Living Under A State of Emergency

This is the side of the protests you probably wont see on the news
The protesters have stopped being shiny, happy people
I began writing this post last night but had to delete everything once the bullets starting flying around 6-8pm Bangkok time. After a month of redshirt protests in Bangkok, things have finally come to a head. The protests thus far had been peaceful and the government has seen no real need to negotiate seriously with the redshirts. The most recent reports I’ve heard are that 20 people have been killed. One Reuters photographer from Japan was killed and the rest being soldiers and protesters.

I am perfectly safe.

All of the activity is taking place over an area of one to two square miles of the downtown area. I’m about two miles from the closest redshirt roadblock and another mile or so from all the clashes. Walking around the neighborhood in my area, I would never know that anything was going on in the city.

Several expats and travelers I know in Bangkok live in the Victory Monument area which was the scene of protests yesterday. They were much closer to action and could hear gunshots and could smell the tear gas which was dropped. Correction: The protesters were not at Victory Monument. The people I know live near there, but were elsewhere when they heard gunshots and smelled gas.

People like Arthur Frommer are advocating totally avoiding Thailand which is absurd.

Thailand is a big country. What happened here was a tragedy, but it occurred only on a few streets in one part of one city on one evening. There were tanks and soldiers all over the place so it was impossible for someone to accidentally wander into the area and not know something was going on. Saying you shouldn’t visit any part of Thailand based on the events of last Saturday is like saying you shouldn’t visit California if there is a school shooting in Colorado. They have nothing to do with each other and danger in the former doesn’t imply danger in the latter.

Could things really turn bad in Thailand? Sure, that is possible. But as of right now things are fine and if things really do turn bad, I’ll be on the first plane out of here.

When you hear of bad things happening on the news, take some time to find out the whole story. Unless a country is the size of Monaco or Singapore, it is hard to say that an event in one part of the country means the whole country is dangerous. I wouldn’t go to parts of Mexico right now, but that doesn’t mean everywhere in Mexico is equally dangerous. Most Americans wont flee the country because something bad happens in one city.

Use the same logic for other countries as you do for your own.

49 thoughts on “Living Under A State of Emergency”

  1. I think you make a good point Keith. If my mother wanted to go for a trip to BKK I wouldn’t discourage her, it’s as perfectly safe as if she went to Melbourne. The point of contention here is “is Bangkok safe?”. Gary has every reason to give his opinion on that question. Use the same common sense as you do at home and there will be no issue.

  2. Ifu u come to Scandinavia, u can sleep in my home, in Sweden..I live 400km from Norwish border.
    take care,d ear

  3. After reading the accounts of more people who are there: I might consider Thailand in July after all. Though I’ll take a mid-priced hotel instead of a backpacker hostel, given that the backpacker zone is among the protest areas.

    Unlike certain people, I do appreciate this feedback from people living there! And I am a big fan of statistics. Which usually point to the chance of being hurt or killed as negligible, as long as you aren’t front-line in the protest.

  4. Who’s this Alexandra person anyway? Has she ever been to Thailand? pfff…
    My Mum and sister asked me if I thought it was safe to go to Bangkok for a weekend of shopping and I said yes. They went a few weeks ago and avoided the areas I mentioned to them. At first they were quite nervous about the red shirt hordes but quickly got used to them. They said everyone was so welcoming, so hospitable and they felt very well taken care of – that’s Thailand for you. They had a whale of a time shopping and experienced no problems whatsoever.
    About Alexandra’s rant about the credibility of travel bloggers vs. ‘legitimate’ news sources… that’s soooo 2002! (Well said Christine! :-)

  5. I hope it settles down a tad bit. Not that I’m worried either way but it would be nice to walk around with some peace of mind.

  6. I wouldn;t let these ‘troubles; stop me being in BKK let alone in Thailand . in fact i blogged about the topic last year when there were protests … be sensible just as you would be at home, or travelling in the UK france USA Australia or NZ

    • Agreed ! Live and stay on one locale, or travel, there are risks everywhere. BKK & Thailand are as safe as anywhere if you use common sense

  7. In defense of the blogs: The “real” news sources with a few exceptions were totally lagging behind on these stories and in some cases just plain incorrect. A “news source,” as in a name of a newspaper, organization or website, is not synonymous with a real live person walking among the protesters which is what the news sources often lack — boots on the ground. “Amateur” video and photography (meaning unpaid, not commenting on quality or reliability) have been bringing a lot of details to light that a single reporter or even the entire FCC can miss. The collective work of news by the people for the people is giving a broader picture of what’s going on. CNN seems to be relying on its iReporters as much as anything.

