Bangkok Revolution: on the Front Line!

Chaos in Bangkok, 1 December 2013

Yellow shirts

Protesters in Bangkok – They want to take down the current government. (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

The Thai political situation is complex, but put simply: the government in power is supported by the Red Shirts, mostly rural folks. They’re being challenged by a coalition of protesters, mostly middle class city dwellers including the Yellow Shirts, student groups, and others. The protesters are trying to topple the current government, and have taken to the streets of Bangkok in huge numbers to do it.

Smashed taxi near Rakhamhaeng University - now road blockade.

Before a taxi, now a roadblock. (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

Rakhamhaeng University

Around Ramkhamhaeng university are the most violent and dangerous protests. The day before some taxis and buses transporting Red Shirts to a stadium for a rally were attacked and several people were killed by gunfire.

Violence around Rajamangala Stadium Bangkok during riot yellow red shirts

Violence around Rajamangala Stadium: smash, smash, and smash

The streets here are obviously dangerous, with frightened citizens peering out under heavy metal shutters. The streets are thick with broken glass and makeshift weapons are strewn around from previous clashes. We saw dangerous looking groups of youths striding around aggressively, brandishing homemade clubs.

Bangkok riot - weapon

Weapons: iron bars, broken bottles, and Molotov cocktails. (Photos taken with Xperia Z1 except for the left one)

Protesters burning the red shirts flag.

Protesters burning the red shirt flag

The Red Shirts at their staging area are protected by the riot police and move only in large numbers. The university students and other protesters nearby are hostile and will attack if the Red Shirts seem vulnerable.

Red shirts truck. A few hours after bloodshed fight between yellow shirts and red shirts happened. Rajamangala Stadium, Bangkok.

A Red Shirts truck leaving their basecamp at Rajamangala Stadium. A bloody fight with the protesters happened here just a few hours ago. (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

At a nearby intersection tense ambulance drivers wait to be called. As we watch one ambulance arrives carrying a body wrapped in a cloth, dead from gunshot wounds sustained in the violence that morning. The driver stops and opens the hatch to allow the other medics to take pictures of the body with their phones.

Dead bodies of Red Shirts inside this ambulance. The bodies were found around Rajamangala Stadium (near Rakhamhaeng University, Bangkok) - Red shirts' basecamp, upon a bloody fight with yellow shirts

Inside this ambulance: death bodies from the stadium. (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

Nearby the protesters have set up a roadblock and are inspecting every vehicle coming through. There are some tense moments when a rather oblivious old man tries to ride through the checkpoint wearing a red t-shirt.

Yellow shirts check point near Rakhamhaeng University Bangkok catch red shirts

Wrong shirt, dude… Red is no go today! (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

Now and then we saw reporters carrying huge camera and arm-sized zoom lenses, wearing body armor and riot helmets. Very bulky and very obvious. We chose to stay slim and mobile so we could sneak through the crowd and blend in with the without getting noticed, then get away quickly when the situation turned dangerous. Besides, we’re not really journalists, but are here to experience the protest, rather than just taking photos. In fact, this let us roam through dangerous places where we saw no reporters at all.

Reporters and journalists wearing body armor and helmet during Bangkok Protest

Reporters and journalists wearing body armor and helmet. (Photo taken with Xperia Z1 from far distance)

Mobility is important for us. So we just wore our normal outfits – t-shirt and pants – and brought just small but powerful cameras: the mirrorless camera E-PL2 for zooming far ahead, and slim-rugged-waterproof Xperia Z1. Yes, it’s just a smartphone, but it’s waterproof – very important in case we get blasted by a water-cannon.  It has an HDR mode to take photos under backlit conditions, and a Timeshift Burst mode to capture the best scene out of many when the action is fast and furious. These features are great for the rapidly changing and dynamic conditions that we were facing that day. In fact almost all of the photos shown in this post were taken using this cell phone camera!

Sony's XperiaZ1 smartphone

Dina with her mirrorless Olympus E-PL2 camera and Sony Xperia Z1 smartphone. That’s all she had roaming through the riot.

Siam

In the tourist and commercial heart of the city, Siam Square, the protesters jam Sukhumvit Road. The huge malls that line the street have shut down and a festive atmosphere prevails.

