Sunday, January 26, 2014

Roaming Around Bangkok - Part 3 (A day with anti-government protesters)

My wife and I are in Pratunam, Bangkok City to replenish the stock of our online shop, Happy Stripes. We booked our ticket as early as first week of January without any knowledge that a political turmoil was brewing in Bangkok City.

A few days before our flight on 24th of January, our government raised the travel alert level to number 2 which means that only those Filipinos with residence/working visa would be allowed to travel to Thailand while newly-hired would be prevented from leaving making both my wife and I apprehensive even if we would travel to Bangkok for business reason.

Fortunately, the immigration officers at Manila Airport allowed all Filipinos to travel to Thailand even when travel alert level 2 has been raised.

We arrived at past 4 pm at Suvarnhabumi Airport and used the airport rail link up to Ratchaprarop station. Walking to our hotel, we found the entire Pratunam area peaceful and normal. We were elated since we thought that we can proceed with our business without worrying about our safety.

The following day we had a first hand experience of the on-going anti-government rally at Pratunam area. We were on our way back to our hotel and crossing the footbridge in front of Indra Square across Ratchaprarop Road after visiting the morning market at Pratunam area when we encountered the anti-government protesters.

The following is the chronology of events pertaining to our experience with the anti-government protest last 25th of January:


10:30 AM

here comes the protesters

Protesters were marching along Ratchadamri road and has reached the intersection of Ratchaprarop and Phetchburi roads.

supporters with stapled banknotes

Supporters were lining up along Ratchaprarop road and some of them have joined or stapled Thai banknotes to be donated to the protest action.

traffic being blocked and re-routed by the protesters

Advance parties were clearing the main road of vehicular traffic; we saw them requesting the buses, taxis, cars and tuk-tuks drivers to turn back and find another route.

After observing for a couple of minutes, we decided to trek back to our hotel and take a much needed rest.

Having rested, my wife and I decided to go back to Platinum Mall to continue sourcing our merchandises and to have our lunch inside its food court. We left our hotel and crossed the same footbridge or overpass again.

11:30 AM

protesters have reached the Ratchaprarop Airport Link Train Station; traffic build-up after them

This time the protesters have passed the footbridge and reached the Ratchprarop airport link train station. It seemed that they were marching towards Victory Monument.

The wife and I thought that was the last time we would see the on-going anti-government protest; we were wrong.

After taking our lunch and with merchandises on-hand we decided to go back to our hotel again to have snack and rest. However, after leaving Platinum Mall we noticed that a group of kibitzers and tourists were amassing at the covered footbridge in front of the said mall.

The protesters were back and now approaching the intersection of Ratchprarop and Petchburi roads.

2:30 PM

groups of protesters

We believed that these were the same protesters we encountered earlier but this time they were marching in several groups along Phetchburi road towards Ratchaprarop intersection.

3:00 PM

one group of protester directly under the footbridge

supporters were lining-up along Petchburi Road

3:30 PM

we have crossed the footbridge and joined the crowd

we are now on our way back to Pratunam Market after shopping at Platinum Mall

Since we need to go back to our hotel we have no choice but to mingle with the protesters for a few minutes. The event became photo opportunities for both tourists and shoppers as well.

The entire area was in festive mood; people were waving their national flag and and sporting Thai flag paraphernalia and blowing whistles. Likewise, some protesters were guiding traffic flow, maintaining order and even assisting several motorists trapped by these throngs of people.

By the way, the city and airport rail link and ferries continue to run normally while touristy places, temples and establishments such as malls and restaurants remain open during office hours.

The protest was generally peaceful but noisy. In addition, I never saw any military or police personnel confronting the protesters like what happened during the violent "red shirt protest" a few years back. I would have stayed in that area and observe how our brother Thailanders express their sentiment against their government. However, the wife was nervous thus we decided to leave the place after some photo-ops.

