“Not really, we say. We love Bangkok and figured we could just avoid the areas where there are protests.”
And then we all laughed at the absurdity of that statement. Because, as we were telling him this, we were passing by the Golden Mount, looking at a wall of sandbags that barricaded the road to Government House (on the other side of that wall of sandbags is the most active & most contentious protest site in Bangkok), and we were on our way to MBK Center, one of the larger malls in Bangkok…which is located right next to another large protest site.
In fact, that afternoon, we would pass by or look out upon 3-4 different protest sites across the city, and actually cross one on foot on our way to the relative safety of the Skywalk.
The truth is that we thought we knew what we were getting into when we came to Bangkok in the midst of protests against the prime minister and the Bangkok Shutdown. We’d followed the stories and updates of friends and bloggers living in the city. We’d subscribed to a map that was updated regularly and showed where all the sites and violence were located. We had spoken with local friends and we knew that our neighborhood was safe and not near any of the protest sites. We knew the airports and trains were safe and still running. We planned as well as we could, and then made the call to go, but to be as smart about it as possible and stay out of the thick of things.
And the secret truth is that we didn’t really have a choice about coming. I had an appointment with a specialist here to have a lump in my breast looked at. And we had already put it off as long as we could. Coming to Bangkok wasn’t just a choice for us. It was a necessity.
So come we did, and found ourselves in a taxi on the way to MBK, getting our first look at the protests.
Because of the close proximity of the protests to MBK center, our taxi was stopped and turned around by protest security and barricades, and he had to drop us off within walking distance of the Skytrain station. We had no choice but to walk right through the middle of everything that afternoon. While these are protest sites, that day they felt more like a street fair or festival. Lots of people shopping, eating, listening to live music, and watching speeches on huge TV screens. There was a lot of security & also a lot of curious tourists. Still, we didn’t enter the protest zone lightly. Once we had made it up to the Skywalk and out of the protest zone, we watched as a protest march went past below us. While this seemed a bit like a fair or festival, it quickly became obvious that it was anything but that.
Bangkok is our home base in Asia and we know our way around the city very well. We had plotted a route to get from our neighborhood to the hospital. It involved a taxi ride to the MBK center, then a quick walk or skytrain ride to another mall down the street, where we would catch another taxi from their taxi stand to the hospital. (Bangkok taxi drivers are known for not always knowing where everything in town is…and usually only know their own neighborhoods. It is not uncommon to have to hail 3 or 4 taxis before you find one who knows how to get where you are going & actually wants to take you there. So it is common to take a taxi or train from one neighborhood to another, and then catch a second taxi in that neighborhood to your final destination.) What we had failed to realize was that the main road in the shopping district was completely shut down for miles by the protests and the Bangkok Shutdown. And that taxi stand we were going to use: it’s not currently running and there are people camped out in tents in it. On to Plan B.
A very nice lady at the information desk in Siam Paragon got on her iPad and figured out the quickest route for us, which involved taking the Skytrain down 5 more stops, then going out and catching a taxi there. But when we got to that stop, the road was closed due to a protest march. So we had to go back into the station, cross back over the road, and catch a taxi on the other side where traffic was still running. We reached the hospital with time to spare (mostly because we left very early). Success! Oh, and that lump in my breast turned out to be nothing. All is well.
Here are some of the photos we took from the Skywalk of the MBK and Central World protest sites that day.
Since these photos were taken, the government has vowed to take back the protest sites this week, which has resulted in increasing tensions and violence. 4 people were killed and 64 injured in fighting and explosions near Government House this morning. And tensions continue to be high. Our neighborhood is still peaceful, tucked 3 km away from the violence. We sit in our guesthouse and monitor the twitter feeds of several local expats and journalists for updates. Our heart breaks for Thailand and its people.
We leave Bangkok on Thursday morning, headed for Cambodia.