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Protests Drive Tourists from Thai Capital

Thai Anti-government protesters rally Bangkok Shutdown campaign
A foreign tourist observes anti-government protesters demonstrating during the fourth day of the 'Bangkok Shutdown' rally as they block a Revenue Department office in Bangkok, Thailand, 16 January 2014. Rungroj Yongrit / EPA

Thailand's third month of anti-government protests gripping the core of Bangkok have driven tourists away from the capital, and onto the beaches and into the mountains, officials say.

For months, thousands of demonstrators have occupied extended encampments in spots near Bangkok's busy shopping areas, snarling traffic and choking off roadways. Taxi drivers now sometimes drop their well-heeled fares blocks away from their hotels.

Thailand drew a record 26 million-plus visitors last year, up 19.63 percent from a year earlier, but arrivals fell by half to about one million in January from December.

Hotel occupancy rates are around 50 percent, hotel sources say, well below the 80 percent that would be the norm for January, the tail end of high tourist season. Many are instead heading to the country's famous beach and mountain resorts.

Chiang Mai, a major thoroughfare for backpackers heading into the country's mountainous north, is seeing hotel occupancy rates of 95 percent.

But some with Bangkok on their itineraries refuse to let the protests ruin their trips.

"We're in Bangkok for a night and then heading down south to party hard on an island," said Matthew Brown, visiting from Britain with university friends.

"It's been a pain getting around Bangkok, but it's hardly a war zone."

- Reuters