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Blazing Saddles: Bicycling in Bangkok

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: I have long believed the bicycle represents something of a magical chariot with the ability to unleash serendipitous experiences at many turns. So it proved on my last visit to Bangkok, where I had flown to spend some time with my 22-year-old daughter, Olivia, who stopped there en route from Sydney to London.

Now it’s probably no coincidence the words relaxing, bike ride and Bangkok hardly ever appear in the same sentence. In fact, the thought of cycling in Bangkok seems to offer as much possibility for relaxation and pleasure as say, thrusting a live cobra down one’s underpants.

However, as I was walking along Sukhumvit Road between Soi 20 and 22 on a typically sticky Bangkok morning, out of the blue I saw a row of brightly painted new Trek mountain bikes chained up outside a spa and massage shop.

Naturally, my curiosity was piqued and so I entered the dimly-lit interior of the shop where I was greeted by a young enthusiastic Dane named Martin Vestergaard. Martin is the owner of Bangkok Bike Adventure (www.bangkokbikeadventure.com) which he runs from his Thai wife’s massage and spa shop at 400 Sukhumvit Road.

Martin explained that when he arrived in the hot, polluted concrete jungle that is Krung Thep he so missed his native cycle-friendly homeland that he was determined to discover if there were hidden corners of the metropolis where relaxing and healthy cycling could be enjoyed. He was amazed to discover that behind the endless facade of high rises, malls, markets and condos lay a secret world where biking could be an absolute pleasure.

Martin decided to launch Bangkok Bike Adventure as a means of introducing even the most inexperienced cyclist to this unknown world of greenery and quietude hidden just out of sight of the average resident or visitor to this maniacal metropolis.

And so it was that my daughter and I decided to sample Martin’s half-day tour which is designed to take riders on a fascinating cycling trip through Bangkok and in particular to the massive green oasis that lies secreted at its center known as the ‘Jungle of Bangkok’.

We turned up bright and early next day to meet our excellent guide who would lead us on our magical mystery tour of a city I thought I knew so well. We were kitted out with bicycles adjusted to our size and needs and then we were off.

We started with some easy biking along the pavements to nearby Benjakiti Park, where we followed the leafy trails, and I was reminded of frequently taking my little toddler daughter, as she was then, to the huge lake in this park to feed the abundant fish and turtles that live here amid the chaos of Bangkok.

We carefully cycled further along Soi Asoke to the simply amazing bustling fresh market in Khlong Toey. This hive of human and animal activity operates on a 24/7 basis and wheeling our bikes through the myriad stalls, live seafood tanks and bustling chaos was a simply jaw-dropping experience with ‘wows!’ and photo ops at every turn.

Leaving the market we cycled a short distance to a hidden river pier, where we loaded our bikes aboard an open long-tail boat to cross the massive Chao Praya River over to the Bang Kachao isthmus, the ‘Bangkok Jungle’.

Upon unloading our bikes, it felt as if we had entered a leafy, saner, parallel universe unknown to most of Bangkok’s denizens and yet so very close to their everyday stressful lives. As we cycled along raised concrete paths through trees and mangroves the world of skyscrapers and traffic jams seemed a universe away.

The air was noticeably cleaner and well oxygenated and the quietude and sound of birdsongs were all the more surprising because we were still in the heart of the city and yet screened off from is pernicious insanity.

Here on this peninsula, traditional Thai life is conducted as it once was, and still is, up country and far away from Thailand’s feverish cities.

We visited floating markets, ancient temples, peaceful wildlife reserves, traditional wooden houses on stilts and much more.

We made a stop for lunch in an old-fashioned ramshackle restaurant where the seafood was fresh and delicious, and later on stopped at the funky riverside Bangkok Tree House coffee shop and restaurant for more refreshments. Throughout our ride people were noticeably friendlier and happy to see us, greeting us with a happy wave.

Our boat was waiting for us at the pier after riding through this 2,000 hectare ‘lung’ of Bangkok and it ferried us back into the mayhem of inner city life.

We had been away just four hours and had cycled a mere 25 kilometers, yet we felt as though we had journeyed to another world where calmer, saner souls ruled and bicycles were the logical way to move about and enjoy the relaxing environment.

You can reach Martin Vestergaard’s Bangkok Bike Adventures at contact@bangkokbikeadventure.com and at call 085 918 6324.

— Baz Daniel

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Protests

More protest rallies today and tomorrow around Bangkok

The Thaiger

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More protest rallies today and tomorrow around Bangkok | The Thaiger

If you think the current spate of rallies are ruling out of steam, think again. Yesterday’s large protest around the Lat Phrao intersection on Phahon Yothin Road was just the first of 3 days of planned protests around Bangkok and Samut Prakan. Protesters yesterday described their action as an “anti-coup drill”, claiming that the coup “chatter” continued and that they would strenuously protest against another Army-led action against Thai citizens.

The yellow ducks and a few other inflatable animals were again taking front stage in a rally that was described more like a picnic than a political demonstration.

Today’s rally will start at the Imperial World Samrong shopping centre, south of central Bangkok, and march to Bang Na intersection.

Then tomorrow protesters plan to hold another rally in front of the . Imperial World Samrong shopping centre.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police says there will be up to 500 crowd control police attending to each of the protests, adding that the rallies had been given formal permission to go ahead and police will be ensuring that no laws are broken.

