My First Military Coup D'etat
Hello all, Phil here. A few months ago, the company I work for was bought out by another US company based in Colorado. It took a few months, but they finally started to look at the Australian office and offered me a different role supporting all of the Asia-Pacific region and overseeing training and both companies product lines. Since I am supporting the region, this means I get to travel a bit.
My first big trip was to Beijing for 2 weeks, and I’ll post about that trip later… Next up was a trip to Bangkok, Thailand to lead a training session with the Sales associates from both the Australian and Japan offices. In the weeks leading up to the trip, the Prime Minister stepped down and sent Thailand into political turmoil. Two separate groups loyal to differing political parties began fighting in the streets at different places in the city. They are referred to as Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts, as I assume that is their favorite color of attire.
As we began to book our flights, we started to receive travel notices from the agency advising us that it was still ok to travel to Bangkok, but to avoid any protest areas. We diligently tried to reschedule the trip, but my new boss was not easily swayed.
I arrived in Bangkok with my co-worker Becc in tow and made our way through customs and set out to find our driver to the hotel. He/she was nowhere to be found. There were a few drivers with signs milling about, but nothing with our names. We were at the far end of the terminal and I made my way down towards another of the exits and found our driver. We were whisked away in a BMW to the hotel. As we are driving, I notice the absolutely huge advertising billboards. Quite the contrast from Australia where billboards are rare.
After a nap and a shower, Becc and I set out for an adventure. We walked out of the hotel and turned left, not knowing what was even to the left. Our first priority was lunch, and were hoping to find some food on our path. We walked past the Aussie and Malaysian embassies and ran into a gentleman who claimed to be from the Malaysian embassy. He struck up a conversation with me and asked where we were off to. After a brief chat, he gave us some pointers and hailed a tuk tuk for us. So a tuk tuk is a motorcycle with a little open air cabin on the back of it. The gentleman instructed the driver on where to take us and told us that we shouldn’t pay anything over 40 tbt. Our driver took us to the river where we took a longboat through the canal system. We were going through some pretty sketchy area, and more than once, both Becc and I thought we were never going to make it back. But all was fine, and we saw some awesome temples and reptiles. These large lizards were swimming in the canals and the locals called them “crocs”. They were not crocodiles, no ugly shoes.
We make it back to the pier and our driver is waiting for us. By this time we are both really hungry. So we tell the driver to take us to 7-11 where we grab a coke and some water and then plan to head back to the hotel and grab lunch. The driver asks if he can take us to a tailor and if we sit through the presentation (think timeshare presentation only shorter) then he gets some free petrol out of the deal. Sure, why not. So we go in and have a seat and they bring out some books for us to look at. I had planned on my next trip to Singapore to have a suit made at a tailor there so I was interested in how much this would cost. After browsing through their book I selected a Hugo Boss style suit that was a classic cut. We started to discuss pricing and all told it was $700 for 2 suit jackets, 4 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, and 4 ties. Not bad for tailored stuff. We agree and I sign my life away. This was on Sunday and they told be to come back on Tuesday for a fitting.
We leave and go back to the hotel and finally get some lunch. That night we meet our new boss and another trainer for dinner on top of the 61st floor at the hotel next door. It was spectacular. There were thunderstorms all around us, but we managed to avoid all of them and enjoyed a great meal on top of Bangkok.
Meetings began the next day and that night the whole group that was here for training was back up at the 61st floor having drinks and somehow a few of us stayed and had dinner.
At 4:30pm on Tuesday the military took over all the TV stations and broadcast a message that they were now in charge of security of the country, but did not announce a coup at that point. The politicians were meeting and trying to come to a resolution on who should run the country and the military was going to see that process through.
After training, a few of us went to one of the big shopping centers called MBK and had a look around. We took a cab over and it cost about 35 tbt. We leave and somehow grabbed a few tuk tuks to take us back to the hotel. As we arrive I ask the young kid how much and he tells me 300. I laugh and offer him 40. This just pisses him off. You see, tuk tuks aren’t regulated and don’t have a “meter” so the guy can charge whatever he wants. Thinks start to get a bit scary and I tell him I’ll give him 150 or I call the police. He finally accepts it and finally gets out of there.
Sometime during the day on Thursday the military dissolved the constitution and announced a bloodless coup and instituted a curfew beginning at 10pm to 5am. We were having dinner as a group at the hotel that evening and they had to move our reservation up as the staff needed to be home by 10pm. As dinner winds down, it is about 9:30pm and my former boss and I head out to explore the streets and see what was actually happening. In the 20 minutes we were out we noticed traffic drastically reduce and a quiet fell over the city. We made it back in time before they locked the gates.
Over the next couple of days, we got a first hand look at just how powerful the media can be. All the tv stations had been taken off the air, and 1 was playing nothing but the military channel showing soldiers marching. People back home were hearing things on the news and seeing pictures of fully armed soldiers. We never saw any of this. You see, Thailand has had 11 (now 12) successful coups since the 1930’s. The Thai people are used to it and just went about their day. If it hadn’t been for the curfew, we probably wouldn’t have even noticed. It was very interesting to see what was being said outside of the country compared to what was actually happening inside of it. As long as we stayed away from protest sites we were fine. The coup didn’t keep us from venturing out.
Most of the people attending were flying back Friday evening, but my boss and the other trainer were staying until Sunday and then going to Tokyo to do some more training there. I asked my boss if maybe we should fly to Tokyo on Friday or even Saturday and he replied “We’ll stay here, it’s cheaper”. Oh well…
We head out for a nice dinner on Friday night at a steakhouse in the J.W. Marriot and then walk over to Nana Square which is known for its strip clubs and other sordid activities. However, with the curfew in place, all of the places were shut down. I guess that is one way to keep us out of trouble.
On Sunday we flew out to Tokyo, where the political situation is a tad more stable.