Should you travel to Thailand now?

With the unsettled political situation in Thailand, tourists seem worried about coming. But what is the reality? Should you still travel to Thailand?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

Updated:

Is Thailand safe for tourists?

There’s a new trend in Bangkok at the moment.

It’s probably not fair to call it a hobby – although there are plenty of people who seem to be spending their time doing it.

It’s more of a fad or a novelty that’s currently sweeping across the Thai capital.

It’s the photo with the military. Whether it’s a selfie (which seems to be the most popular) or a more composed shot, cameras across Bangkok are getting a workout right now.

You only need to look at social media to see a fairly steady stream of these pictures appearing in the feeds.

Is Thailand safe to travel to?

It’s an odd time to be in Thailand and posing with soldiers on the street is just a small slice of what’s happening here.

I had commitments in Bangkok that were organised well before the coup that has led to martial law here. I decided to honour those commitments and it’s given me a good chance to see the reality of the situation here on the ground for myself.

It’s also a good opportunity to share with you my thoughts on whether you should still travel to Thailand.

I knew things were going to be different as soon as I checked in for my flight from London to Bangkok with Thai Airways.

I was told the plane was only 20 per cent full. When I asked for a row to myself, the man smiled and said he could also leave the rows behind and in front of me free.

The 747 is already quite a spacious plane but this made the overnight flight even more comfortable and I wondered at one point if I had a hostess all to myself whenever the food and drinks arrived.

Is Thailand safe to travel to?

Within hours of landing, I realised it wasn’t just the plane which was deserted. Streets in the centre of Bangkok, usually known as popular spots for tourists, have hardly a Western face in sight.

I’ve been to Bangkok many times over the years but I have never seen it so quiet.

Empty tuk tuks are lined up outside hotels and many of them are likely to spend all day there…

The spruikers in front of tailor shops seem even more despondent than usual…

And the workers outside the massage parlours shout out to me – “Mah-saaaaa-ge” – but their hearts are not in it.

Is Thailand safe to travel to?

Tourism in the country is hurting but, for the average Thai person in Bangkok, it’s pretty much business as usual. After the initial flurry of worry and uncertainty, life has got back to normal quickly.

The public transport is as busy as you would expect during rush hour, the street food stalls on every corner have their usual customers for each meal, and all the shops and offices are open for business.

Is Thailand safe to travel to?

Well, except for a shopping centre called Terminal 21 near my hotel, the Marriott Bangkok Sukhumvit.

On Sunday, as I walked past on my way to find some lunch, I noticed a large amount of police and military outside the shopping centre. It turns out there was a protest there and the authorities had come to break it up.

They then closed the centre for the rest of the day.

Is Thailand safe to travel to?

It’s here, as the protesters are being dispersed, that I see the first of the new selfie fad. None of the local people outside the shopping centre seem too concerned by what is happening.

In fact, the sense I get is of curiosity.

People are walking up to the scene and taking photos of themselves with the events unfolding behind. They smile and pose – some soldiers and police officers even jump in the shot with them and give a thumbs up!

An hour later I read on a respected news site an article with the phrase, “Thai military floods Bangkok with troops”.

By this stage I know that I want to tell prospective tourists about the situation on the ground so I go looking for these troops. I walk past the Terminal 21 shopping centre in Sukhumvit again but nobody is here.

The doors are closed but all the police have gone. So I continue to walk.

As it turns out, I walk for more than two hours and still see no signs of the military “flooding” into Bangkok. There are a few police cars near the shopping centres in the middle of the city but nothing that seems too threatening.

The reporting of the situation in the media is not fitting with my experience on the streets of the capital – as far as all the local activities are concerned, Bangkok is the usual fun and bustling metropolis it has always been.

Is Thailand safe to travel to?

So I then decide to head to a place called Victory Monument, an enormous roundabout that has been the focus for protests in the past and had been mentioned as a potential hotspot for trouble this week.

To be clear, though, it is far from most places tourists would go but I am curious and make an effort to find it.

When I get there, I finally see the military. Lots of them.

The entire area is surrounded by police and soldiers who seem to just be waiting for something… anything. It is a large display of force and clearly meant to send a message to anyone considering trouble.

Is Thailand safe to travel to?
Is Thailand safe to travel to?

But I am not considering trouble and the authorities know that. When I take a photo of a group of policemen, a few of them laugh and gave me a big smile and wave.

When I snap another shot of a woman having a photo taken with soldiers, they spot me and beckon me towards them for one myself, “You too! It’s OK!”.

I decide not to but it puts me at ease.

Is Thailand safe to travel to?

And, again, all around this, the average Thai citizens are just going about their business. Locals wait next to soldiers for their bus to come, they stroll along the footpaths past the smoking policemen, and they take their photos.

