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September 26, 2017

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Braving travel alerts to visit Bangkok 'in crisis'

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- By the time my trip to Thailand rolled around, I was already fed up with hearing "But there are violent protests in Bangkok!" and the occasional "what if you get shot?" Admittedly, I was also excited about the opportunity to actually witness a protest, complete with stray bullets or having my tuk-tuk stopped by an angry demonstration if I got lucky.

After a short bullet train ride into the heart of the city, Bangkok proved to be nothing like the frenzied state of affairs we had imagined. The locals seemed unperturbed by the fact that Yingluck still refused to step down; everyone went on about his business and nothing was shut down.

I had looked up the major protest sites on the Internet and marked them on my map; most were located in Bangkok's financial and main shopping districts, much like Xinyi District in Taipei. A closer look revealed that the sites formed a triangle around the hotel I was staying at, and all within a 10-minute walk, but my companions and I decided that it would be unnecessary to skirt all the great bargain areas.

Being adventurous people, my parents were not concerned about my chosen destination, but my colleagues reacted differently. Of all people, a reporter should be acutely aware of the furious protesters and the "orange" travel alert issued by our government for Bangkok, they said. Did you not see how a police officer was shot in the head? Friends responded with incredulous stares and similar warnings.

The orange alert rates second on the Ministry of Foreign Affair's four-color-coded travel advisory system, warning Taiwanese travelers to postpone venturing into an "orange" region if possible.

Tourists have been shying away from Backpacking 101-destination Bangkok due to the protests against Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra; blaring headlines kept count of casualties and injuries, but rampage or not, I was determined to escape the dreary cold in Taipei and drown my seasonal sorrow in some pad thai.

Upon entering each mall, we were asked to unzip our bags for the security guards, who peered in and waved us off with smiles; grim looking sentries would repeat the request when we entered dark alleys at night, while a singsong voice shouted from a microphone into the night. The protesters did not roar in approval; and from what we could see, Bangkok was safe for travelers.

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