From the 22nd of January the Hong Kong government started sending us text messages, notifying us that the travel alert for Bangkok had been upgraded to black (the highest). This meant that Bangkok was now as dangerous to visit as Syria, Egypt and the Philippines.
We were following the news closely and decided to go anyway. It didn’t sound too bad and we were really looking forward to our weekend in Bangkok.
‘Bangkok Shutdown & Restart’ started on Monday 13th of January at 9am. Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (the former Thai deputy prime minister) plans to keep part of the city at a standstill until they achieve victory.
We realised that this trip would be different as soon as our cab reached central Bangkok. Five of the most important intersections were completely blocked, forcing our driver to use smaller streets and alleyways to reach our hotel. Luckily, there was very little traffic in Bangkok that night.
A large part of Sukhumvit Road was closed to the traffic and occupied by anti-government protesters. Apart from the tents (which set up are everywhere) central Bangkok felt as if Chatuchak weekend market had moved in. We had many plans to sightsee and explore different parts of Bangkok, however we quickly forgot them after just one visit to the occupied area. It was way too interesting to pass up this opportunity. Other parts of Bangkok would have to wait.
Plus there was so much delicious street food on offer. We couldn’t even be bothered to go to the restaurants I’d booked weeks ago. The streets right next to our hotel were the perfect place to try dishes we hadn’t encountered before as many of the stalls had come to the city from different parts of the country.
We saw a few popular Thai bands playing, some very emotional leaders speaking, people performing, chanting slogans, waving flags and blowing whistles (lots and lots of whistles). Street-side massages were on offer everywhere. We could even have gotten a haircut from the dozen so hairdressers that were offering their services for free.
I liked the fact that every afternoon at 6pm, everyone on the blocked off streets stopped what they were doing (except for a few distracted tourists that were too busy shopping or eating) and stood respectfully as the national anthem was played or sung. We followed their lead.
Not for a minute did we feel unsafe. There were no violent or even tense moments during our stay – which is always the case wherever we go in Thailand. Only truly lovely people protesting peacefully. We were told by our Thai friend to back in the hotel by 10pm ‘just in case’. The only difference this time round was having my camera bag politely checked every time we passed through a security checkpoint on the street and when entering shopping malls by smiley and apologetic Thai people.
Bangkok without a change is one of my few favourite cities.