Life Continues As Normal For Expats Through The Thailand Coup

Life In A Coup

On May 22, the army took over the government here in Thailand. I wrote about the coup d’etat at that time, calling it just another coup.

We expats may dislike coups, we’re nervous about having fewer rights. But for those of us without a political agenda, most expat life—and Thai life, too—goes on as before.

Those last few days in May and early June were tense. Some protesters and politicians were detained. And although it appears many were let go, we wonder exactly how many. The palace endorsed the coup, giving the army some moral authority. Soon the sporadic protests died down or were further repressed. The army ended the TV blackout at most stations, lifted the curfew, and reduced its public presence.

Coup leaders now promise an interim government by September, and new elections down the road, although without a fixed target date. In the meantime, the media remains censored, with politicians silent.

On June 23, the Bangkok Post reported the results of a Nida poll. Thais polled gave coup leaders an approval rating of 8.82 out of 10, and 73% agreed that “the country has a better atmosphere and is more peaceful.” I wonder how many of those polled felt intimidated. Then again, those opinions square with those of Thai friends we’ve talked to about the coup.

Vicki and I have had long experience with coups. During our first year in Argentina in the 1980s, we lived through five nonviolent coups there. At the time, nearly all countries in Latin America were run by generals.

Here in Thailand, I’ve yet to hear of expats leaving because of the
coup: we’ve had a lot of coups here, too. But curiously, tourism dropped off dramatically. I speak from personal observation here. I figure hotels in Chiang Mai, where Vicki and I stay, should be more than half full in early June (shoulder season). Yet, in my survey, occupancy rates came out closer to 10% or 20%.

In June, Vicki and I played tourist here in Thailand. We took a week-long road trip with friends to Doi Ang Khang (a national park), went to Mae Sai (a border town snuggled up to the Myanmar border) and to Phayao (a popular lakeside town). We mostly shared the scenic sites with a handful of Thai tourists. We noted the almost complete absence of foreign tourists.

I can think of a few reasons for the decline in tourism. The western world remains mired in no-or-slow growth with young tourists having less money to spend. Until recently, Bangkok and other nightlife venues were under curfew, discouraging those who come to party. The Chinese came in large numbers after a Chinese movie called Lost in Thailand became a hit a few years ago. The movie was filmed in Chiang Mai, giving Chinese a special reason to come to town. I figure the movie tourism may have run its course.

Perhaps the major blow to tourism was the coup and street violence that preceded it. Beginning late last year, those thinking of coming to Thailand saw riots on TV. Middle-aged tourists crossed Thailand off their list as they planned ahead for their summer holidays. And I suspect Chinese, in particular, stayed away because of the coup. Young Chinese have only ever known a stable home government. They may never have heard of coups, much less understand them. Ditto the Japanese.

In spite of apparent misgivings abroad, the coup here has had little impact on the tourist experience, in my opinion, for Chinese or Japanese or anyone else. Street life has pretty much returned to normal, and more tourists are showing up. Meanwhile, those of us who spend time here enjoy less crowded restaurants, better prices, lower airfares, a slower pace, and special deals.

Paul Terhorst

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