An anti-government protester throws tear gas back at riot police in Bangkok on Monday. (AP)
Bullets fired in Bangkok have hit holiday plans in Calcutta.
The violence and political unrest in one of Asia’s more popular holiday destinations — and an old favourite of the travel-happy Calcuttan — have led to many tourists cutting short their stay there or heading for other parts of Thailand.
Hundreds of others who had planned Christmas and New Year holidays in Thailand have put their bookings on hold.
City-based businessman Rajesh Gidwani reached Bangkok along with a group of friends on November 29 and was scheduled to be back on December 4, but the political uncertainty and the prospect of more violence forced him to prepone his return by a day.
“Although tourists aren’t facing problems, I didn’t want to take a chance. You could be stranded if the airport shuts down suddenly,” Gidwani said after returning on a Jet Airways flight from Bangkok on Tuesday afternoon.
The Thai capital has witnessed political protests since December 1 with demonstrators demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. At least one person has been killed in gunfire during the street protests and reprisal by the pro-government group.
The Tourism of Authority of Thailand has issued a travel advisory for tourists, asking them to be vigilant and avoid areas where crowds might gather. “Tourists are advised to check travel route and road traffic situation to avoid getting caught in traffic or they can use other means of transportation to getting around in Bangkok,” the advisory states.
But Thailand has dispelled fears about foreigners or tourists being targeted.
The country banks on tourism for much of its revenue and its islands, white-sand beaches, mountains and other attractions attract lakhs of people every year, many of them from eastern India.
Five flights operate daily between Calcutta and Thailand, carrying around 700 passengers on an average. Traders, tourists and corporate executives constitute the bulk of the traffic.
Gidwani said it was unnerving to see the street protests. “We saw demonstrators on motorbikes shouting slogans in their language. There were hardly any tourists on the road.”
A city-based dentist who has been to Bangkok several times said the Thai capital didn’t have the “usual look” during his latest visit. “It’s a bustling city with heavy traffic from early morning. But since December 1, the streets have looked deserted and some of the main shopping areas have been closed,” he said.
The Calcuttan also noticed heavy deployment of armed police personnel in front of all government establishments.
“There was a sense of uneasiness. I have been to Bangkok so many times, but this time the city looked different. We saw in the news that five persons were killed in the protests,” said the dentist, who returned to Calcutta on Monday.
The last time Thailand had battled a law-and-order problem such as this was during the 2006 coup, when Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport was closed for days.
“I hope the situation won’t be like that. This Thursday is the Thai king’s birthday and I saw in the news that the protesters will tone down their agitation because of that,” said businessman Vivek Kumar, who was in south Thailand on Tuesday.
Kumar has planned to visit Bangkok for a business meeting before returning to Calcutta on Saturday. He is having second thoughts about it. “If the situation deteriorates, I may return via Kuala Lumpur,” he said.
Tour operators said they had received calls from clients who wanted to put their holiday plans for Thailand on hold, if not cancel the trips. “Some want to wait and watch while others are opting for alternative destinations,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east) of the Travel Agents’ Federation of India.
Calcuttan Naresh Kumar was to go to Thailand with his family on December 24. “Given the situation, how can I take my family? I will wait till December 7 and if the situation doesn’t improve, then we may go to Dubai instead,” he said.
Airline operators said there were no bulk cancellations yet. “We are monitoring the situation but our flights are on schedule,” said an official of Thai Air Asia that operates a daily flight from Calcutta.
ALTERNATIVE THAI DESTINATIONS
Pattaya, Phuket, Krabi and Koh Lanta
INDIAN EMBASSY’S ADVISORY
Indian tourists and residents are advised to regularly monitor the situation through local media, their hotels, tour operators etc. Usual precautions for personal safety should be undertaken and areas where protests are taking
place should be avoided.
For any further information, the Indian embassy in Sukhumvit Soi 23 may be contacted at 022580300-05 or 022580307 or [email protected]
TOURISM AUTHORITY OF THAILAND’S ADVISORY
For tourists visiting the kingdom, it should be stressed that foreigners and/or tourists have not been targeted in the ongoing political protests
Tourists are advised to be vigilant and avoid areas where crowds may gather. Heavy road traffic at certain times can also be expected in roads leading to the protest areas
Tourists are advised to check travel route and road traffic situation to avoid getting caught in traffic or they can use other means of transportation to getting around in Bangkok, including BTS Skytrain, MRT Subway, Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link Express and City Lines, and water transport
Suvarnabhumi Airport has opened a passenger centre at the CIP 5 room
on the 3rd floor of the passenger terminal to provide assistance to passengers whose air travel has been affected by the protests; travellers
can call +66(0)21321999