The normally hectic Bangkok morning commute turned to chaos today. A few minutes before the scheduled opening of the BTS line (Sky train), the entire system was closed down because someone had barricaded the tracks with a stack of old tires.
Bangkok commuters were left scrambling to find alternative methods of transportation with many opting to drive their own cars into the city, adding to the already congested streets. The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) did their best by adding more buses to the busiest lines, but many Bangkok citizens were not amused at this latest disruption to their lives by the ongoing political protests.
Should tourists come to Thailand?
I have been asked this question A LOT (especially by the media) and it is a difficult question for me to answer because things can change here so quickly. Anyone visiting Bangkok needs to asses for themselves how much risk and inconvenience they are willing to put up with.
Previous to today I would have said that the protests did not have a major impact on tourists visiting Bangkok. Certainly some of the major shopping malls are closed but many of the other tourist attractions remain open. The BMTA is certainly doing its best to keep the transit lines open. In fact the protests themselves have become a bit of tourist attraction with many posing for photos with the protesters as well as the military.
However, after today’s incident I would strongly caution anyone about coming to Bangkok. This is not necessarily due to any safety concern, although that should be considered, but rather because of the inconvenience that a major transportation shut down can have on the city and consequently on your holiday.
The traffic in Bangkok is terrible even at the best of times and the BTS sky train and the MRT underground are really the lifelines of the city. When the transit lines shut down, navigating through the streets of Bangkok becomes extremely difficult, especially if you are here on holiday and you don’t know your way around and you don’t speak Thai. Thailand is known as a fantastic get away spot for a nice relaxing vacation so I’m sure the last thing anyone would want to experience on their vacation is gridlock traffic.
If you are planning to come to Bangkok then I would suggest trying to plan for unexpected contingencies and work with your hotel to try to minimize the impact that these protests will have on your holiday plans. I wish I could offer more concrete advice but due to the
unpredictability of the protests it is hard to know from day-to-day exactly what is going to happen next.
Twitter has become an excellent source for staying on top the constantly changing situation here in Bangkok. Catherine from WomenLearnThai has put together a list of some of the most active twitterers in Bangkok. This real-time news really shows the power of Twitter and I would highly recommend following the people on the list to help determine whether you should come to Bangkok or not.