I arrived into Bangkok from Bali only to be greeted by social unrest. The red shirts had been protesting the government for a few weeks now and were now taking over the city. All of the malls were closed. Streets were blocked. They were causing the city of Bangkok to go a little slower than usual.
I was staying with my friend in the Sukumvit area between the Phloen Chit and Nana stations. I didn’t really have any trouble getting over there, but I noticed the sea of red shirts on the streets and the barriers that had been haphazardly placed along the roads. We successfully avoided the mayhem on Friday, but during a quick run to Subway for lunch, we were thrown into the middle of it all.
The Subway is located right next to the Nana station, right where a group of redshirts had blockaded the road. We were just minding our own business, ordering our footlongs, when we looked out the window and saw lines of policemen marching towards the protesters. It was an insane sight. They were all in unison, full gear, shields ready.
The doors to the Subway were quickly barricaded and the Open sign was changed to close. Worried we were going to miss the action, we scarfed down our sandwiches and headed outside, only to watch the tail-ends of the policemen go. Well that was quick!
That was only the beginning.
We hung around there for awhile, listening to the cheering and laughter, and then decided to head down to the Phloen Chit station to follow the crowds of redshirts on motorcycles and in the backs of trucks.
That’s when it got good.
We arrived at the station to witness a standoff between the protesters and a slew of police. There was about 10 meters between the two, a few cameramen and journalists in the middle, and redshirts lining the streets. It was a crazy feeling being right in the middle of the warring entities! The police were standing their ground and the redshirts were posted right across from them, but there wasn’t much animosity in the air. People were laughing and goofing around. We also found this again with the police when we moved further down the street. They were lounging about, playing cards, texting, napping, and chatting away. There was no sense of urgency and no inclination of violence.
There were negotiations going on between the lines and a man came on a loudspeaker, spoke for awhile in Thai and we started hearing cheering. A few moments later, large trucks split the lines and whisked away the police forces.
It was such a cool sight watching the red shirts scream and hoot as they watched the police trucks retreating. The policemen were smiling and laughing as well (probably happy that they didn’t have to sit there much longer!) and I actually caught a red shirt handing a red bandana to a policeman in the truck (the name watermelon is given to army and policemen who are secretly supporting the red shirt cause, green on the outside, red on the inside).
After the retreat, we decided to head home, only to hear of violence erupting on Khao San Road only hours later. We were shocked. We had felt no sense of danger whatsoever, but that is the scary thing about protests, they can take an ugly turn within moments (maybe we shouldn’t have hung around so long!).