So many people taking their photos!

I feel like I have seen a large amount of the city – places I have been to many times – and can competently compare.

So what would I say to someone if they asked if they should still travel to Thailand?

Is Thailand safe to travel to?

The best time to travel to Thailand

Well, assuming the situation doesn’t change, I would say it’s definitely worth coming. In fact, there are some reasons why it’s better than ever than usual.

  • A lot of tourists are staying away so nothing is too crowded. Anything you want to do will be easier and more pleasant.
  • Things are cheaper. Just have a look on any hotel booking site and you’ll see 4 star hotels in Bangkok for about $35 a night.
  • Many of the local people I’ve met this week who work in tourism are grateful for the travellers who are still coming to Thailand and will go out of their way to help you and prove their country is safe.
Is Thailand safe to travel to?

From all the reports of other travellers I’ve spoken to, other Thai destinations outside Bangkok have not been affected by the political situation at all but are also cutting prices and offering special deals.

The islands, the beaches, and the jungle – they’re all still there and they want the tourists to come.

Now is the time to make the most of a quiet industry and enjoy a holiday without the expense or the crowds.

Is Thailand safe to travel to?

I should just add a few final comments before I finish up.

I have been very careful not to express an opinion about the political situation itself. While there appear to be some worrying aspects like the stifling of freedom of the press and association, the situation is complicated and I am not in a position to give an educated view.

The aim of this story is to talk about tourism and my thoughts on travelling here based on what I’ve seen and researched. It is also based on the current situation here in Thailand, which could change at some point in the future.

For now, though, I am loving being here again and am very glad I decided to come regardless.

UPDATE: Due to a few questions and comments from readers, I have written a response to this post which addresses some concerns people had. You can read my response here.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN BANGKOK: SILOM

There are two areas I would recommend for good accommodation in a central location. The first is around Silom.

BACKPACKER

If you’re looking for a fun backpacker option, then I would suggest HQ Hostel Silom.

BUDGET

There are a few budget options, but I would recommend looking at Silom Serene.

BOUTIQUE

A cool funky hotel in Silom is the W Bangkok.

LUXURY

And for the ultimate luxury, I would recommend going across the river to the beautiful Peninsula Bangkok.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN BANGKOK: SUKHUMVIT

The other main area for accommodation in Bangkok is around Sukhumvit.

BACKPACKER

There’s no better party hostel in Bangkok than the Slumber Party Bangkok in Sukhumvit.

BUDGET

A good cheap and comfortable hotel that I would suggest is the 41 Suite Bangkok.

BOUTIQUE

For a very cool boutique hotel, I think the Bangkok Publishing Residence is awesome.

LUXURY

And although there are quite a few good luxury hotels, I think the best is the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of The Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thai Airways but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

39 thoughts on “Should you travel to Thailand now?”

  1. I agree with the sentiments and observations of the writer. I together with my family was in Bangkok the day before martial law was declared and stayed there for about 8 days (May 19 to 26, 2014). Everything was normal except for the 10pm to 5am curfew then. We toured the city including attractions on its suburbs. We hardly saw any military presence (we didnt go to the victory monument though) during our stay and we had fun all throughout our stay.

    Reply
    • Great to hear you had a good time. As I suggested in the piece, it’s actually quite nice to go to some of the sights and not have the large crowds! The curfew has now been shortened anyway so it’s all getting back to normal. There are lots of military around Victory Monument but, yeah, hardly anywhere else!

      Reply
    • That’s true. I’ve been there before during large protests and it didn’t keep visitors away. The strange thing is that the place is even safer than usual now but the tourist numbers are falling.

      Reply
  2. Great to read that it appears relatively safe in Bangkok. We have just booked a holiday to Phuket for October. I was a little concerned at first but my travel agent assured me that if things escalate the wholesaler will allow us to postpone our trip. We travel with a young child so we are not concerned about the curfew. I am looking forward to the trip and if we are lucky with a relatively empty plane.

    Reply
    • The holiday parts of Thailand have now had their curfew lifted anyway so there probably isn’t much difference in Phuket at all. It may be a bit quieter for a while, though. But, then again, by October the visitor numbers should be up again. Have a great holiday!!

      Reply
  3. I think the worst thing about these kinds of political disturbances is how it effects the lives of so many people working in tourism. It’s great that the hotels have rooms for $35 but it makes me worry about the staff working at these hotels who might be laid off because they’re not getting enough business.

    Great insight into what’s going on though – it looks completely safe to visit! (Which is good, cos we’re going next year.)

    Reply
    • Good point about the flow-on effect to workers! For their sake, hopefully these cheap hotel rooms are just for a short period while things get back to relative normal. There seemed to be a lot of uncertainty straight after the coup but now most people can see that things have settled into a pretty usual flow so I think travellers will start heading back very soon.

