Jan 16 2014

What exactly is shut down in Bangkok?

Published by at 6:14 am under Practicalities

The catchphrase “Bangkok Shutdown” worked well to drum up hype for the latest wave of anti-government protests, and it continues to convince many foreign travellers to cancel trips to the Thai capital. Yet all public transport (save a few public buses), all vital utilities and most businesses are operating as normal. So what exactly has the “shutdown” shut down?

East Silom has become a walking street during the "shutdown".

East Silom has become a walking street during the “shutdown”.

Some key stretches of major roads have fully or partially closed due to the locations of main protest sites, outlined on this map by Richard Barrow. These include south Asok Montri Road and part of nearby Sukhumvit; east Silom Road and the intersection with Rama IV across to Lumpini Park; Rama I Road from Ratchadamri to Phaya Thai in the Siam Square area; part of the Victory Monument traffic circle; east Phahonyothin Road to Lat Phrao Road and part of Chaeng Watthana Road near Government Complex.

Collectively, these points include several areas popular with travellers (Siam Square, Silom, Sukhumvit), potentially making it difficult to catch a taxi — especially in the early evening when protest crowds tend to swell. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — the BTS sky train, MRT subway, Chao Phraya express boats and San Saeb canal boats are your friends.

Despite the road closures, traffic remains unusually light in much of the city. At the moment, it’s business as usual on Khao San Road, in Chinatown and around the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and other major attractions in the historic Rattanakosin district. All major shopping malls have remained open, though some located close to protest zones have been closing an hour or two early.

On the other hand, protest groups have consistently marched to various offices around the city, temporarily shutting down some roads away from the normal protest sites en route. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to predict where protesters will march on a given day.

Even the largest gatherings at Pathumwan haven't stopped the sky train.

Even the largest gatherings near Siam Square haven’t stopped the sky train.

While the protests have thus far failed to completely shut down the government, they have temporarily prevented certain government (and other) offices from functioning. Of these, the most notable for foreign travellers is the main immigration office off Chaeng Watthana Road, which has been shut since the “shutdown” began on January 13.

However, immigration remains open at temporary offices from 10:30 to 18:30, Monday through Friday. You can find them on the first floor of Major Hollywood at Suksawat Soi 60 near Phra Phradaeng, and on the fifth floor of Imperial World Ladphrao, between Lat Phrao Soi 81 and Soi 83, in east Bangkok. Here’s a map pinpointing both offices.

The protesters have also shut (or threatened to shut) several government ministries and other offices, including the Thai Customs Department, Ministry of Commerce, Department of Public Works, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Labour, and — most notably for foreigners — Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They also plan to shut down revenue offices and cut power to the homes of some government leaders. In the past, they have also targeted the Ministry of Interior and National Police Headquarters.

The Thailand t-shirt trade has definitely not been shut down.

The Thailand T-shirt trade has definitely not been shut down.

Most of these closures last no longer than a few hours or a day, and they generally have little effect on foreign travellers. The offices are located in many different parts of the city, however, and the crowds marching to/from them could cause problems for travellers looking to catch a taxi or bus.

On Wednesday, a radical anti-government wing threatened to block the Aerothai office, which oversees air traffic control in Thailand. If this actually transpired, it would spell major flight disruptions throughout Thailand and beyond. But the main protest leaders have vowed not to interfere with public transport systems in any way, and the Aerothai blockade did not materialise following a 20:00 Wednesday deadline. In response to the same group’s threat to surround the Thai stock exchange (SET), it moved its operations to another part of town as many employees were sent home.

For now, at least, Bangkok is still very much a visitable place. The closed roads, sporadic movements of protesters and temporary immigration offices will no doubt cause some headaches, but the protests have remained almost entirely peaceful, with only a handful of isolated violent incidents taking place after dark. At this stage, our advice from a few days ago stands; keep an eye on the situation, stick to public transport, and have fun in Bangkok.

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