Thailand’s military enacts martial law

In a surprise move, Thailand’s military has enacted martial law, but insists that this is not a coup, but is rather being done in order to ensure continued stability within the country.

Following many months of political unrest in Bangkok, the Thai army has apparently had enough, and had declared martial law throughout the country as a preemptive measure to ensure law and order is maintained. With both pro–government and anti–government protests ongoing, this measure allows the army greater reach to ensure the safety of the public.

The military merely asked for calm, something that has been elusive for Thailand after numerous anti-government marches intended to “shut down” the capital. “We ask all sides to come and talk to find a way out for the country,” General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army’s chief general, said.

Since first allowing elections in 1937, Thailand has seen 11 military coups — it is now perhaps in the midst of a 12th — and a series of constitutions drafted by opponents attempting to cement their hold on power. The latest round of political unrest dates back to the 2001 election of billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, who successfully appealed to the country’s northern rural base to sweep him to power. Mr. Thaksin and his acolytes have won commanding election victories ever since. That has prompted the urban elite, who had for many years governed the country, to make repeated attempts to regain control, including through loud whistle-blowing marches that have taken place since last fall. They argue that Mr. Thaksin has polluted the country’s politics through mass vote-buying schemes. The billionaire has been convicted of corruption and now lives in self-exile.

The military effectively has two choices, Kan Yuenyong, director of Bangkok think-tank Siam Intelligence Unit, wrote on Tuesday. Either it can install a government, which he called the “worse” option that risks stirring “insurgency nationwide.” Or it can push forward an election, which will mean navigating the stormy waters between Mr. Thaksin and his opponents, who want lengthy reforms before any new ballots are cast

The Road less Travelled…. Bangkok to Yangon

With the recent opening of four border crossings, travelling overland from Thailand to Myanmar has never been easier as it is now possible to travel by road all the way from Bangkok to Yangon, using roads rarely used by tourists that will provide you with glimpses of life that seem to be suspended in time.

You will cross from Thailand at the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border and enter into Myanmar’s Kayin State, homeland of the Karen people. In both countries you will pass through spectacular scenery that changes as you travel, revealing mountain passes, rural villages, bustling market towns, shimmering temples and vast green rice paddies.

Highlights along the way include Bangkok and the former capitals of Ayuthaya and Sukhothai in Thailand, and the town of Mawlamyine in Myanmar, where British colonial buildings face stunning views of the Thanlwin River, not far from the world’s largest reclining Buddha. The golden rock of Kyaikhtiyo, perched precariously on the edge of a cliff, and the town of Hpa-An that is surrounded by stunning karst mountain scenery where farmers still travel to market with horse-carts are highlights along the route in rural Myanmar. You then reach the historic city of Bago where you can meet monks in a monastery to learn about their daily lives, before then continuing on to reach the capital of Yangon.


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Bangkok Returning to Normal…

Happily, protesters in Bangkok have now started to dismantle their barricades in key parts of the city, so hopefully the bevy of negative headlines about safety in Bangkok that has swamped the media in the past few months will now disappear – for despite the impression that Bangkok has been a city under siege, nothing could have been, or is, further from the truth.

And despite a delicate political impasse that has put a question mark over the future of Thailand’s (now interim) government, life and business in the vast majority of Bangkok, and throughout the rest of the kingdom has been perfectly normal through the past few months. And hopefully now that the barricades are coming down, the selective images and footage of street marches, police battling protesters and clogged intersections will now be replaced by reality: tourists and locals eating, socializing, shopping and enjoying all this vibrant city has to offer.

To be sure, there are political issues in Thailand. There have been protests, mostly peaceful, which may continue. The People’s Democratic Reform Committee has moved its supporters to Lumpini Park in Bangkok’s business district where they are gathered, quietly and orderly, listening to speeches and watching a giant screen.

There isn’t the slightest hint of trouble, and Bangkok is a far cry from the situation in the world’s real trouble spots such as Kabul, Kiev, Baghdad and Beirut, and in fact, it is not even close to the situation in New York, Chicago or other major western cities where assaults and concerns about personal safety are everyday issues and occurrences.

Hopefully, Thailand’s political issues will be solved in the coming months as the two sides are talking and there is confidence the impasse will end soon. In the meantime, it is perfectly safe to visit Bangkok and the rest of Thailand and do the same things travellers have always done in this friendly, welcoming city and country. For in reality, life and tourism in Thailand, other than for some minor traffic inconveniences in Bangkok, has been continuing throughout the past few months in a completely normal manner.

Welcome to our new blog!

Welcome to the New Footprints’ blog!! Please do visit our blog regularly to read accounts of our own travels, along with photographs, and relevant news updates on accommodations, dining, and new travel experiences to be found in all of our favourite destinations.

And our first post comes with news from Thailand, where anyone visiting Bangkok in October will have the opportunity to witness one of the grandest events in the Kingdom with the staging of the spectacular Royal Kathin Barge Procession on the Chao Phraya – the ‘River of Kings’. This ancient tradition, revived by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1959, will take place on October 22, 2011 to commemorate the King’s 84th birthday.

Officially known as the Praratcha Phithi Phra Yuha Yatra Cholamak (Royal Waterway Procession), this water-borne procession is reserved only for the most significant cultural and religious events and has been held only 16 times during His Majesty’s reign. The procession will be organized by the Royal Thai Navy and will mark the visit of members of the royal family to present offerings of saffron kathin robes, food and other necessities to the monks at Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) to mark the end of the three-month Buddhist rains’ retreat in October. Barges will carry the deeply revered Buddha image and the royal family to present the robes.

The Royal Kathin barge Procession on October 22 will consist of a fleet of 52 traditional-style barges arranged in five columns, based on a battle formation from ancient times. This is made up of four major royal barges, as well as 10 additional barges with animal figureheads and 38 smaller vessels. The five-column fleet stretches 4,200 feet in length and 360 feet in width. A total of 2,200 sailors from various units within the Royal Thai Navy will serve as oarsmen.

The ceremony is perhaps best witnessed from any of the riverside restaurants that line the Chao Prhya, but do note that reservations will be essential!