The government has come under a barrage of criticism from NGOs and rights groups about some of the heavy-handed responses and baiting at rallies to “create” the appearance of conflict. Yesterday the Foreign Ministry issued a statement via their spokesperson, Tanee Sangrat in response to the criticism.

13 international organisations – including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Asia Democracy Network, and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development – have made official submissions about the response from police and handling of the rival protest groups, which resulted in the shooting of 6 people and other protesters injured by the high power water cannons and tear gas deployed by riot police..

The Ministry spokesman maintained that Thailand had “upheld the rule of law and respected the judicial process with transparency. In handling recent protests, the authorities have enforced the law in line with international standards, with the appropriate response to the situation.”

The spokesperson said that participants in the November 17 outside the Thai Parliament broke through concrete barricades and tried to reach an “off-limits area”, forcing police to take action to bring the situation under control. Protesters told police that they wanted to get to the front of the parliament buildings to protest the debates that were being conducted inside.

“The operation was proportional to the situation and was not excessive. Those who want to exercise their right to assemble must follow the law and consider the safety of others.”

Organisers of yesterday afternoon’s rally, the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, called the rally “an anti-coup drill”.

“Undeniably, speculation about a coup has been rife. It should not happen. But history teaches us that we cannot trust. Therefore, all are welcome for a drill to cope with another possible coup”.

Current Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, as head of the Thai Army before the May 2014 coup, maintained that the army would not intervene and oust the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

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Protests

Shooter from Bangkok SCB protest surrenders to police

Maya Taylor

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Shooter from Bangkok SCB protest surrenders to police | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Facebook / Free Youth Movement

A man accused of shooting at anti-government protesters at a rally in Bangkok on Wednesday has admitted the charge and surrendered to police. Peerawut Kunamonkan delivered his 25 year old son, Passapong, to police at Phaholyothin station in the capital yesterday. He faces charges of attempted murder, shooting in public, and illegally carrying a gun and ammunition.

According to a Nation Thailand report, Passapong is accused of shooting 20 year old Prachakorn Saksritao, a former student of Pathumthani Technical College, but claims he did it for personal, not political, reasons. It’s understood Prachakorn was at the rally as a member of the protesters’ security team. The shooting took place as activists were dispersing at the end of a rally at the headquarters of the Siam Commercial Bank.

The accused, a former student at Min Buri Polytechnic Technology College in Bangkok, says he was reacting to sarcastic social media posts from Prachakorn. The posts were made after Passapong and the group he was with voiced their disapproval of activists insulting the Monarchy. Passapong is taking full responsibility for the shooting, saying nobody paid him to do it and that he will pay for the victim’s medical treatment.

Following speculation on social media that the shooting was carried out by a yellow-shirt royalist, Thanadech Srisongkram, from the Minburi vocational student guards, has denied the claims. He says the shooting had nothing to do with the protests or the Monarchy, adding that his group is not affiliated with any particular political group. He says he has apologised to the security detail from Pathumthani Technical College, promising that such an incident will not happen again.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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Protests

Thousands gather in Bangkok for “anti-coup” protest picnic

Maya Taylor

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Thousands gather in Bangkok for “anti-coup” protest picnic | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thai PBS World

Around 5,000 pro-democracy activists gathered at the Lat Phrao intersection in the Chatuchak district of Bangkok last night, to oppose any potential coup, a situation continually denied by the current PM. Last night’s gathering took the form of a picnic, at which mainly north-eastern dishes were served. Protesters described it as a rehearsal against military intervention, with one 18 year old activist, named only as Tan, saying history cannot be allowed to repeat itself.

“I’m only 18 but have seen 2 coups already. That’s not right. We don’t want history to repeat itself.”

The rally was announced on Facebook by the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, who say the Thai people have had enough of coups that oust elected governments. They described the event as “a drill against a coup d’etat”.

“There have been too many coups in the past, so history has taught us to remain vigilant. Therefore, we would like to invite everyone to participate in a drill to prepare for another coup that could happen.”

Army chief Narongphan Jitkaewtae has previously dismissed rumours of an impending coup, but the Ratsadon (People’s Movement) group have voiced their distrust of the current military regime, saying history would indicate otherwise. Protest leader Panupong Jadnok, aka, “Mike”, says the gathering last night is a powerful illustration of people’s opposition to a coup.

According to a Nation Thailand report, there have been at least 12 successful coups in Thailand, an average of 1 every 7 years, since the country moved from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy following the Siamese Revolution of 1932. The last military coup was in May 2014, which brought former army general Prayut Chan-o-cha to power, where he has remained ever since.

One woman at last night’s rally, a 32 year old named Natalie, says the 2014 coup has proved a disaster for the country and it’s time for urgent change.

“Now is a crisis time in Bangkok and Thailand. I want new elections and to change the prime minister and for a new government to actually listen to the people.”

Last night, the yellow ducks were out again, this time being used to represent the army. Protesters passed the ducks over their heads, to symbolise the military moving over the people to take a front row seat on the political stage. Activists flashed the 3-fingered salute at the rubber ducks, a gesture originally derived from The Hunger Games, that has become a powerful anti-establishment symbol. Activists also burned pictures of former coup leaders, including the current PM.

Last night’s gathering follows another one in the capital on Wednesday, when thousands rallied outside the headquarters of the Siam Commercial Bank. The Bangkok Post reports that another protest is planned for today, in front of the Imperial World Samrong shopping mall in Samut Prakan, just outside Bangkok, and a further one tomorrow, at the Imperial Lat Phrao mall.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post | Nation Thailand

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