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The new face of Silom Road in Bangkok

Luc Citrinot, eTN (in Bangkok, 11:00 am)  Apr 24, 2010

Deadly confrontations on Thursday night between Red Shirts and the pro-government movement is now taking its toll on Bangkok daily life and particularly impacting Silom Road. On Friday, most businesses closed at noon, while public transport companies such as BTS and MRT have not resumed activity in the area. Skytrain operator BTS just announced it will operate only five stations for now from the Silom line out of Chong Nonsi; the Sukhumvit Line will operate as usual. However, due to rumors of bombs in the Skytrain, lines are closing at 7:00 pm for the time being, plunging the city center into chaos due to giant traffic jams.

Silom Road, until early this week, was the favorite spot for both locals and foreign travelers, but it has turned into a deserted area. Yesterday, few people were to be seen with only empty sidewalks filled with barbed wires and patroling soldiers to be seen. With the barricade at the corner of Lumpini Park/Silom Road taking over the next street of Ratchadamri, the impression of a divided Bangkok in this area strangely evokes Berlin in the few days following the erection of its infamous wall.

“We are tired of these Red people. They are all terrorists and crooks, and I hope that the government will now intervene,” said a shop owner. “We do not understand why [the] police did not react and why the army does not remove [the] Red Shirts, as they illegally took possession of the streets, disturbing thousands of people,” told an executive from Dusit Thani Hotel.

The luxury property of Dusit Thani Hotel – considered a Bangkok icon, as it was the first modern five-star hotel to open in the late sixties - has been turned into the Thai police’s new temporary headquarters, and not to the pleasure of its owners, who believe that the permanent camp of police troops in front of the hotel is rather a disturbing sign for remaining guests.

“We do not want to close the property. Security has been tight[ened] up. [If you] view [this] from a positive perspective, all these policemen present in the hotel makes our property extremely secured!” ironically commented a Dusit Thani executive. Occupancy at the Dusit Thani remains better than at some other hotels in Bangkok. “We still have some 200 guests in the hotel,” assured Dusit Thani's people, refusing to provide more details. The Bangkok Post mentioned, however, occupancy of 30 percent, following the grenade blasts. Some guests have been transferred to other properties in the city upon request.

Meanwhile, the use of force to drag out Red Shirts from the Rachaprasong/Silom area is not on the agenda for the time being. Local newspapers report that the army so far has refused to intervene. Army chief Anupong Paojinda explained yesterday that the use of force was not a solution to political deadlock, adding that it would do more harm than good. “The Army's job now is to take care of the people and not allow Thais to attack each other,” declared an Army spokesperson. Pro-government crowds gathered in another part of Bangkok, but not in the city center, to ask for the removal of the Red Shirts. They vowed to gather every day until they are heard.

Economists started to count the consequences of Bangkok’s city center deadlock: they speak about business losses which could reach some US$3.1 billion (THB 100 billion). The bill for the hotels could reach over US$450 million. Daily losses for hotels located at both Silom and Rachaprasong are estimated on average between US$75,000 and US$110,000 per day.

The worsening situation in Bangkok has prompted many countries to issue travel warnings for their citizens including Australia, the USA, France, and the UK. Thailand’s ministry of tourism is pushing the government to allow a new package of financial measures in soft loans for tourism small- to medium-sized enterprises, as well as an additional marketing budget for the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). Both measures could represent over US$180 million (including US$31 million for TAT). But it seems that tourists' confidence in Thailand is once more severely battered, and the road to recovery might be long and strenuous.

The new face of Silom Road in Bangkok
Silom Road Friday afternoon 4:00 pm / photo by Luc Citrinot

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