Bangkok dangerous? Current political unrest is causing some potential tourists to rethink their travel plans.
Ahhh, the change of seasons is in the air. And as Americans prepare to celebrate their tradition of overindulging under the banner of a national holiday, the people of Thailand too turn to one of their favorite autumn traditions: taking to the streets to overthrow the elected government. While both celebrations are in preparation for an even more fortuitous event looming in the near future – Thanksgiving kicks off the start of the Christmas holiday shopping season in the U.S., political protests kick off the start of celebrating the King’s birthday in Thailand – neither makes a lot of sense to those who were not born into the ludicracy of those respective countries. Though citizens of the U.S. stuffing themselves silly with turkey at least can be ignored as something you’d expect those silly Americans to do.
Political unrest and government toppling have never brought on a case of the warm fuzzies to those visiting an inflicted country on holiday. Logic tells you it’s best to just avoid the entire mess. And it doesn’t help when your home government issues a travel warning, which in turn causes more of a danger to your well-being – at least your financial health – than the political problems it is supposed to be warning you about. Throw in the world’s media who, bless their hearts, are incapable of reporting a story without first filtering it through the lens of their own nation’s political structure, and before you know it you are facing an inane internal strife played out on the world stage.
Like in 2011 when the Red Shirts came into town marching under the banner of Democracy and Freedom (craftily worded in English I might add), posed as the underdog fighting the good fight against the oppressive feudal rule of the monied class, who had just taken to the streets 2 years before marching under the banner of Loyalty To The King, posed as the underdog fighting the good fight against the oppressive corrupt rule of anti-royal sympathizers (aka Thaksin Shinawatra and his extended family), who had taken to the streets just 1 year before to win a plurality in the general elections, which stemmed from the party of the second part having taken to the streets in a almost bloodless military coup just 1 year before that overthrew the government of the party of the first part . . . . wouldn’t it just be easier to argue over whether or not yams at Thanksgiving are supposed to be served with marshmallows or not?
Red shirt, yellow shirt . . .Thai politics sounds like a Dr. Seuss story in more ways than one.
So those damn Thais are at it once again, fighting among themselves for political control of their country, scaring the poor tourists, and confusing the entire world, who doesn’t quite know just who in the hell they are supposed to be supporting. The current government is headed by PM Yingluck Shinawatra of the Phak Puea Thai party (or For Thais Party), and as the seated government should deserve our support. Except she’s Thaksin Shinawatra’s sister. Which just sounds fishy.
Thaksin Shinawatra, of the Thai Rak Thai party (or Thais Love Thais Party), was the PM, until his government was overthrown on charges of corruption and he fled the country. Which doesn’t sound good. And which eventually made way for Abhisit Vejjajiva to assume the duties of prime minister, until his government was toppled and he was convicted of murder. Which doesn’t sound good either. But then he is (still) the leader of the Democratic party, which does sound good. Unless you think Thaksin’s People’s Power Party sounds more democratic. And somehow you need to fit into that mess that the pro-Shinawatra party – the brother, not the sister, who everyone seems to agree is just a stand in for the brother, not unlike many who suspect that Hillary Clinton is just a stand in for Bill Clinton – were those marching under the banner of Democracy when they took over downtown Bangkok in protest of Abhisit’s Democratic Party rule.
Um. but they are not the ones currently taking over downtown Bangkok. That’s the other democratic party. Whose actions are being fronted by Suthep Thaugsuban, the former deputy prime minister, who now has a warrant out for his arrest. Which doesn’t sound good too. But ya gotta admit a second helping of turkey and stuffing always sounds good. No matter how stuffed you already are.
In the good old days (two years ago) Thailand’s political landscape was a lot easier for outsiders to understand. Not that you’d necessarily know what all of those oddly named political parties stood for, but a least the choices were easy. Back then political parties were color-coded. You could root for the yellow shirts or for the red shirts. Just like annual Thanksgiving homecoming football games back in the U.S. The red shirts were the poor rural people of Thailand trying to overthrow the traditional feudal elite. Go Red Shirts! The Yellow Shirts were the democratic party trying to overthrow the dastardly anti-King communists. Go Yellow Shirts! Color coding your political parties makes sense. Even if yours is not an emerging nation. Colors are easier to remember than are what those colors are supposed to represent. And even the U.S. took a page from Thailand’s playbook and divided itself during the most recent national elections along color lines – you were either part of the Black Party, or part of the We-Don’t-Like-Him-Because- He’s-Black-And Probably-From-Kenya Party.
