The Bangkok Shutdown, Lumpini, Victory Monument and Asoke
Today's report covers the protest sites and Lumpini Park, Victory Monument and Asoke and that is the order I visited them in. From now on I will concentrate my reports on what is happening at Asoke. I will visit the other sites some days, but will make it to Asoke every day. The reason for this is that it's the protest site that sits in the middle of the farang ghetto.
One point that ought to be noted before today's report. The other half had reason to pass through the Asoke area last night and she found it uncomfortable. A couple of guys she described as rough looking asked her if she would like to be guided through the area because, according to the wannabe Romeos, "It's not safe for pretty girls". There isn't any danger for the average person and it's not like alcohol is being consumed or anything like that, but these protest areas are in central locations where there are a lot of office buildings and office workers – which in Thailand means pretty office girls – and I guess some guys are trying their luck. And some of the guards at some sites do look rough. No problem for a big tough Western guy like me or you, but your girlfriend / wife mightn't feel nearly as comfortable.
So, Asoke this morning… It looked NOTHING like yesterday and there were perhaps a few hundred protesters present at most. Obviously most of those who attended yesterday and last night went home to sleep. It seems that Asoke is a major assembly point for Bangkokians and office workers, it being the easiest spot to get being adjacent to both the skytrain and the underground.
The intersection itself was closed, but traffic coming along Sukhumvit from the east i.e. the direction of Emporium and Thonglor, could pass by. A small number of vehicles were using the single lane that was open. However, they could not proceed along Sukhumvit and had to turn left and head down Rachadapisek Road towards Klong Toey.
The Asoke intersection was so quiet this morning that there was no disruption to anything, apart from traffic.
This is how Asoke looked this morning. Really, not a lot of people around at all. Getting in and out of the underground was a breeze.
It seemed some overnighted, but not nearly as many as at other sites.
This lot smelled like a liquor shop and it wasn't even 9:00 AM…
The first thing that struck me about Lumpini Park is that many of the protesters speak a hundred miles an hour and use some words that I don't know. That can only mean one thing – they're Southerners!
The next thing that struck me was that Lumpini Park looks was a tent village, almost like a little Soweto in the middle of Bangkok. Hundreds, maybe thousands of tents were set up both inside and outside of Lumpini Park.
The Lumpini Park protest site is moderate in size and I'd guess the number of permanent protesters in resident at perhaps a couple of thousand. Like a lot of the protest sites the numbers probably swell at night.
Each of the protest sites has a rather different feel and the thousands at Lumpini Park appeared to be mainly southerners. This was confirmed when I saw the names of some of the kitchens, like Yala Kitchen, a province in the deep south.
Whereas at Asoke it seemed staid and the protesters quiet, at Lumpini Park they were singing and dancing in the streets. At the intersection under the overbridge which bypasses the top of Silom Road there was a real party atmosphere.
A number of the protesters at Lumpini Park engaged me and wanted to chat. Once they learned a little about me they were keen to explain why they are protesting and voice their disapproval of the government, particularly the Prime Minister. They were friendly, engaging and I have to say that I enjoyed wandering around protest site the most, probably because of the people I met and chatted with. I did not see a single other white face in the area the whole time I was there. My best guess is that this is considered one of the smaller protest sites.
The protesters are at the south-west corner of Lumpini Park. They have taken over the Rama 4 / Silom Road intersection which is closed and the top of Silom is basically closed too, making it feel like the protect site is edging ever so closer to Patpong, something which will not please the bar owners at all.
If you want to walk around Lumpini Park or just enjoy the atmosphere of the park, that's still possible. Lumpini Park remains open. Walking in the park is still quite possible too. I doubt you'd be able to cycle around and runners might find it difficult to negotiate the protesters, their tents, their frequent marches and what not.
