We had a full day yesterday. We walked out of our hotel planning to see Wat Pho and a few other landmarks in the area, but we ran into a protester roadblock within minutes. It was all very surreal, because this was during our first 5 minutes in Bangkok. We noticed that people were standing on the corners of the intersection, seemingly waiting for something. A woman with a bandana on her face walked up to an electoral poster of Yingluck Shinawatra, took out a pen and started crossing out one of the eyes on the poster. The poster was made of plastic, so the pen did not work. When the woman saw this, she got angry and started stabbing the eye in the poster with her pen. It was all very intense.
Our map showed that we had to walk right past the blockade, which was really just a few rows of tires stacked on the road. The sidewalk was accessible so we walked past the blockade, but we quickly got spooked when we saw a guy wearing a steel helmet and noticed that most people were walking the other way. We decided to turn around and just walk up the street that was perpendicular to the blockade.
What happen next changed our day and our plans for the trip. We were waiting on an island in the middle of a large intersection, trying to cross the road when a fourty-year old Thai man approached us and said hello. I guess we looked lost, because he asked us where we were going. His English was pretty good and was speaking quickly, as though he was in a big hurry to get somewhere. We showed him our map where the owner of our hotel had circled some landmarks for us in red marker. He looked at the map and explained the following very quickly: "Welcome to Thailand. You should leave Bangkok before Saturday, because there will be a big protest on the weekend and you might get stuck here. Stay away from Khao San Road, because that's where protesters and supporters of the government are clashing. There was a car bomb there yesterday."
Initially, we wanted to spend a bit more time in Bangkok, but car bombs are not really our thing.
He circled a few places we should go see:
1) Wat Intharawihan
2) Tourist Information Centre
3) Wat Saket (The Golden Mount)
4) China Town
He recommended that we take a tuk-tuk to get there, just as a tuk-tuk driver was approaching. We hailed the tuk-tuk, shook the strangers hand and he walked away.
Walking in Bangkok is tricky, especially for someone coming from Canada. I don't even jay walk in Canada, because I don't want to spend any extra brain cycles figuring out when it's safe to cross. In Bangkok nobody respects traffic signals. Crosswalks are irrelevant. Traffic lanes are irrelevant. For us this meant that there were times when we could not cross the road. We were stuck like gnus in front of a raging river. It was funny, in retrospect.
I thought crossing the road in Bucharest was hard, but traffic in Bucharest has nothing on Bangkok. At least in Bucharest if you are on a cross walk, cars will stop. In Bucharest cars don't stick to their lanes and sometimes two lanes are organically transformed into three. In Bangkok, the road is a total free-for-all. Pedestrians, motorcycles, tuk-tuks and cars all interweave to create a smooth but chaotic mix.
Another interesting thing we noticed is that public spaces are treated very differently here. Sidewalks are used as extensions of the shops next to them. People cook on the sidewalks, do work there, use the sidewalks for storage. It's a very open and friendly culture.
We ended up visiting Wat Intharawihan where a friendly security guard taught us how to bow in front of the Buddha. I was reluctant at first, because I dislike religious ceremony, but I did not want to offend the guard. The temples are very beautiful and impeccably clean. Wat Saket, The Golden Mount was peaceful and offered a great view of the city.
We will be flying to Krabi today. Preammy and Poo, the people at the Tourist Information Centre were really helpful and managed to get us a flight out of Bangkok. They also advised us to leave Bangkok, saying that the protest is likely to intensify this weekend, because more protesters from the south of Thailand are coming up to Bangkok.
I really hope the political conflict here will be resolved soon.