Is what you see always what you get?

I went to Thailand for the tropical paradise that I had seen in pictures.

The islands were world class, and you could spend a day hopping to 10 or 20 different islands, each one worthy of a National Geographic feature.

The people were so kind, hospitable and respectful. The meals were the freshest, healthiest, and most balanced I’ve had anywhere in the world.

After taking some time to enjoy the remote beaches of Phuket and the surrounding islands, I returned to Bangkok before flying home to New York City.  Bangkok is the most visited city in the world.

As I walked out of the hotel one sunset, I was out exploring, looking for a local dinner spot, as well as a nice place to go wander around afterwards.

When I came across a small bridge to take a picture, I slowed down very quickly when I saw what was ahead of me.

Not only did anti-government graffiti cover an entire wall, but to the right was a mass of people protesting with loud speakers. Just two feet from me were police with M16’s, full riot gear, assault vehicles, and a barbed wire fence in the middle of the street.


I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Unsure of whether or not running back to my hotel would look suspicious, I walked past the police and crossed the road.

A block or two ahead, it was more of the same – police in fully-decked SWAT gear, barbed wire fences in the middle of main streets, and more.

But no action.

No drama.

No problems.

In fact, there wasn’t really any danger at all. As I spent the last few days there in Bangkok, I never once ran into any issues, heard of anything bad happening, or had problems.

I quickly learned another important lesson about travel: what you hear from the outside (or even sometimes see) is rarely the reality of what’s going on ground-level.

Our Living Abroad country reports help you understand the people and issues in your host country, and introduce ways to stay safe while on assignment or traveling for business.

Written by Alexander Heyne, Project Manager, Living Abroad