“During the Red Shirt protests,” says Newley Purnell, a Bangkok journalist who covered last spring’s chaos, “the demonstrations were usually confined to specific areas of the city.” Protesters, hailing mainly from rural areas, were calling for the removal of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose support comes primarily from the Bangkok middle and upper classes. The Red Shirts occupied the Old Town, then moved to central Bangkok. On May 19, the army moved in and fighting broke out, ultimately leaving 91 dead and more than 1,000 injured. “But throughout this time, foreigners were never targeted,” says Purnell. “You’d sometimes see tourists pulling their wheelie bags through the crowds.” The demonstrations were eventually dispersed, the prime minister remains in office, and the Red Shirts are still unhappy.
Many expect protests to flare up again, perhaps when the next elections are held, in June or July. If you’re brave (or foolhardy) enough to want a closer view, head for the Amarin Plaza mall (496–502 Ploenchit Rd., Ratchaprasong Sq.), where “one of the Red Shirt leaders was known to frequent the McDonald’s for a blast of A/C and a burger,” says Purnell. Some businesses within the protest zone—like AdMakers (65/3 Athenee Residence, first fl.), a pub and live-rock venue—never closed. To keep up with CNN and talk Thai politics, try the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (518/5 Ploenchit Rd.), which is open to the public.