Thailand just had a military coup. Is it still cool to party there?
Pristine beaches. Backpacker parties. Beautiful women. And now, a military coup. Thailand is potentially in for big changes.
On Thursday, the Thai military declared a coup, seizing the country from the government and detaining a few dozen officials after months of political turmoil. It's so far unclear what that means for Thai citizens, but for backpackers who've already booked and those planning blowouts in Bangkok, it's led to plenty of worries about potentially landing in the middle of a revolution -- or worse, a civil war.
Without going into the gritty political details, we're here to answer the question: Is it still OK to party in Thailand?
The answer is a tentative, "Probably". But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
The official line
On Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok released a statement advising Americans to "reconsider any non-essential travel to Thailand, particularly Bangkok, due to ongoing political and social unrest and restrictions on internal movements, including an indefinite nighttime curfew".
The statement went on to warn that peaceful demonstrations could potentially turn violent, and that travelers should avoid "protest sites, demonstrations, and large gatherings", and to allow extra time when traveling through the city or to and from airports.
It's quiet out there
As CNN points out, the biggest impact is the nationwide curfew, which begins at 10pm each night and lasts until 5am. Transportation to and from airports will still be permitted, but don't plan on stumbling around the streets once the lights are supposed to be off. Basically, the cities are quiet and everybody is indoors by curfew. If you're out, you'd better have a reason -- and your passport in hand.
But one ex-pat living in downtown Bangkok said he hadn't noticed much different from the day before the coup to the day after.
"It doesn't feel like anything has changed", said Chris, who asked to not use his entire name. "It's really quiet. That's the only real difference".
Tourist sites are not protest sites
Realistically, visitors won't be frequenting the protest sites, which are concentrated in Bangkok and separate from popular tourist destinations. As CNN notes, "Tourist attractions, government offices, embassies, shops, restaurants and malls are still open, though some have adjusted their hours in line with the curfew".
Additionally, both experts and people on the ground recommended exercising caution, but mostly just using common sense.
"If you're already going, or if you're just overnighting in Bangkok, just try to minimize your nights there", said Jackson Ferguson, executive director of Asia Desk. "Use your head. And don't hang out with protesters".
Bangkok is not Phuket
Jackson went on to point out that Thailand is a big country, and protests aren't focused around the beaches and the rural north.
"If you're going to the north, or the beach, those areas are relatively unaffected", he said. "Beach destinations miles away won't feel any of the effects".
But he also said travelers flying into Bangkok have other options if they're not comfortable staying in a country dealing with political unrest.
"If you have an issue with going, there are plenty of other countries within reasonable distance, including Laos and Cambodia", he said.
Just be smart, and buy insurance
Nobody can predict what exactly will happen. The situation doesn't appear to be escalating at present, and Thai people are traditionally peaceful. But even if it's only a 1 percent chance a peaceful protest turns violent, that's a 1 percent chance to be aware of. But again, the places most people want to visit aren't protest zones.
"My opinion: People shouldn't be going there anyway as a tourist. It's not a zoo", Chris said. "But Thais understand completely they don't want foreigners caught in crossfire. It's bad for business".
Jackson echoed those sentiments, adding that travelers should simply follow the State Department's alerts and to buy travel insurance if they've already booked their trips, and if they're planning to visit any time soon.
"If you're going later this year, go ahead. But you should buy insurance", Jackson said. "It's the smart move".