A response to Thailand safety concerns

Last week I wrote a story about whether you should travel to Thailand at the moment. Some people thought I was being biased – here is my response.

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:

More about tourism in Thailand right now

I’m sitting here at Bangkok airport as I write this, a place I seem to have come to know quite well over the years.

It’s still a few hours until my Thai Airways flight takes off so I wanted to use the opportunity to write a bit more about what Thailand is like at the moment.

Last week I published a post about whether you should travel to Thailand right now. It was based on my experience in Bangkok for a few days where I made an effort to see as much of the city as possible and how the military coup here has affected tourism.

In the story I disclosed that I was a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand who had organised a trip for me as part of a conference that was being held.

Everything was planned well before the political unrest but I decided to go ahead with the visit anyway – it seemed a good chance to write about the current situation.

Safety in Thailand and travel during martial law

Well, a couple of readers criticised me and the story because they believed I would be biased because my costs were covered by the tourism authority. It’s something I firmly reject.

It is very common for people like myself – journalists and bloggers – to have our costs paid for travel so that we can write about the destinations.

But I wasn’t paid by the Thai authorities, as one person suggested. I didn’t feel I owed them anything.

I can assure you that I accept this kind of travel so that I can continue to bring you more stories from around the world. If anyone thinks that constant travel and work is a ‘holiday’ then they haven’t done it themselves.

This is a job and I take a lot of pride in maintaining my independence and integrity.

Do you distrust movie reviews because the critic saw the film for free? I doubt it. It’s the same for me.

Safety in Thailand and travel during martial law

I was heartened by the number of comments from people who agreed with my views on the current situation. But, on the other hand, those who were concerned about my post did raise a couple of valid points – aspects of travel to Thailand at the moment that I had neglected to mention.

The thing I love so much about writing a blog as opposed to print journalism is that people interact with my stories, I have the opportunity to respond to them and I can write another story with developments (that’s what this is, by the way!)

Safety in Thailand and travel during martial law

So, on that note, I would like to address a few of the issues that were raised about tourism here right now.

The first was about insurance. At the conference I mentioned earlier, organised by Digital Innovation Asia, this topic came up.

We were told that many large companies and organisations are cancelling conferences and events in Thailand because they can’t get the insurance for them – even though they would still like to go ahead with them.

Safety in Thailand and travel during martial law

It’s an issue that tourists need to be aware of too. Because of travel warnings issued by many countries, some travel insurance companies will not cover claims in Thailand or will not issue new policies for the country.

As of publication, 62 countries have issued travel advisories and 18 of them are telling citizens to reconsider travel here – including the US, Spain and Italy (and Iran, ironically enough).

Each travel insurance company will approach this in a different way and it is something you need to check before you head here for a holiday.

If you find yourself in trouble in Thailand without insurance, it’s bad news!

Safety in Thailand and travel during martial law

Another point that was raised was about the curfew. It’s true, I didn’t mention this in my original story but that was really an oversight rather than a whitewash. So let’s look at the details as they stand.

The Thai authorities have lifted the curfew completely in ten tourism areas – Pattaya, Koh Samui, Phuket, Hua Hin, Cha-am, Krabi, Phang Nga, Hat Yai, Ko Chang and Ko Phangan (including Ko Tao).

At the time of writing, it remains in place in the rest of the country from midnight to 4am.

This will be an issue if your plan is to party in Bangkok. If you’re not a night owl and want a good night’s sleep before seeing the sights, it could be a blessing.

I have had comments from potential travellers that they are actually pleased with a curfew because they’re travelling with children and it makes the cities quieter.

I guess it’s about perspective, in this case.

Safety in Thailand and travel during martial law

One more point that was raised about my original post was that it didn’t go into the political situation in depth. In fact, I said openly that I didn’t want to cover the politics because the story was only about what the situation is like for tourists.

Yes, there are concerning actions in regards to things like freedom of speech. But, on the other hand, pretty much all of the locals I have spoken to think that military rule is essential to solve the problems with the governance of the country.

I’m not in a position to say whether they’re right or wrong, but it is an interesting insight.

Regardless, you may decide you don’t want to travel to Thailand for ethical reasons because of what’s happening but I think the same could be said for many other countries in the world.

Safety in Thailand and travel during martial law

As I said, I welcome comments and concerns about the stories I write and I am glad I have the opportunity to address them. It does upset me when my ethics are questioned, though, but often it’s a case of perception rather than reality.

I do, however, stand by the main thrust of my original story.

On the ground in Bangkok and further afield, there is no reason to fear for your safety. There is no reason why a holiday here right now will not be as enjoyable as any other time you might have travelled.

