Watch above: Canadians travelling to Thailand are being warned to exercise a high degree of caution after the military took control of the country. Stuart Greer reports.
*This post was updated Thursday to reflect new information following the military coup d’état.
The Royal Thai Army imposed martial law nationwide early Tuesday in a surprise move that followed a court order that forced Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra out of office following months of protests, insisting there would not be a coup.
But, that was not the case and late Thursday afternoon the Army announced it was seizing control of the government—the 12th time there has been a military coup d’état in 82 years.
The country is now in the control of the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NPOMC), which is comprised of the Army and the Royal Thai Police.
The military insists the coup is a necessary means to restore order to the country following six months of protests and unrest and the ousting of Shinawatra earlier this month.
Here’s what you need to know if you are planning travel to Thailand or are already in the country.
First and foremost the Canadian government, which has condemned the military coup, is warning all travellers to the Southeast Asian country to register with the Canadian embassy in Bangkok.
Canadians wishing to register can do so online.
The military has imposed a nationwide curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. The only exception to this is for those travelling to and from the airport, but you must have your passport and airline ticket with you.
Officials are advising anyone departing from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang’s International Airports to head to the airports four hours before the flight is due to depart.
A trip between Suvarnabhumi International Airport and the Khao San Road backpacker area, in the heart of Bangkok, normally takes 33 minutes by car or approximately 80 minutes by commuter train.
Suvarnabhumi International airport, in a statement on its website, advises travelling to the airport by private car during the hours the curfew is in place.
Don Mueang International Airport to Khao San Road is normally 31 minutes by car or 90 minutes by public transit.
Under martial law the military can set up checkpoints and close roadways, so be prepared to allow extra time to get to and from the airport or to take alternate routes when necessary.
According to the Telegraph, on the first night of curfew the normally bustling Khao San Road was “unusually empty by 10:15” Thursday night.
All businesses and public services are have to comply with the curfew as well and adjust their hours accordingly, the Tourist Authority of Thailand said on its website.
The Army said it will ensure the safety of foreigners in the country but is advising them to be vigilant about not taking part in public gatherings, which are illegal under martial law: No more than five people are allowed to gather together in public.
While protests are banned, the military anticipates there could be demonstrations in opposition to the coup, as there were in 2006 when the Army ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra— the brother of now former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The Canadian government has warned its citizens to avoid demonstration sites and nearby areas.
Under the security section of the Canadian government’s travel website, it’s noted protest sites had been located at places such as the Chaeng Wattana Government Complex, where visa and resident visas are processed, the Royal Plaza, Government House and the Utthayan Road area—where the military broke up a protest by a group loyal to the Shinawatra government, known as the Red Shirts, on Thursday.
Since Tuesday, signs of martial law have been evident in the streets of capital city Bangkok, where military vehicles and soldiers lined some major thoroughfares and surrounded the national police headquarters.
There appeared to be relative calm in the country, compared to the scenes of violent crackdowns on protesters months earlier, and several photos of foreign tourists and Thai citizens taking photos of and posing with soldiers have circulated widely online.
Most foreign countries, including Canada, have advised travellers not to approach military installations and security personnel.
How can you find out the latest on the situation?
Foreign Affairs advised tourists to pay attention to local media reports.
But, it should be noted the military has complete control over the country’s media outlets and no information is to be broadcast or distributed without the Army’s approval, essentially creating a media blackout.
“All radio and television stations, satellite and cable, must stop normal programming and broadcast army content until told otherwise,” an army spokesman said in a televised statement.
BBC reported that its channel, along with CNN and several Thai television stations, had been taken off the air.
— Ton’s Tweetings (@TonsTweetings) May 22, 2014
Thailand’s Tourism Authority has provided a list of essential phone number travellers can contact for information, including numbers for airlines, airports and public transit.
TAT Call Centre 1672
Tourist Police Call Centre 1155
Traffic Police Call Centre 1197
BMTA (city bus and van service) Call Centre 1348
BTS Hotline +66 (0) 2617 6000
MRT Customer Relations Center +66 (0) 2624 5200
SRT (train service) Call Centre 1690
Transport Co., Ltd., (inter-provincial bus service) Call Centre 1490
AOT (Suvarnabhumi Airport) Call Centre 1722
Suvarnabhumi Airport Operation Centre (temporary) +66 (0) 2132 9950 or 2
Don Mueang Airport Call Centre +66 (0) 2535 3861, (0) 2535 3863
Thai Airways International Call Centre +66 (0) 2356 1111
Bangkok Airways Call Centre 1771
Nok Air Call Centre 1318
Thai AirAsia Call Centre +66 (0) 2515 9999
The months of unrest, which led to 28 deaths and more than 700 people being injured, has already had a big effect on Thailand’s tourism industry–a key sector that accounts for as much as 10 per cent of the nation’s economy.
A report by the Bangkok Post on Tuesday noted there has already been a 4.9-per cent drop in the number of foreign tourists in the first four months of this year–peak tourist season for Thailand.
“Tourism is a huge income for the country, so this is not helping,” Mario Hardy, chief operations officer for the Pacific Asia Travel Association, told the publication.
He said the situation for the tourism industry had just begun to improve when the military moved into the capital and announced martial law was going into effect.
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