Thailand border issue heats up, again

Ever since seven Thais were arrested in Cambodia in December for illegal entry and trespassing in the ongoing border dispute, tensions have been heating up.

Today, 2,000 nationalist Thai “Yellow Shirts” rallied in the streets of Bangkok to protest the government’s handling of it all.

“We have made our suggestions to the government but they have failed to act, so we have no other choice,” said one Yellow Shirt protester.

In the last two days security forces, some 3000-strong at times, have dealt with potential bomb attacks, a large rally by the rival “Red Shirts”, and a Yellow gathering near Government House where they accused Thailand Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of failing to defend long disputed territory from Cambodia.

This is just the latest in the ongoing tensions between the once-friendly Yellows led by the Peoples Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who’s 2008 rallies and protests helped make way for Abhisit to come to power. Since then, those same demonstrations that also closed two airports in Bangkok, stranding thousands of travelers caused Abhisit to distance himself from the Yellows.
In today’s rally, Yellow’s had three demands. They want the government to revoke a memorandum of understanding about the Thai/Cambodia border from 2000, withdrawal of Thailand from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and to expel Cambodians from the disputed area.

Prime Minister Abhisit has made the government’s position perfectly clear stating that the government would not agree to their demands.

So the Thailand/Cambodia border issues continues with the tension, rallies, demonstrations and violence escalating as it has for years along the long, common border between Thailand and Cambodia.

See more about Thailand in GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Thailand Part 1: The First 48 Hours

Flickr photo by Dennis Wong

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)