Shutdown Bangkok, Restart Thailand
Arriving the day after #ShutdownBangkok started was always going to be interesting and possibly challenging but I was determined to not let civil unrest prevent me from enjoying my time in the city that has so much to offer.
Western media has offered very little information about the unfolding situation in Bangkok but plenty of internet research on Twitter had helped us prepare and realise that we were certainly not the intended targets of the protesters.
Very briefly, the ruling party headed up by Yingluck Shinawatra are accused of being corrupt and the PDRC (Peoples Democratic Reform Committee) with Suthep Thaugsuban at the helm want them to step down – they are calling for wide scale reform prior to the election which is scheduled for 2nd February.
One of the main recent issues is the proposed amnesty that Yingluck tried to introduce which would have let her older brother and former PM Thaksin return to the country that he has been banished from since he was overthrown in 2006.
Anyway, enough of the politics and on to what we experienced when we walked around some of the main protest areas this week.
The idea of #ShutdownBangkok was for the protesters to set up stages and demonstrations at 7 main intersections & bridges in the city and not leave until they get what they want. To give you an idea of the disruption they intended to cause this would be like stages being set up and tens of thousands of people setting up camp at Piccadilly Circus, Marble Arch, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, Shepherds Bush, Canary Wharf and Oxford Circus.
That is exactly what they have done, 8 days in and they have a firm foothold in 7 key areas and these roads, intersections and bridges are shutdown with tens of thousands of people camping in the roads and huge stages at each location with LED screens & PA systems playing host to political speakers, musicians and even Suthep himself who is leading daily marches, collecting money from 1 protest site to the next where he is given a heroes welcome when he steps on to stage.
It was just like Glastonbury but in the middle of London with no rain, no mud and no welly boots for sale – swap this for sweltering heat, hundreds of street food stalls and a myriad of souvenirs, whistles and anti Yingluck t shirts that you could buy and you get the idea.
So with sunshine, music, dancing, food and thousands of smiling faces what could go wrong you might ask?
Unfortunately the situation is slowly getting more out of control and the streets of Bangkok are becoming unsafe. Initially the only attacks had been in the middle of the night on the protest guards and on homes of opposition party members but this has changed in the last couple of days.
Friday saw a grenade attack on 1 of the marches which was very close to the main shopping malls and Sunday saw further grenade attacks on the protesters at Victory Monument – these were all in the middle of the day causing very serious injuries and sadly the death of 1 protester.
Where this ends I have no idea but the feeling on the streets of Bangkok is that things are to get far worse before they get any better, there are talks of turning of power and water, shutting down the airports and even another military coup I (there have been 18 military coups in 80 years in The Land Of Smiles so if I was a betting man this is where I would put my Baht).
We have just left to head South on a 15 hour train journey so I am safe but my thoughts go out to all of those people who have been and continue to be affected by the situation and I can only hope for a resolution sooner rather than later.