are coming to Thailand on a holiday, make sure that you are flexible and can make alternative arrangements if the need arises.

As I am feeling better I will be back blogging again at this week with stories of Thai culture and new tourist attractions. You can also visit my moblog at for more of my daily activities. I am also on Twitter a lot @RichardBarrow where you can follow me live on my trips where I will be posting reports and pictures as I travel.

Updated Map of “Bangkok Dangerous”

The situation in Bangkok took a turn for the worse last night. It all started when the Thai Prime Minister cancelled the proposed elections for November and sent the army in to surround the Red protest site (see google map “Bangkok Dangerous”). If you study the map, you will see that the Red Zone covers a large area that includes Bangkok’s main shopping district at Siam Square and Ratchaprasong. With the elections now cancelled, the Reds had nothing to lose. We are not sure yet exactly what happened last night. We don’t think it was the start of a crackdown. However, the international media reported that Red Shirt military leader “Seh Daeng” was allegedly shot by a sniper shortly after dark. It happened while he was in the middle of being interviewed by a group of reporters including a journalist from the New York Times. I really hope that this wasn’t an attempted assassination by the Thai government. At this moment in time, we do not know who shot Seh Daeng who remains in critical condition in hospital.

The situation at the moment is that all BTS skytrain stations and MRT underground stations in or near the Red Zone are closed today. All shopping malls in this area are also closed. The US, UK and Dutch Embassies are all closed today. The army is supposed to be controlling the perimeter but reports coming in suggest otherwise. Last night, the red shirt protesters were able to stop and turn back a bus load of police reinforcements. During the night there was sporadic gunfire and explosions. Clashes left at least one protester shot dead and nine injured. This morning, it seems quieter but we are receiving reports of firecracker explosions at Sala Daeng area in front of Lumphini Park. As I said before, Bangkok is a large place and it is easy to avoid the danger zone as the red shirts are not mobile at the moment. However, many embassies advise their nationals to avoid all but essential travel to Bangkok. But, the rest of Thailand is safe and you won’t meet any protesters on the beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters.

Visit the “Bangkok Dangerous Map” for live updates. You can also follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow for latest reports from Bangkok.

Night Tour and Show at Ancient Siam

Last night I was invited to visit Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan for their night tour and dinner theatre. This is not a regular feature but a special event for this weekend and next weekend on 14-16th May 2010. I have been to the Ancient Siam (formerly known as Ancient City) literally hundreds of times but I have never been there in the dark. So, I jumped at this chance to tour the grounds at night.

The evening started at 6 p.m. with a buffet meal in the floating market area of Ancient Siam. The ticket price includes this meal, the shows and the tram tour. For Thai people it is 300 baht for adults and for foreign tourists it is 450 baht for adults. The food was actually very good and there was a large variety on offer. They had everything from curry on rice and noodles cooked on boats. There was also plenty of desserts and drinks.

The first show started at 7 p.m. There is no need to rush your meal or even eat it all in one go. I had my first course when I first arrived and then wondered around taking pictures. The picture of the temple at the top and this one were taken about ten minutes before the show started. The show was basically traditional Thai boat songs. You could sit anywhere you like around the floating market to listen to them or even carry on eating.

At about 7.45 p.m., we were all told to board the trams for the tour of the park. It is not safe to drive around by yourself in the dark so you are not allowed to bring your car in for the tour. However, being on a tram gives you a higher viewpoint of the sights than a car. And it was certainly better air-conditioning as there was a really nice wind last night. Which was one of the advantages of doing the tour at night.

It is not easy taking night pictures. Using a flash doesn’t give you any depth. The pictures above were all taken with a tripod. However, during the tour there wasn’t really any time to get out to take pictures. They did pause a few times but not at every location. It would have been nice to have spent longer but obviously we didn’t have all night. The other downside was that the tour guide only spoke in Thai. So, best just to enjoy the view and the breeze. A good tip would be to sit on the right-hand-side.

After about 20 minutes we arrived at Sanphet Prasat, which is the palace for the kings of Ayuthhaya. Next door to this is a building from the present Granad Palace in Bangkok. Both of them were beautifully lit up. Once we arrived they took us on a tour of one of the buildings for about 20 minutes. As I had been there many times I just went off by myself to take some pictures. Afterwards we were then entertained with two more shows. This time with the Sanphet Prasat Palace as a beautiful backdrop.

The show concluded at about 9 p.m. and we then got back on the trams to finish the night tour. Another advantage about touring at night is that there was more wildlife. I spotted a large water monitor earlier and then during the tram tour a very big snake. The tour finally finished at 9.30 p.m. I did actually enjoy myself and would go again. As I said before, your final chance of going is 14-16th May 2010. Full details at and a photo album at

You can follow me live on Twitter in order to see the events I am attending. I often upload pictures live.