    Re the trustable media: I don’t think my friends and family back in the States have their heads buried in the sand or anything, but some of them hadn’t even caught a whiff of the situation at all. Very little on the news or anywhere unless you dig for it – so much for “professional” reporting. (Al-Jazeera (that scary evil terrorist news source) had the story front page and almost as current as the Twitter feed and BBC was doing OK — IMHO) Hype sells. “Business as usual” is not a big story, but it IS an important thing to note for a traveler.

    Re danger: If I don’t go to the protest sites this year (or last year, for that matter) it’s like the situation doesn’t even exist. Could it get worse? Sure. But it hasn’t before and would have to get really off the scale in a new direction to warrant the alarmist Frommer’s comment. With all the hype about last weekend’s violent clashes and the 23 dead in a very specific neighborhood in a city of over 10 million, where is Frommer’s going on ad nauseum about the 160-plus traffic fatalities over 3 days of Songkran festival all across Thailand in random places? Just like in America, the scariest thing in the world is the possibility, the potential, of a politically motivated attack while the reality is that just getting out on the highway with all the drunks is the real danger and kills more people each year (13,846 in 2008!) than 9/11’s death toll.

    I’ve never considered Frommer’s much more than a mundane travel resource – maybe a list of the 5 best known museums in town. Nothing in depth or engaging. Rough Guides, LP and others long ago blew them away for deeper and more meaningful travel experiences and now the immediacy of travel writers on the internet reveals the moss growing even on the LP and RG 2008 or 2009 editions. All my ranting aside, I think the bottom line is that Frommer’s felt compelled to comment for fear of being completely out of the dialoque as well as out of the country. Alarmists stay home and avoid the bathroom — reliable news sources tell me most of the accidents in the home occur there.

  8. I live in Bangkok. I work from home and if I didn’t have news and Twitter the only indication that you would see of the stats of Thailand’s political instability on the soi I live is that 7-11 has removed their trash bin from in front of the store. (Seems to be corporate policy to prevent people from hiding bombs in times of crisis.)

    Perspectives of real people are valuable. Putting trust in the media and the media only to make the case for what the “truth” is, is dangerous.

    The media often sensationalizes situations to make the story sell. In the 2006 coup, I saw a reporter from one of the top international news channels standing on one side of a tank reporting how tense the atmosphere was, while on the other side of the tank, kids were posing with the tank driver, wearing his helmet, while the parents were taking photos. I would have described the atmosphere as more of a carnival.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good reporters doing awesome work here in Bangkok and turning up information of real value that people need to know. But the wise person will take all the information they get from all sources and make their own judgement based on the credibility of those sources.

  9. Gary, First, thanks again for my lovely JVC camcorder. It arrived yesterday! Second, thanks for sharing what is going on in BKK. From here, it is sometimes impossible to gauge reality from stark sensationalism. I have a few friends flying there next month, who are quite concerned, and I will be there in May, a brief stopover before Myanmar.

  10. I’ve always had the same problem trying to convince people to come to the Philippines, though it’s worse because the bad news coming out from the Philippines is CONSTANT. There’s almost always some kidnapping or some unrest. But people fail to realize that most of this is happening in a specific part of one region in the south, Mindanao. It’s not happening everywhere, and Manila, the rest of Luzon, and the Visayas are (generally) safe. So I totally sympathize with your plight… sensationalist news stories are doing worse for tourism than anything else, I think.

    • I agree Ren. And I’ve been to Mindanao, to Zamboanga City in particular, a few times. There were bombs that went off the first time I was there, at a local bizaar. It unnerved me. But my god, that part of the country is so beautiful in a sleepy, Latin-Asian way. I’d go back, but not without proper precautions, such as knowing about the political climate at the time.

  11. Hi Gary, I’ll be in Thailand in July. I hope it’s settled down by then and hasn’t gotten worse as many fear! Otherwise I might pop over to Vietnam instead. :-) Might need to find a good tour operator in Vietnam if so… hehe.