Thousands of Yellow shirts supporters protesting in front of Police Headquarters Siam Bangkok Thailand

Thousands of protesters in front of Police Headquarters Siam. (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

Bangkok Riot - Yellow Shirts fashion

Protest fashion. (Some photos are taken with Xperia Z1)

Yellow shirts peaceful riot in front of Police Headquarters Siam Bangkok Thailand

Protesters blockade in front of Police Headquarters Siam. (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

The protesters here are in good spirits and have blockaded the police headquarters. The police are lined up behind barricades and stare calmly as protesters shout slogans through loudspeakers.

Yellow shirts mass protest in front of Police Headquarter Siam Bangkok

Mass protest in front of Police Headquarter Siam. (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

Barb wire in police headquarters siam bangkok thailand riot

Barbed wire in police headquarters Siam. (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

Government House

Government House, one of the centers of administration, is the big target. Occupying it will be a big step towards victory for the protesters in their attempted coup d’etat. It has been blockaded on all sides.

Barricade made of layers of concrete walls and barb wire and police force around Government House Bangkok - yellow shirts riot 2013 2R

Barricades around Governmebt House: layers of concrete walls and barbed wire. Behind it, armoured police force – can you see their helmeted heads? (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

One side is fairly quiet and mostly manned by elderly and peaceful protesters. They seem to be having a festival more than a protest – after some fiery speeches they turn on the Thai music and a dance party breaks out.

Dancing party during Bangkok Protest 2013 near Government House

Dance Dance Revolution! (Left photo taken with Xperia Z1)

At 6 pm, both sides – protesters and armoured riot police, still standing face to face separated by barbed wired barricades – put aside their conflict for a solemn moment, standing respectfully and singing the national anthem honouring the King. The booming voices of the police in unison military-style contrast with the raucous singing of the protesting masses. Still, it’s a reminder of how even in this chaos the people of Thailand’s loyalty to their king and nation is beyond question.

Yellow shirts head to head with police singing Thai national anthem honouring the king - Bangkok Protest 2013 2R

Halt the protest! Hail the King of Thailand! (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

Yellow shirts head to head with police singing Thai national anthem honouring the king - Bangkok Riot 2R

Even in this chaos, Thai’s loyalty to their King and nation is beyond question! (Photo taken with Xperia Z1)

Government House Battle

Around the other side of Government House a different kind of protest is happening. There, protesters are actively fighting the police and attempting to topple concrete barriers to move in and occupy Government House.

Tension between bangkok protesters and riot police

Tension between Bangkok protesters and riot police is really high. An attack can happen any second now. Gear up for the tear gas and water canon!

Several barriers have already been knocked down when we arrive, and tear gas can still be detected in the air. We make our way to the front of the crowd and stare over the barriers at the phalanx of riot police at the other side. As the people creep forward, the police loudspeaker screams, in Thai, “If you approach the barriacades we will deploy the tear gas!”

toppled concrete and barbed wire barricade sat by Bangkok protesters - riot police are in the other side of the multilayered barricade

Toppled concrete and barbed wire barricade now controlled by Bangkok protesters. Riot police are still secure behind several more layers of barricade

Even though the goal of these protests is to topple the government, both the police and protesters have been remarkably friendly and welcoming. Protest paraphernalia is being handed out freely though the crowd. Trucks arrive every 20 or 30 minutes dropping off loads of free food and water, and there’s always at least one person who, unasked, fetches a meal or two for us. Others circulate through the mob dropping off snack cakes and bottles of Red Bull to keep the energy levels up.

 

Tear gas survival kit

Gear up! Power up! (Some photos taken with Xperia Z1)

Gear to survive teargassing is everywhere. Goggles, plastic bags, eye drops or big bottles of saline solution, cloths and masks to wrap around your face. Protesters approach us and give us tips on the right way to bag our heads to keep the tear gas from getting in.

Tear gas survival kits: Goggles, face mask, wet towel,  and plastic bag over the head

Tear gas survival kits: To breathe or not to breathe. (Photo of Dina taken with Xperia Z1)

Now and then we start to choke with no visible source of gas – it’s tear gas the police are pumping through the sewers. Someone will drag a heavy blanket soaked in water and plug up the offending grate.

