Bangkok Shutdown 2014

Bangkok protests at the Democracy Memorial. Maxim B./CC BY-SA 2.0

‘It’s business as usual in Thailand,’ according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s official update issued Monday, opening day of the Bangkok Shutdown.

The US Embassy took a dimmer view in this advisory: ‘We advise you to plan ahead. It is prudent to ensure you have a week’s supply of cash, keep your mobile communications devices charged, and stock a two week supply of essential items such as food, water, and medicine.’

So who’s right?

Anti-government protestors set up roadblocks in major arteries around Bangkok on Monday. While the roadblocks will cut off most traffic, emergency vehicles will be allowed through. The group also guarantees access to major transport hubs.

The roadblocks prevent civil servants from getting to work, and have had unintended and expensive consequences. One survey estimates that the country will lose up to €22 million daily during the projected month-long protest.

Drivers in neighbouring areas are thrilled by the lack of traffic. Confused tourists wander into shops to the sound of protest chants just blocks away.

So far, the police are keeping their promise of neutrality, and gunfire has been restricted to late night, isolated incidents. Of course, things could get ugly at any time.

What’s a tourist to do?

Follow the US Embassy’s advice. Riots can spread quickly. A friendly protest can turn into a murderous mob in an instant.

Staying out of a riot means avoiding one. The best way to keep up with what’s happening is to follow the news. This doesn’t mean staying in your hotel room glued to stale footage. By avoiding the major hot spots one can still enjoy

Richard Barrow is a reporter and blogger living in Bangkok tweeting advice for tourists and breaking news. His website includes a map that tracks the latest protest locations and any violent events that have occurred. As of Tuesday, he was still Tweeting advice to tourists’ questions about their situations. Twitter.com/richardbarrow

For news in English, follow these hashtags: #BKKShutdown and  #Bangkokshutdown .

Keep up on the news and check your travel medical insurance policy. If you don’t have one, get one. Have it on you when walking around. Hit the streets and enjoy beautiful Bangkok.