Inside Shutdown Bangkok

Shutdown BangkokThe night I arrived in Bangkok, Shutdown Bangkok was in full swing. Protesters forced the closure of roads and intersections, demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra before the upcoming election. Therefore it was necessary to walk some distance to my hotel since taxis couldn’t make it from the airport. I walked through a large protest area that seemed like a huge block party: impromptu shops were set up along the entire blocked road with food, protest T-shirts, and trinkets. There was also a stage set up with live music. Side by side with the vendors were the Reset Bangkok paraphernalia,  handmade protest signs, and the white walls around the police station were scrawled with FUCK POLICE. It was a surreal experience, this marriage of protest and commerce. I didn’t stop to get pictures that night as I had my luggage in tow, it was dark, and I was eager to find my hotel after a very long trip. Here are some photos of the same street from later in my trip:

IMG_0303 IMG_0306

Later, when I saw the mass demonstrations in action, some protester’s idea of rebellion was to emulate Che Guevara: dressed in camouflaged clothing, fists in the air, and lots of passionate shouting over loud speakers. They also used whistles, which was occasionally confusing because the constabulary and guards use whistles in every day dealings with the populace. We needed to avoid wearing faction coloured tops during our stay so we could not accidentally be seen as representatives of either side: red represented loyalty to the current government and yellow represented the opposition. I tucked away the bright red hoodie I had traveled in – I didn’t want to accidentally be identified with the UDD (United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship). Wikipedia has a good background on the crisis if you want to learn more.

As an additional safety measure, I had registered with the US consulate before leaving on my trip. My traveling companions and I made the US Embassy our meeting point in case we were separated or hurt during the protests. Better safe than sorry!On January 20, 2014 was emailed a travel alert to inform of potential risks in Bangkok due to the social unrest prior to the parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place nationwide on February 2, 2014. We gave ourselves plenty of extra time to reach any destinations early to make sure we could make it to places even if we were delayed. This really helped out in one situation where we found ourselves being channeled to make room for a parade of protesters.

Street protest collage

The view of the protest from our cab, trapped in the middle of it all.

The protest started with a truck full of anti-government protesters that blared music and bull horns, seemed harmless enough. But then came the rest, a mob that forced a traffic redirect and stand still. Luckily the protest remained a calm parade and the rovers moved past after a 45 minute delay.

While we didn’t let the unpredictable nature of the political situation affect our amazing holiday and we never felt unsafe, there was an ever-present sense that things could change very quickly and I know my family was relieved when I left. During our stay, a grenade was thrown at the protesters injuring over 30 people. Fortunately, we were nowhere near this incident and all protesters I saw were non-violent. In our immediate experience, the net result of Shutdown Bangkok was that taxi drivers justified scalping their fares and did use fee meters because they had to make severe diversions to make their way around closed intersections, etc. I imagine the street fair environment was also detrimental to the regular street vendors, since there was more competition for tourists’ attention and less funneling of traffic for the capture of sales.

After I left Thailand, there was a state of emergency declared.

Tribe collecting score: 2

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