Camping Bangkok Style

It’s 7th May late afternoon and I am waiting for my flight to Bangkok in Singapore’s Budget terminal. Despite the advice of Singaporean government not to travel to Thailand I am taking the opportunity to have a weekend getaway in the “City of Angels”. Lat couple of weeks were pretty though in Bangkok, with worst ever clashes between demonstrators and police in two decades which resulted in more than 20 dead including Japanese Reuters cameraman. With my love of photojournalism I set myself to take some pictures of demonstration and people affected by it.

After arriving to Bangkok I jumped into airport shuttle bus and off I was on the way to city. A hour later I checked in to my hotel. It was already dark so I left my “journalistic” work for next day.

Next morning I wake up, have breakfast and head out. It is 8am morning but sun is already in killer mood. It must be at least 35-38 Celsius in the shade. Add to it the heat of countless cooking stall’s on the street and you are pretty much boiling in the hell. I take BTS and head to Siam where one of the “Red Shirt” camps supposed to be located. And there it was, right under the sky-train station, entire street blocked by barricaded, cars, tents and temporary shelters. It feels strange. This area is usually buzzing with life, and is full of tourists. So early morning I am the only tourist there I guess. Later in the day i see more tourists coming but it’s nothing like “regular shopping paradise” that this area used to be. Siam Paragon shopping mall is closed all together and so are smaller shops alongside the street. Only few remain open but they clearly struggling to get some customers in. Tourism seemed to disappear from this part of Bangkok.

I started to walk up and down the street and snapping some pictures. Later I actually went inside the camp People were literally camping on the street. Due to heat lot of then did nothing just sleep or relax in front of a fan. At least those who had one.
I am not sure if they thought I was from press but they didn’t seem to mind me at all and I could walk in the camp freely. After 2 hours there I had coffee and lunch at MBK shopping center and headed back to hotel to get shower and take some rest during very hot mid-day.

Later afternoon I was about to visit second Red Shirt camp at Sala Daeng, much bigger than previous one. It looked like a fortress with barricades around the camp built from tires and bamboo stick up to the 2m of height. There was fairly strong military and police presence at this point, even though not as strong as I expected. Poor guys were really struggling in the heat dressed in full riot gear. Once again I was kindly allowed to enter the camp. People were nice to me, smiling when I smiled at them, offering me free water or invited me for some food. I kindly refused because I noticed the hygiene in the camp wasn’t the best. One woman also thanked me for visiting Thailand.

There was continuous propaganda speech broadcast from speakers. From Red Shirts leaders as well as ordinary people who expressed their frustrations and fears from current situation and future. Sometimes the speech got really loud and fierce. Once again there was no hostility from people towards me. I felt welcome. I met two other photographers in the camp. Both were professionals and Thai nationals. I was the only tourist and Caucasian there. Place was quite dirty and smelly since they were camping there couple of weeks now. Spirits were still high thought after so many days under the sky and soaring temperatures.

I left the camp before sunset and returned back next day morning for few more shots. Everything was exactly same like day before. Very hot weather already early morning, resting people carrying on with daily camping life. I met same kindness and smiles. Later on I spent some time on the other side of barricades, taking some pictures of troops and police forces. It seemed that they are fighting heat more than Red Shirts. Overall the situation was very calm and I could even say peaceful. Streets were much emptier with lack of tourism activity and only thing really out of place wast that huge barricade surrounding the camp.

At the time I write this article already back home, the situation has changed rapidly. Couple of days after my visit the violence has broken out once again. First one of Red Shirts leaders a suspended army major-general has been shot after a brief interview. His condition was critical but at he time I write this article he was still alive. A day later news reported new clashes and one week after my visit another 19 people are dead including 3 journalists covering the event. And this happened at the very same place I was walking in a week ago. I have just watched latest news and another gunfire has been reported in Sala Daeng. Somehow I can believe that those people could go so violent. There was new footage released of people beating up soldiers.. Quite crazy scenes.

I went to Thailand to cover these kind of events but instead I was welcomed by smiles. A week later 3 journalists are dead. Maybe some of those I saw in the camp week ago. It’s sad. I really hope both parties return to dialogue and solve their differences behind the table rather than on street. Thailand is a beautiful country and I hope we can call it “Land of Smiles” soon again.