Bankok: Pak Klong Talad and Siam Square

It was FOBY’s final day in Bangkok one which he didn’t want to fritter away, so after breakfast we walked parallel to the Chao Phraya River arriving at the Bangkok Flower Market (Pak Klong Talad) some 10 minutes away. The market is the biggest wholesale and retail fresh flower market in Bangkok.

Pak Klong Talad officially runs 24 hours a day, but apparently it is at its most eventful in the pre-dawn hours, when deliveries arrive and hotels, restaurants, and florists stock up on blossoms at wholesale prices. We were visiting in the morning but it was still busy and entertaining.

The market is a labyrinth of slender passageways and yawning warehouse bays, every square metre covered with alluring fauna from throughout Thailand: elegant orchids, exotic roses, and pearly lotus buds, kept cool on ice. There are legion orange-hued marigold blossoms, interlaced into garlands called Phuang Malai. These symbolise good fortune and respect; Thailand is awash with them, they adorn everything from Buddhist temples and cafes to buses and taxis.

Bare torsoed vendors in latex galoshes raced barrows full of bamboo flower vessels, in some way avoiding a F1 style pileup. Petal-strewn men chain-smoking and screaming inhabited the cavernous warehouses.  Leafy ferns, fluorescent daisies, and banana-leaf cheroots that are popular as temple offerings: they were everywhere.  Some of the vendors slept, balanced atop a fragrant bed of perfect marigolds, unaffected by the maelström of activity around them. Street food merchants trundled their carts through the posse of humanity, tinkling tinny-toy bells to engage customers as well as alerting them to spare their ankles.

It was a memorable experience and from here we’d decided to take the ferry to Central Pier then the MTR to Siam Square.

My oh my what a difference 25 years makes! The old building are still nestled in the shadows but are now dominated by the glass edifice of shopping malls that are Siam Paragon and Siam Center. We had limited time and Frank Oh Bok Young spent much of it fascinated by the difference retail prices between SK and Thailand, particularly with regard to Samsung products which are bizarrely more expensive in SK than Thailand, the US or the UK. These glamorous new temples to materialism and fashion are the modern face of Thailand. For those of us used to a bargain the old streets still survive and are worth a wander.  Of course during our visit the market that sits below the MTR elevated track was full of protesters making their point about setting Thailand free from its current government.

The remonstrations are about reform of Thailand’s politics, purging them of Thaksin’s influence for good. The protesters are repeatedly called an “elite” by pro-Thaksin groups; it’s a term used to discredit their opponents, and it has caught on among many in the international media. The reality is somewhat different, while the protests indeed have their centre in Bangkok, most protesters are fairly diverse, and include the city’s middle and working classes, as well as students and people of all walks of life from Thailand’s south. Importantly, the majority of the Bangkok-born working class do not support the government.

Only time will tell what impact the protest have, we were two days away from the hurriedly called election. This process could roll on for months. In the meantime, the government, which has limited “caretaker” powers, remains highly unstable. Its state of emergency, declared last month, has had no effect in quelling the protests. More than 100,000 police officers will be mobilised during the election but its probable they will not intervene to stop the shutdown of many polling stations.

The PDRC wants Yingluck’s government replaced with an unelected “people’s council,” which would essentially be a military-backed junta.

This “appointed” council would rule the country and rewrite the constitution to prevent any parties tied to the Shinawatra family from returning to power. The PDRC and Democrats represent Thailand’s traditional elites, including the monarchy, military and state bureaucracy, which are hostile to Yingluck and her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The military, which has staged a total of 18 coups since the 1930s, has formally refused to “take a side,” but is clearly sympathetic to the opposition. According to the Bangkok Post, a group of retired generals including Saiyud Kerdpol, a former supreme commander, and Wimol Wongwanich, a former army chief, have suggested a military coup to resolve the political crisis.

After a short detour to Silom Road for lunch we headed back so Frank Oh Bok Young could pack for his departure.

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