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How about experiencing Bangkok these days ?

Luc Citrinot, eTN (in Bangkok)  May 01, 2010

For almost a month now, the Red Shirts’ presence in the city center of Bangkok has filled up media reports – including this website. They are still there, and for the few tourists still daring to come to Thailand’s capital city despite travel advisories, here is now the lighter side of the story: YES, it is still possible for a tourist to enjoy Bangkok’s vibrancy, its shopping, its great food, and its transvestite performance shows.

Of course, the newest attraction is to passover barricades set up by Red Shirts at Lumpini Park. Many tourists venture over the fence for a picture. But anyone can walk the mile separating Lumpini Park from Siam Square and take a look. Foreigners are generally greeted by smiles and are even offered food and water.

Far from looking like a war encampment, the Red Shirts' camp is basically reminiscent of a big Thai market: food is abundant, souvenirs are on sale, and many people will ask with a sense of curiosity where travelers are from. There are plenty of good photo motives: monks sleeping on the door steps of the Four Seasons Hotel, other monks walking in slipper shoes carrying a portrait of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (in Thailand, it is a high sign of disrespect as feet are considered the lowest part of the body, and they are dirty), and people taking showers next to glitzy condominium buildings.

Arriving in Siam, visitors should pay tribute to the Red Shirts who succeeded to have turned an area once full of shoppers into a political rally. On a central stage located next to Central World Shopping complex, speakers are heard by cheering crowds. However, far from the current events, the exquisite Jim Thompson House and Museum on Rama I Boulevard remains a peaceful retreat with its restaurant, gardens, and antiques collection.

Moving to Chidlom street, visitors will reach the "border" between the Red Shirts' territory and the "Multi-Colored" world. Leaving barricades behind, Central Chidlom department store welcomes again adventurous foreigners and Thai high-society. The department store was closed for awhile until the powerful Chiratiwat family – they own at least half of the country’s shopping centers, as well as the Centara Hotels and Resorts chain - made the courageous decision to greet its faithful customers again. But instead of being opened until 10:00 pm, the store closes at 7:00 pm, making Central employees probably the happiest among the people present on the premises.

In fact, for tourists still looking for a great shopping spree in Bangkok, the city has plenty of opportunities to fill up on the Kingdom’s treasury coffers. The Emporium Shopping Center on Sukhumvit (Phrom Pong area) is operating normally, as it is located far from the events. In fact, it is bustling with wealthy Thai families desperate to find a civilized place for their favorite activity: shopping. Nearby, Thong Lor has developed over the last five years into Bangkok’s trendiest district. There are plenty of boutiques, concept stores, fancy small-scale shopping malls, trendy restaurants, and bars. It is another world, light-years away from the Red Shirts' camp.

Other good shopping centers are Central Lat Prao in the north, Central Bangna, Carrefour flagship Store (Rama IV Boulevard), and the Mall in Bangkapi for middle-income shoppers. And over the weekend, Chatuchak market will still be open and filled up with handicraft items, souvenirs, tasty food specialties, and cheap designer clothing.

Looking for entertainment? Despite the proximity of shouting Red Shirt leaders over loudspeakers at Lumpini Park, Silom Road is almost back to normal for tourists looking for night entertainment. Prostitutes are waiting again for customers in Patpong alleys and seem unimpressed by army troops patrolling in the area. Irish pubs are welcoming expats again looking for a cool beer in front of a giant TV screen broadcasting football or car racing. Even in the worst of the turmoil ten days ago, gay venues never closed down. Bars and discos with transvestites performing as usual were and are all open. Only Patpong central night market was closed, as it could have been an easy target for casualties. But Suan Lum Night Bazaar with its wide choice of handicraft objects continues to operate, despite some outlets being closed. This is finally what makes Bangkok so special: the capital has the ability to adapt to anything, for better or worse.

How about experiencing Bangkok these days ?
Tranvestite beauty contest in Northern Bangkok on April 25 / Photo by L. Citrinot

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