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Thailand coup: On the ground in Bangkok - a first person account by a Singaporean visitor

Published on May 24, 2014 8:14 PM
 
Tourists visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok on May 24, 2014. Bangkok is known to be the city where life begins after 8pm. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Bangkok is known to be the city where life begins after 8pm.

But, following the military coup last Thursday, it seems to have become a city that has lost its vibrancy.

Instead of revelry and bar top dancing amid the honks of tuk tuks and cars, an eerie calm descended on the city over the past nights. Locals and tourists alike were compelled to stay indoors from 10pm to 5am.

When the coup was first announced, there was a flurry of text messages on everyone's handphone. The cheerful faces from the “Land of Smiles” soon gave way to concern and apprehension, although some - especially those who are running small businesses at the shopping malls and the lines of unending street stalls - welcomed the news.

Having visited the city many times, it was somewhat strange to be closeted within the confines of my hotel, the Novotel Siam Square.

As the clock inched towards 10pm, lights went out and the shops shuttered for the evening. A shopping mall, the Siamkit Building - home to many private schools to satisfy the Thais' thirst to learn the English language - stood somewhat forlorn.

However, a 7-Eleven shop kept its doors open. “We do not close. We 7-Eleven,” said the cashier with a boyish grin. “You come anytime, we open.”

Not so for Starbucks next door. A notice informs patrons that it is closed from 7pm.

“I don’t care who runs the government. I only want my business,” lamented a middle-aged stall operator at the Mahboonkrong Shopping Mall, who gave her name as Ratna. “You buy three, I give discount,” she coaxed me.

To many who aren’t interested in politics, Ratna's outlook summed up their views. A cabbie named Ahnong said: “Too corrupt, Thailand. Money buys votes. Singapore good. No fighting. We think army can help people.”

Yet, two tuk tuk drivers I spoke to were supporters of the Pheu Thai Party, showing the diverse views among those on the streets.

One of them wore a red T-shirt in a bold display of his affiliation. He showed me a cut out photo of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and said “I like her”, and promptly used another laminated poster to conceal it.

Another tuk tuk driver Kiet showed his clenched fist when two soldiers with guns slung over their shoulders overtook him as we were travelling near Siam Kempinski Hotel.

Today's SIA flight out of Bangkok at mid-day was packed, but hotels seem to continue to enjoy high occupancy as many tourists from Europe, Australia and India are apparently keeping to their schedules, at least for now.

The writer, a Singaporean, is an advisor of media & community relations with the National Cancer Centre. He returns to Singapore today.

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