Impressions from Thailand
Andrea Ross of Journeys Within, which offers tours of Southeast Asia, answers our questions about travel safety and day-to-day life in Bangkok since military leaders took seized control of the government on September 19
Q: When did you arrive in Bangkok, and what is your role there?
A: I have been in Bangkok for the last month working from our office here. I am the director of tours for Journeys Within, so I'm spending time in Thailand working on our tours here and meeting with my Bangkok director.
Q: What have the scene on the street and the mood been like in Bangkok?
A: Coups are a prominent part of Thai history, though the last one was 15 years ago. No one here seems to view it as a breakdown of democracy, but rather an important step in reaffirming democracy. In Bangkok, Thaksin was very unpopular, so the mood here, if anything other than normal, is slightly excited. Yesterday while I was out running errands I saw a woman approach some soldiers stationed by the skytrain and wei (bow with hands together) to them. Though I could only understand part of what she was saying, the sentiment was clearly "thank you." Other than a slightly increased military presence, there is very little changed in the capital.
Q: What advice would you give to travelers currently in Thailand?
A: We have guests here at the moment and we called them the day after the coup to make sure they weren't worried, and they continued their tour as scheduled. We advised them to keep in touch with us if they had any concerns, and to continue as usual. Since we are based here we are able to see firsthand that the situation is incredibly calm and peaceful, so unless that changes our advice to our guests and other travelers is just to enjoy themselves and continue on as usual. It is worth, of course, having someone on the ground keeping an eye on things...we would advise our guests if we ever felt there was a need to leave the country. If you don't have a tour operator in Thailand then just check in online or watch the news to make sure the mood hasn't changed, but so far we don't anticipate any problems.
Q: What can travelers with upcoming trips do to be sure that the situation is safe and that their plans are intact?
A: Like I said, keep watching the news and making sure the situation hasn't escalated and check in with your tour operator in Thailand to see if they are comfortable with you still traveling...all of our tours are running as scheduled, and we are keeping in close contact with all our guests here now and those planning on arriving in the next couple of months.
Q: Has the coup affected local services and infrastructure?
A: The day after the coup, government offices and banks were closed and there was a declared holiday, but since then everything has been back up and running as usual. I ran errands yesterday and I didn't see anything out of the ordinary except a few more military on corners than we're used to.
Q: What long-term impact do you think the coup will have on Thailand's tourism industry?
A: I of course understand people's trepidation at coming to a country that is going through this political change, but I hope that people realize it is not affecting tourism, and tourism is an incredibly important aspect of the Thai economy. Though I'm sure there will be an effect on tourism here, none of our guests have cancelled their plans to come to Thailand and Southeast Asia; they have told us that as long as we feel the situation is safe they will continue as planned. I think because we are based here, we are able to give them realistic views of the situation, and they know that if there were a problem we are on the ground here and can help them however they need. I recognize that not everyone has that comfort, so I am sure that for a few months this will hurt the tourism industry, but Thailand is a fabulous country with amazing sites and people so I have no doubt it will continue to be a "must see."
For more information, check the website of the U.S. Embassy in Thailand, http://bangkok.usembassy.gov/, and closely monitor news sources.