On 22 May 2014, Thailand’s military seized control of the government in a self-professed effort to 'reform the political structure, the economy and the society.' Coups are nothing new in Thailand – this is the 12th since 1932 – but the current situation has understandably left travellers with a few questions.
So what does the military coup mean for travellers?
Despite the military’s declaration of nationwide martial law (which effectively rendered the Thai constitution null and void), daily life more or less continues as usual in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand – tourist attractions are still open, and tourism-related businesses and services remain operational. Yet there are a few issues that could impact travellers directly:
A curfew is in place across Thailand from midnight to 4am local time (relaxed from 10pm to 5am). Although we’ve seen some people out in Bangkok past 10pm, most businesses (including restaurants and bars) are closing early, and Bangkok’s BTS (elevated monorail) and MRT (metro), including the Airport Link train to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport are running on truncated schedules. Among those declared exempt from the curfew are people travelling to/from Thailand’s airports.
All airports in Thailand remain open, yet security-related roadblocks mean that travel to/from airports – especially at night – could take bit longer than usual; we suggest allowing an extra half hour and preparing travel documents for possible inspection along the way.
Officially at least, political gatherings of more than five people have been banned. Despite this, there have been sporadic anti-coup demonstrations, which have led to temporary disruptions of the BTS.
Restrictions on media mean that some foreign television outlets, including the BBC and CNN, have been blocked.
Travellers have been advised to check the specific terms of their travel insurance, as claims arising from military insurrection are common exclusions in travel insurance policies.
Public criticism of the coup or military, including via online social networks, is best avoided. Even before the coup, Thailand was home to some of the world’s strictest laws barring criticism of its monarchy, an entity with longstanding and close ties to the military.
What's the safety risk for travellers?
Although there’s always a risk that the situation could escalate – already there have been heated anti-coup protests, and a potentially violent backlash by pro-government supporters is possible – relatively little of the country’s tourism infrastructure has been impacted by the coup, and at the time of writing Thailand remains a safe place to visit. Official warnings vary from country - while the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office and Australian government urge travellers to exercise caution in Bangkok and greater Thailand and avoid all protests and gatherings, the US State Department currently advises its citizens to reconsider non-essential travel to Thailand.
Where can I find up-to-date information?
Lonely Planet’s dedicated Thorn Tree thread is continually being updated with helpful hints and advice from travellers in Thailand as well as local residents.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has a webpage with helpful local contact numbers.
The Bangkok Post's website has a breaking news box that's updated regularly, and the BBC's Asia pages and The New York Times’ dedicated Thailand page both offer regularly updated reports on top of a wealth of background information.
Probably the best way to stay abreast of the situation on a minute-by-minute basis is Twitter. Follow the #ThaiCoup hashtag, while reliable tweeps for news/politics include @Journotpia and @Saksith, and for travel, @RichardBarrow and @travelfish.
How it got to this: the coup in context
It’s a long and confusing saga, but the roots of this most recent coup can be traced back to conflicts between the largely middle- and upper-class, Bangkok-based monarchist 'yellow shirts' and the predominately poorer, working class 'red shirt' supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
In 2006, Shinawatra was forced from office in a bloodless military coup. In response, red-shirted Thaksin supporters took over sections of central Bangkok and staged a series of anti-government demonstrations, some of which turned violent. The protesters were eventually dispersed by the Thai military in May 2010, resulting in 40 deaths.
In 2011, after a succession of interim governments, Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, became prime minister in a landslide victory for her party. Two years later, yellow shirt protesters accusing Yingluck of corruption launched a series of anti-government protests culminating in Yingluck being forced to stand down and, on 22 May, a yellow shirt-sympathetic military seizing power. On 26 May, King Bhumibol Adulyadej endorsed army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha as Thailand's new leader.
How long will this thing last?
At this point, it’s still too early to say. At the time of writing, there was no confirmation on when martial law would be lifted, and the military had not yet divulged a timeline for a return to civilian rule.