How Will Thailand’s Military Coup Affect Your Travel?

Thailand has again seen a military coup. What does it mean for travelers?

Thaksin Shinawatra served as Thai Prime Minister from 2001 until 2006 when he was ousted by a military coup. The country has seen a period of intense political turmoil over the past decade.

Shinawatra is a populist who draws his political power from the North of the country, from the country’s poor. His rule threatened Thailand’s traditional elites based in Bangkok. Those traditional power structures, in control of the military at the time of Shinawatra’s ouster, struck back. Shinawatra was convicted on corruption charges and fled the country.

When the military handed control of the government back to civilian hands, Shinawatra’s allies were placed back into office. There was a period of relative stability during military rule, but with Shinawatra’s allies back in power the traditionalists took to the streets. That lead to the Bangkok airport shutdown in November 2008.

The two sides are deeply split. The traditionalists also sometimes considered royalists are represented on the streets as the “yellow shirts.” Those favoring populist Shinawatra and his allies demonstrate as the “red shirts.”

The most recently elected leader of Thailand was Thaksin Shinawatra’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. She likely overplayed her hand in November when she introduced an amnesty bill to allow the return of her brother to the country.

She sought early elections to solidify her power base, but the opposition ‘Democrats’ boycotted. They would have lost. The majority of Thais do support her.

At the time there really was discord, and not just in the protest sites. I understand that many Thai Airways executives spent a period of time working from home, they were told not to come in to work if they didn’t have to.

  • This has very much been an internal struggle, one which Thais appear embarrassed by in discussions with outsiders. Tourists really haven’t borne the brunt of the conflict at all.
  • It’s generally been enough to avoid protest sites and to avoid wearing yellow or red clothing in order to avoid appearing to be a partisan with one side or the other.

Thailand has been the country most prone to coups and they have been generally peaceful. But I am not an expert on Thai politics and I have no inside information about what either side’s next steps are.

With the latest coup, the military went from ensuring security to actually taking charge. Though there’s a curfew in place in Bangkok from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m, you can head to or from the airport with a printed itinerary.

This often aren’t what they seem in Thai politics. There’s a great deal of intrigue, public statements are often at odds with what everyone knows to be going on. There’s a great deal of face-saving as well.

In 2008 Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was forced to resign over having hosted television cooking shows. I don’t think anyone believes that the reason given by the Constitutional Court was in any way related to the actual need to have Samak step down. But it gave him a reason other than lack of confidence of the people to do so.

The best source I’ve found for Thai news in its proper context is Bangkok Pundit.

I suppose right now, all things equal, I’d recommend postponing or avoiding Thailand travel. But that’s not a judgment that the current situation is especially unsafe. There’s not any evidence of that at this point and historically these situations haven’t been especially dangerous for outsiders. But if there’s not a strong compelling reason to be there it’s worth putting that off to a different time I’d think.

That said, my own inclinations are such that I would likely ignore my own advice. As I’ve said before, I am the sort of person who would touch the stove even though my mother told me it was hot. And I like seeing and experiencing things first-hand.

Are you going to be avoiding Thailand during the current crisis?


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I wouldn’t worry for a moment. Was there two months ago during civil strife and saw absolutely nothing that would indicate there were any problems. Stay away from government buildings (most of which are well off the tourist trail) and if you bump into a demonstration, just steer clear. This is much ado about nothing.

  2. Hey good luck to everyone and thanks Chris for your response. Its the 3rd day of the coup and i am regularly checking updates on CNN and other international channels. Things are not improving much but the deonstrations are caln and bloodless,thats the Positive point. My travel agent says that there is no problem as there are large number of travellers still going from India to Bangkok.Anti coup protests are on in central bangkok.You guys can keep an update through http://www.asiancorrespondent.com. Chris please keep me updated.Thanks again.

  3. Travelling SYD – BKK on June 2 for 2 weeks also visiting chiang mai , udon Thani ,sakon Nakhon ,krabi my thai wife is not at all worried she has family in BKK and northeast and it is business as usual apart from the curfew hopefully that will be lifted soon if not I don’t think it will impact on us to much

  4. Hi, I have planned for a 4 day trip to Phuket in June (9th to 12th) – any idea if I should be postponing or cancelling the trip based on the situation now? Thanks.

