Thailand coup: What does it mean for tourists?By Casey Hynes May 23, 2014 6:50PM UTC
UPDATE: On June 3 the junta announced that the curfew has been lifted in Pattaya, Phuket and Ko Samui.
Curfew has been lifted in the following areas: Pattaya , Koh Samui and Phuket Province. Curfew in other areas remains in effect.
— armypr_news (@armypr_news) June 3, 2014
Now that Thailand’s martial law has turned into a full-blown coup, there has been much discussion about what the political situation means for tourists, both those entering the country and those already here. The airports are functioning as normal, so those who have already booked flights and are planning to vacation here can get in the country, though they are advised to keep an eye on the political situation and use their judgment as to whether or not to go ahead with their trips.
All foreigners are subject to the nationwide curfew in place from 10pm-5am,with a penalty of two years in jail and/or a 40,000 baht fine for breaking curfew, according to CityNews Chiang Mai. The army announced that those who are flying in or out of the country during that time are allowed to travel during curfew hours, though they will want to keep their travel documents and passport on hand in case they are questioned. In Chiang Mai and in the island areas, foreigners are unlikely to feel the effects of the curfew beyond curtailed partying hours at this point. Even on the streets of major cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai, soldiers are few and far between. The Wall Street Journal reported that some people have decided to cancel their trips due to the political unrest, but for those already here, things remain relatively quiet.
Tourists should use common sense and stay informed about restrictions and risks while they are in the country. Observing the curfew and avoiding political demonstrations are likely to keep them out of trouble and out of harm’s way. Several foreign governments have warned that the situation could change and become more intense very quickly, which is why it is important for tourists to follow updates closely.
The Sydney Morning Herald noted that the atmosphere in Chiang Mai was calm, with people seeming unconcerned overall about the curfew. That publication also reported that a traveler arriving in Bangkok after the curfew was imposed said he struggled to find a taxi, and when he did, the driver refused to turn the meter on, preferring to set his own price. Travelers may want to allow extra travel time to and from the airport, and budget for increased taxi fares.
The coup has been bloodless so far, and while some speculation persists about the situation devolving into violence, the country is still relatively safe for tourists. The army has vowed to provide protection for foreigners, though what that would entail if violence broke out is unclear. Many foreigners in the country have taken to social media to post messages announcing to family members that they are fine and have not been affected by the coup. Most seem to have a wait-and-see attitude, watching as the situation develops but without any immediate plans to leave.
Earlier in the week, when martial law was declared, several foreign governments instructed citizens to exercise caution in Thailand and avoid any large demonstrations or political gatherings. After the coup was declared, the army banned any political gatherings of more than five people. There have been rumors that Internet access would be cut, but that has not been the case so far and sites such as news outlets, Twitter, and Facebook have not been blocked. However, the army has said it would take action against any media outlets, including social media sites, critical of the army or that could be interpreted as spreading false information. The army has already forced television stations to stop broadcasting anything except official military announcements and patriotic songs.
Singapore urged citizens to reconsider planned visits to Thailand right now due to the “unpredictable” circumstances, and encouraged those already in the country stay informed about the situation, according to the Bangkok Post. The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs issued an alert level 2 for Thailand, and said Filipinos in the country should prepare to evacuate if the situation escalates.
Many speculate that Thailand’s tourism industry, already suffering after months of protests and political unrest, will be hurt even more as people shy away from the volatile country. Reuters has said Thailand might “lose its crown” as the region’s top destination for medical tourism, and the country has already seen decreasing numbers from China, where a large portion of its tourism business comes from.