After hours of tension, prepared for violence to explode at any moment, the protest leaders issue an ultimatum to the government: accept their demands or the mob will attack tomorrow in the morning. Supporters are encouraged to get enough rest for more action next day. Most stay up for a Red Bull-fueled all night session of chanting slogans and shouting at the police barricade. Those without so much energy lie down on plastic mats along the road to sleep. We made our way back through the empty streets to our hotel to charge our batteries and plan the next day.

Dina and Ryan DuaRansel at Bangkok Protest 2013

So long!

These protests are still ongoing, and the opposition leader has announced a deadline of Monday, December 9 to either succeed in overthrowing the government or surrender. Would a victory for the protestors represent a triumph over corrupt rulers? Or would it be a democratic government removed by a mob? I won’t pretend to understand the complexities of the political issues involved here. But being on the front lines of a raging battle was a uniquely fascinating experience, and we’re looking forward to see what happens next.

Bangkok Mini Guide

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36 Responses to “Bangkok Revolution: on the Front Line!”

  1. Ailtje
    7 December 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    What an adventure. I hope both of you decide not to go back to Bangkok and enjoying Cambodia. Stay safe!

  2. riri
    10 December 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    Wow, great report! But pretty risky. Hope you guys had enough and are heading to a safer place.

  3. Joshua
    16 December 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    WOW! I’m looking for a phone with a great camera.
    Do you recommend Z1 as a phone that has the best camera ?

    http://www.travelshroom.com

  4. Yola Leiwakabessy
    17 December 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    Saya pengen bisa jalan-jalan keliling dunia kayak dua ransel xD
    Tadi juga ada foto jurnalis, saya juga sedang menekuni bidang yang sama di universitas Jogja. Pekerjaan menantang! :) dan saya ingin kartu pos Angkor Wat dari dua ransel, pliiiisss.. @yolaleiwa

  5. Nurul Qomaria
    17 December 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    Kakkkk.. Aku mau ikutan kuis nya :D

    @qomarianq

  6. Rohmatul Izza
    17 December 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    this is a great traveler,, baru kali ini ada backpacker yang gak umuum,, benar2 beda dari kebanyakan backpacker,benar2 menantang maut,, dan aku punya julukan baru buat mbak dina dan kak ryan yaitu Unique traveler, dan demi sebuah rasa penasaran, bisa nekat masuk di barikade… benar2 W.O.W
    menakjubkan dan gokilll.. (-3-)

    akun twitter @Izzu_Marizu

  7. rahayuni
    17 December 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    Pertama kali liat foto kakak berdua di twitter pas di Thailand, pikirku nih orang cari mati apa ya. Kalo traveling ya ke pantai atau kemana gitu, eh malah di-tengah” orang demo. Ngeri tapi keren juga, bisa foto”. Saya juga suka fotografi kak :). oia kak, itu foto taxi-nya HDR ya? Fotonya bagus” kak,, keren..Hmm…jadi inget, tadi sore liat baliho di jalan: “FOTOGRAFER ITU BIASA, FOTOGRAFER PERANG ITU GUE”

    asik deh kakak berdua.. salut..

    @rahayuni

  8. Muh. Akbar (@indonesianholic)
    17 December 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    Awal saya melihat #RevolusiBangkok ini dari TL @duaransel,
    Pengalaman yang berbeda di negeri orang datang disaat terjadi konflik dan dijadikan sebagai wisata adrenalin. Salut.
    Mungkin sebagian orang akan berlarian dan pengen cepat2 sembunyi. Dari TL di twitter juga saya bisa lebih cepat dapat informasi dibanding dari News TV Indonesia,

