Bangkok Protest Updates (December 2013)

The political problems in Thailand are a long way from being resolved, but it’s worth reiterating that Bangkok, and the rest of Thailand, remain safe to visit. Since the dramatic scenes witnessed earlier in the month, Bangkok has dropped off the radar in terms of international media coverage and those outside of Thailand may be wondering why it has all gone so quiet. One reason is that there is a lot of behind the scenes activity as the various players in the drama plan their next course of action. This largely came about as result of Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolving parliament and calling a general election. That election is scheduled for February 2, 2014 and in the meantime Yingluck is serving as interim prime minister. In theory, the election should decide who gets to run the country, but in Thai politics things are never that simple. The main opposition party, the Democrat Party, are yet to decide if they will boycott the elections or not. A decision is expected in the next few days.

The anti-government protesters are now formally calling themselves the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). Although the PDRC is a pressure group and not a political party, they are headed by a former senior Democrat Party MP, Suthep Thaugsuban. Suthep has already stated that elections aren’t enough. He wants a complete reform of the democratic system in Thailand. He also continues to call for the overthrow of what he is calling the ‘Thaksin regime‘ and has made clear his intentions not to allow the elections to take place until his proposed reform ideas are in place.

Will there be more street protests in Bangkok?

Yes, more street protests will take place in Bangkok. What isn’t yet known is how much support they will muster and what effect they will or won’t have on the plans for the election. On December 9, the PDRC were able to mass large numbers on the streets of Bangkok. Since then, the numbers have dwindled as supporters have returned home. A permanent protest site and stage remains in place at the Democracy Monument with smaller sites close to Government House also continuing to attract some anti-government protesters. A march was held today by Suthep and a few thousand of his supporters. The peaceful rally left Democracy Monument and took in a number of areas of downtown Bangkok including Sukhumvit and Asoke where the protesters sat in the road and had lunch before later walking back to the Democracy Monument. A similar march is planned for tomorrow and another, supposedly much larger rally, is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

From a tourist perspective, the biggest problem is likely to be localized traffic congestion due to road closures.

Is Bangkok still safe to visit?

Yes. My personal view hasn’t changed and I don’t believe there is any need for tourists to change travel plans or cancel trips to Bangkok. The situation is fluid and things could change as could my advice, but as it stands at the moment if I had family or loved ones visiting Bangkok tomorrow or in the next few days or the next few weeks I would still tell them to come and enjoy their trip. Life is going on as normal for the overwhelming majority of people in Bangkok and elsewhere in the country. If the situation ever got to a stage where I would be advising my own family to change travel plans, I would say so here and on my Facebook and Twitter pages. This is very much an internal political affair and tourists are not being targeted and there is no reason to feel unsafe. I would advise using your own judgement and common-sense and try to avoid the protest sites at Democracy Monument and close to Government House. With marches sometimes taking place along Sukhumvit Road, Silom and other downtown areas of Bangkok you may unwittingly stumble across an anti-government protest march. You’ll know them by the whistles being blown and the Thai flags being waved. These marches into commercial areas of Bangkok have mostly been good-natured, but noisy. However, they have created major traffic disruption with roads temporarily being blocked and this congestion remains as the biggest problem tourists are likely to experience in Bangkok.

What about public transport in Bangkok?

The knock-on effect of protest marches and rolling road closures in Bangkok means traffic delays can occur anywhere in the city so allow plenty of extra time for journeys by road especially if you have a flight to catch. Skytrain and Metro services continue to operate normally, but have become more crowded on days where protest marches have been scheduled. Depending on where you are staying in Bangkok, boat services along the Chao Phraya River can be a good way to get to locations such as the Grand Palace.

Are all major tourist attractions open?

Yes. Sights including the Grand Palace and Wat Pho are open, but there are others in the Dusit area such as the Marble Temple that may remain open but can be troublesome to get to with road closures in the vicinity. Because the situation is subject to change on a daily and weekly basis, you may have to be flexible when it comes to sight-seeing.

Keep it in perspective

Those that have been to Thailand know that most Thai people are friendly and welcoming and there is no need to feel that you will be treated any differently because of the latest bout of political problems. But it’s common sense not to get into political discussions or talk about the Thai monarchy. The underlying issues of the protests are complex and very sensitive to say the least. The majority of Thai people I’ve spoken to just want to see a peaceful Thailand. Avoid the protest sites and just use discretion and be sensible. Keep up with the news, but try to keep it all in perspective. Bangkok is a vast city and Thailand is a big country where daily life continues as normal for most Thai people as it does too for the vast majority of tourists.