  5. Hi,
    7 of us are travelling to Phuket on the 30th of May and are staying for the week. Does anyone know if the cerfew is likely to be over by then in this area or should we cancel our trip?
    thanks.

  6. I am actually heading off to Thailand in less than a week so I think postponing the trip isn’t much of an option. Instead we just shortened our stay in Bangkok. I’m probably like you, this only makes me all the more curious to go and experience Thailand right now.

  7. Hey there, yeah 3 of us (all girls) are heading to Phuket on the 2nd June for a few days for a short trip. What’s the general opinion on travelling to phuket? It will be relatively safe considering it’s away from BKK, would it?

  8. Hi. Me and my friends are planning our vacation in Thailand from 18th to 27th June, during which we will be visiting Koh Phangan, Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. Will the situation be under control by that time?

  9. Traveling to Thailand for my bachelorette party from June 18-25 🙁 I just need to know which Island is more relaxed during curfew hours as it wont be a bachelorette party without ‘some’ nightlife :/

  10. I will go to phuket from 29 may.Is it really bad there? Confusing whether to cancel or not my trip..

  11. Hi all.

    travelling to Hua Hin in September for two weeks. Is the current curfew affecting this area of Thailand? Hoping it will have all calmed down by then and things have got sorted

  12. Hi, Me and my bf are now on koh tao and are going on a night train tomorrow to bkk it leaves chumpong 21,30 and arrives 6 should we mayvee take a plane or are the nighttrains still running under the curfew

  13. Travelling to Koh Samui on 15th June for 2 weeks. Anything to worry about? is there a curfew on the island. Anyone been, or there now with advice?

  14. Hi, Travelling to Phuket with 3 kids on 3rd June, so at a loss as what to do. Don’t think the curfew will affect us too much, guess I am more worried about phone service being cut. Do I need to worry? Don’t know whether to change our plans or not.

  15. I was planning in getting an overnight train from Bangkok to Chaing Mai in a couple of weeks. Does anyone know if this will be possible?

  16. hi chris, i would be grateful if you could update the situation if you are there in phuket. It would be a great help. Regards

  17. Hey guys travelling to bkk and koh samui in July for two weeks. . Could you please let me know of the situation is as bad in samui, quite confused whether or not to cancel! Thanks!

  18. Hi , I live in phuket and all here is normal, only if you want party in soi Bangla , 22:00 time to go home

  19. Headed to Bangkok June 19-26, with a possible side trip to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. Very much appreciate the information here, as I was considering cancelling (and taking a huge hit on airfare). Any updates are welcome.

  20. Planning for a bike ride to Trang in July 2014 , is the situation bad there or otherwise?. Want to explore the emerald pool and the islands. Hope things are o.k near beach areas. Can we be updated if the coup situation is over and the tourist allowed to travel safe and sound to Thailand.

  21. I hope all is well now, demonstrations have gone down. its only the night curfew which i feel will be lifted or the hours will be extended. i have few friends who are in phuket at present, they say life is fun.can be out till 23:00. same in bangkok. so guys chill and all the best.

  22. Hi Guys,
    I’ve opted to go to Karabi & near by Islands. Any updates on the curfew situation there?

  23. I’ve opted to go to Karabi & near by Islands. Any updates on the curfew situation there?

  24. I have cancelled my trip to BKK twice already. I just wish to know when do we actually expect the curfew to go off completely. In the next 10 days?

  25. I have cancelled my trip to Bangkok twice already. I wish to know, when can we expect the curfew to go off completely. Since the elections will take time, do we expect the 00:00 to 4:00 curfew be enforced till then?
    Or think this way that the nightlife business will only become better if the curfew is lifted off.

  26. We are leaving for Bkk and Krabi in 3 weeks time. I were there during a previous coup. But for army presence nothing was diffrent than previous visits. We went our way without any worries. We are flying Thai Air and they allow changing flights without any additional cost! But we are going an are going to enjoy ourselfs!,!

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