(13 November) The rhythm of Bangkok′s backpacker street remains unaffected by the raging anti-government protests that occupied the entire southern stretch of Ratchadamnoen Avenue just few blocks away.
The protesters, who demand the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, have been camping around the Democracy Monument for almost two weeks, and have shown no sign of leaving soon.
Fearing an occupation of important governmental offices by the protesters, the police have cordoned off a number of roads around the protest site, causing traffic mayhem in rush hours. Meanwhile, experts and representatives of business sectors warned of far-reaching economic fallout caused by the prolonged rallies – especially if the protests spiral into full-blown violence.
But Khaosarn Road, one of the most famous tourist destinations of the capital city, is largely spared from the turmoil brewing nearby, according to interviews with many vendors, business owners, and foreign tourists in the area.
Sam, a Burmese man who sells beer at his streetside stall at the bustling backpacker road, told our correspondent that things have been normal as usual. However, he complained that although the protests have brought streams of protesters that commute through Khaosarn Road toward the rally at Ratchadamnoen, very few of them stopped by at his stall.
"I mostly welcome foreign tourists and Thai clubbers", said Sam, "but not many protesters in their black T shirts and whisles had actually become my customers."
Nevertheless, Sam (who goes by only his first name) is optimistic about the upcoming ?High Season?, a period when Thailand welcomes large influx of high-spending European tourists each year.
The situation is markedly different at the high-end Irish pub Mulligan, where a visible group of anti-government protesters drank and sang to the live music in the smoke-filled second storey of the pub.
One of them could not hide his political allegiance, blowing his whistle – the symbol adopted by the activists as a gesture of defiance against Ms. Yingluck′s government – during the musicians? rendition of Oasis? Stand By Me.
"Go ahead, brothers and sisters!," the band leader shouted to the mic in response, using the well-recited phases from the protests, "Express yourself freely!".
A manager of Mulligan, who preferred not to see his name printed in the media, told our correspondent although the number of his customers have decreased by at least 10% since the protests started, "the business is OK". The manager also believes the situation will not escalate into a violent confrontation.
But he voiced his concern that if the rallies continue for a longer time, his business would be eventually affected.
Back on the crowded street of Khaosarn, the atmosphere is as lively as any given night. Backpackers jostled their ways past group of drunken revelers, while vendors hawk Pad Thai and kebab on the side.
Nadia Meier and Stephanie Oehen, tourists from Switzerland, said they felt unsafe travelling in the vicinity of Khaosarn Road, but the presence of the protesters was not part of the factors. For them, the possibility of muggers and pickpockets are far more worrying in their opinion.
"I always keep my purse close to me. Who knows what′s gonna happen in Khaosarn," said Nadia.
Asked what they think about the protests, they replied they had not much idea about the anti-government campaign, even though one of their taxi drivers tried to explain it to them.
But Stephanie added that "It′s ok to protests, but it seems unwise to dance and sing in the avenue and disturb other people in the area like that".
Kate Lamb, an American backpacker, said she is aware of the protests, and she was worried the occupation of Ratchadamnoen Avenue would stretch for weeks or months. However, even if the protests do become prolonged, it would not affect her travel itinerary as she planned to leave Bangkok to other provinces soon.
"I understand they are exercising their rights under a democracy," said Ms. Lamb "But is there any possible way to protest in a less disruptive way?"
The protests also open up new business opportunities for some people. For instance, a group of young students from Satri Wittaya School, which has been shut down due to its extremely short distance to the rally stage, sells T-Shirts printed with slogans of the protests near Democracy Monument.
The youngsters said their parents allowed them to turn the free time during the school′s closure into a profitable one.
It appears that, apart from few hiccups caused by the protests, Khaosarn Road continues to welcome all the crowds from all the corners of the world as ever. As the local ethos here reads, Same same but different.
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