Police investigators work near the statue of Phra Phrom at the Erawan Shrine the morning after an explosion in Bangkok. (Photo: Mark Baker/AP)
In the wake of a bombing near a Hindu shrine in Bangkok on Monday, killing 20 people (including nine foreigners) and injuring 123, as well as a subsequent explosion on Tuesday from a device thrown into the Chao Praya river, the city and the country of Thailand have been on high alert.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the bombing was “the worst incident” to ever happen in Thailand
According to the Bangkok Post, 23 countries from around the world — including the United States and Great Britian — have urged citizens to take extra care if traveling to Thailand. The only country that has advised its citizens to avoid non-essential trips to Thailand is Hong Kong, which has raised its travel alert for Bangkok to red. Authorities continue to search for suspects after two were cleared Thursday.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand said security in Bangkok has been increased “in all the popular tourist areas of the city as a preventative measure to ensure the safety of both tourists and residents” and has warned travelers to remain vigilant. Otherwise, shops, attractions, hotels, public transportation, and airports are open and running as usual.
“Despite the recent tragic events, Bangkok is still a very safe destination for tourists,” the Tourism Authority said in a statement.
However, the incidents have left travelers from around the world wondering: is it safe to travel to Bangkok now?
One of many messages of condolence left for victims of the bomb blast at Rajprasong intersection near the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok on Tuesday, Aug. 18. (Photo: Sakchai Lalit/AP)
Andrea Ross, owner of the travel company Journeys Within, is currently in Bangkok. “The reason I wanted to come here was to be able to offer tangible advice to our travelers,” she said. “After being here I do think traveling to Bangkok is possible and life goes on as usual, but at the same time, it was the first time that I’ve visited Bangkok during a crisis and felt nervous.”
Ross has been in Bangkok during previous times of crisis: after the 2004 tsunami, during a coup in 2006, during the massive flooding of 2011, and during the anti-government protests in 2014.
Her assessment: “My advice for our guests is to not visit Bangkok in the next two weeks. On September 1 we will reassess the situation.”
Ten Chirathivat walks over the shrine via the Sky Walk every day on her way to work at the Central World shopping center that shares an intersection with it. She passed the shrine just 30 minutes before the explosion as she went to a meeting, and she could hear it from her 16th-floor office.
“Probably an hour after it happened it kind of hit me, gosh, I was walking through that area,” said Chirathivat, who moved back to Bangkok in March after spending time abroad. “I was thinking how lucky I was that I missed that. Probably nothing would happen to me because I was up on the Sky Walk. At the same time you can’t help thinking you were right there, how traumatized I would have been.”
Despite a sleepless night over the bombing and the subsequent explosion Tuesday, Chirathivat said she has no desire to leave Bangkok and that once things settle down in a few weeks, she wouldn’t discourage anyone from visiting: “It can happen anywhere,” she said.
Bangkok and Thailand are no stranger to bombings. In February, two pipe bombs exploded outside Bangkok’s Sian Paragon shopping mall, injuring two people, while in 2012 a series of explosions in the city injured five. Other areas of Thailand that have been attacked include Koh Samui (an underground parking area at a shopping mall was bombed earlier this year), the southern Thai city of Hat Yai (in 2014 three bombs wounded eight people), and Chiang Mai, which had two bombings in its night markets in 2012.
As for the American government’s position, there is concern about “a continued risk of terrorism in Southeast Asia, including in Thailand,” warns the U.S. State Department. “While traveling in Thailand you should exercise caution, especially in locations where expatriates congregate, such as clubs, discos, bars, restaurants, hotels, places of worship, schools, outdoor recreation venues, tourist areas, beach resorts, and other places frequented by foreigners.”
Britain’s Foreign Office says there is a “high threat of terrorism” and that “bomb and grenade attacks have been indiscriminate, including in places visited by expatriates and foreign travellers.“
A man prays near the Erawan Shrine the morning after the explosion. (Photo: Mark Baker/AP)
The Associated Press reported that New Way Travel, a Bangkok-based agency that caters to Hong Kong tourists, said all its tour groups scheduled to arrive in coming days had canceled.
And several airlines including Singapore Airlines, Jetstar Asia, Tigerair, and low-cost carrier Scoot are waiving fees for passengers who want to change flights to and from Bangkok.
But some travelers are not deterred. Jonathan Stephenson, artistic director of Bourne West Productions and Producer at Sugarlump Productions, didn’t cancel his Thailand honeymoon. “We’re off to Thailand for our honeymoon,” he wrote on Instagram. “Thank you everyone for your well wishes and love. We have a lot of drinks to buy for people when we’re back. See you on the flipside.”
And Brandy Fisher, founder and CEO of Youth Across America and Miss California 2014, wrote on Twitter that she “randomly booked a solo trip to Thailand last night for 10 days in November #Phuket.” But she told Yahoo Travel that she will “continue to monitor the activity over there in the coming months.”