Is Thailand Safe Now?

Yeah, pretty much.

A full month has passed since Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the slightly Orwellian-sounding CRES (Center for the Resolution of Emergency Situation) gave themselves an all-clear. The official sigh of relief follows a few weeks of fairly intense civil unrest–the chaos of ongoing street protests between yellow-shirted PAD and the red-shirted UDD claimed 88 lives and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage and lost business. The violence only ended following an agreement to hold general elections this coming November. Since then, the Thai government has been implementing a number of important changes in order to return the country back to normal. (But honestly, was Thailand ever normal? I mean, does anyone fly 16 hours to a country because it’s normal?)

Although the emergency decree remains in place, the curfew has been lifted in Bangkok and the country. (That’s a very good thing because Bangkok with a curfew is like going on a date with your parents in the backseat.) A far more encouraging sign is that the US State Department has ended their travel advisory for Thailand, even disappearing it from their website.

If it was anywhere else in the world, this on-again/off-again safety status might seem alarming, but those who know Thailand understand how quickly people settle back into a peaceful, “life-is-good” sort-of existence. It’s also important to remember that the most recent protests were concentrated in very specific areas of Bangkok. Few signs remain that anything was ever amok.

Hesitant tourists are the unfortunate result of any political instability, no matter how short-lived. The resulting drop in foreign visitors to Thailand has instigated a price war among hotels and resorts across the country–if you thought Thailand used to be cheap, it just got a whole lot cheaper. A number of awesome deals are up for the taking, like Thai Airwarys’ Discover Thailand pass (fly to any 3 cities within Thailand for $278).It will take a long time for tourism to recover, for sure. To encourage reluctant travelers, the Thai Tourist Authority is now waiving visa requirements and all fees for any American traveler wishing to stay beyond the normally-allotted 30 days. Already eager to please as a culture, Thai businesses are also bending over backwards to accomodate visitors. All flights are running normally at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, which, for the record, is a far more efficient airport than JFK and LAX put together.

Regardless, travelers to any foreign country should always follow a “Stay Informed” mantra. Before you go anywhere (be it Ireland, Italy, or South Dakota), it’s best to make yourself aware of the political situation. People versus parliament is a universal struggle (see Tea Party) but in Thailand, there is a long back story to the back and forth between people, government and military. There is also a very long history of peace. The beaches aren’t bad either.

(Photo Credits: Ratchaprasong and The Media Slut on Flickr)

Flights resume in Bangkok

Gadling has been following the situation in Bangkok over the past few days. Hundreds of thousands of domestic and international travelers were stranded when anti-government protesters occupied Suvarnabhumi Airport, the country’s international hub. Things came to a rather anti-climactic end yesterday (thankfully for those involved) when Thailand’s highest court convicted members of the ruling party of rigging elections held last year. Getting the result that they wanted, protesters simply abandoned the airport peacefully.

In the past few hours, those who were previously unable to leave have been flocking to the airport and to travel agents around the city in an effort to book their flights home. Cleaning and inspection crews have been working around the clock to bring the airport back to international standards. Airport officials claim that it will take two weeks before the airport is fully operational. For now, flights are trickling in. Travelers stranded might have to wait several more days before they can procure a seat on a departing flight.


Thai government dissolved as protesters finally leave Bangkok’s airport

The Constitutional Court of Thailand decided that the ruling People Power Party had to dissolve. Its leader, now former PM Somchai Wongsawat, was forced to leave office. That was exactly the result that the anti-government mob occupying Suvarnabhumi International Airport was hoping for. Their goal was to shut down the airport until the government was taken from power or stepped down voluntarily. Their goals achieved, the mob at the airport dispersed earlier today.

Supporters of the government criticized the court’s ruling by calling it a judicial coup. However, the court claimed it had evidence proving that the PPP, as well as several other parties, cheated and bribed their way to victory in last year’s elections. The party’s leaders will be banned from politics, but other members are already at work forming a new party called Puea Thai.

Suvarnabhumi is now empty, but it was damaged during the protests. The head of Thailand’s airports, Serirat Prasutanont, said that the airport would remain closed until 6 pm on December 15th. Equipment and systems must be checked prior to the reopening. The closure cost the airport more than $10 million.

[Related coverage @ The Nation]

Travelers getting out of Thailand, but the situation is worsening

Following the lead of Etihad Airways, more than a dozen international carriers have sought out secondary airports to get passengers out of Thailand. Tiny U-Tapao Airport in coastal Rayong (a few hours south of Bangkok) has seen 50 flights per day. Passengers have been squeezing into the one terminal, but tents and portable toilets have been sent up outside to help with overflow.

Don Muang, the old international airport in Bangkok, has also been receiving some international flights, though the chaos in Bangkok makes U-Tapao a better choice in the eyes of most carriers.

Meanwhile, anti-government forces are still controlling Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok’s international airport. Protesters are in the terminals and armed guards loyal to the protesters have set up checkpoints at various points around the airport. Small bomb blasts are occasionally heard throughout the airport grounds and a news truck was recently riddled with bullets after it was stopped at a PAD checkpoint. No one in the truck was injured.

Police have surrounded the airport and are organizing themselves. An end to the stand-off is most likely immenant. The question is, will it be a peaceful or violent end.

[full coverage: The Nation and BKK Post]

Thai Protesters Shut Down Bangkok’s Airport

Anti-government protesters in Bangkok have ramped up their campaign against the the party of prime minister Somchai Wongsawat. Early yesterday, supporters of the PAD (People’s Alliance for Democracy) stormed past police lines and entered Suvarnabhumi International Airport. When they reached the departure areas, airport officials decided to shut the airport down. Several thousand tourists and travelers were stranded in the airport while more than a dozen flights had to be diverted to Bangkok’s old international terminal at Don Muang Airport.

Over 14 million tourists came to Thailand last year. Violence between the pro and anti-government groups had done little to dissuade tourists from visiting because foreigners have not been targeted. However, the situation seems to finally have spilled over into the country’s tourism industry.

Top Thai army generals have called for the government to step down. Despite promises to the contrary, it seems that another coup is possible (even likely). Meanwhile, things don’t look good for those stranded at Suvarnabhumi. PAD supporters have vowed to “close Suvarnabhumi Airport to send a final word… to Somchai and his cabinet: resign immediately and without conditions.” But the government is not budging. So looks like those trying to get into or out of The Land of Smiles are in for some frustration.

[related story]