Giving Back at Bangkok’s Anti-Government Protests

The People Have Revolted in Thailand

Over the past month, an estimated 500,000 anti-government protesters have peacefully gathered in Bangkok.

They have marched, rallied, closed down city streets and taken over government buildings.

 

What do the protesters want?

Nothing less than the resignation of Thailand’s elected Prime Minister: Ms Yingluck Shinawatra.

Most recently, Shinawatra has dissolved Thailand’s Parliament, stating “I don’t want our country and the Thai people to suffer from more losses.”

However, this is unlikely to appease protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who has demanded power be transferred to an unelected “people’s council.” ¹

 

Protesters move by the truckload in Bangkok, Thailand.
Protesters move by the truckload in Bangkok, Thailand.

 


Violence just before I arrived

In the days before I arrived in Bangkok, grenade launchers were fired, tear gas and rocks were thrown, hundreds of people were injured and five were killed.

However, in a surprise move, the army put down their riot gear and let the protesters occupy the Government House.

The truce was a calculated decision by Shinawatra; in an effort to curtail the escalating violence before King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 86th birthday.

 

To participate in any act of protest or disorder on the King's birthday is considered a huge offense.
To participate in any act of protest or disorder on the King’s birthday is a huge offense.

 


A truce for King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Birthday

The truce worked, temporarily, as the majority of protesters returned home to be with their families and celebrate the King’s birthday.

The rest stayed behind to help clean the streets in an act of service to honor His Majesty.

This was when I arrived in Bangkok; on the day before the King’s birthday.

 

Huge trucks of water sprayed down the street in front of the Democracy Monument in Bangkok
Huge trucks of water sprayed down the street in front of the Democracy Monument in Bangkok

 

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters picked up brooms and cleaning supplies to make the street spotless.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters picked up brooms and cleaning supplies to make the street spotless.

 

Yellow flags are hung in honor of the King of Thailand.
Yellow flags are hung in honor of the King of Thailand.

 


Experiencing both sides of the revolution

In 2009, I arrived in Bangkok during the infamous Red Shirt protests.

Without trying, my wife and I found ourselves in the middle of it all and even spent a day behind the scenes in the Red Shirt encampment.

It was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

read more at: Molotov Cocktails, Burning Buses & the Red Shirts

 

Four years later, fate brought me to Bangkok during the Yellow Shirt protests.

I knew I wanted to see them first-hand; but didn’t know where to start.

Then, I met Natee: a local Thai photographer who had been to the protests and was excited to go back with me by his side.

As I climbed onto the back of his Vespa and held on for dear life, my mind was racing at the thought of what awaited.

 

A truck full of protesters drives by the Democracy Memorial in Bangkok.
A truck full of protesters drives by the Democracy Memorial in Bangkok.

 

Anti-government pins for sale at the Central Government Complex in Bangkok
Anti-government pins for sale at the Central Government Complex in Bangkok

 

The general mood among the protesters was positive and upbeat.
The general mood among the protesters was positive and upbeat.

 

Protesters hold on as they are transported to the next cleanup spot.
Protesters hold on as they are transported to the next cleanup spot.

 


The happiest protest ever

As I watched the anti-government protesters scrubbing down the streets, I was amazed at the smiles and jocular nature of the scene.

Just 48 hours earlier, these same people had reached a boiling point and were ready to take up arms.

Yet, here they were; laughing and cleaning while the man with the hose secretly delighted in getting everyone’s feet wet.

 

I can't be certain, as this man always had the same stoic look on his face, but I'm pretty sure this man was purposely and playfully aiming his jet of water at people's feet.
I can’t be certain, as this man always had the same stoic look on his face, but I’m pretty sure he was purposely and playfully aiming his jet of water at people’s feet.

 

 

 


Stockpiling bottled water is not a sign of giving up

In addition to cleaning up the streets, protesters were busy moving thousands of water bottles from trucks to the front of the Democracy Monument.

With that much water, the protests can go on indefinitely.

 

Thousands of water bottles were stockpiled in front of Bangkok's Democracy Monument
Thousands of water bottles were stockpiled in front of Bangkok’s Democracy Monument

 

Protesters lined up to move bottled water from trucks to the front of the Democracy Monument.
Protesters lined up to move bottled water from trucks to the front of the Democracy Monument.

 


One month earlier in Bangkok…

Although I was not in Bangkok, Thailand, for the start of the anti-government protests, my friend Natee was.

An amazing photographer, Natee was kind enough to allow me to use these four photographs of Democracy Monument on November 5, 2013.

 

Photography by Neng
Photography by Natee

 

Photography by Neng
Photography by Natee

 

Photography by Neng
Photography by Natee

 

Photography by Neng
Photography by Natee

 


Democracy for sale

I don’t know why the entrepreneurial spirit continues to amaze me; but it does.

All around the protesters’ encampment at the Central Government Complex in Bangkok, vendors had set up stalls selling pro-Thailand paraphernalia.

With items ranging from tee shirts to wristbands, hats, balloons and pins, it was fascinating to see such a display of capitalism.

 

Pro-Thailand merchandise for sale near the Central Government Complex in Bangkok
Pro-Thailand merchandise for sale near the Central Government Complex in Bangkok
It's not a protest without spotting a V For Vendetta mask...
It’s not a protest without spotting a V For Vendetta mask…

 


Have you ever been to a protest?

What is your opinion of what’s going on in Thailand?

  • Richard McDonald

    Great post, Greg. I was on the verge of booking our flights to Thailand when the protests broke out. As I read everything I could about the protests, I decided to wait a bit and see how things would turn out. I am still not sure I should go, even though June is a fair ways out… The smiling faces and the peaceful nature of the protesters make me want to book, but the reports of violence and death scare me. Admittedly, I don’t really understand what is going on and how long the protests will last. All of this adds up to me stalling the bookings.

    By the way, I love your photographs! The photo of the 10,000 lanterns is absolutely amazing. Your blog is one of the reasons I want to visit Thailand. Keep up the good work!

    Richard

    • Thanks so much Richard. Your kind words fill me with joy.

      As for delaying your trip due to the protests, I completely understand where you are coming from. That said, I would say that these protests should not change your plans and that a trip to Thailand is just as good an idea as it ever was.

      The protests are really isolated to a small area and as of now it seems that the end is closer than ever. Plus, they really are a marvel to experience.

      Anyway, thanks again for your comment and have a beautiful day!

      Greg

  • Vince Babkirk

    Great post and photos Greg. We’ve followed the protests closely as we are going to Thailand next week. No thoughts of cancelling though. The protests remind me of the protest against the VN war in the 60s at SF State and UC Berkeley. If you were 3 or4 blocks away you wouldn’t even know anything was going on. It amazes me how non-violent these protests have remained.

    Cause and effect? You were there for the red shirt protests and now you’re there for the yellow shirt protests. Maybe, the problem is you being there. LOL

    Be safe and keep up the awesome work.

    Vince

    • Hahaha, yeah. I guess I should start staying away from politically turbulent areas, lets I start any more revolutions :)

      Seriously though, thanks for sharing your memories of the VietNam protests. The thought of my fellow Americans once again uprising like that fills me with hope for the future.