Friday 21 October 2016

Bangkok Bomb: Q&A for travellers - is the city safe?

Thailand travel advice

Oliver Smith & Pól Ó Conghaile

Published 18/08/2015 | 07:39

A security personnel patrols a skywalk near the site of a blast in central Bangkok, Thailand, August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
A security personnel patrols a skywalk near the site of a blast in central Bangkok, Thailand, August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
Police investigators work at the Erawan Shrine the morning after the explosion in central Bangkok (AP)
The body of a victim is carried away from the Erawan shrine, the site of a deadly blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Police investigate the scene after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Sackchai Lalit)
Experts investigate at the site of a blast in central Bangkok August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

An explosion in central Bangkok has left at least 20 dead, including four foreigners. So what do travellers need to know?

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What has happened?

An explosion in central Bangkok on Monday killed at least 20 people, including four foreigners. The blast and its timing are likely to raise concerns about the safety of tourists, given the country's popularity with backpackers and winter sun seekers.

Prawit Wongsuwon, Thailand's defence minister, said the bombers had "targeted foreigners... to damage tourism and the economy."

Where did the bomb go off?

At the heart the city, at the Erawan Shrine, a popular attraction for both tourists and locals at the Ratchaprasong intersection in the busy Chidlom shopping district.

Is Thailand safe to visit?

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is advising travellers to Thailand to "exercise extreme caution", while stopping short of advising against travel.

Bangkok has been the site of occasionally violent political protests in recent years, but attacks such as this are extremely rare.

Several major hotel chains have branches in the vicinity, including Holiday Inn, InterContinental, Renaissance and Grand Hyatt.

However, Frances Geoghegan, currently in Bangkok and managing director of Cleveland Collection - a tour operator that offers packages to Thailand - said extra security had already been put in place at some of the city's larger hotels.


What is the official advice to travellers?

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has urged tourists in the city to avoid the area and to remain vigilant travelling through busy parts of the city and report anything suspicious to police or security officers.

The DFA says any Irish citizens in Thailand "should maintain a strong level of security awareness, monitor the local media closely and follow the instructions of the Thai authorities."

Irish citizens in Thailand are urged to register on its citizens’ registration database so that we can contact them in case of urgency.

View the DFA's Thailand travel updates here.

Is there any travel disruption?

Flights are continuing to operate to and from the city as usual.

According to TAT, all transport links in central Bangkok are running as usual but while the intersection is investigated there may be disruption to traffic.

Hotels and shopping malls in the surrounding area will be open as usual from Tuesday. All other tourist attractions and services are open and operating as usual.


Are there other security issues in Thailand?

Historically, the biggest problems have been in the far south of the country, where the Thai military has been fighting a separatist insurgency since the 1960s.

Martial Law, which was imposed across Thailand in May 2014, was lifted on April 1 of this year from all areas except the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, the Sadao district of Songkhla province and some border areas.

Attacks have taken place in the far south on a regular basis, killing over 5,000 people since 2004. Some foreigners have been among the victims.

"We recommend against all travel to Preah Vihear, Ta Kwai and Ta Muen temples near the Thai/Cambodian border," the DFA says. "We also advise against all travel to or through the Southern Thai Provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla due to ongoing instability and terrorist activity in this region."

Previous terror attacks in other parts of the country include two bombings at night markets in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, in 2010, and explosion in the underground car park of a shopping mall in Koh Samui in April of this year.

On February 1, there were two explosions in central Bangkok at the Siam Skytrain (BTS) station, near the entrance to the Siam Paragon shopping mall. One person was injured - some 500 metres from the site of Monday's attack.

Will the attack deter visitors?

This remains to be seen.

Irish visitors may be warier of travelling to insecure destinations following this summer's terrorist attack in Tunisia, for example. After the beach killings on June 26, Sunway postponed its entire 2015 travel programme to the country.

“In the wake of the [February] explosions, security was tightened,” said Tom Vater, a Bangkok expert with Telegraph Travel.

“But today's blast was far worse, both in size and impact. With at least 27 dead, according to some reports, many more injured and a scene of carnage around one of the country's most sacred places, in one of the areas most frequented by foreign visitors, it is likely that this disastrous event will have longer term consequences for Bangkok.

"Whether Thailand's teflon image as the Land of Smiles will win the day once the dust has settled remains to be seen. To some extent it will depend on whether the culprits are caught and which group they belong to. The blast may also lead to more tightened security and a bigger military presence on the streets which may in turn affect tourism."

Can I cancel my holiday?

You could, but you don’t have a legal right to a refund unless the DFA advises against travel to the destination concerned. Some tour operators may let you postpone or change your holiday – but they are under no obligation to do so.

Similarly, for those travelling independently, airlines are unlikely to offer alternative flights or a refund unless you pay a rebooking or cancellation fee.

For hotel bookings and car hire reservations made independently, you will lose your deposit should you choose to cancel, unless you can convince the owners/companies otherwise.

Most insurers will not cover the cost of cancelling your flight or holiday because of what they will see as “a disinclination to travel”.

The exact terms vary from policy to policy. Check the small print.

NB: This article is being updated to reflect developments.

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