From Tear Gas to Water Fights
Trip Start Sep 28, 2009
92Trip End Apr 22, 2011
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Where I stayed
C.H. 2 Guest House
The border crossing across Friendship Bridge was astonishing easy. The Laos immigration happy stamped the sheet of paper that held our Thai visa and I think the Thai immigration at the other side of the bridge only placed his stamp on it because the other officer had.....he looked very confused when he handed the forms back. Still not complaining we are now in Thailand and things should now get easier.......Ha Ha!!
We met really nice couple from Belgium on the bus who were actually in Tadlo the same time as us but hadn't realised the trouble we'd had. They recommended a guest house just off Khoa San Road that is really cheap the staff are very friendly. Always one to go with a recommendation we followed them off the bus and booked into a basic but clean room - no TV, no hot water, no clean fresh towels but then again it is only £4 a night.
Walking round Khoa San road the first thing you notice is everyone is rushing around, rushing at you, shouting, beeping.......Oh we are in Laos mode (LPDR) we can’t think that fast never mind move that fast. There is only one thing for it run and hide in the sanctuary of McDonalds....5 weeks without a Big Mac is hard you know.
There is political unrest at the moment in Thailand, the people want a re-election so they can get rid of the present regime. We had heard there were protests in Bangkok and once we found out we had to come here we set about asking any backpacker who had come via the city if there was any problems. Most of them had seen little or no sign of the protestors, some had said they were camped at the end of Khao San Road but there had been no trouble.
No trouble, no they waited until we turned up for that. While sitting in McDonalds enjoying some cool aircon and escaping the heat of the day (we were also nicking the free Wi-Fi from the coffee shop next door) people started running past. Most of them looking over their shoulders like someone was chasing them and then temporary barriers started being dragged out and put up in the streets. We cleared our trays and went outside to have a look. At the end of Khoa San Road you could see a number of people in red shirts and flags being waved. It looked harmless enough at this stage but we took no chances and started walking to the end of the road away from the trouble.
Every restaurant had the TV on showing the local news and every stall holder had the radio on relaying the speakers. Something was about to happen you could feel it in the air, stall holders packed up hurriedly, shops pulled shutters down, children were swept up off the streets. All you needed was two gun men in Stetsons and tumbleweed blowing down the street and you where in a western.
What we could gather from the local news was the police had shown up to move the protestors on but neither party were going to budge. Time was getting on and we had 200 protestors standing between us and our room. After a few Pepsi’s in a local bar and we braved the walk back to our guesthouse. Things at this time still seemed relatively civil so we gingerly threaded ourselves through the river of red and back to the safety of our room.
The noise outside our window was unbelievable, it started with the speaker on a PA system stirring the crowd up, always followed by lots of cheering. Then the helicopter arrived and all hell let loose. The helicopter was spraying the crowd with teargas to break them up, the crowd retaliated by throwing firecrackers and fireworks at the police. The police then fired rubber bullets and more teargas on the crowd, who then started with the firebombs and somewhere in the middle of all that was a nutcase with an M16.
We tried to go next door to our guesthouse to get some food, there was no trouble in our street and we just needed a quick snack. In the time it took us to walk two doors down, our eyes were streaming, noses, throat and skin burning from the effects of the teargas still in the air. It was very unpleasant and we ducked back into our guesthouse to wash our faces and rid ourselves of the effects. Afraid to leave the building again our lovely landlady took pity on us and fed us a bowl of instant noodles while filling us in on the news outside.
The trouble died down about midnight and we woke up early, venturing out to get some food. The place was a ghost town, if you have ever been to Khoa San Road then you know it is a street that never sleeps whatever time of day or night there will be stall holders happy to sell you a pair of trousers or a fresh orange juice, but this morning there were none. We cross the street over broken glass and bits of debris, all evidence of the night before trouble. Gunshot holes in the wall held most of the tourist’s interest as well as the shrines to the fallen, shot dead in the battle. The atmosphere was solemn, the shock of so many deaths at what seems like a peaceful protest. Most shops stayed closed all day and locals and tourists roamed around looking lost and shocked from the previous night’s disturbance. We spent the day watching films and trying not to spend any money, chatting to fellow tourists and keeping an eye on the atmosphere just in case Saturday night wasn’t a one off.