    Liburan sambil ngeliput perang,
    Hanya milik mas Ryan dan Mba Dina @duaRansel

    #kartuposduaranselangkorwat

    Salam
    @indonesianholic

  9. Erinintyani Shabrina
    18 December 2013 at 12:30 am #

    ini bener” posting yg bikin deg”an (timelinemu jg ka dina errr) bikin perut mules. sepanjang pengetahuanku sebagai makhluk Hubungan Internasional yg semasa kuliah nyicip bragam analisa konflik eymm; demo trjadi krn masyarakat menuntut perdana menteri Yingluck utk lengser krn korupsi tapi perdana menteri gk bersedia. aku salut krn walaupun demo itu brjalan sbg suara anti pemerintah tapi ttap protester bawa dan bikin atribut yg msh mengandung identitas negaranya. trus pas Raja Thai ulgtahun demo ktanya brhenti ya sehari utk perayaan (disini bisa gk yah bgitu haha). tapi bnr deh klo ka dina ngedrop postcard ke alamat rumahku aku gk akan unjuk rasa kok :D @NintyaSR

  10. nazaruddin lathif
    18 December 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    hahaha kayaknya ada yang salah dengan “selera” liburannya mbak dina. suka yang menguji nyali, gimana kalo besok liburan ke rumah hantu darmo surabaya, belom pernah kan mbak?
    @n_lathif

    • Dina
      30 December 2013 at 7:51 pm #

      belum pernah, wkwkwk…. darmo di mananya ya?

  11. veracute
    18 December 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    saya ke thailand bulan september kemarin, alhmadulillah deh yah lancar jayaaa..wah mba dina gak mending kabur ajatuh ke bandara langsung cuss ke phuket? gak bisa yah ? :o (daftar buat menang lomba kartupos angkor wat nih eheheheh)

    • Dina
      30 December 2013 at 7:31 pm #

      sebetulnya rencananya di bkk cuman semalam sebelum cabut ke cambodia, eh malah mundur beberapa hari untuk melihat keadaan :))

  12. veracute
    18 December 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    twitter saya @veracutee thanks mba dina !

  13. Chandini
    18 December 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    Mbak Dina dan Mas Ryan,

    SAMA BANGET KAYA AKUUUU! Aku juga pernah jadi saksi revolusi di Tunisia. Bedanya, aku bukan lagi jalan-jalan tapi karena memang lagi tinggal di sana. OH MY! Itu menakjubkan sekali! Selamat menikmati ya mbak..mas.. i know what you guys are looking for.. *wink wink* semoga selamet sampai di tujuan berikutnya!


    @chandinipendit

    • Dina
      30 December 2013 at 7:23 pm #

      toast, wink wink…. kita satu selera artinya? :))

  14. Icha
    18 December 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    Keep rockin’ the travel world, guys! born to be traveler are your destiny :)

    @cloudavou

    • Dina
      30 December 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      haha bisa aja mba :))

  15. arievrahman
    23 December 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Waw, glad that you guys are alright.
    Be safe :D

    • Dina
      30 December 2013 at 6:44 pm #

      makacih bang arip!

  16. Timothy W Pawiro
    26 December 2013 at 12:27 am #

    Wow u really followed where the protesters go?
    I think it’s a very unique experience and also dangerous?

    Btw, Z1 really produces nice photos! :-)

    • Dina
      30 December 2013 at 6:40 pm #

      Yup. Not very easy to find where the action is happening. Makanya cukup aman buat turis. Kalo turis, paling nyasarnya ketemu demo damai (yang malah jadi kayak karnaval). Sedangkan demo hardcore-nya sulit dicari. Jalanan banyak yang ditutup di tempat2 di mana massa berkumpul. Tapi di mana massa paling banyak berpusat dan hendak beraksi, nggak diumumkan (biasanya baru masuk tv kalo aksi udah pecah, jadi telat kalo nunggu di berita). Jadi harus nyari tanya orang Thailand. Dan biasanya turis disuruh minggir, mereka ga mau membahayakan turis. Cuman kita sama anak Thai, jadi bisa sampai depan. Yang paling bahaya kalo kaos merah vs kaos kuning. Yang itu bisa brutal.

      Thanks ya. Ini sejak pake Z1 jadi males bawa kamera, kecuali kalo mau banyak zoom-zoom (Katanya lensa zoom untuk z1 sebetulnya ada. Tapi kalo ga salah harganya lumayan, jadi untuk zoom masih ngandalin mirrorless :) )

  17. Nia Sari Nastiti
    3 January 2014 at 6:20 pm #

    Hai Mbak Dina, makasih banget info tentang keadaan Bangkok. aku udah terlanjur punya tiket ke Bangkok 11-18 Januari nih, ada saran nggak buat tetep pergi atau nggak? tgl 12 rencananya mau ke Siem Reap. Makasi sblmnya Mbak..