  12. Thank you for offering a personal angle on a topic that is currently dominating newspapers. As far as avoiding Thailand all together goes, there is always going to be political, economic and social instability in areas of the world. If people were to be so vigilant as to not visit any country that had some sort of unrest, they’d spend all of their vacations at isolated beach resorts in the Caribbean. With that being said, it is important to be aware a country’s current events, educate yourself and have a plan in case of an emergency.

  13. Your Message98% safe even though this situation is clearly escalating again? Why not choose another country until at least the violence subsides — is there a special reason you’re drawn toward the violence, kind of like rubbernecking at a freeway accident? Remember too, you are liable for your words insofar as someone might go at your stating travel there is fine, get shot and then there’s the chain of responsibility that could be made between someone actively advocating travel to a troublespot and the worst case happening when someone else takes that advice.

    • Your perception of what is happening is very skewed.

      1) I was in Bangkok before the protests started. I wasn’t drawn to anything. I have not been around any violence.
      2) Things are not escalating. I don’t know where you get that from.
      3) There is risk ANYWHERE. I’m not telling people to walk between protesters and tanks. I’m saying that those things are isolated in a few square blocks of one city in the country. If you read what I wrote you’d realize there is nothing else going on anywhere in the country. If someone wants to hang out with soldiers and protesters, that is not my fault. I’m saying that nothing else is happening in the rest of the country, which is quite large.

      • Well, that was only his point of view. No need to argue, I mean you two can’t be on the same places on the same time, now could you? Think about that. If you feel that it was not accurate then write your own post, duhh. Use your common sense please.

        • Cecille, instead of you running around telling everyone else what they should and shouldn’t say, why not stop spamming his site yourself with your stupid linkback to your business site? Duh. Gary Arndt himself posts on other people’s blogs and disagrees with what they have to say. YOU think about THAT, missy. I won’t ask you to use your common sense, because clearly you don’t have any.

      • My perception is “skewed”? Whoa, maybe everyone has something called a point of view, and that’s skewed? Get used to it. Also, your own so-called reporting is skewed insofar as you don’t present a clear picture of what’s going on. By your own accounts, this situation has come to a head. Do you have personal knowledge that it won’t spread within a few blocks? Isn’t that red shirt movement a very large and popular force in the countryside also? Which is all an example of why legitimate news sources are to be trusted, and why the travel bloggers within your particular travel community have no credibility at all. In particular, people like NomadicMatt, Christine Gilbert, Katie Hammel, I think you’re delusional if you imagine you can replace or pre-empt real news sources and media from being the trustworthy and credible source for what’s going on inside a country. But have a nice day preaching the good word to each other.

        • Wow. You don’t have an agenda or anything do you?

          Things might get worse. I admit that in my original post. But as of right now, they aren’t bad and aren’t looking to get any worse.

          I’m not sure I’m really contradicting anything in “real news sources”. Many of the “real news sources” are people I have been hanging out with and talking to in Bangkok. They pretty much agree with me. The only person I’m disagreeing with is Arthur Frommer who is not here and has no knowledge of what is going on.

          The red shirts are popular in rural areas, but there are no protests right now in rural areas.

          As for the blogging thing, I’m not even sure what you are trying to say. You (not in Bangkok I assume) are trying to craft some sort of argument about why Arthur Frommoer (also not in Bangkok) is right that it is dangerous here based on second hand reports, while everyone who is in Bangkok and is leaving a comment here says otherwise, INCLUDING “legitimate news” people that you seem to trust. In fact, you seem to just cherry pick what facts you want from the “legitimate news” people to come to your own conclusion.

          Furthermore, when did I ever say I was or wanted to pre empt news sources? I’m not trying to be a journalist. I’m giving my opinion of a tourist who is in Bangkok about tourists coming to Bangkok. That’s it. I dare say my presence in Bangkok makes my opinion on this issue much more informed on this subject than you or Arthur Frommer.

