The day before Tim and I set off for Bangkok, I became aware that there were protests going on in the city. Big, big protests that involved thousands of people and shutting down busy intersections and government buildings.
Put plainly, Bangkok citizens are protesting because they want the current Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, to step down from her position and let herself be replaced with a yet-to-be-elected people’s council, and they want the King to choose a new PM. They’re calling the movement “Shutdown Bangkok, Restart Thailand” and while protests have been happening since November 2013, things got heavier on January 13th of this year when anti-government protestors shut down busy intersections. Like those at the Victory Monument and Siam Square, where major tourist shopping centres like Siam Discovery and MBK Centre are situated.
I mentioned to my mum while we watched it on the news that I really wanted to do my university assignment (a hard-news story on a political issue) on the protests because it was interesting and would technically be allowed if I was residing in Thailand at the time. While it was kind of just a throwaway comment, when Tim and I got to Bangkok they had declared a state of emergency, and I decided to go for it.
We went to MBK to try and go to a movie, and chose motorbike taxis over the crowded BTS Skytrain (just in case of a bombing) and I chatted to my driver on the way about what he thought of the protests. Interview for uni done! When we got there, police were checking cars going into MBK for bombs, and the Centre was practically deserted compared to the other times I’ve visited. Stores were shut early and the tourist count was very low.
We went outside into the protests and I warned Tim to stay nonchalant and try not to take too many photos. A lot of the signs were in Thai (obviously) and we didn’t want to cause a stir because there were very few “farang” around. It seemed really peaceful when we were there, with about a million different stalls selling pro-Thailand gems like whistles, ribbons and t-shirts, and everyone was hanging out and listening to whoever was giving a speech on stage.
When we went to Siam Discovery a few days later to go ice skating (more on this later) there was a live band and someone even handed us a free lunch, just for attending the protests in support. The sun was out, people were out of the many tents that lined the gutters and the mood was very upbeat. I didn’t feel the slightest bit threatened at all while we were there, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to go to something that interesting and important. And I wish I spoke Thai so I could’ve understood the speeches!
I wrote about visiting the protests in my uni forum, and most of the other students said the same thing: so jealous, stay safe! Then my lecturer told me that I was absolutely not to go to any more protest sites or interview any more people as I could inadvertently put myself in harm’s way and end up shot or blown to bits. And while it made me laugh that he was finally replying to my posts now that he thought I might die, he does have a little bit of a point, as protests have now turned a little bit sour and the death toll is double digits, while the injury count sits at over 500 people.
But hey, what’s life without a little adventure? I’m glad we went and experienced it, and I’m also really thankful that nothing terrible happened because obviously that would really suck. But I’m safe in Laos now, and have A LOT of catching up to do with this blog!