Traveling during Thailand’s Coup

The bungalow we stayed at on the island of Koh Samed

The bungalow we stayed at on the island of Koh Samed

As soon as my husband and I had found a place to stay on Koh Samed, a small island about 3.5 hours south of Bangkok by bus, we jumped in our swimsuits and out into the ocean. The bungalow we found to stay at was a one minute walk from the ocean, and as we enjoyed our first swim in the bathwater-warm ocean, my husband nonchalantly asked what we would do if there was a tsunami.

This was almost two weeks ago now, on Tuesday, May 20th. Little did we know that there was a political tsunami gathering in Bangkok – martial law had just been declared, after several months of political crisis. Our lack of language abilities made it impossible to get much information from the locals or from the media, so potential political troubles were not on your mind at all.

That Thursday, we spent most of the day on a snorkeling and island-hopping journey. That evening we went out to dinner in one of the many beach-front restaurants with a couple we had met from Wisconsin. Just as we sat down, it started to rain, sending everyone scrambling for the tables under a cover. When the restaurant started closing around 9:30, we all assumed it was because of the light rain, since the night before everything had stayed open until well past all of our bedtimes. Not a big deal, as we had all finished anyway.

The next morning, we ran into the same couple over breakfast. It turns out, they said, that there was a military coup on Thursday, and a nationwide curfew had been instituted. The restaurant had closed early because everyone was supposed to be at home no later than 10pm. After some deliberation, my husband and I decided to spend another day on Koh Samed instead of returning to Bangkok, thinking that if there was violence, it would be in the capital, not on a small tropical resort island.

It was a wonderful last day at the beach. When we traveled back to Bangkok the following day, we did pass at least one armed military checkpoint, but the soldier standing in the middle of the road wasn’t actually stopping any vehicles. We were a bit concerned that the airport might close, but our flight back to Beijing departed on time that Sunday. The curfew was a bit annoying, since in Bangkok it meant that everything closed promptly at 9pm, but we never had the slightest feeling of danger.

Once we were back in Beijing, everyone was very interested and a bit concerned that we had been traveling in Thailand during the coup. Since the coup had so little impact on our actual trip, it seems to make for a disappointing story.

I’m planning to write more about our (wonderful) trip to Thailand, but I wanted to write about the coup first. Part of me wishes the story was more interesting – having to take a bus to Cambodia due to a closed airport, for example, would have made for a more stressful return trip but a better story afterwards.

I will say that a military coup – at least in Thailand, where everything seemed pretty orderly – is certainly better than a tsunami.

Coup or not, it was just about the perfect beach vacation I could imagine. For many, many reasons. I’ll be back, and maybe next time I’ll have to learn a few Thai phrases, perhaps included “coup d’etat” and “curfew.”

* I’m traveling in Nicaragua this month, and since I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to write posts, I’m writing about some of my experiences traveling in Asia last year!