05 May SE Asia Discovery trip – Now Blogging!
Greetings family, friends and fans,
We are pleased to welcome you to the Operation Groundswell Southeast Asia Discovery trip blog! You can follow our adventures in Thailand and Cambodia on this page for the course of our trip this spring. With less than 10 days before our departure, everyone in the group is incredibly excited right now.
While there has been some concern about the street protests in Bangkok for the last six weeks, breaking news from Bangkok states that the opposition ‘Red Shirts’ have accepted Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s roadmap for an election in November.
Need a quick primer on the Thai political situation?
- In the past 80 years, Thailand´s internal struggles have caused 18 coups, most of them bloodless. As democracy is a fledgling concept in the region, people more often express their anger towards government through mass protests rather than at the ballot boxes every four years.
- The major sides in the current struggle are the “yellow shirts” and “red shirts”. The ‘yellows’ are comprised of the urban elite and big-business interests who are loyal to King Bhumibol (yellow is the royal colour). Revered in all of Thailand, the ailing king often avoids stepping in to politics as he sees his role more as a guardian of Thai culture rather than power. The ‘reds’ are a loose coalition of rural farmers and the urban poor, upset that the current government was brought into existence by the judiciary and military rather than an election.
- In 2006, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (pronounced tak-seen) was removed from office due to corruption charges. Widely loved by the red-shirted rural population for his social welfare and agrarian reforms, Thaksin went into exile to avoid facing jail time. Since then, successive governments failed to continue Thaksin’s policies as partisan bickering caused major disruptions and a general inability to govern.
- The current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, is an Oxford-educated member of the Bangkok elite. Brought into power by the judiciary and military in a bid to halt the 2008 airport protests, Abhisit is well-known for being an anti-corruption crusader and in fact, a supporter of many of Thaksin´s policies.
- After the ‘yellows’ blockaded Bangkok’s two airports in 2008, Abhisit’s appointment as Prime Minister was seen by many as a pro-yellow gesture. During these protests, the Thai economy suffered several billion dollars of lost revenue. Because of this, the current street protesters have been blocked from setting up at the airport. Upset at their loss of power, the ‘reds’ have repeatedly called for new elections.
- The current street protests have seen the worst violence in decades with the death of 27 people and injuries in the hundreds. Let me reiterate: the violence in Bangkok was incredibly rare.
What will happen to the trips?
- While international news media have jumped at the chance to cover street protests in Bangkok, daily life has remained mostly unchanged for almost 65 million people. Even in Bangkok, a city of 10 million, only a few specific protest zones have been blockaded.
- As it stands now, both trips will be flying into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, staying at a safe hostel in the backpacker district of Bangkok and conducting our in-country orientation in the city for three days. Should tensions continue to flare, we will adjust programs accordingly. One option could include a direct bus from the airport to Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, where no violence has taken place.
- Based on our extensive knowledge of Thailand, however, we expect this issue to return to a low-simmer in the near future. We expect the trips to go according to plan in Bangkok because the Discovery group will be there from the 14th-16th of May and the Eco group from the 7th-9th of July. By those dates, we predict very little to be happening on the streets of Bangkok that threatens our group.
- The most important piece of advice we can give is to remain calm. By checking daily news updates, you should aim to stay informed of the latest developments but be aware that daily life for 99% of Thais remains unaffected. The protests are located in specific areas of Bangkok that we will definitely be avoiding when in country.
- For more in-depth coverage of the Thai political crisis, click the link here: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008%E2%80%932010_Thai_political_crisis)
I hope this helps clear a few things up. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me by email at any time at: firstname.lastname@example.org If you check the ‘Contact’ page, we have our emergency phone numbers listed as well.
Here’s to a great summer,
OG SE Asia Discovery