We left with a tear in our eye and fear on our faces as we would soon be in a modern heaving metropolis and not just any monstrous, hectic metropolis but Bangkok – a city currently on shutdown from the protestors. A little different from Yangon where nobody would ever speak badly of the government – certainly not in public.
We landed pretty safely with only minor long term problems affecting the hand that Jen likes to squeeze at take off and landing. We were made to realise just how big the protest is when the taxi driver said we must go a different way to make it to our hotel because the road is closed. We thought, ah that old chestnut. How dare we distrust the cabby; in actual fact one part of the protest started right by our hotel on 18th street just of Sukhomvit which is one of the major thoroughfares of the city.
We decided to explore the protest and ran smack bang into a live gig by some clearly quite famous Thai band. Everyone around us was nodding their heads and singing the words whilst we just watched on as we felt out pulses quicken at the sheer numbers involved. The crowd was made up of people from all ages and seemingly all backgrounds. This was no middle-class hippie commune outside St Paul’s Cathedral – they are expecting real change and have ideas for what they want.
Starting off with the removal of Thaksin Shinawatra’s sister Yingluck also known by her nickname Poo meaning crab. Whether this is to do with her being a sideways shift from her brother who is still allegedly the power behind the office I don’t know. Maybe she just walks funny. Either way the people of Bangkok want her out. Even as we write this she is being charged by the anti-corruption body for another dodgy subsidy to the rural areas – the same rural areas that ensure her strength in government.
After two days in Bangkok we realised that the site near our hotel was one of only many protest HQs and indeed on our departure the army and police were clearing them out at the cost of several lives and many hundreds injured. The protestors were calling their movement Shutdown Bangkok, Restart Thailand. In essence, they have camped out at major intersections, outside government buildings and forced Bangkok to slowly grind to a halt. Shinawatra and her team have been forced out of their offices and are running the country from temporary offices. This is the first time they have tried to clear the protestors and it will be fascinating to see where it all goes from here.
Protest aside we found Bangkok to be a lot more pleasant than many had lead us to believe. Admittedly we had been expecting some flea-infested, putrid, hell-hole so it wasn’t hard to exceed our expectations. We did venture out in the backpacker area though and walked down KhaoSan Road and its slightly more upmarket parallel brother Soi Rambuttri. We were offered all sorts of shows and tickets and t-shirts and in the end settled for a few beers and some half-decent local food. I guess it has to be experienced but I much preferred Pub Street in Siem Reap!
We only had one full day and to be honest we spent the vast majority of it shopping! The morning was spent sorting out our bus ticket. The bus terminal was unfortunately nowhere near where it said it was on our map so we ended up pretty hot and sweaty walking about one of the less salubrious areas of Bangkok before eventually stumbling upon it – one block from where we had started our search.
From lunch (a fantastic steamed sea bass with lime, chilli, garlic and ginger) and then all afternoon we visited some of Bangkok’s famous malls and the majority were all fairly similar. Big names, big prices (boxers at M&S £8 a pair!) and a beautifully air-conditioned but soulless experience. The reason for all this shopping was we had run out of many things (boxers included) and were looking to buy some walking boots for our great Everest Base Camp Adventure.
We found pretty much everything we needed including the boots at this fantastic concept for a shopping mall called Terminal 21. Each floor was named after a different city (London, Paris, Tokyo, Istanbul, San Francisco etc) and each floor featured hundreds of seemingly sole-traders in market stall sized retail spaces that were all decorated in similar styles. There was a feeling of really helping out smaller retailers, designers etc and hopefully that feeling isn’t just that and actually reflects in who is allowed to sell there.
We wandered around listening to the bargaining and the sales pitches and realised just how far ahead of the West places like Bangkok are when it comes to retail. This was not just some Westfield monstrosity with all the names and no personality but a place that welcomed you in and encouraged you to explore every inch. Well played Terminal 21.
That’s really just about it other than to report I watched the Arsenal Liverpool cup game via live stream and was heartily impressed with out 2nd team’s efforts. Shame the first team just lost comprehensively to Bayern. Still last season we went out there and won 2-0 in the snow and it was the start of a very special 12 months.
See you in Sukhothai.