After all the drama from last night, I decided to drive into Bangkok this morning to see for myself the affects of the coup. At that time, Thai television was still running videos of H.M. The King and the UBC cable operator was still blocking the international news organizations such as CNN and BBC World. So, at that point there was very little information about what was happening. All I knew was that a meeting had been called at Army Headquarters on Ratchadamnoenok Road. That is where I decided to head this morning.
Traffic into Bangkok this morning was very light. Although it was weekday rush hour, it was more like a Sunday morning. The expressway had even less cars and I made good progress. I decided to approach the Dusit area from the north and then circle around. I came in on Phahonyothin Road and followed the sky train route towards the Victory Monument. Up to that point there was no sign of the coup the previous evening. Apart from the light traffic, everything seemed to be running as normal. Shops were open and people were going about their business. The first army presence I saw was guarding the Channel 5 building. From the Victory Monument I turned right and headed along Ratchawithi Road towards Dusit Zoo. I passed a few soldiers but nothing major yet. I could see that all of them had yellow ribbons tied to their guns. The yellow, of course, showed their support for H.M. The King.
Army Headquarters on Ratchadamnoennok Road
Chitlada Palace is the modern home of H.M. The King. I am not sure if he was there when I passed as he usually stays in his holiday palace in Hua Hin. But, news reports last night suggested the coup leaders came here to seek an audience. As I passed I could see that there was only the normal palace guards manning the sentry posts and the front entrance. No soldiers here at all. Driving on I reached Dusit Zoo. I wanted to turn left after this to head down towards the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and the statue of King Rama V. However, the road had barricades. I drove on looking for another turning on the left. I decided I would try and go around the block.
I soon realized that the Western side was also blocked. It wasn’t clear whether you could walk down these roads or not to the Royal Plaza. On the road I could see quite a bit of damage which must have been caused by the tanks the previous night. From here I decided to drive down to Sanam Luang to see if there was anything going on there. This area is popular with backpackers. I didn’t see any soldiers here and everything seemed to be carrying on as normal. Hard to believe that there was a military coup going on. In any other country there would, at the very least, be riots. But here in Thailand, this was turning into being another bloodless coup.
Tank guarding an intersection on Ratchadamnoennok Road
I passed the entrance to Khao San Road and soon reached Sanam Luang. Again, nothing was going on here. No soldiers at all. I then drove down Sanamchai Road to see if there was anything going on at the Ministry of Defence. Again, only a few soldiers. Nothing major. I did a u-turn and drove towards the main entrance of the Grand Palace to see what was going on there. Again, everything seemed as normal. It was 9 a.m. by this time and there were already a dozen or so coaches parked by the side of the road. A large group of tourists were walking towards the Grand Palace as if nothing was going on. I decided to now drive back up to the northern end of Sanam Luang and turn right onto Ratchdamnoenklang Road towards the Democracy Monument. Again nothing. It was getting really hard to believe that there was a coup taking place. So far I had only seen a few army jeeps close up.
I now wanted to have another go at approaching the Royal Plaza, this time from the south. I turned left at Ratchadamnoennok Road and soon found myself in a traffic jam. I couldn’t see ahead to what was causing it. But I could see that there were a lot of cars doing a u-turn quickly. I mean a lot. As I edged closer, I caught glimpses of tanks up ahead. This was it. Checking my map I could see that the Army Headquarters was just up this road on the left. I suddenly remembered that influential people and leaders from the country were being told to come here in the morning for a meeting. I then realized that this “traffic jam” of cars was actually a queue of people going to the meeting! So, I drove as far as the intersection and then did a u-turn myself and parked on the other side of the road. From here I would walk.
Looking towards Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall
Up ahead I could see a large crowd of news reporters so I decided to go up and join them. I wasn’t too sure what to expect. At that stage, I didn’t know if they would allow us to walk freely around taking pictures or not. The last coup in 1992, there were public demonstrations and the soldiers shot into the crowd. This time round, there weren’t that many people. Mainly reporters. I then spotted a father with his daughter walking further up the road towards a tank parked opposite the United Nations building. I decided to follow their example as no-one seemed to be stopping them. They even paused by one of the tanks to take pictures. Looking around, I saw other spectators doing the same thing. Posing with soldiers. Some were even handing up roses to the soldiers. The atmosphere was really relaxed and almost like a carnival. But, there were no rides and the soldiers were carrying guns.
Feeling braver now I decided to carry on walking up the road towards Government House and Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. I wanted to try and get some pictures of the tanks with the Throne Hall in the background. Just a few months back, this place was packed with thousands and thousands of people celebrating the 60th anniversary of H.M. The Kings reign. Today it was practically deserted. Hardly anyone around here. Most of the reporters were back at the Army Headquarters where all the action was taking place. No-one seemed to worry about me so I continued walking. On my right I passed the Office of the Prime Minister. This was heavily guarded by soldiers. I kept walking towards the Royal Plaza.
At the intersection with Si Ayutthaya Road, there were more barricades and several tanks. The soldiers here seemed to be a bit more nervous. I took some pictures but they gestured for me to keep walking. They pointed up towards the statue of King Ramam V. I wasn’t sure if they thought I was just a tourist and were telling me to go and take a picture of the statue, or whether they were telling me to leave the area. It turned out to be the latter. I quickly took some more pictures and then circled around with the aim to go back down on the other side of the road. Behind me I could hear one of the soldiers calling out. I ignored him and kept walking. This area is really massive and if I exited from the north it would then take me forever to circle back around to where I had parked the car.
Usually in situations like this it is best to pretend that you don’t speak or understand any Thai. Soon I heard running footsteps behind me so I guessed that this soldier wasn’t going to give up so easy. I turned around and he then told me to go back and leave by the northern side. I pretended I didn’t understand and gestured to him that I had a car down the other end and was going home. But he was persistent and didn’t want to let me pass. But then a Thai journalist came to my rescue. He wanted to go the same direction and he argued with he soldier to let us go. Eventually he did.
I then walked back down towards the Army Headquarters. The journalist told me that he was here for the previous coup in 1992. He said that it was a bloody coup and some foreign journalists were killed. However, the coup this time round was turning out to be very calm in comparison. Back at the Army Headquarters, more people had started to arrive. It was all still very relaxed. At one humvee, I saw a soldier pointing out his rocket launcher in the back which was still packed away in crates. The soldier was even letting the people take a picture. By this time I had seen enough. I decided I would head back home.