A piece of advice, minimize your interaction with the protesters; leave immediately after taking some pictures. Better yet, stay on footbridges like what most of the tourists are doing in case you want to observe the on-going protest action. Wearing red or yellow shirt doesn't mean anything as you can see on the pictures above unlike the violent protest several years back where most of the participants were either wearing red or yellow shirts. If you plan to have some souvenir items from the rally, a whistle with red/white/blue larn yarn will cost you 20 THB. I bought one as souvenir but never worn it outside otherwise my wife would be the one protesting against my action, lol. Moreover, some "Shutdown Bangkok / Re-Start Thailand" t-shirts have started appearing on the market. The print has political meaning thus better wear it after you have left Thailand as souvenir.

Presently, Bangkok is generally peaceful with plenty of beautiful places to visit far from where the rally is being held. Not to mention my favorite Phad Thai and Tom Yum Soup. The only problem is the unavailability of alcoholic drink at 7-Eleven stores due to incoming election but you can have them at different restaurants and a few local stores.

27 January 

Early this morning I accompanied my wife to Suvarnhabumi Airport at 5 AM to catch her 7:45 AM flight back to NAIA T1 (Manila) Airport. It was a smooth taxi ride from the city to the airport. I returned back to the hotel by airport rail link.

It is business as usual at Pratunam area yesterday and today. I thought I would have another chance to see the anti-government protest action but it seemed it was staged in a different place.

28 January

I left my hotel to take my lunch at MBK Mall. I walked along Ratchaprarop road then made a right turn to Phetchaburi road. It seemed everything was back to normal including the traffic. Upon reaching the intersection of Phaya Thai and Phetchburi roads I made a left turn and followed Phaya Thai road going to MBK mall.

BLUE line represents the area where the anti-government protesters are camped. Not accessible by public transport except train

Photo credit: Roaming Around Bangkok Part-1

I got that feeling that something wasn't normal at all. I saw several groups of unarmed military personnel. They were the Army Emergency Response Team as indicated on their tarpaulins. There were around 3 small groups with less than 10 members for each group. Moreover, this part of the city had usually heavy traffic especially during lunch time but it seemed all those vehicles disappeared.

As I walked along and getting nearer to intersection of Rama 1 and Phaya Thai roads I noticed several metal barricades. There were sandbags too. The entire road on this part of Phaya Thai was completely closed for vehicular traffic. There were several civilians manning this entry point going to MBK and Siam Malls and checking or inspecting the bags of those people entering the intersection.

As I approached MBK I realized that the anti-government protesters have camped on this part of the city. They have improvised stage and several large LCD monitors installed at strategic places. Several huge generators were also on stand-by. The whole intersection was completely under the control of the protesters. Aside from makeshift clinic they even covered a portion of Phaya Thai road where most of the protesters tents have been put-up. In addition, the footbridge along the intersection has been blocked thus all pedestrians have no option but walk right trough the protesters camp.

SHOTS AT MBK

makeshift stage

MBK Mall

tents inside the covered street

makeshift clinic

I went inside MBK Mall and took my lunch. Considering the on-going protest outside I couldn't believe that it was business as usual inside the mall. Surprisingly, there was only a handful of protesters inside. I loitered for a couple of hours and consumed my 5 Candy Crush lives. I even accepted 3 more lives but I wasn't able to finish the same level I have been playing for the past one week.

SIAM Malls

Going back to the action, from here I calmly walked with other tourists along Rama 1 road and passed the 3 SIAM (Discovery, Center, Paragon) Malls. The same situation exists in front of these malls. The road is closed for traffic while both protesters and vendors/hawkers have occupied the area. Giant flat screens were also installed along this road and loud speakers were continuously blurting out rally speeches and propaganda.

Upon reaching Rama 1 and Ratchadamri intersection another make shift stage appeared. Furthermore, a portion of Ratchdamri road has been covered as well for the comfort of the protesters.

