Martial Law — which is when the military takes over power from the civilian government — was finally declared by the Thai military during my last day in Bangkok.
The news came through as I sat on a bus bound for Koh Chang, about to leave Bangkok’s Ekamai bus station, early on the morning of May 20th. I had just been on the BTS (public transport in Bangkok) where it seemed to be business as usual. People were still playing Candy Crush on their phones, smiling when giving me my change for my ticket, and walking through the streets on their way to work as though it were any other day.
Concurrently, as luck would (not) have it, something I had been waiting almost two years for finally happened – two of my best friends were visiting me from California!
Now, when I travel, naturally I want to have a good time. But, when friends and family visit, I really, really want them to have a good time. I want to be the best host possible, especially when they have to come so far and are using up precious vacation time that we get so little of in the States.
“Marshall Law’s been declared,” I typed to them via text, “I hope that doesn’t turn Thailand upside down.”
There had been protests around Bangkok that had turned violent in the seven months leading up to my return. I had been in Thailand in November for Yi Peng when they started and it all seemed to come full circle as I made my return to this country that I love so much.
(The sunset over Bangkok in the days leading up to the coup)
In Koh Chang it was still business as usual. There was no evidence of Martial Law there. We weren’t too worried as the military had assured the press that they were not going to carry out a coup. That was, until they actually did so a couple days later. At the same time, a curfew was imposed.
At first, the curfew wasn’t observed on Koh Chang. We still danced until the wee hours of the morning and enjoyed our time there to the fullest. Then, the next night, everything shut down at 10pm.
Nothing but a blue screen depicting Thai military seals was on the television. We had even heard internet was shut down in Bangkok once the clock struck 10pm.
(Beautiful Koh Chang)
We considered walking to the beach for something to do that night, but turned back towards our guesthouse when several locals told us it would be a bad idea.
We later found out the fine was 40,000 Thai Baht or 2 years in jail for violating curfew.
(The sunset on our final night in Koh Chang – it would turn out to be a very quiet one)
The next day we touched down in Chiang Mai where military tanks greeted us all throughout town. Protests were taking place, and the Sunday night market was even cancelled. Most of the street vendors I was used to seeing were gone, and by 10, Chiang Mai was a ghost town.
It was at this point that we got news of the shootings at our Alma Mater, University of California, Santa Barbara, where my visiting friends and I had initially met ten years earlier. It was a somber night spent in sadness coming from just about every angle.
The following days, we made the most of our remaining time together by taking a cooking course, meeting up with some friends of mine in Chiang Mai, playing with elephants, and even heading to Zoe in Yellow (a dancing club in Chiang Mai) until the curfew hit at 10pm.
(Kneeling during a holiday in Chiang Mai’s Wat Cheudi Luang)
(Enjoying a cooking class in Chiang Mai)
I did hear of violent explosions in the south, some big protests in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, as well as journalists even getting detained. None of this has involved nor affected tourists, however.
The difficulty is there is no way to know how long it will take for this to get worked out. Curfew has now been extended to 12 midnight which does help a bit, but there’s no clear sign of when things will be back to normal.
If you have tickets to Thailand and aren’t sure if you should come, just know that the past two weeks I’ve spent here, coup and all, have been some of the best I’ve spent in my cumulative 4 months in Thailand.
It’s still a place I love, and always will.