          • Hi Gary, first of all, I never read the Frommer report or whatever that is regarding Bangkok? So I’m not crafting any argument based on Frommer. Secondly, the agenda that’s popped up on this thread is only coming from people who appear to think they’ve taken your back, but they’re just making fools out of themselves. I see exactly two other people == not exactly a huge crowd, huh? — here who are also in Bangkok. What of it? Does that mean that everyone living in Bangkok who decides to go on a website becomes the sole credible source of information? I would never presume to set myself up as the sole credible authority about a place just because I was physically there. People can definitely report great first-hand items about what’s going on if they’re there, but I don’t think it provides a total picture of the reality all the time. That’s all. I’m not sure why you and others try to make it into an either/or proposition about who and what to trust, specially if as you say you’re not a journalist. So yes, Gary, I was also never in Zimbabwe, but I’m kinda sure Mugabe’s not a great guy, I was never in Germany but I’m kinda sure Hitler wasn’t the greatest guy either. Quite a lot of places I never was., and know something about em, and quite a lot of places I have been — but still don’t claim to know everything about em either.

        • Dear Alexandra D,

          Just a quick note to say that you appear to be an ignorant, arrogant moron.

          Get off your high horse and your head out of your arse.

          That is all.

        • I’m not sure how I got roped into this and I think you’ll never comment back to this but….

          I’ve been living and coming to Thailand for over 4 yrs now. I have seen coups, airport shutdowns, yellow shirt protests, red shirt protests, etc…as the other people who live in Bangkok also attest too: it’s fine here. Avoid the protest areas and you won’t get hurt. There’s not going to be a situation here like iraq, afghanistan, sudan, rwanda, etc. I’m not going into a long discussion on Thai politics b/c after reading your comment, I know you know nothing about it but Gary is right: avoiding thailand is like avoiding the US b/c the LA riots.

          Moreover, most of the legitimate news agencies have been wrong and exaggerating the problems here. I’m not sure why my opinion can’t be trusted but let me tell you this- I’d take the opinion of someone in the place over a news agency anyday. Whether thailand, tehran, russia, china, us, whereever- someone actually there and seeing it is going to have more up to the minute and accurate reporting.

          • If you’re “quite sure” I know I know zilch about Thai politics just because you claim you’ve been living in Bangkok then how come you lost zero time in responding to a stranger? Tell me that. BTW, I’ve lived in L.A. for 20 years and after reading *your* comments about riots I know that you’re the one who knows nothing about L.A. See how that goes? Your problem is that you conflate your opinion with reporting. You absolutely refuse to respect the difference between reporting and random, subjective blogging and opinionating. There’s plenty of space for first-hand blogging, in fact it’s essential in so many parts of the world where there’s just no other real-time sources. Stop making it into into a pissing contest with professionals.

            • No one brought up professionals until you did. You also dragged a bunch of other people into this that had nothing to do with what I said.

              • You brought up professionals when you brought up Arthur Frommer. And as far as dragging, honey, your pals dragged themselves into this thread lickety-split to respond. Actually since you’re the one making the assertion that only bloggers can be trusted to get information from, then it’s very relevant to post the names of those that run around the internet and to public relations firms proclaiming like you that they are the most “successful” Aside from which, they never want to miss their 15 minutes of fame or to create a false controversy of some sort.

              • Gary:
                No one dragged anyone into anything. You were the one that insisted that only travel bloggers are reliable sources for what’s going on in a place, and those pals of yours I mentioned are examples of people who run around proclaiming what “successful” travel bloggers they are. Aside from which, why are you tweeting at Katie Hammel about it? Is she too inebriated from that jar of beer she’s holding on her Twitter page to come in here and explain the genuine chip on her own little shoulder? Guess Y Partnership will think twice before taking her on any more press trips down to Honduras. Poor Katie, she thinks she’s up there with the State Dept. on giving advice. lol

              • Alexandra,
                I have no chip on my shoulder, nor have I ever run around telling people how “successful” I am. I was not “too inebriated” to come respond. I simply wasn’t going to engage you because it’s clear from your posts that you are not interested in having a conversation.

                However, I do now feel the need to defend myself from your personal attacks.

                I have never “run around the internet and to public relations firms proclaiming” that I am the most “successful” at anything, nor am I looking for my “15 minutes of fame or to create a false controversy of some sort”. This is actually part of why I wasn’t going to respond – I didn’t want to get involved. You brought me into this, and I’m still not even sure why.

                I’m not trying to get rich and famous. I’m just trying to make a living doing something I love, which is travel writing – not being the next Christiane Amanpour. I have no delusions that I am breaking hard news to the people; I’m just trying to provide useful information to travelers. And I would never suggest that travel bloggers should replace journalists or that “only bloggers can be trusted to get information from” because I disagree with those statements very much.

