IMPORTANT UPDATE: A military coup d’etat took place in Thailand on Thursday afternoon. You can find rolling updates on our live blog and more on the current situation for travelers here: Tourists take wait-and-see approach to Thailand coup
The Thai military declared martial law this morning after months of political unrest and speculation about potential military involvement in the ongoing conflicts. The military emphasized that the move is not a coup (though the country is no stranger to coups, having seen 11 successful takeovers since 1932), and that the aim is to restore peace and order. Pro- and anti-government groups have been ordered to remain at their respective rally spots, and the military has ordered at least 10 TV stations to stop broadcasting.
But what does this mean for tourists visiting Thailand? For the time being, it’s likely that life will go on as usual, although foreigners living in Thailand should use reasonable caution and pay attention to developments if the situation escalates.
Foreigners in various online forums have expressed an overall calm attitude toward the development, particularly those living far from Bangkok, which has been a hotbed of protest activity since late last year. Even at that, the Thai capital was calm today with no signs of any soldiers in many parts of the city.
Don’t make the mistake thinking that #Bangkok is flooded with soldiers. Many people saying that they haven’t seen any yet. Life goes on.
— Richard Barrow (@RichardBarrow) May 20, 2014
Even so, those traveling to or through Bangkok may need to allow for additional travel time, as several roads have been blocked by military vehicles. Be sure to check ahead when flying in or out of the Thai capital.
(LIVE BLOG: Thailand searches for solutions under martial law)
The United States embassy in Bangkok issued a statement urging tourists to avoid protests, demonstrations, and large gatherings, as “even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.” The embassy also encouraged Americans in Thailand to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) via the Internet or in person at the nearest embassy in order to receive important information in case of emergency. A spokesperson from the U.S. State Department said the American government expects the military to honor its word that this is a temporary measure and that it will not undermine democratic processes.
The UK government also advised travelers to avoid protest sites and large demonstrations due to potential violence. Australia recommended that tourists exercise a high degree of caution when traveling around Thailand at this time and also instructed them to avoid protest sites. New Zealand offered the same advice about avoiding large gatherings and demonstrations and encouraged travelers to keep an eye on local media and follow instructions from local law enforcement.
The Sydney Morning Herald recommends that tourists keep a low profile, keep an eye on the news and stay on top of updates, and keep their electronics charged at all times. The publication noted that should tensions escalate or violence break out, some airlines may cancel flights if they are concerned about being able to get their aircraft out of the country.
Australia’s Herald Sun ran a piece saying it is unlikely that the current political situation will affect travelers to Thailand for the time being, especially those headed away from the capital.
Still, Thailand’s recent visa crackdown combined with news of the country being under martial law might prompt some to rethink their stay in the Kingdom, whether as tourists or expats.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand issued an official statement today:
As of today, the situation remains unchanged in the city except for the presence of soldiers on the streets, simply to maintain peace and ensure order is kept at the protest sites. The situation at the rally sites of both anti- and pro-government groups in Bangkok remains calm.
The implementation of martial law has had no affect on transport and tourism attractions across the country. All public transport and tourist attractions, including airports, tourist sites and shopping malls, are currently open and operating as normal.
There is currently no curfew in place in Bangkok or at any other tourist destination in Thailand. Local residents and international visitors can continue to travel within Bangkok and other destinations in the country as usual.
As of Tuesday, the anti-government groups’ rally sites continue to be situated at:
- Government House at Makkhawan Rangsan Bridge on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue
- Chamai Maruchet Bridge on Phitsanulok Road
- Government Complex on Chaeng Wattana Road
- Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue (a camping site)
- The pro-government group’s rally site is on Aksa Road in Bangkok’s western outskirts
Check out Thailand-based blogger Richard Barrow on Twitter for up-to-date travel and safety information on Thailand, while the folks over at TravelFish have this post on today’s events and the travel implications.