      Reply
    • Thanks, Val. I know you’ve gone to a lot of effort to find out what’s happening on the ground as well. I’m glad you think this is a pretty fair representation of the situation.

      Reply
  4. I really used to enjoy reading your blog, Michael. Really disappointed that everything I’ve seen from you lately has been marketing for resorts or tourism boards — first the indifferent pictures of unhealthy, patchy and overfished reef from what’s really not a great patch of the Red Sea (sold as “the Red Sea’s best diving” when you didn’t even DIVE the place!), now this for the Thai Tourism Board. I think at the very least you ought to explain to your readers who aren’t aware of the conference and the freebies (plus payment?) for writers to communicate that Thailand’s safe, that their travel insurance won’t cover anything coup-related, and that they won’t be covered at all if they’re US nationals unless they go with a specialist insurer. American, go to Thailand against government advice, have a crash, need evac, and you’re facing medical bills of hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with comped trips — you always used to produce quite interesting content from press trips — but as, I think, as a former journo, you might want to think twice about shilling for a junta that’s imprisoning hundreds of journos without trial, censoring media and slashing human rights across the board. And, no, your Thai colleagues are not posing for selfie pictures with the soldiers because they’re in military prisons. Here’s an overview of the human rights situation that you touch on – http://www.hrw.org/asia/thailand.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment, Theodora. I appreciate the detail so I’ll try to make sure I cover each of the points you’ve raised about Thailand.
      Firstly, I think it’s important to stress again that everything in this article is my own opinion based on my own on-the-ground research in Bangkok so I could write an accurate article for people who want to know the situation in Thailand for tourists. The fact that my flight and hotel was covered so I could attend a conference there (which was organised before the coup – and I’ve disclosed) has no effect on what I’ve written. It is a very common practice in travel writing to have your costs covered so you are able to see destinations and write about them in an impartial way.
      Secondly, the issue of insurance is an important one. It’s one of the reasons why I wrote the article. The warnings from governments and insurance agencies makes it seems like Bangkok and Thailand are currently are warzone. For 99.9% of tourists who visit now, though, they wouldn’t even know there were political problems in the country. The reality on the ground does not match the rhetoric that potential travellers are hearing.
      And finally, I made a point of saying in this article that I wasn’t commenting about the politics of the situation, just the practicalities of being a tourist in the country. Yes, there are problems with freedom of the press. Yes, you could argue that this is not good for democracy. However, that wasn’t what I was writing about. This is an article to answer questions about whether it is safe in Thailand as a tourist and my emphatic and unbiased opinion continues to be definitely yes.

      Reply
      • Thanks for your reply, Michael. I think I’d find it easier to treat this post credibly if I hadn’t read two of your pieces on El Gouna, one raving about an Egyptian wine produced by your host, one raving about a snorkel trip. I can’t comment directly on the wine, although given the Egyptian climate, and the general level of Egyptian wine, I’d be surprised if it’s as amazing as you suggest. I can comment, as a diver who’s done quite a lot of the Red Sea dive sites, on the pictures of the reef with the Red Sea’s best diving, and say that that really, really wasn’t. I’d actually go further, and say that if I’d paid for a snorkel trip pretty much anywhere with reef and only seen that, I’d have been hugely disappointed.

        I suggest you ask yourself honestly, if you’d paid for that wine, or paid for that snorkel trip, or paid for your resort stay, would you REALLY have raved about them? If you’d been writing for a standard-issue news outlet would you REALLY have devoted hundreds of words and pictures to describing an Egyptian wine as nectar? If you were writing for a news outlet, would you not have gone down a more journalistic path and devoted 200 words to the entire El Gouna resort, including these two posts as sentences: “They’ve brought in a Lebanese winemaker to assist in making their own wine, using X grape and Y grape from Z vineyards.” “Catamaran snorkelling trips are a fun way to see the Red Sea reef…” Honestly?

        Yes, free travel and accom and trips are normal for writers. The distinction between bloggers and journalists seems to be that free accom and trips and travel come with specific boundaries as to what to write, along with encouragement to share and comment positively on all materials produced by other bloggers on the same trip. Any journo writing a Thailand travel safety piece would explain the situation in a couple of sentences, which is perfectly doable: your decision to avoid explaining anywhere that a military coup, allegedly because the country was on the verge of civil war, recently removed the democratically elected government, or to mention the curfew, does smack of bias. As does your decision to sweepingly declare an entire country safe to visit on the basis of a couple of days in BKK.

