Competitiveness: Like West Bank & East Coast USA, “Political Tourism” hits Thai Red Shirts

  • By Pooky, Thai Intel’s economics journalist

Are they tourist or are they political activist?

What ever they are, they are going to need places to sleep, food to eat and things to do.

  • Does that sound like tourism?

Local Thai press reports 10,000 to 20,000 Thai Red Shirts, a mostly pro-democracy grassroots political movement, are heading to Laos capital of Vientiane, to meet the 2006 coup ousted former Thai prime minister, Thaksin.

Local news in Vientiane, says most of these Thai Red Shirts, plans to stay in Vientiane for about 2 nights, where all hotel in Vientiane have been booked, and the Thai Red Shirts who can not find vacant hotel rooms, are having to do home-stay or sleep at temples.

Local news in Vientiane also reports, that tourist site, restaurants and gift shops, are bursting with activity, as the Thai Red Shirts, took the opportunity, to explore Vientiane’s tourist attractions.

This is not the first time, 1,000s of Thai Red Shirts went visiting other country in ASEAN to meet Thaksin. When Thaksin visited Cambodia for example, 1,000s of Red Shirts also headed to Cambodia.

Reuters report:

VIENTIANE, Laos (Reuters) – Thailand’s fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra took some small but symbolic steps towards the fringes of his homeland on Wednesday after five years in self-exile and at the heart of a bitter and bloody power struggle.

The tycoon arrived on his personal jet in the Lao capital Vientiane and waited seven hours before greeting a crowd of 1,000 of his cheering “red shirt” supporters, who crossed the nearby border to greet the populist hero as legal moves to bring him home a free man gather steam in Thailand’s parliament.

“I think about home all the time,” a smiling Thaksin told a scrum of Thai reporters, photographers and TV cameramen. “I’m here because there are so many people I haven’t seen for a long time. I will come back home, but in a smooth way.”

However, there is a danger in Thailand’s political tourism. First, there are rumors that Thaksin will be assassinated. Laos is on high security alert and in the past, Cambodia also went on high alert. That alert and its impact aside, the Thai establishment, has come out to criticize both Laos and Cambodia for allowing for the Thaksin visit. So there is a geo-political angle to political tourism.

“The Red Shirts can visit Laos, but they must go through proper channel,” said Thailand’s military chief, Prayuth, of the highly politicized Thai military close to the Thai establishment.

  • Political tourism comes in many shades. And the Thai Red Shirts “Political Tourism” to meet Thaksin in Laos up-close and personal, resembles the closest to the USA‘s political tourism.

Katharine Q. Seelye reports:

Political tourists are a familiar breed in Iowa and New Hampshire. People in the rest of the country understand that voters in those two states have unparalleled access to presidential candidates, and they like to travel there to catch the unique flavor of a presidential race in its early stages and get an up-close look at the contenders while they are still working out their schtick.

Joining the growing ranks of political tourists here is Dorothy Booker, 87, who has traveled from Augusta, Ga., with her daughter and son-in-law to size up the candidates.

Then, off course, there is the “Occupy Wall Street” where the organizers invited protesters, from all accross America, to go to New York. And nnow globally, there is occupy this and occupy that, inviting people often even cross countries borderlines, to join.

  • “Political Tourism” is emerging as an important area of international travel.

While what is occurring in the USA and ASEAN states like Laos and Cambodia is mostly peaceful, but political tourism often involve travel to areas of conflict to study first hand the circumstances on the ground, to meet the actors of both sides, and to develop an understanding of the local history.

A website on political tourism reports:

Popular destinations are Israel and Palestine, the former Yugoslavia, and Africa.

Tour operators that specialize in political tours are often non-profit organizations (NGOs) that sometimes present a partisan point of view. Other groups are private social enterprises such as ToursInEnglish.com in Israel/Palestine.

For the vast majority of tourists, volatile political situation is at best a nuisance which fills their trip with security checks and at worst a reason to postpone or cancel the trip altogether. But for a small minority of visitors, the conflict itself is the reason for visiting, spawning a political tourism industry.

Matador Network reports:

“Are you carrying a weapon on you?” the young Israeli soldier asked as we approached the middle of the Jewish settlement in Hebron.

“No,” my friends and I quickly replied, assuming that he was asking a routine security question.

“Well you don’t want to go any further up that road unarmed.”

I exchanged a nervous what-the-hell-does-that-mean glance with my girlfriend. He must just be kidding – messing with the stupid tourists, right?

Suddenly there was a series of rapid “pop pop pop” sounds from up the hill. “Fireworks?” I asked.

“No, that’s us returning fire. They were shooting up at us before. So you still want to keep going?” the soldier responded, half smiling because he already knew the answer.

Thailand has also seen “Political Tourist” in situation similar to the dangerous Israel/Palestine situation.

Thai Intel, as a blog that focus mostly on the Red Shirts, have went to most of the Red Shirts protest throughout the years. Always, no matter how dangerous the situation gets, there have always been Westerners, mostly tourist, walking about the protest, taking pictures and meeting the Red Shirts protesters.

Some of these Western tourist, even participate in the protest. Many Western tourist, for example, comes to the Red Shirts protest, wearing Red color clothing. The most famous, for example, a well-known Australian “Political Tourist” who took to the stage of a Red Shirts protest, and blasted away at the Thai establishment.

After the crackdown on the Red Shirts, the Australian “Political Tourist” was arrested and jailed, where Thai jails is known by foreigners as the Bangkok Hilton!

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