Monday morning was our big day with the British Embassy and the next step towards us getting our passports. We arrived at the gates at 8am and managed to speak to someone straightaway. The lady was extremely helpful and she made the whole process uncomplicated and effortless. We left the Embassy happier than we have been in weeks with a promise that we will have a new passport in 4 days.
There was a different atmosphere in the air as we journeyed back to Khoa San Road, our taxi took us passed the other Red Protesters camp in Siam Square but there was a party mood.....flags flying, horns tooting and people waving. When we got back to our road it was mayhem Songkran had started early. Songkran is Thai New Year (our third one in four months) and it’s a mad water festival. Everything from water pistols to massive water cannons are fired across the streets and soaking everyone and anyone that walks by. It was such a contrast from the serious feel of the last two days to this crazy celebration of spiritual cleansing.
By the next morning Songkran celebrations were well under way and you couldn’t walk from one end of Khoa San Road to the other without getting soaked and covered with paste. As with all traditions this one has been taken to the extreme. If you look up Songkran you will see it’s about spiritual cleaning and washing away the old ready for the new. Time and the invention of pump action water pistols has changed that. It’s good fun and there is nowhere you can go without getting attacked even outside our guesthouse the little girl has a dustbin full of water and gun bigger then her. As the day goes on then the stakes get high, people are now filling their guns up with ice water from the drinks buckets. There is also the ritual with the paste - flour and water is mixed together and put either on your face or arms as a form of blessing, only by the time you have walked one end of the street to the other you have had twenty people bless you and you look like you’ve got mad with the factor 50. Gary boasted that he hadn’t been touched by so many girls before, I pointed out that not all those girls were girls!!!!
Some of the funniest sights have been, old ladies sitting in doorways with massive pump action water guns and we saw two huge black guys, muscles everywhere, one of them had a Teddy Bear water tank on his back with a little water pistol attached. We sat outside our guest house for a while to get away from the mayhem and watched a man in his 40’s running up and down the street returning fire on the locals. To look at him you just know he has a very well paid job back in the UK and is probably a director or senior manager, only today he is running around like a kid soaked to the skin and covered in white paste. No-one is safe, not the delivery pizza man on his bike, not the local cat venturing out for a stroll, not even the poor backpacker just off the plane wandering up Khoa San Road looking for accommodation, luggage labels waving in the air ...they had heard there was trouble in Bangkok but this is ridicules!!!
The same people that only two nights ago where waving sticks and dodging bullets are now running around with water pistols and bowls of paste, they are still wearing their red shirts and bandanas even though the conventional dress for Songkran is a flowery Hawaiian looking shirt not unlike Gary’s red shorts. This is a three day event and we were knackered after the first day, our clothes are covered in white blobs and it maybe a case of if you can’t beat them then join them.......we’re going to buy a gun!!!!
We bought a cheap camera to tide us over until we can replace the main one, its a little Fuji and take an ok picture, great for the quick snap shots and luckily for us its waterproof which has come in very handy.
Hopefully we are getting back on track; the passports should be here by Friday, things have calmed down with the protestors and Songkran has been just what we needed to cheer us up and take our mind off our problems.
Day II of Songkran was more of the same only this time I was able to retaliate. Bought a pump action water gun and filled it with ice water.....life doesn’t get any better.
20th April 2010
The third and final day of Songkran was the most enjoyable, firstly because we were so knacked after the first two that we spent the day doing very little but mainly because we found ourselves in a great pavement cafe where we were welcomed by the locals and got involved in some serious shootouts with the opposite restaurant.
