Although the protests continue in Bangkok against the amnesty bill, the gatherings have been peaceful and have had no major impact on tourists. There have been some temporary road closures which have affected local traffic, but tourist attractions and entertainment venues remain open and all of Thailand’s international and domestic airports are operating normally. Understandably, the majority of overseas visitors aren’t too interested in the rights and wrongs of the current political protests and just want to know if it will have any effect on their trip to Thailand.
Is Thailand still safe to visit during the protests?
The protests concern issues over the internal political situation in Thailand and are not aimed at tourists. There is no indication at this stage to suggest the protests will turn violent or cause any major problems for tourists. If people ask me, ‘Would you still be happy for your family to visit Bangkok and Thailand at the moment?’ my answer would be a resounding, ‘Yes’. Obviously, things can change, but there is no reason to be unduly concerned or to change your Thailand travel plans. However, the protests in Bangkok are definitely something you need to be aware of. If there are any changes to the situation, I will post updates here.
Where are the protests?
This week has seen peaceful, but noisy demonstrations at a number of locations in Bangkok. These added to two existing protest sites at Urophong Intersection and outside Lumphini Park, where there have been low-key, but ongoing protests over a number of weeks. At the beginning of the week, the opposition Democrat Party led a rally at Samsen railway station close to their party headquarters in the Dusit district of Bangkok. This then branched out to temporary protests in the Silom business district. There have also been marches to the Bangkok City Pillar Shrine and Sanam Luang, but major tourist sites such as the Grand Palace remain open and can be enjoyed as normal.
Today, protests took place at Asoke close to the Terminal 21 shopping mall and another at the central shopping area of Ratchaprasong near the Erawan Shrine. All of these gatherings have caused localized traffic congestion, but have mostly been good-natured although they have also been noisy with protesters blowing whistles to mark their opposition to the amnesty bill.
The protests remain fluid and the tactics of the protest leaders could change, but it looks likely that the main location for any prolonged street rallies over the coming days and weeks will be at the Democracy Monument and other sites along Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Security has also been stepped up around Government House, Parliament and some key government buildings in the Dusit and Ratanakosin Island area of old Bangkok. If you visit any of these locations you may see an increased police presence, but there is no need to be alarmed.
Are there protests elsewhere in Thailand?
There have been some small-scale anti-amnesty protests in some provincial areas of southern Thailand where the opposition Democrat Party has a stronger support base. This includes Surat Thani, but the protests have been small and have had no impact on tourists. Some Democrat Party supporters in the south have headed to Bangkok to join the rallies in the Thai capital. Apart from that, visitors to Thailand who aren’t in Bangkok are unlikely to see any sign of protests unless they watch local or international television coverage of rallies in the Thai capital.
When will the protests end?
The last week has been important politically so the initial large turnout of protesters was no surprise. Whether that momentum can be maintained remains to be seen, but it does look like there will be some form of ongoing rally in the area around the Democracy Monument. This could continue for weeks with the amnesty bill facing a number of legal hurdles before it could be passed. Even if the amnesty bill is rejected, there is the possibility that protests by anti-government groups could continue as they try to exert more pressure on Prime Minister Yingluck and her government.
Sporadic street protests in other areas can’t be ruled out at any time, such as those seen at Asoke and Silom with office workers and shoppers able to join the crowds of protesters blowing whistles.
Who are the protesters?
I’ve covered the political aspects of the protests already, but it’s worth pointing out that the protesters are a wide range of people of all ages and from different walks of life. As a tourist, if you do stumble across any rallies in Bangkok don’t be surprised if the protesters ask to have their photo taken with you and you are likely to be greeted by smiles, middle-aged women waving Thai flags and men carrying portraits of the Thai king. The protests are about a serious issue and cover some sensitive concerns, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be sanuk for many of those taking part. Thai street protests involve food stalls and music as much as they do fiery political rhetoric and the biggest problem tourists are likely to encounter is localized traffic jams on the roads and and an increase in the number of passengers using the Skytrain and Metro.