Is Bangkok Safe for Tourists?

I spent last week in Bangkok, a city currently wracked by massive demonstrations, with violent rioting being featured in the international media. It sounded quite dangerous and we considered cancelling our trip or visiting another area of Thailand instead. But we finally decided to press on, having already booked our flights and hotel, and spend some time in Thailand’s capital city, despite the political climate.

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

We intended to avoid the areas where the demonstrations were taking place, which turned out to be very easy to do. The main rally was located near the Democracy Monument, with smaller demos at government offices. We were able to visit all the major tourist attractions, including the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Museum of Siam and MBK mall without going near the demonstrations.

Our Thai friends supported the demonstrators and assured us that even their elderly relatives were participating in the demo, so we decided to visit the main rally near the Democracy Monument. The road approaching the rally had been turned into a car park, where demonstrators had parked their cars, and little stalls where people sold demonstration items lined the street. Hairbands in the red, blue and white colours of Thailand’s national flag were popular, sold alongside yellow t-shirts, the protestors being known as “Yellow Shirts” compared to the pro-government “Red Shirts”. A pop singer was performing on the stage, and as we walked nearer it became more crowded. There was no sense of danger, however, and the atmosphere was one of positive energy and movement towards change. People I asked believed that the demonstrations would be successful in some way, at changing the current political situation in Thailand.

Sellers at the demonstration

Sellers at the demonstration

So, is Bangkok safe for tourists? Yes, definitely. It was last week anyway. If you are planning a visit to this amazing Asian city, I don’t think you need to cancel your trip. Taking heed of local information and staying up-to-date on the political situation will enable you to stay in control of whether you avoid, observe or even join the demonstrations. The demonstrations are focused on protesting against the current government and are not related to tourism, foreigners, perceived wealth or race. Therefore as a visitor, you will not be a target.Bangkok demonstrations

Tourist attractions were unaffected while I was in Bangkok, although schools and universities were closed for part of last week. And my Thai friends tell me that traffic problems are much reduced compared to normal! Potentially volatile political situations can change very quickly, however, so stay flexible, make sure you know what is happening on the ground, and you can still have a great time in Bangkok.


5 Rules for Riding a Motorbike in Asia

I had never learnt to drive a car in the UK, let alone ridden a motorcycle. Moving to Indonesia, however, to a place with limited public transport, this was clearly going to be the best way to get around. I learnt in one session with a friend, and four years on I’m still alive. This are my personal rules for survival when riding a motorbike in Asia.

The motorbike is a popular form of transport in many parts of Asia

The motorbike is a popular form of transport in many parts of Asia.

1) Learn Quickly
Riding a motorbike is not difficult. Most of the challenge comes from other road users or the road itself. Find somewhere flat and uncrowded and spend an hour or so getting used to controlling the bike.

2) Wear a Helmet
It’s easy for us to forget about safety when we’re travelling or on holiday, particularly somewhere without enforced laws on helmet use. This may seem like a boring rule, but despite being fun, riding a motorcycle is not the safest way to get around. Do you really want a head injury, especially if you are somewhere without ambulances, let alone high quality medical care?

Helmets can be fun too

Helmets can be fun too.

3) Know your Bike’s Limits
My experience of riding a motorbike in Asia has been one of weaving in and out of traffic, avoiding pedestrians and rickshaws piled high with goods, as other people weave around me. When you’re entering the opposite lane to overtake a big, slow truck you need to know how fast your bike will accelerate so you can clear the truck before the traffic in the opposite lane reaches you.

Love your bike - give it a good clean

Love your bike – give it a good clean.

4) Go with the Flow
Before I learnt to ride a motorbike, a friend gave me a very useful piece of advice. She said that whereas elsewhere we might drive in a relatively straight line, just turning at corners, in Indonesia you should smoothly follow the flow of the traffic. Actually she demonstrated what she meant by swaying her body from side to side; it’s hard to convey in writing.  Basically, relax and go with the flow.

5) You’re Never the Craziest Driver
No matter how fast or how crazily you’re driving, remember there is always someone driving faster and more crazily than you. When I’ve been in a hurry to get somewhere I have driven very fast, in areas where the speed limit is generally ignored. Every time, there is someone weaving in and out of traffic, over- and undertaking, much faster and more crazily than me.

Or you might just get stuck in the traffic, as Asia’s cities become more congested.

And a couple things I learnt the hard way:

1) Automatic scooter-style motorbikes do not go up steep hills with two heavy people on them. Don’t try it or you’ll end up walking like I did.

2) You will at some point become one of those people carrying ridiculous amounts of people, objects or even furniture on your bike. Moving house by motorbike is not as unusual as it sounds.