In the ceaseless stream of information and news, events rise to attention only to be buried in the next news cycle. To get a feel for the past year, here are the images and stories that defined 2018.
The New Year got off with a bang for Seksan ‘Sek Loso’ Sukpimai, who, after unloading a pistol into the sky at a temple, was arrested after a standoff at his home. It would be the first of several times Sek’s troubled life was in the news.
It started as a slow burn, but two years of talk about legalizing medical weed built up steam over the the year.
The skies were dark and full of ultra-fine particulate pollution, the first of several recurring episodes.
An uproar colored by a bitter expectations of injustice played out all year after the powerful head of the nation’s largest construction firm, Premchai Karnasuta, appeared to be caught red-handed poaching a black panther in a wildlife sanctuary.
Like a tabloid version of a John LeCarre novel, the worldwide churn over Moscow’s role in the 2016 US election of Donald Trump landed in Pattaya of all places, with a group of Slav libertines claiming to have secret recordings they’d share in exchange for help avoiding deportation to Russia. Some of it added up, but after months in a Thai detention center, they recanted.
The sight of several middle-aged “aunties” going at an illegally parked truck with crude weapons turned into a damning conversation on the city’s indolent and venal enforcement of basic laws.
New currency was minted and printed.
In a sign of things to come, the public turned to the arts to issue social rebukes on perceived injustices.
The most memorable thing about April was Songkran and the proliferation of those pineapple-print shirts just everywhere.
The ardor of pro-democracy activists was no match for an overwhelming show of force on the fourth anniversary of the 2014 coup, as their attempt to march on the military government’s seat of power was thwarted with its leaders arrested and charged.
A rabies false alarm pushed officials to take action and capture animals nationwide. Then thousands died suffering unnecessarily at ill-equipped facilities such as this government shelter in Nakhon Phanom.
If you use it, you knew 2018 was a terrible year for the capital city’s nearly 20-year-old commuter rail line.
Thailand had nearly abolished capital punishment when, suddenly, the first execution in years was carried out. Critics said the flawed case was the perfect example of why people should not be put to death in a country lacking in strong criminal justice. The public loved it.
So it began. A worrying yet “typical” story one expected to resolve quickly with the 13 Wild Boars found lost in the woods or – more likely – drowned. Those predictions would be proven very wrong.
For a few brief days, all the world was united behind a rescue operation in the northernmost reaches of the kingdom. Heroes and martyrs were made along the way to one of the year’s brightest moments, the unlikely rescue of all 13 people trapped inside the Luang cave.
At the height of the global frenzy over the cave rescue, two tourist boats sank in a sudden storm off of Phuket. In Thailand’s worst modern maritime disaster, 46 people – all but two were Chinese visitors – died aboard the Phoenix.
Arts and culture got a big boost from not one but three “biennale” events in Thailand this year. The first of which was the non-commercial, independent Bangkok Biennial.
Since opening the year with a police standoff, things only worsened for Sek Loso. In August, he hit peak weird with a series of long-running, rambling Facebook live sessions where he performed strange stunts and engaged in conspiracy theories. His girlfriend and ex-wife staged an intervention and admitted him to a mental health facility for treatment. He says he’s getting better.
To its detractors, Koh Tao is “murder island,” a place where unaware travel adventurers are subject to violence, rape and murder. Island defenders say that reputation is unfair, despite the double-homicide of two traveling Britons in 2014 and other deaths involving suspicious circumstances. That debate led to legal threats this year, with police threatening to prosecute the expat editor of a news site and arresting about a dozen people for sharing information online about a rape police swear didn’t happen.
Mostly led by exiles living in countries such as Laos and organized online, a small movement to secede part of Thailand to form a republic was suddenly taken very seriously, with the authorities detaining and arresting people for wearing T-shirts allegedly professing allegiance to its goals.
The strain of heavy tourism caught up with one of the country’s most iconic backdrops, Maya Beach. The authorities initially closed it for a few months before changing their minds and leaving it indefinitely inaccessible.
The arts have mostly taken a back seat and avoided any role in pushing social or political issues. That changed dramatically in September with the release of “My Country’s Got,” an angry dis track on the kingdom’s military government and social inequities. It has been watched more than 50 million times.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Thai duty-free magnate credited with making a sports fairy tale come true in Leicester, England, was mourned worldwide after his helicopter went down while leaving the team’s stadium.
Suthep Thaugsuban, one of the architects of the 2014 coup, got a less warm welcome when he returned to the streets of Bangkok four years after leading street protests to unseat the elected civilian government. But it also signaled a step toward normalcy as politicians hit the streets in anticipation of a general election, the first to be held since 2014, when the results were annulled.
What had long been a development eyesore on the west bank of the mighty Chao Phraya River finally opened as Bangkok’s newest sprawling shopping temple.
A revised law governing His Majesty the King’s assets came into effect that redefined the king’s possessions to include what the monarchy had accumulated under “ancient royal traditions.” King Vajiralongkorn has the final say over what is included in the category.
Thailand’s second Michelin guide came out, with some surprising stars awarded to the people who’ve put Bangkok dining on the map.
Pageant-addicted Thailand got to host the Miss Universe pageant and wasn’t mad at all when Miss Philippines Catriona Gray won. But the last month of the year was just getting started.
It was a fitting Christmas gift when, after years of debate, the interim parliament voted unanimously to legalize medical marijuana, among other changes to the drug laws.
On the same day, the cabinet endorsed legislation that would codify civil unions but fall short of allowing gay marriage.
Also rounding out the year, the national anti-corruption body voted to exonerate deputy junta leader Prawit Wongsuwan of any wrongdoing in the luxury watch scandal. Outrage ensued from unsurprised yet angry critics vowing to hold the commissioners responsible.
For the second time in as many years, a physical reminder of Thai democracy vanished in the dead of night without explanation. This time it was Bangkok’s Constitution Defense Monument, which commemorates government victory over a pro-monarchy rebellion eight decades ago.