Jan 13 2014
Well, folks, it’s on. The anti-government protesters have begun their latest bid to oust Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra through what they’ve dubbed a “Bangkok Shutdown“. The hype has led many travellers to cancel trips to the Thai capital this week, but in reality, right now at least, the campaign is currently more of an annoyance than a true shutdown.
The majority of protesters left their long-term rally site at Democracy Monument early this morning and are congregating at seven new protest areas. These are:
1. Sala Daeng intersection (east Silom Road across to the main Lumpini Park entrance)
2. Pathumwan intersection (front of MBK and Bangkok Art & Culture Centre)
3. Ratchaprasong intersection (Central World and west to Siam Square)
4. Asok (off lower Sukhumvit Road near Terminal 21)
5. Victory Monument traffic circle
6. Government Complex (off Chaeng Watthana Road in north Bangkok; only an issue for travellers who need to hit the immigration office)
7. Lat Phrao intersection (in east Bangkok; not on the radar for most travellers)
The intersection of Withayu (Wireless) and Rama IV roads, near the US embassy, is also closed, and some protesters will remain at Democracy Monument.
The protesters’ main goal appears to be to cause gridlock by occupying these major intersections, and to generally disrupt the government from functioning. Ironically, many of Bangkok’s roads are much clearer than normal thanks to the many commuters who either stayed home or took public transport.
Leaders have reportedly said that while the majority of protesters will stay at the main sites, satellite groups will march to various government offices, and they may attempt to occupy them. These are the most likely flashpoints for confrontations between protesters and police. At the main protest sites, protesters appear to be digging in for an extended stay — we saw many tents being set up in and around Lumpini Park Sunday evening.
Apart from a handful of isolated violent incidents that have generally occurred late at night (see here and here for examples), the protests have been largely peaceful so far, and foreigners have not been targeted in any way. In fact, the Bangkok Post has reported that 6,000 airport taxis have been given orange “tourist stickers” that will apparently allow them passage through protest zones in an effort to help travellers reach their hotels from the airport.
The government has deployed some 18,000 police officers and soldiers around the city, but their objective is to direct traffic and maintain order rather than crackdown on the protesters. Government, police and military leaders have repeatedly said that they will not interfere with protesters occupying intersections and marching through the capital. For now, violence is unlikely, but travellers should not linger at protest areas and should completely avoid them late at night.
While the protests are certainly an annoyance, this is far from a true “shutdown” of the city. The BTS skytrain, MRT subway, Airport Rail Link, BRT rapid bus, Chao Phraya express boats and San Saeb canal boats are all running as normal, and these are the best options for getting around the city. Public city buses are also running, though many will be forced to change normal routes to avoid the occupied intersections.
The sector of public transport worst affected are minibuses that operate out of the Victory Monument area. However, minibuses are still operating from many other areas, including Mo Chit / Chatuchak, Phaya Thai and Bang Na. Thankfully, all three of Bangkok’s long distance bus terminals are located outside of protest zones and will be unaffected. Long distance trains are also running as normal, and the protesters have vowed not to occupy either Suvarnabhumi or Don Muang airports.
Depending on where you’re going, it may be difficult to catch a taxi in Bangkok during the protests. If you find yourself stuck somewhere away from public transport, motorbike taxis are usualy willing to go just about anywhere. Tuk-tuks are also generally more open to passing through protest areas than taxis, though they may charge a premium for the service.
While the protesters have threatened to cut power to the prime minister’s residence and some government agencies, utilities such as electricity, water, phone (both land and cell), internet and television are not expected to be shut.
In terms of sightseeing, we would not change any plans based on the protests. Thonburi, Chinatown, Khao San Road, Dusit and Rattanakosin, which collectively include many of Bangkok’s most popular attractions, are all largely protest-free. The best way to reach these areas is by Chao Phraya express boat. Tuk tuks and taxis are available as usual within these areas, though catching one from Khao San to Siam or Sukhumvit, for example, could prove difficult.
The protests could however be a headache for anyone heading to Bangkok’s main shopping areas, with large gatherings taking place near MBK, Siam Square, Central World, Terminal 21 and several other large shopping malls. Yet all of these are open for business and they’re accessible directly from BTS stations such as National Stadium, Siam, Chid Lom and Asok.
During the last major protest day in late December, the only BTS station we had trouble accessing was Sala Daeng on Silom Road. If you’re planning a trip to this area, we recommend using nearby Chong Nonsi station instead. If you’re booking a hotel in the next few days, you might avoid Sala Daeng as well as Asok, Victory Monument and Siam Square.
Though we don’t currently believe it’s necessary to avoid the city altogether, those who want to be extra safe might stay near a BTS station southeast of Asok on Sukhumvit (i.e. Phrom Phong, Thong Lor, Ekkamai or On Nut), west of Sala Daeng and Rama IV Road on Silom or Sathorn (i.e. Surasak or Saphan Taksin), or across the river in Thonburi (i.e. Krung Thonburi or Wongwian Yai). From these areas, it’s relatively easy to take daytrips to outlying sites such as Erawan Museum, Ancient Siam and the Phra Phradaeng area. You could also take a bus to Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi or Ko Samet, to name a few, if Bangkok seems too intimidating during the protests.
How long this current wave of protests will last is anyone’s guess, but it’s likely that it will linger for anywhere from five to 20 days. If the government insists on going through with a controversial election planned for February 2, the protests could intensify in the coming weeks. If you’re planning a trip to Bangkok in the near future, your best bet is to watch the twitter feed on the Travelfish homepage, follow the Travelfish Facebook page and stay abreast of the latest developments by reading The Bangkok Post, Bangkok Pundit, Newley Purnell and Richard Barrow.
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