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Friday, 1 May 2009

Travel to Koh Samui or not? Are you a Savvy Traveller?

“We advise against all but essential travel to Bangkok. British nationals should also review travel plans to other parts of Thailand. British nationals already in Bangkok and other cities affected by the violence are advised to stay indoors and to monitor the media and this travel advice.”

So stated the first paragraph of the Foreign Office warning to travellers during April. The whole text can be seen here.
Having lived, worked and travelled in and out of the Gulf during the first Gulf War and having been here during the Military Coup three years ago, I have seen these warnings on numerous occasions. Quite rightly I suppose governments need to make such statements because there are many people who are not seasoned travellers, who are not street wise and need to have their hands held every time they step outside their own front door. Modern news broadcasting is so extensive, immediate and even pervasive, that anyone with a reasonable amount of intelligence should be able to make a reasoned judgement on whether or not to travel to a certain place. Obviously over the Easter/Songkran weekend, Bangkok and Pattaya were probably not the best places to be, which was a shame as whether you enjoy Songkran or not, it is usually a time for fun and frivolity. With Songkran coming immediately after a weekend, it became of course a very long weekend with Songkran lasting until Wednesday. So now you have five days when people are not expected to turn up for work and the ability to amass a large number of people for a demonstration was that much easier. So was it a good idea to plan the ASEAN summit at this time? It would appear not with the inevitable consequences. As I write this in the immediate aftermath the police water cannon seem to have been replaced by the plastic water guns which have become more traditional during this period and most people have reverted to more peaceful means of enjoying themselves and the crowds are dispersing leaving the political consequences to be decided.

Here in Samui Songkran passed off as usual, a little quieter than in previous years and, as opposed to other parts of Thailand, is over in one day. Apart from Bangkok and briefly in Pattaya, I was not aware of any reports of disturbances elsewhere in Thailand, and even in Bangkok the problems seemed confined to specific areas, which obviously as a foreigner it would be wise to stay away from. The airport was not affected this time although I suppose that would be the main concern of travellers as the ability to travel and the possibility of not being able to travel was uppermost in peoples mind rather than getting caught up in the demonstrations. Certainly most people I know who are regular visitors to Thailand take these events in their stride, but for people planning their annual vacation to Thailand for the first time perhaps, these confrontations will inevitably make them have second thoughts and seek more stable destinations. The consequences for the tourism industry are severe. Job losses in the hospitality sector have been estimated at 275,000 this year based on a predicted 35% fall in tourist arrivals. Hotel occupancy is down. Room rates are being cut drastically and there are some very good deals being offered across the board.

So for the faint hearted, the Foreign Office advice may be one to pay heed to, but for the more savvy traveller the present situation has created opportunities to explore Thailand far more economically than before. Bangkok does not even have to be on the agenda. Koh Samui is accessible internationally from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong as are other regional airports. For the more adventurous who wish to avoid air travel there is the Eastern & Oriental Express from Singapore through Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kanchanaburi for the River Kwai and on to Bangkok where you can connect to Chiang Mai or Vientiane.

And property prices are still falling! If you check our web site and look at the Hot Press Offers you will see a great number of properties with prices that have been reduced from between 15% and 50% with an average reduction of 34%. These reductions are now beginning to produce sales and, although still not many, there are a few more buyers around than there were a few weeks ago.

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