    • Dina
      14 January 2014 at 2:52 am #

      Mbaaa… udah kejawab belum ya? Mungkin belum ya? sori kalo telat. Distuasi Bangkok Shutdown sementara ini cukup damai. Tapi mungkin aja berubah. Sulit diprediksi. Aku live twitting di @DuaRansel. Bisa ikuti update terbaru di situ mbak :)

  18. TUKANG MAKAN ANGIN
    5 January 2014 at 11:19 pm #

    Hi Dina!

    Amid this turmoil, some of foreign tourists like you could still took some photos there? Cause what I see through those pics, I wondered it seemed like a happy version of chaotic. It’s funny, tho…

    One of my favorite travel articles so far. It’s different between leisure travel and adventure journalist.

    “Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures. Kill nothing but time”

    • Dina
      14 January 2014 at 2:56 am #

      Wah kak, komennya bikin tersipu-sipu, hehe. Terima kasih ya! Sekarang juga lagi di lokasi, meninjau Bangkok Shutdown (hari ini tanggal 13 hari pertama). So far berjalan damai kecuali beberapa kasus penembakan.

  19. Monica Yessiana
    10 January 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    mantap laporan, kmrn dibangkok smp tgl 9 msh aman, wlpn mulai susah transportasi n taksi naikin harga, sempet nonton jg wkt demo di democrazy monument tp aman & dah da yg buka tenda …banyak malah…seru

    • Dina
      14 January 2014 at 2:49 am #

      pasti terus malah beli suvenir bando berkuping motif bendera yang unyu-unyu itu…. ya kan ya kan?

      • Dita
        25 February 2014 at 1:39 pm #

        Halo Mbak Dina..
        Saya Dita. Salam kenal Mbak..

        Kemarin saya lihat artikel tentang tips memilih ransel di web ini. Eh, malah makin tertarik baca2 artikel2 Mbak yang lainnya. Tulisan Mbak menarik dan bermanfaat. :)
        Tadi saya juga lihat artikel yg Bangkok ini. Pas banget juga aku lagi di Bangkok 1 Desember tahun lalu Mbak. Tadinya mau ke Madame Tussaud Bangkok. Pas nyampe disana malah tutup semua pusat perbelanjaan. Dan gambar2 di atas me remind aku ke kejadian hari itu. :D
        Terima kasih atas artikel2 bermanfaatnya ya Mbak :) Kayaknya aku bakalan makin ‘kepo’ sama artikel2 mbak yang lain. :D

        • Dina
          1 April 2014 at 6:21 pm #

          waaahhh, makasih mbak, senang bisa berguna dikit, hehehhehe :D
          silakan ngepoin mba =)

  20. varih
    14 January 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    Sipppp, menantang!!!, aku dah pesen tiket akhir maret ke Bangkok, wisata adrenalin….

    • Dina
      1 April 2014 at 7:23 pm #

      gimana nih? :D

  21. wanda saputra
    28 January 2014 at 9:15 am #

    laporan yang keren mba din ^_^
    wow..itu emang aman ya buat travelling ke bangkok pas banyak gelombang demonstran. ngeriii T_T

    • Dina
      1 April 2014 at 7:07 pm #

      kebetulan kita lumayan comfortable ama bangkok. meskipun banyak daerah baru yang dijajal pas demonya, tapi karena lumayan familiar, jadi ga terlalu kuatir, tau titik-titik amannya. pantau terus di twitter kondisinya life. terus ada teman anak bangkok juga yang bantu pantau suasana.
      yang paling penting, kita yang nyemplung harus tau apa resikonya. bukannya ga ada resiko. tapi siapkah kita menerima resiko terburuknya :)

  22. Indah Nuria Savitri
    23 April 2014 at 6:26 am #

    front line indeed…pasti rasanya nano-nano ya mbaaa…kebayang tegang tapi excited, plus tetap harus fully aware ..foto-fotonya seruuu… TFS :)

    • Dina
      23 April 2014 at 10:21 pm #

      fully aware itu penting ;)

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