The Bangkok Political Situation
This political situation appears to have no end in sight. The New York Times today had an interesting cartoon which showed a tuktuk with two front ends which was joined at the middle with each driver trying to drive in his own direction (at the expense of the other's direction). A good caption for that cartoon would have been "Maybe we should talk".
With no apparent end in sight, the big Bangkok Shutdown on January 13th turned out to be a big non-event. The city was not shutdown or anything remotely like that. Despite some big rally crowds at various parts of the city, life went on just fine. Folks got around just fine. The Election Day set for February 2nd where violence was expected turned out to be a big non-event as well. Despite some skirmishes at Lak Si the day before things were essentially violence free on Election Day. No need for an army coup. The protesting anti-government group has now closed two of their rally sites and maybe a third likely due to dwindling crowds. Bottom line, it appears the battle now will be in the courts and in various regulatory agencies such as the commission on corruption.
The anti-government group is now trying to get the ruling party completely disbanded for various election infractions such as pushing ahead with the election when the election commission wanted to delay them. Critically, for the ruling party is the looming crisis involving the rice pledging scheme. This failed populist scheme of guaranteeing rice farmers of up to 40% over market prices for their rice was viewed as largely done to win their political support. That support now appears to have been severely eroded with the farmers still not paid four months after it was due. The latest news is that banks are unwilling to provide the government bridge loans to bail them out. Not only is their core voter base eroded but the cost to all taxpayers is enormous. The program was rife with graft and impeachment charges have been filed against the Prime Minister. In the meantime, we are still awaiting the election results which may take a few more weeks. The results may not mean much anyway.
With the battle lines now with the courts and government agencies it is largely how things were before the rallies began in November. It is also how things are with Thai politics in years past and will likely be going forward.
The question remains: is it safe for a tourist to come here? It is not any less safe than it ever was before. There have been no reported incidents of tourists being harmed or being hassled. Remember, the anti-government crowd has no beef with tourists. If anything, this crowd is largely from the Bangkok metropolitan area and if not working in some fashion related to the industry, tourism does provide a meaningful portion of foreign exchange inflow.
Next question: is it an inconvenience? The answer is no as well. You can get to and from the airports just fine. Most tourists use the mass transit systems such as the Skytrain (BTS) or subway
(MRT) which has been running smoothly these last three months. If taking a taxi or tuk tuk, just go around the now diminishing number of rally points although some bar-hopping folks have reported minor difficulty in getting taxis back to their
hotel after midnight. The malls, shopping areas, movie theaters, restaurant, bars, massage shops, gogo bars etc have been and will continue to be open. What about the 60 day emergency decree you say? It's simply another tool used to keep
public order. It had no practical effect on tourists anyway. There is no curfew, there are no army troops patrolling the streets. Now after the election, it should probably be rescinded. What have tourists already here been telling us? Not
a single one has made a negative comment about their safety or inconvenience. Oddly enough, some have even felt that being here was like taking part in a big event….like being a part of history.
The good things about visiting now? The Bangkok Post reported that traffic hasn't been this good in years. Seems the bicycle has greatly replaced the private car as a primary mode of transportation. So much so that the full page article called Bangkok "Copenhagen of the East". There are discounts to be had which weren't there before. Yes, discounts during the high season!
Some hotels have reduced or created some flexibility in their room rates. Some bars and gogos have reduced certain prices. In fact, one has lowered their barfine fee and others may be considering doing the same. The weather is great…. relatively cool and no rain. Customer traffic is down at many bars and gogos …hence improving the guy-to-girl ratio which is something you'd have to visit Bangkok during the low / monsoon season to find.
So, if you are delaying or putting off coming to Bangkok…. don't. There is no reason to. As they say "This is Thailand". The continual tugs and pulls is part of their national fabric. With its rich cultural heritage, its easily found naughtiness, its friendly people and great food… it is what makes this a destination unlike any other. It is why Travel and Leisure magazine voted Bangkok the number one tourist destination in the world. Come on over!
I admire your optimism, and most of what you say I agree with. For sure there is no reason why anyone who visits Bangkok at this time can't have a great time – and everyone who has visited and has emailed me about their trip has enjoyed themselves.