Last updated: 11:35 AM ET, Tue August 18 2015

Details Emerge in Bangkok Bombing

Impacting Travel | James Ruggia | August 18, 2015

Details Emerge in Bangkok Bombing

PHOTO: Surveillance cameras captured images of a man Bangkok police believe planted a bomb at Erawan Shrine Monday night. (Photo via Twitter)

Details continue to emerge on the second day after the powerful pipe bomb that went off in front of the Erawan Shrine at the crowded Ratchaprasong Intersection, on Monday night in Bangkok. The city’s police released surveillance video of the man they say left the bomb directly in front of a statue of Brahma, a Hindu creator deity, at the popular Erawan Shrine. Varying reports estimate the victims at between 22 and 27. Nine foreigners of British, Chinese, Philippine and Taiwanese extraction were among the dead. It also left some 123 individuals injured.    

On Tuesday morning, Aug. 18, the Tourism Authority of Thailand issued a statement conveying “the deepest sympathy and condolences to all the victims of the blast and their families at this traumatic time. The thoughts and prayers of the Thai people are with you.”

Thai authorities, the statement said, have stepped up security at key locations in Bangkok, including important tourism zones. Authorities are contacting the families of victims and requesting that tourists exercise caution in Bangkok.

“Meanwhile, overall life in the city is continuing as normal. All public services and banks are available to the public. As for tourist businesses, other tourist sites, hotels, restaurants, tour operators, and shopping malls remain open, while transportation links, major roads and airports continue to operate. This includes Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain and MRT services, and both Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi International Airports (are receiving) domestic and international flights,” the statement said.

The Erawan Shrine is extremely popular with tourists to Bangkok, especially Asian tourists who are more familiar with its religious significance than westerners are. Originally built in 2006, the shrine was erected to eradicate what was perceived as the poor Feng Shui (to use a Chinese term) of the nearby Grand Hyatt Erawan. The Ratchaprasong Intersection was the site of Yellow Shirt demonstrations against the Thaksin government in 2010.

The area also happens to be one of Bangkok’s busiest shopping areas located near the racetrack, the sky train, Gaysorn shopping mall, Jim Thompson's House of Silk and other attractions. The timing of the blast was apparently calculated to take advantage of rush hour traffic in the city. It came a day after Thailand observed one of its most important holidays, the Queen Mother’s Birthday, which serves as a de facto version of Mother’s Day, but with much more zeal.

It remains to be seen as to how the blast will impact Thailand’s inbound tourism. There’s no question that Thailand’s tourism was fully on the rebound before it went off. Total expenditure by visitors of all nationalities was up 29.69 percent in the first six months of 2015 over January to June 2014. Chinese visitors are by far the biggest source of both visitors and expenditure, totaling 4 million arrivals in first six months of this year, up 111 percent over 1.89 million in the same period of 2014. American arrivals reached 426,955, an increase of 12.21 percent.

The TAT has projected 28.8 million international visitors for 2015. Some combination of the blast and the devaluation of the Chinese yuan have also brought the Thai baht down to its lowest value since April 2009, at 35.55 Thai baht to the dollar.

Speculation concerning the motives of the bomber is already rampant in the capital. Some cite the animosity between the Buddhists and Hindus who revere the shrine and the country’s minority Muslim population. Others look to the confrontation that has paralyzed Thai political life over the last several years between factions of Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts. The Yellow Shirt faction stands in opposition the now utterly deposed political machinery of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled Thailand in 2006, and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, whose reign as prime minister ended by coup d’état in May, 2014. Red Shirts supported the Thaksin governments.

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