Disclaimer: I tried doing the more photos, less talk kinda thing only to realized that I was too busy shopping and carrying stuff that I didn’t have time to take as many photos as I usually would. Blame it on the cheap, fashionable shopping bug baht
I didn’t really give it much thought when my colleagues warned me a day before my flight to Bangkok on Friday morning at 7am (oh goodness, I practically slept at 1am and woke up at 4.45am just so I won’t miss my flight, again) that protests were still ongoing and that I should steer clear of wearing anything red/yellow/orange and away from shopping malls.
All I did was sent a SMS blast to my 3 other girlfriends/travel-mates not to pack those colours (red/yellow/orange) into the luggage, rushed home to pack my suitcase, do online check-in, change money (only changed $300, the least cash ever in my BKK trip!) and get as much sleep as I could. Apparently 4 hours was as much as I could squeeze in – but I sure was proud that I was first to arrive at the departure hall the next morning though :)
I had been to Bangkok last year (2010) during the protests and it was so safe that if we hadn’t knew about it from the media, we would have no idea about the reds vs. the yellows. Thankfully they left blue & black out of the picture because that’s what I packed my suitcase with this time. Except that I only packed 2 sets of clothes to be worn on 4 days. I decided that I would be a little more adventurous this time…and shop for the rest of my outfits despite being fatter than before. So glad I stuck to that plan beause my luggage went from 11kg to 22.2kg on the way back home. Although I do think tailoring the 3 pants for Luke must have contributed to the additional weight… :]
So it turns out that travelling on a bigger plane did shorten our flight from the usual 2hr 40min to 1hr 50min – DUH, pretty sure we all didn’t know that judging by the surprised look on our faces when we found out we didn’t even have time to finish our inflight movie! We landed in Suvarnabhumi Airport at 08:30am, queued up at customs to get our stamps for about 30 minutes before we could hit the expressways and to the land of cheap & fashionable shopping!
We were rather surprised to be greeted with a face-lifted Grand Diamond Hotel (our usual choice of accommodation) that had a nicer looking entrance, a plaza of shops and STARBUCKS at the lobby!
And of course, our very affordable Suite on the 24th floor. Hooray!
Rushed to the shops right after we settled our bags, bladders & bowels; and it turned out that I had brought the least value in cash ($300) vs. 1 x $500 and 2 x $700. Why does anyone need that much money for anyway!!! – I digress.
Day 1 was awesome.
We spent little, reaped lesser than before, but somehow felt a lot more happier & rationale with our purchases….maybe except Margie who probably purchased 6-7 dresses in a single afternoon. We even bought similar sleeping Tshirts – talk about a Pyjamas partay!
Day 2 was not quite what we expected.
Margie & Fiona wanted to go to the 4-faced Buddha (word has it that once you ask for blessings, you have to visit it every year…) temple. On the way there, I saw some ladies in red tees, didn’t think much of it until I realized it was one of the meeting & protest points for the reds which was happening in less than 2 hours.
Needless to say, Daph & I contemplated taking a high-priced tuk tuk back from the temple to Platinum Shopping Mall as soon as the other 2 were done. Except that we couldn’t find a tuk tuk or taxi in sight. We saw the police and their shields closing in all directions, while the sea of red just got bigger. One of the girls suggested cutting through the reds to get out. Thankfully we deided to make a detour through another entrance of the mall and seek shelter & safety there instead. I got to admit that seeing them deck in red from head to toe with a flag in the toilet too felt quite intimidating. I had almost silly thoughts running through my mind at that point.
The girls took more than an hour shopping at Naraya and by time we left the mall by the side entrance, we could quickly walk past the protest and brisk walk our way to our destination. But our adventure didn’t quite end there.
Later than evening when we took a taxi to MBK, we were told by the driver that we were lucky because every 19th & 20-something of the month was the Reds protest day and that it had ended at 5pm (it was 6.45pm when we boarded the cab). We were so relieved to hear that, only to experience the driver making a stop at the side of the road and telling us that the roads were blocked till 8.30pm at all major shopping points, including MBK and that he could not take us there. What a waste of time.
We contemplated going for a massage at a place I frequent nearby MBK, but taxi driver had a better suggestion of taking us to the #1 massage place in Thailand. For a moment I did think he was referring to the massage place I was talking about, until I saw him turn into a much quieter lane with a big massage center. Didn’t feel quite comfortable because the massage prices were double of what was supposed to be the usual price, and seeing a group of Thai men at the counter loitering just threw me off completely.
Glad we agreed to walk out of that place after I haggled the price with the lady who refused to budge, went to the nearest 7-11 shop to ask for directions to MBK, was told that it would take us 2 hours to walk there. Flagged down 2 cabs who had no idea how to go back to our hotel and by Grace, managed to get a 3rd one who would finally take us to MBK.
Guess what. It turned out that MBK was only 2 baht worth of a taxi journey away from where we were! And there weren’t road blocks!!! Although on hindsight, I remember the first driver pointing to his ‘red shirts’ decal while telling us how the yellows will strike at the airport while the reds do it in town…I digress again!!!
We heard a loud shot as our taxi passed by MBK though. The girls started asking if it was a gun shot, which I told them not to speak nonsense especially not in a Thai taxi. My heart was fearful though, as we noticed that the McDonalds’ at MBK had its shutters down. Good thing the location which we wanted to alight at was a few hundred metres away so by time we alighted from the cab, it was surrounded by shops and eateries (like a bigger version of Holland V).
Had a satisfying meal (recommended by the massage parlour) that night followed by a good foot massage. This was probably the next best highlight after a day of shopping!
Day 3 & Day 4 was just like Day 1. Good fun shopping, lots of bargaining, buying, carrying, achy backs and packing. And soaking our tired feet in the tub over cans of Chang beer in the night.
All in all, a very fun & fufilling trip albeit terribly exhausted one since we were up at 8am every day and out cold only by 11ish pm.
My only regret(s): Wished I had more Thai baht with me and took more photos to capture more of the trip!
If you’re considering whether its safe to go Bangkok during this period of time, just be mindful to avoid the 19th and I think 28 or 29th of each month (so we were told by the taxi driver) at malls like Central World & MBK etc. Or you can be like us, avoid packing any red/yellow/orange in your bags and just stay indoors during the afternoon (indoors = shopping) with some coffee breaks in between.
I enjoyed this trip so much, I’m contemplating another one end of the year. But we’ll see…baby-making plans are still priority :D