Flying into Bangkok as your first destination on your backpacking adventure? Are you worried about the political protests affecting your trip? S.E.A Backpacker Ambassadors, Charla Hughes and Chase Berenson are two travellers turned expats who are now living in Bangkok and have given us a lowdown on the current situation from their point of view, major rally sites to avoid and tips for travellers on how to stay safe in the city!
Despite the BBC recently declaring a 60-day state of emergency from Wednesday onwards, Bangkok is still predominantly safe for backpackers who are passing through. There are some hotspots, but they’re easy to avoid; you can visit the city now and still have a good time!
In the past week, during the “Bangkok Shutdown”, the majority of the action has been taking place around the neighborhoods of Sala Daeng, Siam, and Victory Monument. Sala Daeng is well-known among backpackers as being the home of Patpong, an all-night market and bar scene; it’s also a major business district. During the daytime it’s relatively safe, but it’s not a place to go unless you must.
The shopping malls around Siam Square (such as Siam Paragon and MBK) are reopening and attempting business as usual. They’ve seen a huge slowdown in profits, and they are actually offering huge discounts in an attempt to lure shoppers back. If you go, avoid the street level crowds, and just exit directly from the SkyTrain into the shopping malls.
Remember that as a foreigner, being amongst the protests and being seen to get involved can be grounds for deportation from the country. Getting too close to the action and taking photographs is not a good idea.
Another major area for the protests, Victory Monument is one of Bangkok’s major intersections, and it is where the vast majority of Bangkok’s minibuses depart for nearby destinations such as Hua Hin, Koh Samet, and Kanchanaburi. With protests having shut down traffic in that area, now is a great time to try one of the government buses departing from Mo Chit, Sai Tai, or Ekkamai bus stations throughout the city.
Since the protests started in October of 2013, Democracy Monument has been the central gathering point. In the past week, the protesters have mostly departed from the monument to occupy the other staging areas, which means the area around Democracy is a lot quieter than it has been in the recent past. Khao San Road, the major backpacker hub is in easy walking distance, so for travellers heading to that world-famous street, you should be in position to enjoy the crazy street-life of that area again.
Above all, wherever you are in Bangkok, always stay aware of your surroundings. The situation can change fast and it is good to keep up to date via local news websites and Twitter.
Tips to Stay Out of Trouble
- Avoid going near protest rally sites after dark.
- Avoid the major protest areas as outlined above. If you do end up near a protest area, remain on the sky train bridges and enter shopping malls without touching street level.
- Be careful of your fashion choices! Although the headbands, sweatbands, and bows in the red, white, and blue of the Thai flag look cool, don’t wear them around Bangkok during the protests. You’ll meet a lot of supportive locals doing so, but being in rally gear at a rally site is grounds for deportation. Don’t cut your trip short!
- With singing and dancing and a general jovial atmosphere at some of the rally sites, don’t mistake the protests for a street party and get amongst the crowds.
- Don’t try to be a foreign correspondent for the BBC and get newspaper-worthy photos of the protests – you could get in trouble!
- Always remember that you are a foreigner and cannot begin to understand the complicated politics of Thailand, do not try to get involved in either side!
- Don’t worry! As long as you stay informed about the situation, you can still enjoy the bars, restaurants, street food, nightlife and markets of this fast-paced, lively city. Check out our Bangkok Guide or our Guide to Nightlife Away from the Khao San Road.