A storm is gathering in Thailand as a red tide from the countryside starts lapping at the gates of the nation's capital. But the question on everyone's mind is, will this red tide be a tsunami or a mere ripple in the sea? Or, perhaps, just a tempest in a teapot?
Traffic was lighter by one-half during the morning commute yesterday morning, one long time resident of the city reports.
“It usually takes me 40 minutes to get to work, but this morning it only took 20 minutes,” she says.
“I saw lots of military vehicles along the way, and they appeared to be stopping vehicles and checking them for weapons.”
Many residents took the day off, hunkering down in the safety of their homes or fleeing the city altogether. Others showed up for work as usual, leaving at noon, which is when locally based Red Shirts said they would start marching through Bangkok and when police said they would start closing down certain streets.
By 1.50 pm, a group of Red Shirts could be seen marching past Siam Paragon, one of Bangkok's toniest shopping malls. Many were waving the national flag or red flags.
The mood appeared more festive than confrontational. The images being broadcast on local television later in the day told a similar story. By the end of the first day of protests, no major incidents had been reported.
The United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), as the Red Shirts are officially called, were only able to muster 6,500 anti-government protesters citywide, according to police. They assembled at five Hot Spots around town.
No Go Zone
A day earlier, the government in Hong Kong raised the Travel Red Alert for the first time ever. As a result of this action, travel agents in the former British Crown Colony were forced to cancel all packaged tours to Bangkok for one week.
Under a Red Alert, travelers are advised to avoid non-essential trips and adjust their travel plans because of a significant threat to their safety. A Red Alert is the second highest in the recently launched three-tier system.
A Black Alert, the highest tier, would be hoisted in the event of a severe threat to the safety of travelers.
"Bangkok is a popular tourist destination for Hong Kong travelers,” says Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong.
“We have the responsibility to notify them.”
Many Hong Kong residents already in the Thai capital were checking out of their hotels early, migrating to Pattaya and other nearby destinations, the general manager of a boutique hotel near Sukhimvit Road says.
To keep things in context, yesterday's relatively small turnouts didn't come as a total surprise. The Red Shirts draw most of their support in the countryside. In Bangkok, their supporters are few, drawn mostly from the ranks of taxi drivers, who – by and large – are ardently pro-Thaksin.
Let's see what happens today as protesters start leaving their hometowns in convoys of trucks and flotillas of boats and making their ways to the Thai capital. Copyright: Michael Taylor Dusit D2 Baraquda in Pattaya was the first one that gave me a drinks menu so that I could order a drink to my own – rather than the F&B manager's – liking.