Tourists defy govt travel warnings

First published in Bangkok Post.

In mob territory, amid the colourful attire of street protesters, galleries of local food and the energetic blasts of whistles, there are no shortages of tourists and Bangkok remains open for travel.

Marcel and Sarah pose for a photo at Siam Square. They are confident the area, occupied by anti-government protesters, is safe for shopping.

Siam Square, Silom and Ratchaprasong are strategic areas of the anti-government protests now gripping Bangkok, but on most nights these areas host tourists from around the globe.

When asked what they were doing at Siam Square in the late evening, Sarah Menn and Marcel Schulz from Switzerland and Germany, said they had been shopping in the area.

”The protests have not stopped our plans, we still go shopping,” said Ms Menn.

She mentioned that the only minor disruption to her itinerary had been the early closing times of Siam Square’s major shopping complexes.

When Ms Menn first learned of the mass street protests in Bangkok, she was diving off one of Thailand’s picturesque islands.

The Swiss government along with the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Russia and other countries have issued warnings to their citizens, urging them to reconsider travelling to Thailand.

Ms Menn says she has since received many calls from her worried parents back home, but continues to reassure them that she is fine.

”The international media will say something is happening, don’t go but I think it’s okay,” Ms Menn said.

After three weeks of island hopping around Thailand, Ms Menn and Mr Shulz are spending their last few days in the protest hotspot, Siam Square, next to the Pathumwan intersection where the main rally stage is located.

”We were still interested in coming to Thailand because we thought it would get better, but it has been getting worse over the past two weeks. We don’t know what will happen after the elections so we are happy to be leaving soon,” said Mr Schulz.

Supaporn Prachumpai, managing director of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, says new bookings are still being received from Western countries but she is expecting a decrease in tourists visiting Thailand if the state of emergency is prolonged.

There has already been an approximate 70% drop in bookings in the Chinese market for Bangkok, she said.

”We are really worried about the situation on election day and afterwards,” said Ms Supaporn.

Further down the road, Bert and Ingeborg Sanders from the Netherlands are peering at a map of Bangkok and refer to Silom’s protest zone as a ”night market”, because of the festive atmosphere and vivid attire of protesters.

The couple say they were aware of Thailand’s political situation from media coverage in the Netherlands but still chose to visit Bangkok because of its food, people and temples.

”We have no worries about our safety. None at all,” said Mr Sanders.

”It is our first time in Thailand and it is quite exciting with the protest because we can use public transport instead of taking a taxi. The skytrain system is super,” said Mr Sanders.

Since the proposed shutdown of the city on Jan 13, Bangkok has been congested with traffic and anti-government protests, but among tourists in Bangkok, sentiment is vastly different from that expressed in the international media and

Thailand is still the Land of Smiles.

”There is something exciting happening in the country. I think it’s admirable that the Thai people can organise themselves and get together to rally for change,” Mr and Mrs Sanders said.

”We still like it and we say to each other, we will come back here,” they both said.

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