Let me first preface this blog with the fact that Dany and myself were very careful and had escape routes and meeting places sorted out in the event that something unfortunate might have happened. No tourists were hurt in the making of this blog.
A very short Thailand history lesson as I understand it. In 2006 the Royal Thai Army staged a coup d'état against the then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The military closed the airports, abolished the constitution, dissolved parliament, canceled the elections to be held in a month, censored the media and banned all protests. In the two years that followed the new government failed to find evidence of corruption, which they claim was the reason for the coup, within the Thaksin administration. Since then, a group called the Red Shirts have been protesting the "illegitimate" power of the Thaksin administration and lobbying for an election. Now, a million Reds Shirts from all over Thailand had been protesting near the parliament building in Bangkok since April 3, 2010.
It was our last day in Bangkok and we were looking for something to do. Having exhausted our desire for markets and wats (temples), I suggested that we go investigate the protests by the Red Shirts. It seemed like a great way to understand the plight of a people. We received far more that expected. Dany and I walked towards the two kilometer protest area not knowing what to expect or how to act. We entered the site and quickly became the only westerners in sight and the streets became increasingly saturated with red with every step we took. That alone should have given us enough warning to the magnitude of the protest. After some initial hesitation we let our guard down and began taking pictures. It seemed that the more pictures we took and the further into the epicenter we went the more the Red Shirts wanted to talk to us. Before we new it, Thais were shaking our hands, sharing their story and pointing to things for us to photograph (like the helicopter firing waring shots in the air). I know what you're thinking. Their anger, passion and commitment to their cause was palatable as they spoke to us with tears in their eyes. These were all things that I would have never received from a newspaper.Soon we faced barricades with riot police, barbed wire and military soldiers in ever increasing numbers. Even thought the scene had all the elements of doom, there was an eerie calm over the whole situation. I even bought an iced coffee thirty meters from one of the barricades. Many Red Shirts smiled at us and welcomed us in-between political slogans and giving the passing helicopters the finger. Numerous protesters offered us water in spite of the fact that most of them had been there on the streets for a week in 40 degree weather. A testament to the Thai culture. After three hours of taking pictures, talking to people and drinking iced coffees, we both had the feeling that it was time for us to go. Part of me wanted to stay, but I always seem to regret not listening to my instincts. With a million Thais from all over the country protesting since April 3 in the torturing sun, tensions were bound to come to a boil. As we rounded a corner to leave the now volatile area, we came across a battalion of 300 Thai soldiers and a long line of armored cars. Apparently we picked the right time to leave. Feeling trapped between the Red Shirts and the military we decided to walk beside the military in the opposite direction to the shelter of a near by restaurant. Three hours later we boarded a bus to Chiang Mai wondering what was happening in Bangkok. I was not looking forward to reading the paper the next day.
Waking up from a terrible sleep on the bus, I soon learned that my night was significantly better than many others. The protests turned ugly shortly after we left and led "to some of the worst bloodshed in the country's history." Twenty one dead and nearly nine hundred wounded in the skirmish. The Red Shirts are maintaining their position and will not evacuate. A million Thais risked their life for a right I take for granted and rarely use. I understand how important and powerful the people are. Change starts with one person, one idea, one act.
"Nobody can claim victory if the victory is the wrecking of the nation."
King of Thailand
King of Thailand