Friday, April 24, 2009


Thailand. What can I say. Everything we have ever heard about Thailand was fantastic. Great food, wonderful people, beautiful temples, elephants, cheap prices, personal tailors, unbeatable massages, the list goes on and on. Sadly, this is not the Thailand we got to see.

While in the Tokyo Airport we learned that protests against the government had started in Thailand. Everything we read said that the protests by the Red Shirts, wanting the current Prime Minister to step down, were peaceful. I recalled that in October 2008, protesters had taken over the Bangkok Airport and was leery of heading into an unstable situation. I checked the U.S. Department Web Site and there were no travel warnings listed for Thailand. Thanks to the web we were able to learn that the protests were not near our hotel, that we could get to the U.S. Embassy and the airport without having to go through the protest area and we mapped our route from our hotel to the embassy. We registered with the U.S. Embassy in Thailand and hoped for the best.

We arrived shortly after midnight on Wednesday and Bangkok was alive with happy bustling tourists, locals and children playing in the streets. It was business as usual. The next couple days were spent sampling the Thai cuisine and organizing our trip north to Sukhotai, Chiang Mai and the elephant reserve at Lampang. Our plans to leave Bangkok were delayed a couple of days because the trains and buses were booked by people traveling for Songkran (Thai New Year).

While we waited to head north, the protests began to escalate. Protestors stormed the location of the ASEAN Summit in Pattaya (1.5 hours south of Bangkok). The summit was cancelled and several leaders were evacuated by helicopter from the hotel. As the protestors from Pattaya headed back to Bangkok the protesting in Bangkok turned to rioting. The Prime Minister declared a state of emergency. By doing so, the military moved into the city, tanks rolled into the streets and people could now be arrested without a warrant (due process). The rioting spread in Bangkok to part of the tourist area (2 train stops from our hotel) where the Red Shirts threw petrol bombs at police and sent hijacked public buses now empty, on fire, with the gas pedals rigged, careening into the lines of riot police.

We debated, is it better to get out of Bangkok into the more rural areas of Thailand away from the violence but farther away from the airport if something really bad happens? Or, stay in Bangkok where you can get to the airport or embassy if you needed to get out of Thailand quickly? Searching for more information on the “state of affairs in Bangkok” we found broadcasts on Aljazeera (the English version) to be the most informative. Really?! Who would have ever thought that Aljazeera would be our news program of choice?! When we learned protestors were blocking roads outside of Bangkok including near Chiang Mai, two deaths had occurred from rioting and if the Prime Minister stepped down no government would be in place, we decided it was time to abandon our already purchased bus and train tickets to flee to the sanctity of……….Cambodia. Cambodia?!?! A country with such a war torn past, we never thought we’d say that!

With the help of the nice airline representatives and hotel owners we were able to leave Bangkok fairly quickly and at a reasonable monetary cost considering the situation. When we cancelled one of our accommodations up north Ryan received the following reply:
Dear Ryan,
I'm very sorry about the crazy people made everthing bad now but i beleive the government can control in a few days.
Looking forward to welcome you next time.
Thank you,
Sad. Very sad for the peaceful people of Thailand.

The few peaceful days that we did have in Bangkok were very interesting. Locals and tourists ate fruit, noodles, meat on a stick and more from street vendors. Streets were lined with clothing and souvenir stalls. Men in turbans tried to get my attention with phrases such as, “I know your lover name.” Women tried to get Ryan’s attention yelling, “maa-sauge for you sir?” Old fat white men ran around with young beautiful tiny Thai women. Hmmm. I wonder, is there a potential gain in access to resources for these women that out weighs the seemingly wrong-ness of the situation? Maybe there is more that I need to learn (because I don’t know much about it), but the scenario seems rather disgusting.

Which reminds me, while we sat in the Tokyo Airport waiting for our flight to Bangkok a white man from the U.S. in his 60’s struck up a conversation with me when Ryan left to buy water. He asked if this was my first trip to Thailand, I replied “yes.” He told me about the Thai New Year Festival that we would encounter. And, then he said he had spent more than 150 days in Thailand over the past year. “150 days the past year?! Wow that is a lot! Do you travel there for work,” I asked? “Um,” pause………..”Um,” pause……….”vacation,” he said. I thought to myself, Jen you idiot! You know the sex trade industry is booming in Bangkok and the look on the man’s face and his hesitation confirmed it. Uggh!

Sadly, we only have the photos on this page to share of Bangkok and guava juice :) We hope to visit Thailand again in a more peaceful time.


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