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 www.thai-blogs.com this week with stories of Thai culture and new tourist attractions. You can also visit my moblog at www.mythailandblog.com 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.