A tuktuk comes screaming down Rachadamri Road before hitting on the anchors and coming to a sudden stop. In front of it is a line of protesters. They're not positioned to block him, it's just that they are in a line dancing and singing. I don't hang around to see what happened next but I imagine he was allowed to pass once the singing was over. This is the problem you face when getting around, or trying to get around. You just don't know what you will find and where you will find it. That's what I mean about the inconvenience factor.
The Silom / Rama 4 Road intersection is usually one of the city's busiest. Not today!
Soi Sala Daeng is blocked at the Silom End by protesters.
The top of Silom Road is blocked with the Sala Daeng skytrain station just 100 or so metres behind this roadblock.
The shutdown of Victory Monument is a massive blow to the city's public transportation system. Probably more buses run through Victory Monument than any other intersection in the city and it's also the hub for minibuses running to all corner of the city – passengers in far flung suburbs take a minibus for 20 – 30 baht that uses the expressway and catapults it to Victory Monument from where they can complete their journey by bus or skytrain.
Victory Monument is also a hub for minibuses departing for other provinces and you can catch minibuses from there to Pattaya, Hua Hin, Ayutthaya, Nakhon Sawan and many other provinces. Some seemed to be operating still, but many weren't there. I imagine that they have relocated to a nearby street, but I don't know for sure.
Traffic could pass through parts of Victory Monument in some directions. Cars were parked around the monument but the intersection itself was not completely blocked.
The monument in the middle has many protesters, some who have camped out with tends set up on the monument's hallowed grounds. Protesters take turns waving giant flags and there's a good vibe in the middle.
Of all the stages I visited, the strongest words were said by speakers a the stage at Victory Monument. Some were positively scary and you sure wouldn't want to be the person for who those words were intended – the Prime Minister. This lot mean business and their resilience is strong. We don't negotiate was the very clear message!
I've never really considered Victory Monument a farang area. Yeah, foreigners live in every neighbourhood in Bangkok and plenty live in nearby Soi Rangnam, but it's still not an area generally popular with Westerners. There aren't any high profile tourist attractions in the area either so while its closure will cause great inconvenience for Thais, the effect on westerners in Bangkok won't be so considerable.
This was the only cop I saw today, which might sound like a blessing, such is the reputation the Thai police have developed with foreigners in downtown Bangkok. But then, what if you have a problem? What if you really need assistance of the sort only the police can provide? You'd be on your own!
Asoke (lunch time)
By early afternoon the numbers had increased at the Asoke intersection but they were still relatively small. One oddity was up on the skywalk where protester guards prevented pedestrians from taking photos from the ledge overlooking the intersection. Where they scared someone was going to throw something, or did they have something else on their mind?
I'd like to point out that you should be careful of who is saying what about the perceived danger / inconvenience factor. I have already had one bar owner most upset with my reports from yesterday, somehow fearing it might make people stay away from his bar. He has no concern for his customers, only his bank account. I will tell you exactly what I think. Don't take it as Gospel and consider what others say but, like I say, there are some more concerned about making money than giving honest advice.
Asoke had picked up at lunch time but still was not that busy. I don't like to estimate numbers, but that's most of them in the photo below. Not that many, really. Some shops in the area remained closed, but the majority were open. Restaurants and eateries were doing a great trade, shops not so good.
An interesting item to have on sale at a protest site. Frankly, this is a worry a you don't want some of the angrier protesters getting liquored up. While the protesters at Asoke are the most placid of the sites I have visited, there is always an element that could be easily set off…
A quick update about the nightlife. One reader who was out later on in Nana informs me that things picked up – but were still much, much quieter than usual.
Despite the numbers at Asoke well done on yesterday, I still question where this is a good time to visit the city. It's not that things are really that bad – they're not – it's more about what might happen and the real chance of major inconvenience.
Truth be told, getting around yesterday and today has been much easier than usual, downtown and the occupied areas aside. People aren't taking their cars out and the roads are super quiet!
I hope to do a report tomorrow, but no promises as I have a busy day. Of course if anything major happens downtown you can count on me to be there and cover it.