Thailand Updates - State of Emergency Declared in Bangkok and Surrounding Provinces

Travel News Asia Latest Travel News Podcasts UPDATED: Sunday, 26 April 2009 (12:45 Thai time)

- latest updates appear further down the page -

On Thursday, the red-shirted protestors (UDD party), together with many taxi drivers, blocked off roads to the normally very busy Victory monument causing traffic chaos throughout the capital city and its surrounds. This was the beginning of a dramatic increase in activities from the UDD party.

The government then, and quite unexpectedly, declared that Friday would be a national holiday, although many banks and the stock exchange of Thailand remained open, mainly due to the lack of time with which to prepare an holiday..

Then on Saturday, the red-shirt protestors targetted the ASEAN summit which was to take place in Pattaya. They succeeded in their goal, the summit was postponed, and some of the delegates attending airlifted out, with the government briefly declaring a state of emergency in Pattaya which was quickly removed.

As before, when it was the yellow-shirted protestors causing the chaos, it is unknown what the future holds. In fact some may well argue that these latest actions by the reds are far less damaging to the tourism industry and Thai economy than last year's closure of the airports in Phuket, Hat Yai, Krabi and of course Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok, all of which was led by the yellows and which affected tourists directly and unfairly.

Pattaya's tourism industry is also extremely resilient, and quite unique, so despite Thailand being about to enter its traditional low season (end-April to end-October), we would not expect the industry in Pattaya to be too badly affected by just the protestors actions on Saturday. Most tourists will have only learned of the events on the news. This is contrary to what some operators are suggesting, claiming it will seriously damage the tourist industry but there is no reason to think that Pattaya would be badly affected by these actions unless the situation develops and tourists find themselves in danger. Pattaya like the rest of Thailand is still recovering from the protestor-led airport closures last year, and trying to struggle amidst a global economic crisis.

How the situation will develop however is impossible to predict, especially as Thais are now supposed to be celebrating the annual week-long Songkran. But even this is now under the shadow of confusion, as on Sunday the Thai government declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding provinces. It is unclear how this will be enforced but it does make any gathering of over 5 people officially illegal (which would also pretty much kill any water throwing party for which Songkran is famous for), it also allows soldiers and tanks to be deployed on the streets and gives the government more power.

16:36 (Sunday) update - can now confirm that very heavily armed soldiers have already been deployed in key locations such as the main arteries into Bangkok, and around the city centre. At one bridge on the Bangkok outskirts we visited there were over 30 heavily armed soldiers and tanks have also been deployed in other locations.

The situation is looking extremely negative and is growing ever more dangerous. Amazingly, despite the seriousness of this situation, most Thai TV channels are showing their normal soap operas and games, giving very little coverage to this developing issue.

update Monday, 13 April @ 08:15 - It is hard enough for the Thai's to know exactly what is happening, but the near total lack of coverage in English is making it even harder for tourists in the capital city or other areas of Thailand which are affected. All the press conferences are in Thai, and TV coverage as mentioned above is limited, and also only in Thai.

We also feel that some of the international media should not be so quick as to brandish the two different factions - red and yellow - with labels such as middle class and monarchists. It is, as the images and numerous issues over the past two and an half years have proved, clearly not that simple, and is wrong to portray it as such.

There were violent clashes over night, and it seems as if the number of soldiers on the streets and in strategic locations today has increased. The situation is extremely tense and it is hard to see this not escalating.

update Monday, 13 April @ 09:37 - many of the roads in Bangkok are eerily quiet, much more than a normal Songkran when millions normally head out of Bangkok anyway. Many of those that have not left however seem to be staying home, or at least away from any potential trouble. Seeing heavily armed soldiers on the streets of Bangkok is not how any Thai would have wanted to spend their New Year.

update Monday, 13 April @ 13:28 - the trouble today started around 4/5 in the morning and has continued periodically through the day. Live rounds have been fired by the army, tear gas has been used as well as water canon. [While the bullets have been mainly fired into the air, do these awol bullets pose a danger? Where, and how do they come back down to earth? Logic would state yes, they are a danger, but frankly I have no idea]. Despite the PM asking for four days of understanding to resolve this, it is still extremely unclear how this can, or will end. Even if the army pushes the protestors back, even if much larger quantities of blood is shed, lives lost, it is difficult to see any short term solution to this very complicated, dangerous and potentially deadly problem. Just a week ago, some tourists planning to come to Thailand to enjoy the water festival, were concerned over reports the Thai government were considering a ban on alcohol. They decided against that at the last minute, now though, where to get a drink is really the least of a tourist's concerns.