        To clarify, both you and Val were part of this, right? http://www.diasiaevents.com/blogger-matchup-bangkok/? One specific communication goal of funding bloggers — were you on a stipend as well, or just the free deal? — in this instance was (I quote, directly): “social media and bloggers can be a solution to tell the world that Thailand is a safe destination.”

        The insurance issue is important because people will not be covered if they travel against government advice, unless they go through specialist brokers for coverage — the big focus on Thailand as an unsafe area is, I understand, in the south, near the Malaysian border. That’s relevant to safety because if you’re with a standard holiday insurer, and you’re in BKK, you’re not covered for anything that goes wrong: anything from a robbery or a car crash through to a missed flight. Insurers are all about keeping their costs low – it’s not about hysteria, it’s about how expensive it could be to get someone out if the shit hit the fan. The same with the government. They advise against travel to places because if a situation did get problematic — civil war — they wouldn’t be able to assist.

        This is a link you might want to read, on the distinction between bloggers and marketers – http://www.lastappetite.com/journalist-in-the-streets-blogger-in-the-sheets-food-journalists-food-bloggers-food-marketers/.

        I’m sorry if you genuinely did spontaneously decide to write a 100% positive safety piece, without researching any of the background or any of the political geography of Thailand, just at the time when your hosts are running a communication project using bloggers to get the message out that Thailand is safe. I think if I hadn’t read the two Egypt pieces I cite, if I hadn’t seen that your hosts are currently running a communications project using bloggers to communicate the message that Thailand is safe, I’d be more inclined to see this as the “unbiased opinion” you claim it is… Does this make sense?

        Reply
  5. The Junta in Thailand has overthrown a democratically elected government that would still will an election by popular vote any day. Now the same Junta goes ahead and pays bloggers with free flights and hotel stays to get people to come back. Ironic much?

    Reply
    • Just to be clear, Jan, my trip to Thailand was organised before the military coup and it is just a coincidence I was there during this period. I also was not paid to say anything. This is my honest opinion and I am yet to speak to someone who has been in Thailand the past couple of weeks who disagrees.

      Reply
    • Have a great time, Lisa. I’m sure you’ll love Thailand!
      The way things are heading, Thailand might be pretty much back to normal by the time you get there in a few weeks. I don’t think you’ll have any problems at all – especially out of Bangkok it’s business as usual. Enjoy!

      Reply
  6. Once you said the streets were empty as far as westerners go, you had me sold! haha. In regards to what one commenter was saying about Travel Insurance. While I think travel insurance can be a good thing to have. Not having is not going to stop me from traveling somewhere. Another thing, travel warnings are way too broad. For instance, US Gov still had a standing warning in regards to Mexico. Well I’ve been living here for over a year, and yup, I’m still alive. Why? Because my area is not the hotbed of Narco violence that everyone outside of Mexico thinks all of Mexico is. Sorry to go off on a tangent. I don’t like to live in fear of what ifs.

    Reply
    • It’s certainly a pleasant change to not have the streets full of tourists! 🙂
      I agree with you about travel warnings. They are always very broad and put a whole country in the same category because of something that is happening in one particular region. I note that there aren’t travel warnings for the US, even though people sadly seem to be getting shot there at an alarming rate. It’s all about understanding a country and where you should be going to stay safe.

      Reply
  7. I think you covered the whole situation pretty well in this and you’re follow up post, I haven’t visited Bangkok, but here in Pattaya you get the feeling the Thais have an easy familiarity with coups. I also agree, there is no reason for anyone to be worried about visiting Thailand.

    Reply
  8. 949526 595255I generally cant discover it in me to care enough to leaves a comment for articles on the web but this was really pretty great, thanks and keep it up, Ill check back once more 535722

    Reply
  9. You went to Thailand while bomb was happening, now there is nothing like polices and solders walking around in Bangkok.
    I would recommend going to southern of Thailand! Phuket, Kabi and Suratthani are the best!

    Reply
  10. This article was published since 2014. Hopefully, it is not too late to share my opinion. From my point of view, Thailand is still a safe place to travel. Regardless of being under control of the military coup, visitors are free to go anywhere or to do anything they want as long as they are not involving with political issues. They will be fine.
    Besides, the general election is just around the corner. Those who are concerned about insurance coverage might reconsider about coming to Thailand soon.

    Reply
  11. Waoo, Thailand is really awesome. I wish to visit there.
    Thanks for sharing such amazing images and information about Thailand.
    I appreciate your blog post.

    Reply
  12. My first trip to Thailand was also in January 2014. Almost the entire city center was closed to transport, except for the SkyTrain. There were tents everywhere and in the evenings there were rallies. But it was very safe and interesting. In the afternoon we walked along the wide streets. And there everywhere we were offered free water and free tangerines. And in the evening there was free food for everyone. But it was very spicy and I could not eat it 🙂

    Reply

Leave a comment