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What to Do If You’re Caught in a Political Demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand

 

In the last five years, Bangkok, Thailand has seen so many political demonstrations it’s sometimes hard to keep track. Unfortunately too, many tourists are still avoiding traveling to Bangkok, Thailand because of the huge political demonstrations that have been all over the city in the last three years and, now, due to the upcoming July general election.

Two years ago, enormous political demonstrations shut down Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport for more than a week. Last year, political protests closed down much of the city for two days while the army moved in to move out demonstrators.that’s why, until things become more politically stable in Bangkok, if you plan on visiting, at some point, you may come across a political demonstration. While most situations are safer than anything you’ll ever see in your own country, what should you do and not do, if caught in the middle of a demonsration or protest, to make sure you stay safe?

Thai Demonstrators Are Not Targeting Foreigners – The first thing you need to know is political demonstrators are not targeting foreigners and foreigners are unlikely to be hassled or hurt.

The political demonstrations in Bangkok, and all over Thailand, are between two groups – one pro-Thaksin (Thailand’s exiled Prime MInister, who was ousted in an illegal military coup in 2006) and one anti-Thaksin. So, should you come across a political demonstration, don’t worry, they’re not demonstrating against you!

Don’t Panic In A Political Demonstration in Bangkok – For the most part, political demonstrations in Bangkok have been peaceful. Several of them did turn violent at the end of 2008, one during the Thai Songkran holiday in April 2009 saw fights between demonstrators and the Thai military and, of course, last year the Thai government shot and killed over 90 demonstrators. Overall though, surprising to westerners, as Thais are incredibly peaceable people, political demonstrations in Bangkok still usually remain calm.

Taking Photographs in a Political Demonstration in Bangkok – Thais love to have photographs taken, even in the middle of political demonstrations. During the last round, there were no reported incidents of any problems with journalists or tourists taking photos, and many photos of demonstrators posing for the camera. Two journalists were killed, but they were likely shot by the Thai government and not by political demonstrators.

So, don’t worry too much if you want to take photos although, if possible, you can ask before you do so. “Dye my?” is the Thai phrase for “Can I?”, and any Thai will understand what you’re asking if you hold up the camera while you’re saying it.

Where Are the Political Demonstrations in Bangkok? – For the most part, demonstrations are usually held near the Grand Palace area of Bangkok, the Victory Monument area, and near or at Sanam Luang, the large park near Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace.

Major demonstrations last year were also held on Sukhumvit Road in the city center, and near the Siam Paragon and Central World Plaza shopping malls, but these were aberrations and the Thai government is unlikely to allow that to happen again.

But, if you’re worried about political demonstrations in Bangkok and know they’re occurring (hotel or guest house staff or the Thai tourist board can tell you), simply stay away from the immediate area protesters are in and you’ll be fine. (Although, most tourists I met had gone to the protests areas during the last demonstrations, with no problems at all. But, it’s just up to you what you’re comfortable with).

What Should You Do If You End Up in the Middle of a Demonstration? –  For the most part, Thais are peaceful and friendly people, often even in the middle of a political demonstration. If you do find yourself in the middle of one however and it’s making you uncomfortable or you feel it may get violent, simply get to the edge of the crowd and leave down any of Bangkok’s thousands of small side streets. The demonstrations will remain around the main areas of town, and not down small sois.

Remember, the main thing in Thailand is Thais are peaceful overall and not out to get foreigners.

I’ve been in the middle of so many Bangkok protests in the last three years, I’ve lost count. I got some great photos, met some interesting people and didn’t feel threatened once. If the same happens to you, use it as an interesting experience.

And, if the situation starts to get out of control, simply leave the demonstration area as quickly as you can. You’ll probably find Thais will even help you, as they don’t want the image of their country to be destroyed by frightened or hurt tourists.

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