Adventures in Asian Travel: Thailand
December 3, 2008
Meet Buddhist Monks, Ride an Elephant
Budget travelers in search of inexpensive Southeast Asian vacation packages take notice: the Constitutional Court of Thailand has disbanded the ruling government party and barred the current Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, from participating in Thai politics for five years. In short, the occupation of Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi International airport by anti-government protestors is likely to end soon: you will once again be able to visit Thailand and expect to return home on schedule. And, even better, in an effort to recoup what the Bank of Thailand believes will be close to U.S. $4 billion in lost tourism revenue, you can expect steep discounts.
Unlike this author, who was attempting to return to the U.S. for Thanksgiving after working in Thailand for three weeks, you will not be greeted (and subsequently menaced) at the airport by metal bar-wielding anti-government protestors. A hastily-planned return to downtown Bangkok from the airport will not be delayed by tens of thousands of protestors clogging the toll way. You will not need to stop along the way for roadblocks or “unofficial” vehicle searches. Your airline will know where its planes are, when its planes are arriving and/or departing from Bangkok, and when you call them to ask, they will tell you.
Your departing flight will not be delayed and subsequently cancelled day after day after day.
Should you decide to exit the country via another route, say, one of Thailand’s other international airports, your travel plans will not be complicated by uncertainty and confusion. These airports will not face similar threats of closure or disruption, and rumors will not swirl around the viability of one port over the other. If you opt for a land route, you will likely reach your destination without a need to bargain for taxis at the Thai-Cambodia border, taxis made exceedingly scarce by the flood of your fellow travelers attempting to do the very same thing you are doing.
And finally, once you arrive at another country’s airport, you will not need to travel to several additional countries to make a connecting flight home.
Budget travelers take note.
As a potential visitor to the Kingdom, you should know that tourism generates jobs and fuels growth and employment throughout the country. In the aftermath of the closure of its main international airport, Thailand now faces the real possibility that visitors from around the world will opt for what they perceive to be a more reliable or “safer” vacation spot. For Thailand, billions of dollars will be lost as a result of altered perceptions. Even Thailand’s credit worthiness ” the sovereign rating of a country’s ability to service debt – has taken a temporary hit. Real damage has been done.
Budget travelers should know that most Thais understand the need to repair the reputation of their beloved country with tourists, and most have already begun the long process of drawing people back. In the coming months, your visit to Thailand will likely be a smooth, pleasant, and untroubled event because Thailand is, in reality, a beautiful place, exceedingly welcoming of foreign visitors. Expect a two-week travel package covering all accommodation expenses and hotel taxes. Offers may include breakfasts, lunches, and possibly no fewer than 10 dinners. Expect multiple tours and activities, the services of a trip-leader speaking the language of your choice, baggage handling, and a maybe even a 5 percent credit toward your next trip. Expect good times.
The people of Thailand want you to visit, and they want you to visit often. But in addition to offering discounts, Thais must also resolve the long-simmering divisions among their political leaders if they hope to bring visitors back to their country. Though most perceptions are fleeting, they have the power to shape the choices of travelers in the coming months, and the negative images associated with a visit to Thailand have arisen as a result of real political problems. These perceptions could harden into a long-term problem if the political conflict continues to spill over into the general population, and it is upon this general population that the economic costs of a reduction in tourism will inflict the greatest damage.
Budget travelers, if you are considering a trip to Thailand, the country will soon be ready to receive you once again. Despite the misgivings you may have, you will find the country beautiful, engaging, and alluring. The Thai people will welcome you, and your visit will make a difference during difficult economic times. This is a virtual guarantee, but in the mean time expect discounts.
John Karr is the Director of Digital Media at The Asia Foundation. He can be reached at [email protected].
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