Should I Visit Thailand Now?

Should I visit Thailand now? At first blush, the answer is no. The military recently took power in a coup, there is a curfew, human rights are under threat, and the US State Department, whose advisories are famously conservative, recommend avoiding the entire country, especially Bangkok.

Yet, paradoxically, times of high tension can be a great time to visit popular tourist destinations such as Thailand. Why? Because few other people are going.

Australian and British nationals can still visit most of Thailand on their standard travel insurance – be aware that if you head to areas your government advises against visiting, such as the southern Thai states of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkla, standard travel insurance won’t cover you. Also be aware that most insurance providers won’t cover problems specifically caused by the coup – break a leg and you’re fine, miss a flight because the junta shut the airport, and you’re on your own. Don’t expect much support if you try to play citizen journalist at a violent demonstration, either.

Why would you want to visit anywhere in the early stages of a coup? Well, based on our experience of Egypt, travelling when others don’t means that sights which might otherwise be heaving with tourists can be quite blissfully deserted.

Further, hotels are desperate to fill rooms, so you can score incredible late deals on hotels. I ran a quick search on Agoda for Bangkok , and found five-star hotels from AU$75 per night – if what you fancy is a lazy session poolside, this is a great time to visit. Even name brands like Shangri-La, Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula are slashing prices – I found an entry-level suite at the all-suite Banyan Tree Bangkok for AU$150.

Some disadvantages? When tourist numbers are low, the black economy of scammers and hustlers who make money from conning gullible tourists have fewer visitors to focus on. So you’re much more likely to be harassed in the street – make sure you’re aware of these common Thai scams.

Although the curfew has been eased, it does impact the nightlife scene: at time of writing, you need to be back home by midnight or risk arrest. If partying on the Khao San Road is on your bucketlist, be sure you stay on the street itself. Further, if you need to travel to and from the airport during the night, be sure to have printed copies of your tickets on you.

And then there’s the political question. Do you actually want to support a military junta? Some argue that many Thais welcome the coup as bringing stability, that any tourist income is good for the economy, and that martial law makes the place safer than a democratic government grappling with street unrest and violence. The junta, itself, claims that military rule is necessary to prevent civil war.

Others argue that you shouldn’t support a government that’s damaging human rights. Censorship is in place – social media are subject to blocks from time to time, peaceful critics have been arrested and freedom of speech is, for the moment, a thing of the past. Human Rights Watch warn that the junta, which should be preparing to transition to a democratic government, is, in fact, tightening its control.

As ever, the choice is entirely yours. Outside the cities, in the tourist areas of tourist islands, life continues very much as usual – with visitors diving, partying and enjoying sun, sea and sand just as they always would.

Tourism makes up almost 10% of Thailand’s total GDP, so your dollars can make a lot of difference to ordinary people’s lives – but they’re also validating a military dictatorship.

Image credit: Bangkok Ice Age by Mike Behnken on Flickr’s Creative Commons.