An iPhone, Twitter and the Red Shirt Rally

What do smartphones, Twitter and the Red Shirt rallies in Bangkok have in common? The answer is simple. It has at times meant the difference between life and death for foreign tourists and expats in Bangkok. Maybe a little melodramatic, but it has a grain of truth. Without Twitter, and the ability of accessing it on a smartphone while out and about, we wouldn’t have known whether it was safe to travel in Bangkok. This is because journalists, both real and otherwise, were tweeting live what was happening across the capital. Some were out in the field tweeting words, pictures and video. Others were at home commenting on live pictures that they saw on national and international news channels. We even had the benefit of having running translations of breaking news on Thai television or whenever the prime minister or one of the generals gave a speech. For foreigners living or visiting Thailand and who don’t understand the language, Twitter was a life-line for them during the protests and the sometimes violent clashes between the red shirts and the Thai army.

I came into this game a bit late. I bought my first smartphone towards the end of February 2010. It was an iPhone and for me it was a big upgrade from a secondhand Nokia that I had been using for a few years. It was something that I had been dreaming about for years but I was just waiting for the technology, and the price, to catch up with me. I have been promoting Thailand online for about twelve years now and I’ve always wanted the ability to report live from the places that I was visiting around the country. As part of my job I attend a lot of festivals and I wanted to be able to report back to people live from these events. I had tried an air card for my laptop a few years ago but it was frustratingly slow and the laptop cumbersome to carry around out in the field. I think I must have been looking at smartphones for the past year trying to decide which one to buy. I just never found a review that made any of them sound like the perfect device. In the end it was a choice between a Blackberry and the iPhone. To be honest, I was concerned a little at first about the keyboard on the iPhone. I was worried that my fat fingers and thumbs wouldn’t be able to handle it. But, I finally decided to buy an iPhone 3GS and have never regretted that day.

For the uninitiated, Twitter is similar to what people call blogging. You are basically sharing your thoughts and activities with your “followers”. It is what I have been doing for the last six years at However, the difference is that with Twitter you are limited to only 140 characters. And that includes the spaces! I guess this is what they now call “micro-blogging”. It takes time to get used to. I actually joined Twitter on 9th September 2009 but I never used it until I bought the iPhone five months later. I wasn’t too sure if I would take to it. I couldn’t actually see the point at the time. On the front page of my Twitter account there was a question in big letters “What’s happening?” and then a box to fill in with 140 characters. I’ve always valued my privacy and so I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to let people know where I was or what I was doing. I also wasn’t too sure if people would actually be interested in my random thoughts or events that I attended. Never the less, my first tweet went out on 27th February 2010 with the words “At the graduation of Nong Grace. Time has gone quick”. I think the thing that excited me the most that day was that I also included a link to a live picture that was uploaded at the same time to Of course, not many people saw that first tweet. And even now, two months later, I only have 1,000 followers. Not a lot when compared to people like PM Abhisit who has 75,000 followers. But, it is a start.

About the same time as my first tweet, I also posted my first “moblog”. This is an abbreviation of “mobile blogging”, which, as the name suggests, is blogging from your mobile phone. This was the most exciting development for me. For the first time I was able to post blogs while I was still on location and my thoughts were still fresh. If you visit you will be able to see some examples of my moblogs. The main difference between the blogs here at and those moblogs are obviously the number of words. However, if you compare my earlier moblogs to the ones I do these days, you can see that I am now typing longer moblogs on my iPhone. Sometimes, I post about the same event on both blogs, but the moblog is definitely more laid back and relaxed and has more of my daily life that I don’t write about at Even if the events are the same, the pictures are always different. This is because I use my big DSLR for this blog and my iPhone camera for the moblog. As I carry my iPhone around with me all the time, unlike the heavy DSLR, you will find the I write moblogs more frequently. And I also now find it easier to process pictures and video in my iPhone and then use a Word Press application to write my moblog. These are then uploaded up onto the Internet. Whenever possible, I try to post while I am still at the event.

Some people say that Twitter comes into its own during revolutions and natural disasters. And they are probably right. Twitter was perfect for both reporting and receiving the news about the Red Shirt protests. As many people know, Thai television is not very good when it comes to reporting live and breaking events. They decided to finish broadcasting their latest soap operas and game shows before they bothered to report about the devastating Tsunami. And of course, when they do report on an event, there won’t be any English which leaves a lot of foreign tourists and expats in the dark. For me, SMS breaking news from the Bangkok Post and The Nation was vital to knowing what was going on. But, that has all changed. These days, my “breaking news” comes from the Twitter application on my iPhone. For the past two months I have been finding out about events from people who were live on the scene. CNN calls them “citizen journalists”. Clashes between the Reds and the army were reported on Twitter first before TV picked it up and an hour or so before I received an SMS. The other week, a crane fell over on Sukhumwit Road. We learned about it on Twitter a few minutes later. Of course, it takes experience to know which of these “citizen journalists” that you can trust to give a reliable report with a 140 character limit. But, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I didn’t believe that soldiers were really on Silom Road until people started tweeting live pictures.

