Bangkok quieter but definitely not dead
Somethings never change: The graceful beauty of Bangkok’s grand Royal Palace.

"Don't go to Bangkok. Try and avoid Thailand altogether. It's not worth going there at this time."

This is what I kept hearing as I planned my trip to South East Asia amid violent protests in the city.

Like many travellers I carefully considered spending any time there.

The Australian government had issued its highest travel warning, Bangkok had a night-time curfew and thousands of people had cancelled their flights.

But after four days in Kuala Lumpur and with the concerns of friends and family becoming a distant memory, curiousity got the better of me and I decided it was time to visit the famous Thai capital.

It was safe now anyway, I thought.

I arrived on June 3. The curfew had just lifted and the Red Shirt anti-government protesters gone home. Thailand had begun a new campaign to woo back tourists after losing up to $US2.2 billion in tourism revenue during the crisis, which had begun in March and had left nearly 90 people dead.

I arrived at the tourist centre of Khoa San Road district and noticed the area was moderately busy. Every few minutes I saw a backpacker walking around. So not everyone had cancelled their flights. But my hostel, which was considered to be popular, was only about 20 per cent occupied.

"It got busy from today," said Rao, one of the hostel workers.

"But some hotels have only one guest."

It'd had been five days since the curfew was lifted and my new backpacker friends were pleased they were free to go out. We headed to the famous Khao San Road for dinner and drinks.

Some of them had postponed their visit to Bangkok and had gone to other parts of the country until the curfew lifted.

"Last time I came here it was 24-hour party, party, party," said a Norwegian girl of the street where bars are open until late and street vendors spruik everything from "ping-pong" shows to pirated DVDs, to fake drivers' licences to women's clothing.

"At least it's not dead like it was last night," said a friendly Israeli backpacker.

And they all agreed.

A Brazilian traveller told me he was accidentally caught in the crossfire while visiting the Brazilian Embassy to renew his passport.

More disturbing than the violent protests were the left-wing western tourists that had headed to the protest to make speeches, he said.

"They wore Che Guevara shirts and they were making speeches," he said.

"This had nothing to do with them and, if you ask me, they should have been the first to get shot."

We headed from one club to another until the group decided which one was the least "dead".

A 30-minute cab ride from Khoa San Road is Bangkok's financial and fashion district.

Only weeks earlier television news showed the world images of what could be considered a war zone in the area.

But the next morning as I headed to the Siam Square fashion district and the large MBK shopping mall, it seemed like nothing had ever happened.

People went about their business, school children bought street food and the shops were all open. I saw no signs of damaged buildings. But there seemed to be one thing missing - no tourists anywhere.

The street vendors didn't approach me offering bargains; they barely looked up.

I tried to consciously look for tourists but only saw about five in a whole hour of shopping.

The shops seemed moderately busy and most were offering huge discounts - up to 90 per cent off.

I walked down to the Lumpini Park, one of the main areas occupied by the anti-government protesters.

I walked around for a few minutes but I found nothing.

The area was a ghost town, some shops were closed and could be a sign of the reported looting that occurred towards the end of the crisis. However, it appeared to have been cleaned up fairly thoroughly.

It was clear to me that the number of visitors to the "Land of Smiles" had dropped considerably since the protests.

Thailand has already revised its forecast to 12 million visitors, down from the 15 million tourists it was expecting in 2010. Tourism accounts for 6 per cent of Thailand's economy and attracts millions of people from all over the world.

But only time will tell how much damage has been done to the image of this intense, wonderful city full of peace-loving people.

Do I regret visiting Bangkok? Not for a minute.

>> The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has downgraded its earlier warning to Thailand, now issuing a high degree of caution warning due to the "high threat of terrorist attack and the possibility of further violent civil unrest".


The West Australian

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