The best advice as to how to avoid getting caught up in a protests going on in Bangkok is obviously to seek information. If you search on the internet and look for tweets from https://twitter.com/RichardBarrow you can keep updated about planned protests. Google Maps can then show you how far away your hotel is from the rallies.
Nearly every hotel and guesthouse front desk in Sukhumvit and elsewhere in Bangkok will be able to tell you the latest information about scheduled demonstrations for the next few days.
Getting the most up-to-date information is essential. Listing here where the trouble has been or will be in the future is futile as this post will soon grow stale. However, as a rule of thumb most of the Suthep Thaugsuban / Yellow Shirt / anti-Thaksin rallies have been at Democracy Monument (Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, Phra Nakhon District). This is the place to give a wide berth.
For backpackers heading for the Khao San Road area the Democracy Monument gatherings are a problem as it blocks off the usual route to the area for taxis and tuk tuks. Many taxi drivers won’t take a fare to Khao San Road for this reason. Not to worry there is the Rapid Express Ferry service as well as plenty of other safe roads to take.
In the past the demonstrations have also disrupted access to The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Phra Athit. These are major tourist attractions. There have also been demos in the Sukhumvit area.
Analysts see the leader of the anti-Thaksin and Pheu Thai Party (PTP), ‘Suthep’ as he has become known, as seeking to cause maximum disruption to the government. Ministries and government offices have been targeted to make the continuation of the present administration impossible. This tactic is designed to make civil servants begin to doubt the legitimacy of the Yingluck Shinawatra government and walk out causing anarchy. The idea is that the army will step in and appoint a Democrat Party government like they did in 2006.
The army got heavily criticized for this last time around and so is not keen to intervene until the situation becomes critical and they will be perceived as heroes rather than villains.
In opposition are the ’reds’ – pro the PTP and the Shinawatra clan. They also protest and gather in large numbers elsewhere in the city. These crowds are heavily drawn from the northern provinces where the government enjoys strong support from the rural poor.
The split represents a larger division in Thai society whose differences appear irresolvable by democracy as it stands in the country. That is not to say that allegiances cannot shift and a new ruling coalition be quickly voted in that seeks to find common ground between these two groupings.
From just this brief recap of the political situation it is clear that the matter is not simple; nor its resolution.
What is also clear is that these demonstrations by both sides pose little threat to foreign visitors to Bangkok. Rain or shine it is business as usual in the Big Mango. Neither the pro-Thaksin nor the anti-Thaksin groupings are interested in hurting tourists. Although fatalities and injuries have been reported most of the protesting has been peaceful; typically involving food, entertainment and the inevitable sabre-rattling speeches. This should be remembered when reading that 30 odd countries have issued government travel warnings for their nationals visiting Thailand.
Here is a brief bullet point guide to staying safe in Bangkok:
- Keep up-to-date with planned protests dates and locations
- Take the sky train (BTS) and the subway (MRT)
- Don’t wear yellow or red t-shirts
- If you see a big gathering ahead then turn around and leave
- Don’t be tempted to join the protesters
- Get travel advice from your hotel
- If you don’t have to be in Bangkok then head out of the city
- If you do get caught in street demos then stay calm and politely make your retreat