Blogging Thailand's Coup: a Night of Living Dangerously

A blogger who goes by the pen name of "Jotman" happened to be in Bangkok on the night of Thailand's coup d'etat (September 19th 2006). On the scene before most Western news organizations, Jotman provided some of the earliest photographs of the coup.

For this article, Jotman has presented his original posts from his blog -- this time arranged chonologically -- and added new commentary (italics) and some new photographs and video footiage from the historic night.

From Bangkok - a Night of Living Dangerously

In the following blogs entries I will report to you on what I have seen and heard on the streets of Bangkok tonight, in and around the government building section of the city.

A coup d'etat appears to have occurred within the past 4-5 hours. I have just returned from a two hour long tour of the goverment buildings area where the coup d'etat leaders appear to be based. I carried my camera. There were few foreign journalists in the area and I did not see any television networks on the scene. I spoke with the a few tourists, a number of curious Thai onlookers, and some Thais who had turned out to support what appears to be the military overthrow of the "caretaker" goverment of Thai Prime Minister Taksin.

I will share with you my photos, observations, and provide some background to events -- I have been based in the city for about a year.

First Word of "Revolution" in Bangkok

A cell phone call from a friend in New York City alerted me that there was "a revolution" taking place in Bangkok. I was in the lobby of my guesthouse checking my email at the time. I mentioned it to other guests -- none of whom were as yet aware. We turned on BBC where Bush was addressing the UN.

Cable television is no longer operating in Bangkok (3:30am)

What was on Thai television at 11:30pm? Every Bangkok TV station was playing a videos of the Thai Royal Family. Here is a photo of the local Thai TV (four and a half hours ago). Shown on the screen is HM the King of Thailand who is greatly beloved by the Thai people.

Taxi to see the "big gun"

Off to see what was happening. I jumped in a taxi. But how to explain to the taxi driver where I wanted to go? My guesthouse is near the famous Koh San Road, which is a stones' throw from the Imperial Palace and the goverment complex. (My Thai friend in NY on the cell phone had said to stay away from "big streets" because of the army presence, so I directed my taxi to the main avenue.) Pointing to my camera, I said to the driver I wanted to take photos. On the way out of the hotel the manager said something about tanks on the streets. Nothing seemed to be happening on the main avenue that goes past the palace. Traffic was light.

Suddenly my taxi drive spoke up. "want to see big gun?"


Suddenly we came to it. The big gun was a tank situated in the centre of an intersection (in the above photo, it's situated between the two red taxi cabs). But here is a much better view of the "big gun."

Here are more views of "big gun" from various angles:

"Don't Tank My Tuk-Tuk" and other video clips featuring "the Big Gun"

A tuk-tuk tries to maneuver around a tank stationed at the centre of a major intersection near the seat of goverment in Bangkok.

Same tank, different tuk-tuk:

Some taxis make their way past the tank:

I made my way across the intersection, looking back at the tank:

Crossing the Bridge

After taking photos of the "big gun" at the intersection, I spoke with a Thai man. He said that there were more tanks, cross the bridge, at end of the street -- straight ahead. It would be a short walk.

But just before I headed off a horn sounded. A car swirved at high speed around the tank, narrowly missing it. The tank situated in the very center of the intersection was all but invisible to an unwary driver. (Note to Thai military: distribute reflective plates for your tanks for the next coup).

Across the bridge, at the next intersection were several more tanks, (I will download the photo here when blogger allows me too). At this very dark, unlit intersection I met a Spanish journalist who had just arrived this evening in Bangkok from an assignment in Cambodia. Bangkok was to be her "holiday." Some holiday.

The troops at this intersection were a bit tense, and kept onlookers away:

Onlookers at the "Dark Intersection"

Onlookers at the intersection. The previous photo shows a close-up of what they are looking at.

We Take Another Route

They won't let us past their tanks, but we want to get to the goverment buildings area to see what's happening over there. I suggest to the Spanish journalist that we walk back to the "big gun" tank the taxi driver had taken me to, and then take the alternate route the Thai man had mentioned.

Here's another view of a Thai biker dude checking out the first tank. CNN would later post a photo of this very tank on its homepage:

A Revolution Under Golden Arches

We move up the street and find ouselves opposite the UN Development Agency building. Across from the building is the same blocked off area. There are more troops, happier ones it seems, positioned under a giant royal banner. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the King's reign, and to celebrate the streets of the capitol are decked out with golden ornamentation, photos of the King, and lights-covered trees.

A man steps forward to give an impromtu news conference beside the tank.

I took two video clips of the interview, and the hotel manager translated. "From now on the goverment will not to be so busy meddling everywhere..." Answering another question the spokesperson said, "The soldiers have gone outside to make things good, and they were ordered to do so by general Sonthi Boonyaratkalin."

Here, just added (11-28-06), are the video clips of spokesman addressing onlookers and the press:

A Midnight Motorcade -- Thailand's Generals Zoom Past

There are those times in your life when you wish you had turned the video switch on your camera instead of taking a still shot. This was one of those moments. We were at the UN building corner, beside the golden arch. There was a siren. Then the sound of cars approaching. Then loud applause broke out among the people lining the road as Thailand's generals, the leaders of the coup d'etat sped past us. The motorcade consisted of 15, maybe 20 vehicles: SUVs and cars. It was an exhilarating moment. The loud applause was what really struck me. Here's what it looked like:

0100 Hr: Thai Military Command HQ

We decide to follow the motorcade of high ranking officials. We find ourselves standing opposite an imposing gate. "Did the cars go in here?" we ask a Thai journalist. Apparently so. Outside the blue and red gate of the complex, stand half a dozen guards who mingle. This is the gate to headquarters of the Thai military. The gates are opened from time to timem as cars and motorcycles of various sorts pull into the compound.


I give an interview for Swedish radio. Then we walked back towards the tank under the golden arch. But we pass some other military vehicles where people are in a mood to celebrate -- and so are the soldiers. A citizen had passed out roses to the soldiers. I have never seen so many smiling soldiers before.

Some guys even thought to bring their own home-made sign to demonstrate their support for the coup.

A New Day Dawns

Dawn is breaking in Bangkok, roosters are croaking. Thai television networks are broadcasting Royal Family music videos. The Bangkok Post, one of two English language Thai papers, just arrived at my Guesthouse. Headline reads: COUP D'ETAT. (I can't get to the website, so I'll quote you what it says. "The coup leaders call themselves the Democratic Reform Council, led by Gen. Sonthi." They claim to represent all the armed forces. As for what they claim as the immediate pretext for the coup, the generals say they wanted to avert a potential confrontation between opposition party protesters and the "forestry police" who were scheduled to move into Bangkok today armed with rifles. I'll try to link to the article when it's up, and let you know more when I finish reading it.

Jotman continues to blog at JOTMAN.COM.

1 comment:

  1. That looks like a very exciting night in Thailand. Good to know that the coup d'etat was not that bad.