In fact, hotels are cheaper and sights are less crowded so there are some big advantages in visiting at the moment. Other than fewer tourists where there normally are many, life in Bangkok is business as usual as far as I am concerned.

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.

20 thoughts on “A response to Thailand safety concerns”

  1. As another member of the group of this sponsored trip, I thought I’d chime in here. I talk about it at this post: http://www.oneweirdglobe.com/2014/06/destination-bloggers-conference/. The TL;DR version:

    I lived in Bangkok for six months prior to returning for these festivities. It actually (yes, really) felt safer than when there were protests across the city. Even then, the city was safe. *

    * By ‘safe’ I mean ‘no more dangerous than it usually is’ – the city still has the usual mix of villains and villainy. You didn’t expect that to go away, did you? Don’t walk down dark alleys, don’t flash large sums of cash, and use your common sense and street smarts when going anywhere in southeast Asia.

    As for the whole ‘but your trip was sponsored! You’re supposed to say nice things about them!’ spiel. No, we’re not. No guarantees of positive mentions are ever granted, and all opinions remains my own. A blogger that takes their website / writing seriously will value their audience and readers FAR MORE than a trip worth a few hundred dollars. More than a few of us turned down an opportunity to take in a *very* nice dinner at a five-star hotel because it didn’t fit with our blogs and our readers. Yes, I passed up a din I’d have paid $50-$60 for and (probably) some alcohol to go with it. Regrets? None.

    Reply
      • The point about the dinner (and other events) is that they’re held so you are able to experience it yourself and then write about it. I wouldn’t say there’s an obligation to write about it if you decided later on it’s not appropriate but why would you go if you know from the start it doesn’t fit with your usual style of content. Then it just becomes a ‘freebie’ rather than a product in exchange for review, which is the usual model for this kind of thing.

        Reply
        • So, let me get this straight. Chris turned down a dinner which he didn’t have to write about and would have liked to go to, why? I’m confused. Why couldn’t he go because it was interesting / fun / going to teach him more about Thai food?

    • Thanks for chiming in, Chris. I think most bloggers would agree with you that having the respect of your audience is much more important than any free trips. In fact, the sponsored travel can feel much more like work than a holiday – we generally do it to deliver content for our readers. I guess it’s a matter of perception, though. Sometimes you need to be able to explain to people that just because something is free, it doesn’t mean you owe anybody anything.

      Reply
    • I recently visited Bangkok and was very disturbed by the scene on the streets. The streets were very filthy and smell like urine everywhere, but what shocked me most was being ROBBED!! I am a pretty well fit athletic shape guy in my late forties. I was approached by two Lady boys, who were trying to be all over me, as I was walking down one of the main streets. One on each side of me as I’m trying to walk away from them, to the left one was pulling on my arm and on my right the other was trying to pull my neck, but little did I know he was actually unclasping my gold chain. This happened with 5 minutes tops. As I broke free no more than 30 seconds I realized my chain was missing! Turning around to see that they were no where in sight. A 5 minute robbery turned into a 3 hour police report! Results 0 too none! Talking to locals in the area, they warned me that, the Lady boys are steeling from the local people and shops not only tourist. All this happened Three weeks ago! I wish I was a member of this sight before I traveled there!!

      Reply
  2. We were also part of the Digital Innovation Asia/ Blogger Match-up event. Having stayed in Bangkok for a large part of the last six months, our impression of the current safety situation for tourists visiting concurs with Michael’s. Had we at any time felt that there was a real risk to ours or other travelers well being, we would have left Bangkok and Thailand immediately.

    The news reporting in our home country of Norway, have at times made it seem like there is something akin to a war going on in the streets of Bangkok. Perhaps sensationalizing and exaggerating the safety situation sells a lot of news stories, I don’t know. For someone considering whether or not to cancel their trip, first hand information from someone in Bangkok about what is actually going on is valuable.

    It is in my opinion possible to separate the issue of tourist safety from the much more complex issue of the current political situation in Thailand. Michael’s blog post was about the safety for tourists visiting, and he made it very clear that the political situation was not the topic.

    It’s though when ones integrity is questioned, since it is really all we have. It is not something anyone I know would sell for a free hotel stay. Yes, part of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s goal is to let people know that Thailand is safe to visit. But I can’t believe anyone, least of all Michael, would risk saying something is safe, if they did not truly feel that it is. This is peoples lives and health we are talking about.

    Lastly I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but we were already in Thailand before the conference, we received no free hotel stays or flights to attend Digital Innovation Asia. But even if we had, it would not matter. Our opinions are not for sale, and they never will be.

