As Iím sure anyone who hasnít been living under a rock is aware of, the political situation in Bangkok is somewhat amiss. There is a constant barrage in the news with photos of barricades made from old tires, burning buildings, roads closed, and pictures of deceased protestors. While these images are not false, they are not encompassing of the situation in Thailand overall. What needs to be kept in mind is that this is only one area of Bangkok, and even in Bangkok itself most areas are still safe to visit. Tourists are still staying in hostels and hotel, visiting the temples, shopping in the markets, and walking down the streets safely. On a larger scale, while Bangkok may not be the safest place to visit at the moment, the rest of Thailand (save for a few small isolated areas in unrelated incidents), is still as safe as it has always been.
This political instability has certainly affected the economy, as tourism accounts for six percent of Thailandís GDP. Many governments are issuing travel warnings to avoid all unnecessary travel to Thailand, and this is severely disabling the tourism industry. What is not portrayed in the news is how this has affected charitable organizations, and specifically the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand and its project the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project. The WARF/GRP is funded by donations and purchases made by tourists at the Bang Pae waterfall site, and also by time and money donated by volunteers working for the projects. Needless to say, with fewer tourists coming to Phuket, there are fewer tourists coming to the projectís waterfall site to donate money or make purchases.
What is coming up to be a major obstacle for the project is the lack of volunteers arriving to help in the daily care and maintenance of the gibbons and the project. The project has already seen a drop in the monthly average of seven volunteers, currently down to four. July will be the most difficult, as there is currently only one volunteer available. The majority of volunteers have decided to postpone or cancel their visit, due to travel warnings to avoid Thailand. This is especially upsetting for one of our gibbon families that are due for release this autumn. The ďKushtaĒ family, consisting of Kushta (mother), Nat (juvenile), Pee Mai (baby), and Muki (adopted juvenile), were due to move to the training cage in July, for a release in October. Due to a lack of volunteers who would assist in moving the family; take care of them in the training cage; and feed, follow, and collect data in the forest, this release date has been tentatively pushed back to an unknown date. This is a very unfortunate circumstance, as the projectís ultimate goal is to release gibbons back to the wild.
What the eco-tourist needs to keep in mind when debating coming to Thailand is to keep the situation in perspective. Phuket (where the GRP is located) is 862 kilometers from Bangkok. There are many small countries that could easily fit into that distance. Phuket also has an international airport which is serviced by most Asian countries. A visitor can easily come to Thailand and completely bypass Bangkok. Personally, even when I left Canada to come and volunteer at the project, Canada was one of the first countries to issue a travel warning to avoid all non-essential travel to anywhere in Thailand. I actually debated postponing my trip, but in the end opted to continue with the original plan. And am I ever glad that I did decide to come. I spent two days relaxing in Bangkok, of which there were protests occurring, but nowhere near where I was, in the old town. The hardest part of the trip was the long bus to Phuket, which I was thoroughly warned of in advance, and which is hardly even worth complaining about.
It would be a shame to miss out on such a beautiful country as Thailand, and the joys of taking care of gibbons and making a selfless contribution. The situation in Thailand is not ideal, but no matter where you go there are always risks involved. All that is needed is to be aware of your surroundings, and avoid certain areas. It is not fair to scapegoat a whole country because of a few certain areas or people, and to deny yourself the experience of a lifetime because of it.
Story by Nikki Dokken, Canadian Volunteer (3 May 2010-20 July 2010)