SHOTS AT CENTRALWORLD

another makeshift stage at the intersection of Ratchadamri and Tanon Rama1 roads

covered portion of Ratchadamri road

another makeshift clinic for the protesters in front of Centralworld Mall
Just like MBK Mall, Centralworld Mall is also open for business even if its entire front facade is occupied by the protesters.

All told, the protesters are definitely well funded and according to the news they enjoy broad support among Bangkok's elite and middle class. Likewise, it is obvious that they are bent on staying on these parts of the city as long as their demands are not met.

What makes this protest different from the protest held several years ago was the discipline and logistics being enjoyed by the present anti-government protesters and the non-confrontational attitude by their government.

This political event has definitely affected the tourism industry of Thailand. I used to see plenty of tourists during my previous visits in Bangkok but nowadays their number has dwindled. In addition, vehicular traffic along these roads are limited to private transport only thus either you visit these places by train or by foot. You may also try the unique and unsafe Bangkok's motorcycle taxis; you will see them in every nook and corner wearing orange vest.

Until now it is safe for a tourist to roam these places if I may say so since the protesters are mainly focus on the polling or voting areas to prevent the election on 2nd of February.

If I have time tomorrow I will try to visit the Victory Monument, another place where the anti-government protests are being held.

29 January

As promised I visited the Victory Monument and took my lunch at nearby McDonalds.

SHOTS AT VICTORY MONUMENT

Vistory Monument

covered road for protesters

Victory Monument is actually a Rotunda. Like in other areas where the protesters have camped, a portion of the road has been covered and speeches are being delivered on makeshift stage while around the monument it is business as usual. The traffic here is partially blocked.

On my way to the monument I noticed several Army Emergency Response Teams like at MBK. But at the monument itself, several policemen can be seen outside the main protesters camp and some of them are also standing on guard on footbridge which is fortunately left open for pedestrians use.

I have no idea whether the protesters have camped also at Democracy Monument. If I have time I will visit the place though it is quite far from my hotel at Pratunam area.

31 January

On my way to Chinatown to celebrate the Chinese New Year, I passed at Silom and Rama 4 intersection where Lumphini Park is also located. Even from afar I can easily sense that this part of the city has been overwhelmed by the anti-government protesters as well.

SHOTS AT SILOM

approaching Silom and Rama 4 intersection coming from Ratchadamri road - sandbags and barriacades

Lumphini Park is at the back of this makeshift stage

protesters camp st the intersection

It is getting clearer to me that major intersections inside Bangkok City have been blocked by the anti-government protesters. This is really a major inconvenience for all tourists visiting Bangkok since all these intersections are strategically located near many touristy places such as shopping malls. Fortunately, subway and trains are still operational thus I was able to go back to my hotel conveniently. I had no more strength to walk back to Pratunam area from Chinatown.

Coming back to my hotel, I transferred from subway at Sukhumvit station to Asok station of BTS train. During transferring I heard speeches coming from the protesters below the Asok train station. It seemed a protester's camp has been put up at Sukhumvit area too.

03 February

I have received my employment visa yesterday and waiting for my plane tickets back to my work in Middle East. I would be leaving Bangkok possibly this afternoon or tomorrow.

Just to give you an update about the on-going anti-government protest in Bangkok, there are 7 rally stages put up by the protesters inside Bangkok and two of them will be dismantled for the safety of the protesters. Unfortunately, those stages that will be left standing are the ones frequented by the tourists such as Silom, Sukhumvit, MBK and Centralworld Mall.

See: Bangkok Post: 2 Rally Stages to Close

If you will ask me if Bangkok is safe for tourists, yes it is safe for now. I don't know in coming days.

The red shirts used to be the opposition but it is a different story now; they are strong supporters of the present administration. Considering the sheer tenacity of the previous "red shirt protest" a few years back then there is a high probability that a violent confrontation between the red shirts and the protesters will eventually happens. In fact there was already a shootout between these two groups last Saturday.

If you have plan to visit Bangkok, better postpone it until the present political turmoil has been solved. I just hope that both sides would finally find a peaceful solution to their political problems.