Over the past few days, the red shirts have been streaming into Bangkok to join the protest site on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue. On Sunday the red shirts from Samut Prakan came together to join the protest. The local red shirt radio had been broadcasting for several days the schedule for going into Bangkok. A total of 60 coaches had been arranged to pick up the protesters from ten different locations around Samut Prakan Province from 7 a.m. on Sunday morning. They were told to bring along some water, food, change of clothes, a mobile phone and a camera. The phone was to report to the radio station anything suspicious that they saw. The camera was for taking pictures of any troublemakers. They were also given advice not to give their i.d. cards to anyone.
Our local meeting place was the Old Paknam Prison. As it is only five minutes from the Paknam Web office I went down to take a look shortly after seven. By this time there were about eight coaches there with several hundred red shirts. There were supposed to be ten coaches but the local radio were saying that a government department had sent letters out to all coach companies saying that they would face trouble if they rented their coaches out to the red shirts. Looks like at least eight here disobeyed them. By eight o’clock five of the coaches were full and they all left. The half empty coaches went too as all the coaches from around the province were going to come together at 9 a.m. at the Bang Na intersection.
As our office is only 20 minutes away from Bang Na we went back to have a quick breakfast and then headed out in our car to try and catch up with the coaches. The road was clear for most of the way but became more congested the nearer we got to the intersection. We were now following pickup trucks with red shirts and there were also more of them walking along the side of the road. Everyone heading the same way. The atmosphere reminded me of a football match in the UK. Everyone dressed in the same colours and singing songs and chants and blowing whistles. It could have easily been a Liverpool or Man United match we were going to. This carnival atmosphere continued for the entire day.
We didn’t really know what to expect once we had arrived at Bang Na. We thought there would be a long line of coaches. We were expecting to take a few shots here for our local newspaper and then follow them into Bangkok. Maybe even going on ahead to meet them there. However, there were no coaches in sight. What we did find was that two lanes of Sukhumwit Road were full of red shirt supporters. There were also many pickup trucks and motorcycles. We soon realized that this was going to be the start of a long parade into Bangkok. Unbelievably, many of them were doing the journey on foot. The distance must have been something like 25 kilometers at least. So, we ended up going with them up Sukhumwit Road, stopping every now and then to take pictures and to send out live reports and photos on twitter.
Despite reports in the newspapers about checkpoints and lengthy searches by the police of red shirt vehicles, nothing could stop this parade. In fact, some policemen seemed to be waving and giving the victory sign as the convoy passed them. Many local people also came out to clap and cheer. I didn’t see any hostility at all. Some of them even handed out bottles of water to the walkers. So, we continued like this all the way up Sukhumwit following the sky train route and blocking two lanes. On one long stretch of road I got up on a pedestrian bridge and I could see that the parade stretched back as far as the eye could see. Rally organizers were claiming 10,000 red shirts though I think it was more like 3,000. But, as we continued our journey, red shirts standing by the side of the road joined the parade. After a few hours we were passing Central World Plaza and Siam Square.
The hours ticked by as we crawled into Bangkok. Finally, after nearly six hours we finally reached our destination. The main rally stage at Phan Fa Lilat bridge. Although we had done the red march in a car, we were just as exhausted. But the sight that welcomed us here was enough natural adrenalin to keep anyone going. We parked our car and walked the final fifteen minutes to Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue. As expected, it was a sea of red in every direction. Loudspeakers had been set up in various locations and people were sitting or lying down listening to the speeches all over the place. We went to the media tent to register and then got our passes to go up onto the stage. It was a great vantage point from up here. Our journey was over. We had made it! We stayed for a while taking pictures, but our main story for that day was the long red march that brought us here. You can find about 600 of our pictures over at www.paknamphotos.com.
You can follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow. We also have links to blog articles about the red shirt rally at our sister site www.ThailandVoice.com. If you are in Bangkok or going there soon, then check out our Google Map of the Danger Zones which we are continually updating during the day.