In the end it’s not the color of shirt they wear that matters, but how they take it off.
This time around the protests causing disruption to touri on holiday are a lot less easy to understand. Thousands have taken to the streets to demand an end to anti-gay discrimination. Oh wait. No, that was New Delhi. My bad. The Thais are marching and taking over ministry buildings to protest the enactment of a law that would pardon a whole bunch of criminals, the only one mattering being the PM’s brother. Oh wait. No, that was a week or two ago. The upper house of parliament decided to reject that piece of legislation. So now they are protesting . . . um, green bean casseroles with french fried onions on top? That would make sense. That stuff is nasty. And at least we’d have a color to root for or against.
The Red Shirts got a bad name for turning Bangkok into their private camping ground and then burning down CentralWorld as a parting gift. So we don’t like to use ‘Red Shirts’ any longer. They are not those currently causing mass unrest anyway. Unless you count their protest rallies being held a National Stadium. The Yellow Shirts got a bad name for shutting down Suvarnabhumi Airport and stranding thousands of travelers – which, after all, count a hell of a lot more than the people of Thailand do. So we don’t use ‘Yellow Shirts’ any longer either. In absence of color, I’d hoped they would have just gone with Shirts versus Skins. ‘Cuz I have a one-track mind. But instead the former Yellow Shirts decided to turn to blowing whistles as their political motif this time. Which would be all fine and good except it’s been really causing confusion along Sukhumvit where traditionally the non-stop cacophony of blowing whistles has been the purvey of hotel doormen and Terminal 21 parking lot attendants. Not to mention it’s left those formally known as Red Shirts in a bit of a quandary over trying to decide which noise makers would best suit their political party. Nonetheless, Thailand’s politics are once again making lots of noise. And causing lots of worry among those visiting or planning on visiting the Kingdom in the near future.
Which it should not. Don’t think of it as political unrest. Think of it as Adventure Travel. Sure the no-longer-the-Red-Shirts party has just imposed the Internal Security Act, Thailand’s version of martial law that allows the government to shut down major roads, declare curfews, and disallow the use of electronic devices. And sure we may be on the brink of the 19th coup since the Kingdom became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. But except for some traffic problems that could easily be mistaken for Bangkok’s notorious Traffic gridlock as usual, and the occasional mass of protestors around tourist attractions like the Democracy Monument and nearby Loha Prasat, Khaosan Road, and the Golden Mount (HINT: take the San Saab Canal boats instead of a taxi) most visitors will not note much amiss. And not for long either. ‘Cuz the past, as they say, is prologue to the future. And the entire country, as the rabbit in Alice In Wonderland said, is soon to be late for a very important date.
Apolitical is the way to go for touri. And you can never go wrong with basic white.
The no-longer-yellow-shirts party is the opposition currently disrupting Bangkok with rallies, protests, marches, and ministry building occupations. Back when they all wore color-coordinated T-shirts these were the same folk who were responsible for shutting down Suvarnabhumi. A protest that began on November 25, 2008 – a date that should sound vaguely familiar to you. That bit of political unrest became history on December 3rd. Because this is Thailand. And Thailand celebrates the birthday of its beloved king on December 5th. And whether you are a democrat and royal supporter or a lover of the Thai people and accused anti-royalist, dissing the King by being embroiled in a political squabble on his birthday is just not done in Thailand. And that’s something we can all be thankful for.
Whether or not the current round of political unrest is enough to bring down Yingluck Shinawatra’s government remains to be seen. That whatever will happen will be well over by next Thursday is a given. So if you are planning on a trip to The Land of Smiles, just do it. For the most part, you won’t notice much of a disruption in your holiday plans. Bangkok is still safe. Pattaya is still safe. Unless you are a local minor who strolls too close to Sunee Plaza. Chiang Mai is still safe, and even a bit cooler this time of the year than usual. And Phuket is no more dangerous than it usually is. The political infighting among the country’s leaders is business as usual and should be of no concern to you. Those uppity practitioners of the Islamic faith down south, of course, are a different story. ‘Cuz who knows what color of T-shirt Muhammad wore.
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