    Reply
    • I’m so pleased you added your thoughts, Espen. On the ground information is really important in a situation like this, especially when the media can make something seem much worse than it is. I hope people reading our stories will get a better understanding of the realities in Thailand right now.

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  3. We were watching those events of your last post closely and are so glad you decided to clarify your position. It shows that you not only have integrity, but have integrity about your integrity. We’ve always enjoyed your honesty as much as your excellent writing and beautiful photos. Rock on Mr. Turtle, rock on.

    Reply
    • Thanks guys, I appreciate the comment. In this crazy world of travel blogging, I think integrity is a very valuable commodity. Yes, we often make things seem all wonderful and happy but most of the travel we do is, so that’s to be expected. When things are unsafe or unenjoyable, I think it’s important to say that too. I just like that we all have the ability on blogs to get feedback from people and respond to that – it’s one of the things that makes this medium so powerful!

      Reply
    • Thanks Carmen. I know it’s something you guys feel is very important as well. Perhaps journalists who work for large organisations can hide behind the reputation of their employers a bit more. For bloggers like us, everything relies on our name and it’s important to be able to be honest with readers.

      Reply
  4. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for taking the time to address some of my and others points. First up: I notice there’s an expectation among some people on this trip that if you do X you have to write about it — that’s never the case with pro journalists, as far as I’m aware. That would match with the El Gouna stuff you wrote: an indifferent snorkelling trip becomes Egypt’s best diving, a trip to a winery becomes a post about nectar.

    Secondly, I think the political situation IS relevant to the safety issue in Thailand — all of Thailand, including the areas with the insurgency in the south — so does require mentioning. Are there still protests in BKK? Where are they popping up? What should you do if you hit one? What about the bombings in the south? And, yes, I think most people would explain what the protests are about.

    I’d like you to take a look at this para, and ask whether it would make it through an editor. “Yes, there are concerning actions in regards to things like freedom of speech. But, on the other hand, pretty much all of the locals I have spoken to think that military rule is essential to solve the problems with the governance of the country.” The act of “liking” a pro-democracy organisation on Facebook can now earn a Thai a sentence of 5 years; expressing verbal opposition to the junta is punishable by up to 2 years. Because of freedom of speech restrictions such as these, anyone expressing a negative view on the junta to you is risking years in prison, so I really don’t think you should, as a journalist, take those statements at face value. This is a good source: http://prachatai.org/english/node/4110

    TBH, the only not-glowing copy I’ve ever seen from a press / comped trip by a blogger was the time Kate’s boat sank off Komodo. Perhaps you can direct me to some examples where you, or others, wrote about press trips/ comped trips /paid trips and wrote something that wasn’t positive?

    Theodora

    Reply
    • It’s a good point – no, that paragraph would not have got through an editor. In fact, this whole post would not have got through an editor. That’s why it’s a blog and not a newspaper. The great thing about blogging is that you can share your personal experiences, opinions and thoughts. You can write a post like this responding to comments on another one – that would never happen with a traditional publication and a traditional editor. (I should also add that most people who told me they thought the military coup was a good necessary step volunteered that opinion – I did not ask what they thought.)

      In regards to positive stories from comped trips, it’s a valid ethical argument that has been going on for decades – well before blogs existed. My answer would be that it’s not about negative/positive stories but about consistency. Are the stories I write about non-comped trips the same as about comped trips? I would say, for the main part, yes. I’m sure if you went through my 470 posts you could find a few examples to prove any point you wanted to make (and I’m sure I’m not 100% happy with all my stories, in hindsight) but, in general, I really don’t think there is any inconsistency in my writing.

      Reply
  5. It’s a bit of a logical failure, that’s my point, Michael. Let me phrase it another way: “Thais who say bad things about the government can now incur 2-5 year sentences. No one I spoke to said bad things about the government.” Maybe engage your internal editor to query this kind of stuff? I get that freedom is great, but sometimes at least an internal editor is a good substitute.

    I’d like to repeat my original question, which you haven’t answered. Apart from Kate’s shipwreck post, can you think of a single story by you or any other blogger that is anything but positive about a comped trip? Someone who’s been following this dialogue with interest directed me to this one, by Lauren at Neverending Footsteps (who no longer does free trips precisely because of the ethical challenges they present to bloggers) – neverendingfootsteps.com/2013/04/26/glowworms-in-waitomo-best-done-independently/. So there’s two. Any more?

