Unless you’ve been backpacking on Mars over the past few months, you can’t have failed to notice the recent crisis that engulfed the entire city of Bangkok and left Thailand and it’s people in a state of shock. Burning buildings, live gunfire on the streets and angry protestors are not the stereotypical images of Thailand that come to mind. Garlanded long tail boats bobbing on translucent waters, twinkling temples and white sands surrounded by breathtaking limestone cliffs – these are the pictures on postcards we send home. Thailand as an exotic paradise, not a battle ground.
If you were travelling through Thailand during the time of the crisis, you’re likely to have received a panicked email or phone call from a family member, watching events on the world news at home – as the media sent out distressing images of the escalating crisis. I received the phone call when I was cycling in the countryside in Kanchanaburi from my frantic mother. As the sun shone and the birds sung in the rice fields around me – I couldn’t believe myself the things she was describing to me. Bangkok was burning. Just a two hour bus ride from the city, it was a different world. Riding through little villages amongst a mountainous backdrop being waved at by smiling locals; this was the Thailand I knew and loved.
That evening, I sat with a few Bangkok ‘evacuees’ drinking 10 baht whiskey & coke from a street side bar, discussing the situation in the capital. Everyone had a different opinion about what had led to the clashes between the red shirt protestors and the army – and more crucially what this now meant for Thailand. How or why it occurred isn’t up for discussion here. This isn’t a news site and I’m not a political correspondent. I’m just a backpacker like you, who loves this country and hates to see it in turmoil. I thought about foreign embassies issuing warnings on travel to Thailand and the damaging effects on tourism and worried for the thousands of people whose livelihood depends on foreign visitors. I thought back to my decisions to come here.
Before I came to Thailand for the first time two years ago; I sat in the office on many a rainy day in England daydreaming of my backpacking adventure; heavenly beaches, mouth watering food, rich culture, tropical rain forests and a bamboo bungalow on the beach for a few dollars! This is what I had in mind. Since arriving here and travelling through the country extensively, Thailand as an exotic dream destination hasn’t disappointed. Snorkeling in clear waters around Koh Phi Phi, trekking in Khao Sok National Park, rock climbing in Railay, sitting around a camp fire in the jungles of Pai; my travel experiences have been varied and unmatched. And has all this changed? Have the reasons that brought me here in the first place suddenly disintegrated with the recent crisis?
During the entire episode, most parts of Thailand were unaffected. In sunny South Thailand it continued to be ‘no-shirts’ rather than ‘red shirts’ – as travelers caught the rays and frolicked carelessly on the beaches. In Northern Thailand, elephant trekking, climbing, rafting and hill tribe adventures continued as normal. For the majority of people travelling in other parts of the country, the charmed life of a backpacker was unchanged.
And what now? Well, ironically for backpackers, this may just be the best time to visit Thailand! Many Airlines are offering amazing discounts on international flights to Thailand – plus low cost Asian airlines have flights going dirt cheap. Just this month Air Asia gave away 10,000 free seats from other parts of Asia to Bangkok. Not only that, many hostels and guest houses are lowering their rates to attract more guests. And, it’s good news for party animals too as bars are giving drinks offers and extending happy hours!
Bangkok itself seems to be recovering too. Just days after the gun fire ceased, citizens of Bangkok were on their hands and knees scrubbing the streets and clearing the debris; a testament to the love of the Thai people for their wounded capital. Plus, the brand new Airport link is now open in Bangkok, which takes you direct to the centre in 15 minutes – and it’s absolutely FREE until August! Expect more discounts and promotions all over Thailand as Thai people try hard to entice visitors once again.
Bangkok Clean Up Day! Photo by Sarah Lipman
The fact is that it won’t take much to lure us back. Thai people are blessed with such a beautiful country that it’s pretty hard to keep us away. Thailand is still the exotic traveller dream that is always has been. Since backpackers first discovered it’s gorgeous shores, the lure and magnetic charm of this country will continue. With amazing diversity, beautiful landscapes, cheap and delicious street food, great nightlife and smiling friendly people, it’d take a lot to keep us backpackers away!