I posted the last entry several weeks ago, mere hours before the Red Shirts deliberately stepped up their game. Since then, as you may have read in the news, violence has broken out on a number of occasions, and the current death toll is about 28 (the numbers reported by the government and by the protestors differ slightly). I passed through Bangkok on April 11, the day after the first – and to date deadliest – outbreak of violence. I found the city surprisingly quiet and calm – far more so than usual, in fact. There was very little traffic, few people on the streets. I did see a heavier police presence than normal and a few barricaded roads, but all in all it was quiet. Despite the previous day’s violence, the atmosphere of the city had that calm-before-the-strom quality, rather than the post-storm chaos that I expected. (En route I had met some people at a rest stop who refered to the city as a “war zone.” I was quite nervous about what I would find on arrival, but as it turns out my worries were unfounded.)
In the two weeks since, Bangkok protestors have continued to make headlines. Months ago my parents planned to come visit. They arrived this past Saturday, just a few days after the State Department escalated the travel warning to avoid all non-essential travel to Bangkok. (That said, the US Embassy in Bangkok sent an email warden message today advising that Americans should “defer non-essential travel to Bangkok, but must also determine for themselves what is essential and what is not,” which suggests that the situation is not as bad as the non-essential travel advisory makes it out to be.). Because the hotel my parents had originally booked was located in the epicenter of the strike area, they opted to cancel their reservation and stay out by the airport before moving on to Vietnam a few days earlier than planned, thereby avoiding downtown altogether.
I, however, did have to go downtown in order to get onward transport down south. On Sunday when I tried to get a taxi to the train station, in the heart of the city, the cab driver pleaded with me not to go there. I settled on going to an agency on the outskirts of the city that was able to issue same-day tickets. As it turns out, the train was booked, so I had to catch a bus from Khao San Road and Banglamphu, right downtown. (The same area that fellow traveller had referred to as a “war zone” a couple of weeks before.) I was a bit apprehensive, based on the 15-minutes it took to convince the cab driver to take me there. The ride into town was fast and traffic-free. I saw no Red Shirts anywhere, no demonstrations, no road blocks. Just a couple of days ago the public transit system was shut down and there were reports of grenades, so clearly they are still around. I just didn’t happen to see any. Unlike my visit to Khao San Road a few weeks ago – when the area was packed with Red Shirt sharing large Chang beers with tourists – this time there was not a protestor in sight. They mood of the protests has definitely changed. There were a fair number of tourists, more than I expected given the advisories, but it was definitely quieter than usual.
I hopped on the bus and had an uneventful ride south. Obviously I am relieved that my travels through Bangkok have been trouble-free, and I would advise anyone else passing through Bangkok to be weary and exercise caution. I hope that a resolution can be reached soon, and without any more bloodshed. However, I can’t help feeling like my super-smooth Bangkok experiences have been a tiny bit anti-climactic given all the media hype. But I suppose, in this case, I should be grateful that I don’t have a better story to report.