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Thailand: With martial law imposed, should you still go?

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Should you go to Thailand anytime soon in the wake of martial law?
The Thailand coup is Bangkok-centric, so experts urge visitors to sightsee in the countryside, beaches

The declaration of martial law in Thailand on Tuesday marked a dramatic political turn for the Asian country that's been in the grip of civil strife the last six months. But what does the army's promise of restoring order mean for travelers who have tickets to go now or in the near future?

"People traveling to Thailand won't notice anything, no army in the streets, nothing like that," says Marion Walsh-Hedouin, vice president of marketing, communications and public relations for Minor Hotel Group. "They'll enjoy a nice holiday ... lounging by the pool and going out to dinner."

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FOR THE RECORD

May 23, 5:22 a.m.: An earlier version of this post referred to a coup in Thailand in 2009. There was no coup or attempted coup in the country that year.

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Walsh-Hedouin lives in Bangkok and was visiting Los Angeles on Thursday. She said tourists who have gone to Thailand in the last six months likely never got caught up in street demonstrations -- unless they wanted to be.

"Some were lining up for picture-taking, getting a selfie" and maybe buying some of the T-shirts, armbands and hats for sale nearby, she said of demonstrations around Bangkok's government buildings since November.

Her company -- which operates hotels in Thailand, among other places -- as well as travel agencies and the U.S. State Department warn travelers to avoid street protests for their own safety.

The political situation in Thailand is still playing out, but here are some things to consider if you have tickets to go anytime soon:

--Keep your eye on Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. Brandon Presser, who wrote a Lonely Planet guide to Thai beaches and islands, says that the airport is the "Achilles' heel" for travelers. "What tends to happen is demonstrators try to shut it down," Presser said Thursday. "And all of a sudden people can't get in and out."

As of Thursday, the airport was open and all flights were operating normally. But because of the coup, "there are checkpoints, traffic diversion and traffic closures in some areas and potential traffic congestion is expected," airport officials said in a statement. They recommend allowing extra time to get to and from the airport.

Flying in and out of Phuket International Airport, which is down in the southern beachy part of the country, might be a better way to go, Presser says.

--Respect the countrywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Travelers need to follow the army-imposed curfew if they're visiting Thailand. Note that exceptions are made if you're arriving or departing the country during the curfew.

--Go sightseeing ... really. The situation remains calm, sources say. Travel agency Abercrombie & Kent reports the Grand Palace, the major temples, the river and canals in Bangkok are all open to visitors. And if you're going to the southern beaches and islands, you likely won't notice any changes, Presser says. "Things that are going on are really Bangkok-centric," he said Thursday.

--Be aware of your personal safety. The U.S. issued a travel alert Friday to Americans going to or in Thailand. The alert addresses the urgency to steer clear of protests and demonstrations that may turn violent. It expires Aug. 19.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

An earlier version of this post included a photo incorrectly captioned as Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

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