We went to Bangkok for a day trip, on the nation's bloodiest day for two decades.
We didn't really want to go back to Bangkok, but just when we think we're leaving Ayutthaya, our bank card ends up inside an ATM again...
Oringinally we were told it isn't being opened until Monday 19 April due to the New Year holiday. Luckily the nice Thai girl at the bank could sense my panic and managed to arrange for the ATM to be opened this Monday. Thank goodness for that kind girl!!
Yesterday we took the opportunity to return to Bangkok to buy a replacement battery charger for our video camera. We had planned to just see if we could find one along the way (no luck in Ayutthaya) but since we had time and it was just 90 minutes on the train, we thought, why not?
We bought third class tickets that cost us 15 Baht each (50cents) as compared to the 40 Baht we paid for the Tuk Tuk to take us just under 2km to the train station. The trip to Bangkok was uneventful and we arrived in time to eat and walk about 2km to the Sony store.
Well, walk to the address given online. When we got there we found a bustling local clothing market stretching as far as the eye could see, but no Sony store. Some further investigations led us to a different address - 7km away. The first taxi driver we spoke to said something about red shirts and wanted far too much money so we kept asking drivers til we found one that could take us there.
Our visit to the Sony customer repair centre proved that the charger was not working, but they couldn't sell us a new one as apparently it was a national holiday and might be for the next week or so... So back in a taxi to the MBK shopping centre.
The taxi driver promptly placed on his head a hat with a an extra bright red band and proudly pointed to the red items that adorned various parts of his car.
On the way to the shopping centre we passed through a road block and group of protesters. Everything we'd heard on the news always talked about peaceful protests, plus we had the word of the dishonest taxi driver from last time we were in Bangkok that they only wanted to talk. So we weren't worried. In fact, we wound down the windows to wave and shout out with all the people streaming into the streets wearing red.
The driver loved it... But we did notice an unfamiliar, almost eery tension in the air, and although we may have denied it at the time, instinctively it felt as though something important was happening. This feeling only intensified when we stopped, got out of the taxi and saw riot police everywhere, it looks as though they were gearing up for battle, Sam mused, and we both wondered why there were so many of them about looking 'so serious.'
We weren't to know that this was actually the day when the normally peaceful Thais would break into violence, and 20 people would die. Bizarely I pointed out to Sam some Government soldiers were standing under a red tent, desperatly trying to avoid the searing 40 degree heat.
We ended up finding our battery charger after a long and protracted search (a MUCH cheaper fake) and returned to the station, with a train due to leave in 10 minutes. Perfect.
An hour and a half later our train finally arrived and the crowd waiting on the platform had now doubled in size to that waiting at its so called time of departure. Our platform was packed and lots of hot, hungry, tired people were waiting to get on. In third class there is no allocated seating, it's just first in. Usually though this isn't too much of a problem as there aren't many more people than seats.
Luckily, Sam was first in. But after a few minutes (when the train was full) one of the guards motioned that we couldn't sit in that seat. We quickly found two more seats but they they were given to second class passengers that had paid extra (ten times as much) for a guaranteed seat. We were standing up with masses of other people.
For half an hour they kept jamming more and more people into the train until there was no room to move. At every station, another platform full of people tried to force their way into the carriages. Some were strong and forceful and got lucky, but most were left stranded. There were lots of people wearing red and pink shirts in the train... coincidence maybe?
Strangely, just before we arrived in Ayutthaya a little man pushed his way through the tired, thick, sweaty crowd, and without a moments thought opened up the carriage adjoing ours. He then proceeded to yell something in Thai excitedly. Although with confusd looks on their faces, passengers standing body to body, leg against leg, began a mad dash for the empty carriage next to ours. We still don't know how that happened...
We arrived at Ayutthaya at 10pm, two hours after we were meant to arrive, and read on the news websites about the true nature of the violent protests that subsequently ensued.
As of Monday 11 April 1am Australian Eastern standard time there were 20 confirmed dead and more than 800 injured.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia