What's Going on in Thailand, and What to See if You Go

Anti-government protest in Bangkok
Deadly protests in Bangkok have put Thailand in the world news. What's going on there and what's the impact for travelers?

What's happening?

The story begins when a man from the north, named Taksin Shinawatra, became the prime minister. And then became incredibly rich. A billionaire business tycoon, Taksin angered the elite and middle class in Bangkok (Yellow Shirts) with his shady dealings and was ousted in a 2006 coup. Accused of corruption, he fled the country, seeking asylum in Dubai. Following elections, the people voted his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, into office.

In 2010 there were volatile protests waged by pro-government Red Shirts demanding Taskin's return. It ended in deadly clashes between Yellow and Red Shirts that the military eventually quelled, casting a bitter and dark light on the protest movement. Yingluck mained in power.

The most recent protests started when Yingluck attempted to grant her brother amnesty. The bill would have allowed Taksin back into the country and dissolved the criminal corruption charges currently standing against him. Yellow Shirts were infuriated, and led by protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, have been blowing their golden whistles in the streets of Bangkok ever since.

More details on the Yellow and Red Shirts please.

The Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts are the names attributed to the two different camps of protestors. The Yellow shirts are the ones currently protesting. They see the present government as a puppet for the despised and exiled Taksin. The Yellow Shirts are composed of mainly middle- and upper-class Bangkokians.

The Red Shirts are pro-government and support the Shinawatra siblings. They were angered when Taksin was ousted and exiled, and protested to allow him back in 2010. The Red Shirts supported the most recent amnesty bill attempting to allow Taksin's return to his homeland, and they support the current prime minister's continuation in office. The Red Shirts come mostly from rural and northern Thailand.

Should I still visit?

There have been moments of tension recently where the protests have turned violent. Though Bangkok is safe for the most part, visitors should use caution and common sense in Thailand's capital. Stay away from the protest sights, which aren't near tourist attractions anyway.

While there have been two homemade grenades thrown and a somewhat contained gun fight, the death and injury count remains relatively low. It is widely believed that the matter will not escalate to the level of violence it did in 2010, but it is recommended to still be wary and exercise caution.

Thailand is a breathtaking and welcoming nation. Bangkok is experiencing sporadic political upheaval, but by all means you should still visit. If the protests are causing trepidation, take comfort that you need not stay in Bangkok for long. In fact, it is quite plausible to fly into Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport and swap planes for one heading to the islands or to the north without ever leaving the airport. And outside Bangkok, you would never know you were in a country experiencing protests.

Where should I go?

Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand -- Full disclosure: I live in Chiang Mai, so I'm highly biased. But this quaint northern city is covered in temples, barefoot monks, friendly people and surrounded by natural splendor. It is also an excellent base from which to explore further into the lush, relatively mountainous area of Northern Thailand. You can reach it by bus, train or air from Bangkok.

Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Samui, and Koh Tao -- Nestled in the cradle of the Gulf of Siam, this string of islands is breathtaking and well connected. Ditch the stress of Bangkok for a week on an island (or maybe five weeks.) You can reach Koh Samui directly by air, the docking ferry (Chompon) or bus from Bangkok. Check out Airasia.com for deals.

Kanchanaburi and Ayutthaya -- If you want to get out of Bangkok for a day or two but cannot venture too far, try one of these two locales. Ayutthaya is one hour north and is the ancient capital of the Siamese Empire. You can easily spend a few blissful days riding a bike between the matrix of ancient pagodas and stupas. Kanchanaburi is about three hours west of Bangkok, but worth the longer trip. It is a small town with natural attractions, so the hikers and kayakers amongst you will be happy here. And if you are a history buff, this is the area the famous movie The Bridge Over The River Kwai is based upon. You can compliment your hike with an educative museum on Thailand's role in World War II.


On Twitter, follow full-time travel blogger @RichardBarrow for instant news and updates on the situation in Bangkok.

Also, check out one of these two English-language news sources for day-to-day news on the protests and other information about Thailand:
Four Killed In Bangkok As Police Battle Protesters With Guns
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