Creepy. Eerie. A 'not quite' silence that whispers "Junta". Nobody wants to talk politics. Mention the Government and you can see in their faces a wantonness. But they do not know what to say. In a restaurant the owner looked fleetingly around as if there may be microphones or cameras, Big Brother, keeping an eye on them so they do not say anything subversive.
It is still the same Thailand, the same people, the same Government. It is still the Land of Smiles but there is a sense of trepidation among the 'natives'. That if you say anything remotely political that the Junta do not like you will be rounded up and charged under Section 112. More commonly referred to as Lese Majeste but known in Thai Law as Ka Pluuk Raduum or sedition.
But there is an irony in the rurals of Issan that the commoners feel safe. That the country has a stability because all political parties are now banned from governance and the Military are neither Yellow nor Red. But the commoners also have an allegiance. One that belongs to the Red Shirts and the Shinawatra's still represent that ideology. Their 'great white hope' is Yingluk Shinawatra who is still on bail awaiting charges of corruption. They want to say it is bogus but they are too scared to.
Even I am inclined to choose my words carefully. I am fully in favour of the Junta. I feel that the country was in such a mess in 2014 that the Military were right to take control and install General Prayuth Chan-ocha as the Prime Minister and you know what? He has been doing a damn good job of running the country since. But it seems now that if you say one wrong word the Thought Police will knock on your door.
It took the death of the beloved King Bhumibol to dampen the determination to hold political rallies despite the Junta issuing a Royal Decree outlawing the Political gatherings of more than 5 people. And it took the 'to be admired' prowess of King in waiting Vajiralongkorn to make his first Royal Decree one that will see Royal Pardons for 150,000 prisoners a great number of whom are political.
Should you go on holiday to Thailand? Yes of course you should. This isn't a Junta with questionable human rights issues. But it is a politically divided country and now the division is one of freedom of speech and if your political persuasion is not in accordance with the Junta you should not speak out. My advice to a tourist would be: Don't talk politics.
The same goes for anyone who is not a Thai national. Stay out of it. Let them sort themselves out because the fact is; in 2014 Thais were shooting each other in the street; and now they are not!