                I do, however, think that bloggers and travel writers can add to the discussion and provide another voice, especially if they are experiencing first-hand what is going on in a given place.

                I certainly do not think that I am “up there with the State Dept. on giving advice” but I do think that someone who was considering going to Honduras but worried about the State Dept warning (which was canceled soon after my trip) may have been interested in knowing about the experience of someone who was recently there as a traveler and felt perfectly safe everywhere she went.

              • Please cut and paste the line where I said that “only travel bloggers are reliable sources for what’s going on in a place”.

                I never said that and it is a lie.

        • Alexandra D:

          That’s right, people like NomadicMatt, Christine Gilbert (me!), Katie Hammel and our host Gary are all ruining the credibility of all travel blogs. Single-handedly. It’s quite amazing the power we have. I can see the headline now… “Four travel bloggers ruin it for everyone.”

          You know what’s boring? Spinning the same old new media vs old media story. Yawn. Dead horse. It’s so 2002.

          • Christine Gilbert:

            go back and read for clarity, where did anyone say you or anyone else was runining the credibility of all travel blogs? Or was that just your usual attempt at sarcasm ? Oh dear, another one who rushes to respond inside of an hour to a supposed old v new media story, why is that exactly again? Because you’re a legend in your own small mind and even small community, or just extra post-partally depressed? There’s meds for that nowadays, you’re looking extra pale and manic in those shades.

            • This person can’t be serious; it’s got to be some sort of epic troll. No one could actually say something this stupid and believe it themselves.

              • Alexandra D-

                What you’re making fun of my gravatar? That’s the final straw!!!!!!

                OMG I am so mad now! *Hulk Smash* *Bang* *Pow*

                (Um, yes, that’s me kidding.)

              • Dear Christine:

                So nice to know that you know how to imitate a sense of humor & that those smashing sounds wasn’t you beating the shit out of your new-born again.

                I ask you, folks — where is Child Protective Services in this country when you need ’em?

              • Why are any of you responding to this b*#&h Alexandra D? This person is obviously either a troll, or mentally unstable in need of psychiatric shelter. Just leave him/her alone to rant in solitude.

            • Hey Hal, is there any particular reason why you’re masquerading as a woman from LA for this diatribe?

              Just wondering.

  14. Most of the people writing news stories are out to sensationalize even the slightest events and stir up emotions. And while I don’t mean to diminish what’s going on there, you’re right, it shouldn’t be a reason to postpone or cancel travel in Thailand. Absolutely not. Thanks for the update!

  15. I read Arthur Frommer’s post yesterday and also thought it seemed a bit strong given the events. You’ve nicely put things in perspective here. Let’s hope for a peaceful end to the protests.

  16. What happen to Thailand is also happening in other countries.
    They protest on the government an anti-government protesters. But despite of trouble and the chaos we can still travel to Thailand…..Port Welshpool

  17. thanks for sharing this Gary, it’s great to know what REALLY is going on down there – it is easy to get sucked into what the *experts* are saying and get freaked out, but the reality is that every city, every country does have dangerous areas, but that doesn’t mean that you should avoid the whole country – otherwise you would never be able to travel.

    Last year we were warned by everyone NOT to visit Bali due to terrorist threats… we went anyways and had the most wonderful time of our lives… you really never know until you go.

    take care and have a great time!


  18. Spot on there Gary. Once again it’s a case of crying “chicken little” and trying to exacerbate everyone’s fear. Caution is all you need to display and if you go placing yourself right in the middle of the protests then you are asking for trouble if you stay clear you are going to have an amazing time in a beautiful country!

  19. I agree, Gary. The protests were isolated in their geography, and also Thailand’s tumultuous poltiical history is full of protests like these, many of which have turned violent. Tourists have continued to visit, and will continue to do so – it’s business as usual for most of the country, just like Greg said. While Saturday’s protests were extremely sad and the deaths tragic, there’s no point in hyperbolizing the situation. Thanks for this post.

  20. Well said. A protest and shootout in Los Angeles wouldn’t preclude anyone from visiting San Francisco… or even Los Angeles. If I didn’t read the newspapers or Twitter, I might not even know that anything was up in Bangkok. Granted… use common sense and be safe, but 98% of Bangkok and 98% of Thailand are still totally business as usual.

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