Battembang next (still in Cambodia), close to Thai border. Scored the most fantastic room with a balcony overlooking the river for $17pn. A resident ex-pat explained that the hotel is probably a money laundering operation, that on paper it would always be full and a conduit for illegal money. Makes sense. In any event, we’re the winners! Town itself is all low-rise set either side of the Sangar River and dotted with extremely well preserved colonial buildings and Buddhist temples. Really nice feel, slow and country-townish.
One day hired a tut-tuk and drove around the surrounding area looking at more wats (really great this time as there was no tourist buses), the bamboo railway, bat caves and puttering through little villages with more waving and smiling from the locals. For the rest of our 3 days just walked around looking at the markets and beautiful Frenchified buildings. Really nice relaxing time.
Now for Bangkok. The bus dropped us off near the airport (way out of town) saying that it couldn’t go further because of the anti-government riots and could be dangerous. Took almost 2 hours of sky train, walking and ferry to get to Rambuttri, our usual sleeping area. Was nonsense that there was any danger – the place was fairly quiet in fact.
Next day lobbed on Andrew, Peter’s nephew who works and lives in Bangkok. Nice little condo with fabulous views in Sukhumvit on the 18th floor. Lovely to see Andrew again. Now this is really where the action is – the anti-government protesters have blocked off all main roads leading to Bangkok’s busiest intersection, built a huge stage in the middle of the road complete with massive house-sized speaker banks and the protesters have moved in with tents, mobile toilets, mobile kitchens etc. The organisation is incredible.
There are thousands of protesters, all with whistles, red white and blue banners, hand clapping devices, the lot. And they make an incredible amount of noise all day and late into the night, either speeches with resultant clapping, whistles and screaming or bands and entertainers geeing the ever increasing/decreasing crowd up. Like I said, extremely noisy but with an almost party vibe, due no doubt to the complete absence of army or police (at this stage at least). We can hear everything very clearly in the condo as the sound waves bounce around all the high rise buildings. This is only one of many similar sites around the city, all with the same aim; to bring Bangkok to a standstill and force the Prime Minister to resign, due to alleged vote-rigging and massive corruption. This is, of course, a very shallow and probably ill-informed synopsis of the matter, it’s complicated like all political situations, but that’s the bones of it.
Through all this Peter and I have been exploring around the area, completely different to Rambuttri. This is the beat of ex-pats with expensive shops and top-end restaurants. Due to the protests we have our packs searched constantly, many of the large department stores have entrances blocked off so you have to take an extremely circuitous route to get anywhere.
After a week of shut-downs, protests and marches the government has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok. This means that the police and army have enormous powers of search, imprisonment, breaking up gatherings of 4 or more people etc. Hope and pray (figuratively of course) things don’t get nasty as the situation could easily explode. No doubt if anything dire happens it’ll be on the news. We, meantime, have just arrived in Krabi for 3 weeks of getting fit and gearing up for work.
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