The end of Songkran also brought the end of the protesters next to Khoa San Road, but not the end of the protest. They have moved back to the Siam Square the centre of Bangkok, this was the original and biggest group of red shirt who had already taken over one the main shopping areas. Four massive malls have been closed now for over three weeks.
Friday had us up early and excited as kids on Christmas morning, we had to go back to the British embassy to collect our new passports. The lovely lady behind the counter recognised us and told us to wait a while as the courier hadn’t arrived yet. Finally an hour later we got called up and presented with our new, shiny, chipped passports and a free plastic cover to keep them in. We were ecstatic, things were all starting to fall in to place and the whole nasty experience was becoming less of a nightmare.
We got back to our guest house to find that FedEx had tried to deliver the parcel from the UK but as we weren’t around to sign for it would come back the next day. The parcel contained a few things that had been in the bag when it was stolen but mainly the reason was to send out our credit cards discreetly. Did you know it costs over £300 to send a credit card abroad by DHL and the post office won’t even consider it? Mind you the credit card was so carefully hidden in there even we couldn’t find it at first. We now have a new little ted as well courtesy of Mummy C’s trip to Southend Pier, he is called Bernie and is very cute.
So we now have funds and a passport the only thing left in to speak to Vietnam Embassy and try and get a new visa, these are £50 each if you want them done in a hurry, but we are hoping that they have good records and can see we haven’t used the old one yet, but this is a job for Monday. The weekend awaits and all we have to do is shop...now we have a credit card. Instead though we actually go and investigate a Watt that we visited 13 years ago and took some more photos. We also discovered the Venice of Bangkok, a small canal that winds through the city. As we got to it a canal boat was about to leave , so we got on. "Where to?" the conducer asked. “Not sure, just got on for the ride”. He charged us 20p each and we sat back and enjoyed the experience. The boat took us through back streets of Bangkok, showed us whole communities who live and breathe the river. Fishing in it, water their plants from it or even swim in it......which I am dam sure I would never do. The either side of the river is home to small two story houses, some well built, some pieced together with bit of different wood and bricks. Along the tow path in plastic chair sat locals, mending clothes, eating food or just watching the river go by. We got off the canal boat near the shopping area, right in the middle of the red shirts. With all the big malls shut I am struggling to replace my camera before we leave Bangkok, so we were looking for some smaller shopping malls to hopeful house one or two camera shops. The red shirts still seem fairly quiet, there is still a lot of chatter on the PA systems but most of them are just sitting round, chatting or buying things from one of the many market stalls that have been set up round the main area.
Another early start on Monday morning involved a trip to the Vietnam Embassy to try and persuade them to give us a new visa ....for free. After a brief explanation and a couple of miss communications we left the embassy with a brand new visa and it only cost us £20 admin fee rather than the £100 a fast track visa would have cost us. We then took the sky train to Silon Road to find the Singapore Airline offices and update our flight tickets with our new passport numbers. Then to finish a good day off we found a replacement camera the exact same one that was stolen.
We did however have a very unsettling walk down Silon Road, a well known area (mainly for Patpong Red Light area) but also because it houses some of the larger hotels and good shopping. The army had moved into the road, and there were hundreds of them, all holding rifles with (we think) rubber bullets in. It was the yards of razor wire across the pavements and the tanks parked at the side of the road that made you feel something was about to happen. Luckily nothing did .... or I would really start to wonder if we really were jinked or maybe actually starting these riots...as has been suggested!!! The top end of the street was the start of the red shirt protesters and this was the reason the army had been called in. Still we did what we came to do and then got the hell out....just in case.
We are now back on track, bus ticket booked for Cambodia tomorrow, only three weeks wasted. Well maybe not wasted it was good to come back to Thailand we needed to stock up on some personal items and it was a good excuse to buy some new clothes as things like our shorts were starting to show serious wear and tear. .....mainly Gary’s shorts had ripped at the crutch and with him not wearing pants......well I’ll leave that image with you.