In case you haven’t been watching the news services lately, the ruling government of Thailand, where we happen to be right now, has been deposed by a military coup and is now under marshall law. Sounds scary doesn’t it? In reality it isn’t at all. No tanks burst through any government gates, and soldiers with itchy fingers brandishing machine guns didn’t swarm parliament. To be honest it was all very civilised, well, as civilised as a coup in Thailand can be anyway. There’s been about 20 of these since 1932, so it’s not like the locals haven’t experienced this before.
It’s not that bad
I’ve been talking with people back in Australia recently and everyone tells me to “be careful” or “stay safe”. The images they’ve been seeing on TV is of angry demonstrations between the Red Shirts, Yellow Shirts and military, which is true, but confined to a small area of Bangkok. What started out as peaceful demonstrations soon turned nasty. If you steered clear of the protests you’d hardly know anything was going on at all. We were in Bangkok on the day of the coup, and to be honest, we didn’t notice anything. The Thai people, and everyone else for that matter, simply went about their day like it was any other. We did some sightseeing, boarded a river taxi to get to our hotel because the protestors were clogging up the main streets for tuk tuk drivers, and we got on a train bound for Chiang Mai.
Times changed quickly in Chiang Mai
By the time we’d settled into our Chiang Mai apartment where we’ll be staying for the next 6-8 weeks things had changed slightly. All local TV and radio stations had stopped broadcasting, shows replaced with military logos and shocking music. There’s now a curfew between midnight and 4am (originally 10pm-5am), although if you’re making your way from one place to another that can be justified, such as the airport to your hotel, you’ll be fine. Soldiers have built temporary sandbag bunkers and are stationed at strategic points around the city to enforce martial law. Groups of five or more people meeting for political reasons has also been outlawed. While this all may sound unsavoury the truth is it’s more curious than dangerous. I’ve seen tourists having their photo taken with machine guns borrowed from the soldiers, or sitting behind the steering wheel of military trucks. So yes, Thailand is currently under martial law, but no-one feels at risk, at least for now.
What the locals think
I’ve been talking with a few locals about the coup in Thailand, and most people here in the north seem to have sided with the Red Shirts, supporters of the democratically elected government. The Yellow Shirts, who have strong support in Bangkok, have been protesting against the government for some time, fighting alleged corruption by elected politicians. One of the people I’ve spoken to, a supporter of the Yellow Shirts, says they can’t have democratic government in Thailand until corruption has been eradicated. Another person, a Red Shirt supporter, said Thai people accept corruption within the government, as long as they deliver on the promises they made when campaigning to be elected. Thaksin Shinawatra, a democratically elected Prime Minister in 2001, delivered many benefits for the lower and middle classes including improved health care, education and wealth, promises he made during his election campaign. Unfortunately for the Thai people, politicians keeping election promises is a rare thing here. He has since been run out of the country on suspicion of corruption, but the Red Shirts and their supporters still hold him in very high regard for what he did for the people. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was the democratically elected leader of the current government from 2011, but was forced to step aside recently after the courts found her guilty of abusing her power. During her reign she tried to pass a bill through Congress giving amnesty to exiled political figures, including her brother Thaksin. The Yellow Shirts didn’t like this and not long after her forced resignation the military stepped in and General Prayuth Chan-ocha appointed himself interim Prime Minister until elections can be organised. However no date or timeframe has been given for when these elections may happen so the military could be ruling for some time yet.
Surprise, surprise, the Royal Family approve
The actions of the military have recently received official endorsement from the Thai Royal Family. Since the coup in Thailand the constitution has been amended with just Section 2 remaining which declares that the King has power above all. Another person I spoke to told me the Thai Royal Family are the richest royal family in the world, and the Thai people are ok with this, which I found staggering. Their estimated fortune is $US30billion, that’s $US10billion more than the Sultan of Brunei, and $US12billion more than the King of Saudi Arabia. This in a developing country where if you take home $AU500 per month you’re doing well.
Have no fear about going to Thailand
If you’re thinking of coming to Thailand, or have booked trips but are questioning whether you should come, have no fear. The country is safe, and unless you’re going to join in the protests you’ll be safe too. In fact, once the coup took place the protestors in Bangkok went home. There have been a few spot fires here and there with Red Shirt supporters protesting against the military, but nothing to worry about. The military leaders have ensured tourists will be safe and there is no reason not to believe them.
Do what we did, register your details on your country’s government website (www.smarttraveller.gov.au for Australians) so that if anything does happen while your in Thailand you’ll be notified and receive assistance where necessary. We’re living peacefully in Chiang Mai and there’s an Australian Consulate 20km away, but we doubt we’ll here from them any time soon.