South East Asia 11th December 2018

Travelling to South East Asia

Most travellers and backpackers have a fun and safe time in SE Asia. The area has huge opportunitites. Parts, especially in Thailand, are overflowing with travellers so one has to make a bit more of and effort to get off the beaten track and explore the unspoilt areas.  During 2017, there was an increase in the cases of Dengue Fever across the region and this is being repeated in 2018. Dengue is casued by day biting mosquitoes, covering up and using insect repellant with 50% DEET is a good precaution. Chikungunya Fever is also a risk, bite avoidance, is once again the key.

Thailand has a reputation for scams, crime and drugs and therefore travellers need to be careful. It must be remembered that there are very severe penalties for drugs smuggling in all SE Asian countries. The execution by Indonesia of 5 foreign drug smugglers in June 2015 is a timely reminder. There is a risk of terrorism in Indonesia, the Philipinnes and Thailand. It's a growing problem across the globe. Our one piece of safety advice would be to avoid busy nightclubs if you are in a countries where terrorism is an issue. 

Thailand remains politically unstable and is now governed by the military. On a simplistic level, the country is split between those who support the Shinawatra dynasty - the 'Red shirts', who are in the majority, rural based and in the north and those in the more traditional elements of society; military, judiciary, supporters of the Royal Family. This group second is broadly known as the 'Yellow Shirts' and whose power base is Bangkok. On 20 May 2014, the Army declared Martial law, followed by a full Army take over.  The military keep delaying elections but in mid December it was announced that the parliamentary elections will be held on the 24 February 2019.

Objective Gap Safety continues to be concerned over the continued threat of a terrorist attack against tourists in Thailand.  A number of incidents have occurred, 4 local people were killed and 12 foreigners were wounded, in bomb attacks in Phuket and Hua Hin on 12 August 2016 and further attacks may well occur.  Whilst to date, Islamist attacks have been generally confined to the southern provinces, intelligence assessments are warning of the threat of further attacks against the major cities and popular beach resorts. Objective would urge travellers to avoid very popular nightclubs and restaurants in the most popular beach resorts.  The threat of terrorism by seperatists will remain in the 3 southern states. Approximately 60,000 Thai troops are deployed in this area and whilst attacks are directed against security forces tourist should adhere to FCO advice and avoid the area.

Be aware that the Monarchy is held in very high regard and open criticism is likely to result in a prison sentence. On 13 October 2016 King Bhomibol died. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was proclaimed the new King on 01 December 2016. 

Away from security, we strongly advised travellers and those backpacking, not to have tattoos done in Thailand or elsewhere in SE Asia following numerous stories of people contracting HIV and other blood related diseases/infections. Thailand is a wonderful destination but has strict codes of conduct., A Britrish backpacker is facing 10 years in prison for defacing a temple in October 2018.

Within Laos, there have been an number of incidents of local and tourists being attacked and robbed in the Vang Vieng area. In the past, Vang Vieng was very popular with gap year travellers and backpackers, less so now. The government has responded by increasing police presence, expect to see some police checkpoints.

For those going to Cambodia it's recommended to have some knowledge of the genocide conducted by the Khmer Rouge in the period 1978-82. Approximately 25% of the population were killed. Do watch the film 'The Killing Fields' or read 'First they killed my father'.

In early March 2018, the government introduced new Lese Majeste laws making it a criminal offence to criticise the King & possibly the government. So take care.

Vietnam is many young traveller's favourite country in the region, so diverse with wonderful people, food and scenery. Many gappers rent motorbikes. Unless you are a very experienced rider we strongly discourage this as so many accidents occur. If you do rent or buy a motorbike or moped, it's clearly essential that helmets and sensbile clothing are worn.

We urge travellers to consider going to Burma/Myammar, the country is moving slowly towards a more democratic and should be visted before mass tourism arrives. Those travellers who have gone to Burma have loved it and we would strongly urge a visit. However, it's a country that is still emerging from military rule and isolation for 50 years. In November, the NLD party led by Aung San Suu Kyi won the election and the pace of change is likely to increase although the military will still have enormous influence. The new president, Htin Kyaw, a colleague of Aung San Suu Kyi, was sworn in on 14 March 2016. In addition, there are numerous tribal, religious and regional unrest in many parts of the country, especially in the western Rakhine province where clashed have occurred between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists. The violence spiked at the end of August 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rokhingya have fled to Bangladesh. 

However it's a highly rewarding country to visit, the central area is generally safe and Objective Gap Safety highly recommend visits to Myanmar but research is essential to understand the local issues. Many travellers and backpackers report getting sick in Burma. The standards of hygiene are generally poorer than elsewhere in SE Asia. There are also many landmines in the eastern border with Thailand, there are few crossing points and research is necessary to ensure safe passage.

Security on the Indonesian island of Bali has been increased and authorities are concerned that IS will try to gain a foot print within Indonesia. Our advice is for travellers to avoid high profile venues in tourist resorts such as large nightclubs.  There was an IS related terrorist attack in Jakarta on 14 January 2016, 2 people & 4 gunmen were killed. In the Philippines there is also a threat from terrorism, the most recent attack was on 28 December 2016. Whilst a concern it should not put people off visiting as the authorities are well prepared to handle the threat.

Volcanic activity in late September 2017 has prompted Bali authorities to evacuate citizens away from Mount Agung. It last erupted in 1963 killing over 10,000 people. The airport re-opened in early December 2017, but an exclusion zone has been reimposed on a number of occasions in 2018. The situation has stabilised and the exclusion zone has been reduced but the situation needs to be monitored as mini eruptions are frequently restricting the airport's airspace.

In late July and 5 August 2018, two powerful earthquakes struck Lombok killing over 150 with  many aftershocks. In addition, a tsunami on 29 September 2018 on Sulawesi killed over 800 people.  Remember Indonesia is a very active earthquake zone.

Many Chinese cities are currently experiencing severe levels of smog and general pollution, travellers are advised to check pollution levels and avoid the most heavily polluted areas. Smog levels tend to be worse in winter.

Tensions in the Korean peninsular are relaxing following the first viist by Kim Jong-un to Sputh Korea in April '18. President Trump may also meet the N Korean leader in the coming months.


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