Many tourists are avoiding traveling to Bangkok, Thailand because of the huge political demonstrations that have been all over the city in the last three years. Last year, enormous political demonstrations closed down Suvarnabhumi Airport for more than a week. This year, political demonstrations shut down most of the city for two days while the army moved in to move out demonstrators. If you plan on being in Bangkok, at some point, you may come across a political demonstration. What should you do and not do to make sure you stay safe?
Demonstrators Are Not Targeting Foreigners – The first thing you need to know is political demonstrators are not targeting foreigners and foreigners are unlikely to be hassled or hurt. The political demonstrations in Bangkok, and all over Thailand, are between two groups – one pro-Thaksin (Thailand’s exiled Prime MInister, who was ousted in a military coup three years ago) and one anti-Thaksin. So, should you come across a political demonstration, don’t worry, they’re not demonstrating against you!
Don’t Panic In A Political Demonstration in Bangkok – For the most part, political demonstrations in Bangkok have been very peaceful. Several of them did turn violent at the end of 2008, and one during the Thai Songkran holiday in April 2009 saw fights between demonstrators and the Thai military. Overall though, as Thais are incredibly peaceable people, political demonstrations in Bangkok have remained calm and, in many cases, even had somewhat of a carnival atmosphere.
Taking Photographs in a Political Demonstration in Bangkok – Thais love to have photographs taken, even in the middle of political demonstrations. During the last round, there were no reported incidents of any problems with journalists or tourists taking photos, and many photos of demonstrators posing for the camera. So, don’t worry too much if you want to take photos although, if possible, you can ask before you do so. “Dye my?” is the Thai phrase for “Can I?”, and any Thai will understand what you’re asking if you hold up the camera while you’re saying it.
Where Are the Political Demonstrations in Bangkok? – For the most part, the demonstrations are held near the Grand Palace area of Bangkok, and near or at Sanam Luang, the large park near Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. Some demonstrations last year were also held on Sukhumvit Road in the city center, and near the Siam Paragon shopping mall. But, if you’re worried about political demonstrations in Bangkok and know they’re occurring (hotel or guest house staff or the Thai tourist board can tell you), simply stay away from the Grand Palace area and you’ll be fine. (Although, most tourists I met had gone to the Grand Palace area during the last demonstrations, with no problems at all. But, it’s just up to you what you’re comfortable with).
What Should You Do If You End Up in the Middle of a Demonstration? – Thais are peaceful and very friendly people, often even in the middle of a political demonstration. If you do find yourself in the middle of one however and it’s making you uncomfortable or you feel it may get violent, simply get to the edge of the crowd and leave down any of Bangkok’s thousands of small side streets. The demonstrations will remain around the main areas of town, and not down small sois.
If you’re near a city mall and a demonstration hits, just go into the mall, find a cafe, have a coffee and wait for it to end. It’s very unlikely that demonstrators will enter the mall and, even if they do, they’ll remain in the main entrance area, not roaming through the mall causing problems.
Remember, the main thing in Thailand is Thais are peaceful overall and not out to get foreigners. I was in the middle of a demonstration last year, and it was actually quite fun. I got some great photos, met some interesting people and didn’t feel threatened once. If the same happens to you, use it as an interesting experience. And, if the situation starts to get out of control, simply leave the demonstration area as quickly as you can. You’ll probably find Thais will even help you, as they don’t want the image of their country to be destroyed by frightened or hurt tourists.