Quite a few of my tweets are about events happening in my home province of Samut Prakan. I take pictures for a local newspaper and we also have our own online news magazine at Most events are ordinary and not really of interest to a wider audience. However, my first major “live event” on Twitter came about two weeks after I had started tweeting. On 12th March nearly 5,000 red shirt protesters descended on Samut Prakan to rally at the Provincial Hall and then parade through the town. I was using my iPhone to upload live pictures and videos of this event which I then posted on both Twitter and my moblog. Then, two days later came the Red March where nearly double that amount marched into Bangkok from Samut Prakan. Many of the red shirts walked all the way from the Bang Na Intersection to the rally stage at Phan Fa Bridge. It was an amazing event that I followed the whole way for nearly six hours. Most of the route followed the sky train along Sukhumwit Road. As we went along, I was tweeting pictures and estimations of numbers. I also started to get replies from people on Twitter saying that there was no news of this event in the Thai media at all. I guess they wouldn’t have believed me if I wasn’t uploading live pictures from the iPhone. Once we finally reached the rally site I took pictures around that area and even uploaded some live pictures from the stage.

During the height of the red shirt protests, I was constantly checking Twitter for updates of what was happening. At one time, foreign governments were warning their citizens to avoid all travel to Bangkok due to the dangerous conditions. However, from what I was learning on Twitter, I knew that the clashes and violence were often isolated incidents. As we have quite a few online guidebooks for Thailand, including our forums at, we were getting many questions about whether it was still safe to travel to Bangkok on holiday. The only way I could really answer that was to go there myself and give live updates on what I saw. I also put together a Bangkok Dangerous Map using Google maps showing areas to avoid and roads that have been blocked. I guess people wanted to know as the map has had over 300,000 views in less than two months. A number of times I went for a walkabout around Red Camp. After I while I started calling it the Red Lands as they were so self-sufficient. I took pictures of soldiers and police and also crowds and then uploaded them up onto the Internet via Twitter. Some of my most popular pictures included the open street toilets, the flip flops with pictures of the prime minister on them, and general shots of the large shopping malls standing unusually empty.

I think a lot of us underestimated the amount of interest people had in what was going on in Thailand. But the big question is, now that it looks like the protests are dying down, will people still continue to follow me? More importantly, will I have anything of interest for them to read! One big problem I have now is that I might have to think twice before I tweet about the pineapple that I bought at Foodland and stuck in a tub of earth. I am proud that it is actually growing, but will people like Sutichai Yoon, the editor-in-chief of the Nation Group, and other national and international broadcasters really be interested? It is hardly breaking news for the CNN news anchor that follows me. But, I guess at the end of the day, it is important that I just carry on being myself and writing about what I am observing and experiencing. There will probably be more protests for me to cover in the future, but I think most of my tweets will now be about life and culture in Thailand and my travels in this great country that I now call my home. If you wish to follow me, you can do so by going to @RichardBarrow.

Related blog: Using an iPhone in Thailand

Buying Red Shirt Souvenirs

Sales of Red Shirt Merchandise doesn’t seemed to have been affected much by the leaders recent decision to ask their members to go “multi-colour”. Vendors just switched their stock from shirts to accessories and other souvenirs. And it is not just the Red Shirt protesters buying. When I was there I spotted quite a few “Demonstration Tourists” who were picking up souvenirs from the protest site. And not all of them were Thai as there were plenty of Westerners and Asians too.

When I went to take pictures at the Yellow Shirt rallies, I remember buying a few souvenirs like anyone else. That doesn’t mean I went around wearing a yellow scarf in the same way it doesn’t mean I am wearing red now. I feel it is very important for me to remain as neutral as I can when taking pictures and reporting on what I see.

However, there have been a fair number of foreigners at the rally site wearing red. As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on this one, but I just think it is not a good idea to meddle in the politics of your guest nation. We all have opinions and it is good to discuss them. But, at the end of the day, the definition of “democracy” in Thailand is always going to be different to what we know in the West.

Sitting in the crowd is one thing, but there has also been a number of foreigners going up onto the stage. There are even some working backstage in the media area. Let’s hope that they don’t get a visit from the Immigration Police during the night. But having said that, they are probably safe as long as they stay in the Red Lands. Apparently you don’t even need a passport there.

The pictures on this page show some of the varied souvenirs that you can now buy at the Night Bazaar in the Red Lands. You can still buy red shirts but there is a greater variety now. You can even buy these flip-flops with a picture of PM Abhisit on them. Other merchandise include pictures of pop stars and movie actors wearing red, VCDs of the Red leaders singing and giving speeches, and a long list of other things including clocks, rice cookers, kettles, mugs, books, key rings, badges and a lot more.

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