update Monday, 13 April @ 19:32 - The violence and clashes between the army and protestors escalated considerably through the day. The army used water canon, smoke grenades and tear gas as well as automatic weapons to shoot into the air and actually at the protestors. The soldiers are very heavily armed and extremely intimidating. In reply to the army, the protestors used buses, Molotov cocktails, hand-held sling shots and even rocks. Transport via road and rail has also been disrupted in certain parts of Thailand. Numerous countries have issued or upgraded travel advisories against travel to / within Bangkok, and some airlines are also offering waived fees for changing plane tickets on flights to / from Thailand. The situation in Bangkok is extremely volatile and dangerous, any travellers currently in Bangkok especially, but also other areas of Thailand, should use extreme caution when / if moving around.

update Tuesday 14 April @ 09:34 - The Tension in Bangkok, which was almost palpable on Monday, seems dramatically reduced today. Most, if not all, the red-shirted demonstrators that remain have been surrounded by the army at government house. There are much fewer soldiers on the streets, although most major routes into Bangkok still have quite a large military presence. Whether this apparent air of normalcy will continue as the day progresses only time will tell.

update Tuesday 14 April @ 12:17 - despite some aspects of Bangkok life returning to semi-normality, a few major shopping centres have decided to remain closed. Two of the biggest in Asia, and most popular in Bangkok - Siam Paragon and Central World - remained closed early Tuesday. Central World however did reopen around 11:30 and a spokesperson from Siam Paragon confirmed that they would open around 1pm on Tuesday afternoon. Central Chidlom, which is only a few hundred metres from both those mentioned above, is operating under its normal opening times, as is the Emporium which is further down Sukhumvit road.

update Tuesday 14 April @ 16:49 - you know that things are resuming to normal operations when Thais start heading back to one of their favourite pastimes - shopping. All the major shopping centres have now reopened, and many appear to be busy. Also, as many Thais have missed two days of their annual Thai New Year holidays the government has declared Thursday and Friday as national holidays. When combined with the unexpected holiday last Friday, this must make this year's official Songkran holidays  one of the longest ever. While this all sounds very positive, it should be noted that no actual solution has been reached by either side. The very deep divisions within Thai society that created these latest, and very disturbing, protests still remain, and some may argue have actually deepened. Others could argue, that the situation is much worse than before, as now the stakes have increased so dramatically that any future confrontations could be far deadlier. From a tourism perspective it is these uncertainties, combined with the protests of this week and last year's airport closures (Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi and Hat Yai) as well as the poor global economy, that make it so difficult to predict when tourism in Thailand will recover. We still advise all travellers to Thailand to carefully monitor how this situation develops, as it is not over, both sides have just pressed the pause button.

update Wednesday 15 April @ 15:54- There is a palpable sense of relief in Bangkok today. Not because one side won, or the other lost, neither side should try and claim victory or defeat, but because it is, at the moment at least, over and Thais can get back to enjoying their annual New Year holidays. Traffic on the roads has returned to normal as people began to once again venture out and go about their normal routines. The pick-up trucks full of Songkran water festival revelers are again roaming the streets showering others with water, motorbikes with passengers carrying high powered water guns are out looking for others to squirt, and families safely cocooned in their airconditioned cars are just driving around enjoying the spectacle. This is a time of year that all Thais look forward to, and finally, after almost a week of uncertainty, the fun with friends and family can begin. The Thais do know however that nothing has been resolved. Bangkok and the surrounding provinces are still under a state of emergency and no indication has been given as to when that will be lifted. Heavily armed soldiers are still very visible at strategic areas of the city and its main arteries. The situation is similar to that of a dormant volcano. Nobody knows, if or when it will erupt again, how severe the eruption may be when it does, or whether by some miracle it will just disappear and become extinct. Unfortunately, after all that has happened it is very difficult to see this particular volcano becoming extinct, if anything, the eruptions are getting larger and much more dangerous each time they happen. For now though, Bangkok has returned to normal, and that has to something to be thankful for.

update Sunday 26 April @ 12:44 - The state of emergency was lifted in the early hours of Friday (24 April) morning. This will make little difference to tourists, nor the situation as a whole, which ultimately remains the same. It is this uncertainty however, which could well put some tourists off visiting Thailand. It is currently as safe a country as it is normally, but what the future holds is anyone's guess. The government does however seem keen to avoid a repeat of what helped the yellow shirts so much last year, and as such  have set up a heavily manned check point around 2kms from the international airport terminal. When the main international airport was closed by yellow-shirt protestors last year (following similar yellow shirt led closures at Krabi, Phuket and Hat Yai) hundreds of thousands of tourists were directly affected, causing absolute mayhem for those innocent travellers stranded in Thailand and abroad, and severely damaging the Thai tourism industry and its image.

The annual Songkran festival is when millions return to their home towns outside Bangkok. Businesses will be closed almost the whole week (13-16/17), as people celebrate. Shops, major shopping centres, and other places popular with tourists do normally remain open during this time, but this year, the situation in certain parts of Bangkok is so unclear that some are sure to close.

We strongly advise visitors to Thailand to monitor the situation carefully, and avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings. The situation at the current time is extremely unpredictable, verging now on the dangerous and precautions should be taken.

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