    And another question you haven’t yet answered. Would you, REALLY, have raved about that snorkel trip in El Gouna and used the phrase “Egypt’s best diving” on Twitter and in the SEO if it hadn’t been part of a comped trip? That’s a terrible patch of reef, from the pictures, with close to zero life, and you weren’t diving. Would it REALLY have merited an entire post raving about it? I clicked on that cos I know quite a lot about Red Sea diving and I’d not heard of that, and wanted to see what I was missing. I took a look at the copy and the pictures, and went “oh! comped trip!”. I actually missed the disclosure at the end, initially, so I thought it was an undisclosed comped trip.

    I’ve done, and do, comped trips/meals/blah blah blah as a journalist; I’ve done a handful of comped things as a blogger and probably won’t do any more. The expectations are very different. As a blogger, you’re seen as an adjunct to the marketing division (or, more often, given the titchy reach most of us have, SEO); see the convo above, which I’ll also comment on.

    Journo dialogue: “I’m doing a story for X publication on diving in Y – blurb about publication reach/market. Can I come and dive with you guys, and I’ll say I dived with you?” Them: “Yes, you will mention our name, won’t you?” End result: a story about diving in Y, mentioning Z. Z gets exposure. Readers get a nice story about diving in Y. If an experience/ part of an experience is a bit rubbish in journoland — El Gouna – you can a) not mention it cos it’s not relevant to your reader and you only have 300/600/900/1200 words so limited space b) mention it in passing (snorkel trips are also available/the resort offers X, Y, Z plus snorkelling) or c) if it’s spectacularly rubbish write it up as a funny story/must avoid. Nobody gets copy approval, and nobody talks about their marketing objectives.

    Blogger dialogue: “We’re doing outreach. We can offer you X days at our resort, X meals, Y diving and Z trips. We’d like a minimum of 10 posts, plus this amount of social media interaction, with the #amazingthailand hashtag so we can track how well we’re doing. Our key messages are… / We want a post on…/We’d like to highlight…” For paid blogger trips, there are typically contracts, in which positive messaging is agreed, as well as numbers of posts. You say you’re not getting paid cash for this one, and I believe you.

    Still you’re on a trip with an objective to communicate that Thailand is safe to travel to. And, voila! Two posts on how *all of* Thailand is safe to travel to. Which I’m sure is coincidence. As, I’m sure, is your neglecting to mention the insurance issue, the curfew, the bombings, the protests and the political context in the first one.

    It’s different. You MUST, surely, know it’s different, no? That’s why everyone’s assuming that if they’re given something free on a press trip, they should write nice things about it, to pay the “client” back for the freebie. There’s no CONCEPT up above that anyone might want to do something to see if it’s any good or not / worth writing about or not / informative for research purposes and could feed into subsequent writing. It’s a pay for play model, and, at a dinner, that’s pretty darn cheap.

    Reply
  6. Sorry, one thing I meant to add…. When you started doing press trips, your copy was editorial. This, for example. It’s interesting, engaging, and doesn’t feel like shilling at all – https://www.timetravelturtle.com/2012/10/orangutans-borneo-kalimantan-indonesia/. Really nice piece of writing.

    Now compare this – https://www.timetravelturtle.com/2014/05/el-gouna-winery-winemaking-egypt/.

    ‘I take a small sip of a glass Labib has handed me and then refuse the spitting bucket (it’s too good to waste!)

    “And what you’re tasting now is the fruit of these 13 years work starting in 2001,” he finishes.’

    There’s a step change between those posts from editorial to advertorial.

    I’m sorry, incidentally, to be focusing on you. You’re very far from the worst offender, and we’re few of us guiltless – but I did genuinely enjoy your writing, and it seems now to have crossed the line from “writing engagingly about stuff I did on a press trip” (journo style) to “delivering client’s marketing objectives” (splogger style). It just bugs me because I did enjoy your writing and trust your content, and now, with the El Gouna stuff and the DiAsia Tourism stuff, I don’t.

    Reply
  7. As someone who has spent a lot of time overseas including in Fiji during the 2000 coup and in Washington DC around the time of the sniper (2003) it is interesting to see how events going on in the country you’re in, are reported back in Australia (or elsewhere internationally). In some cases, what’s presented is just a tiny microcosm of what’s going on. In other cases, it’s a pretty accurate reflection of what it feels like to be there. Your insights about the current situation in Thailand are most helpful.

    Reply
    • I appreciate that, Angus. Yeah, it’s funny to see how things are reported. I remember it happened to me quite a few times in Australia when there were bushfires, for instance. People from overseas would write messages to see if I was ok and you would have to explain that it’s like asking someone in London if they’re ok because there’s a disaster in Scotland! 🙂

      Reply
  8. Great post!!Thailand is really an amazing place!The beaches,the floating market,the night-life everything is amazing.It’s the best place for vacations for someone who wants to relax !!

    Reply

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