Bangkok on New Year's Eve - A First Hand Account

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My family and I went for a short break recently in Bangkok during the New Year's Eve and New Year period. Probably one of the few holidays that we will remember for a long time but not for the reasons you imagine.

Everybody who has been following the news will know that this was the exact same period of time when nine bombs went off recently hours before the countdown in Bangkok. This led to an outcry amongst the politicians, especially ousted Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who violently objected to being linked to this. There is now a big debate going on about who was responsible for this spate of violence, with at least many believing that it was not the work of the Southern Muslim insurgents whom Thaksin tried hard to quell.

The casualty count was about 3 dead and at least about 50 injured. I was just glad that the damage to this incident was limited.

While we were there on NYE, we heard from the locals that the countdown party at Central World Plaza just a stone's throw away from our service apartment at Centrepoint Langsuan was cancelled. The reason? Nine bombings calculated to sour the mood for New Year celebrations in one of Southeast Asia's most happening party city.
Hotel front office staff, taxi drivers, restaurant owners and the like were chatting about it like it was just part and parcel of their everyday lives. According to one cab driver, "this is just part of life in Bangkok. No problem." No wonder, considering how many hoaxes and bombings take place here regularly.
On that night itself, we were celebrating our first New Year's Eve away from Singapore at a fancy Italian restaurant along swanky Langsuan Road (just a short walk from our service apartment). Amidst chasing after my son Ethan, having a few sips of wine (and later beer in the apartment room), and enjoying the huge T-bone steak in from of me, we were mostly nonchalant to the acts of terrorism. We even saw the fireworks going off in a few places, at Chao Phraya River and the urban city centre while sipping beer and watching movie reruns. It was only later as we gradually found about the extent of the damage that we sobered up a little.

Our relatives though were frantically trying to call us to check if we were safe. They also urged us to stay away from crowded places. Because of the jammed telephone network after the bombings, most of the calls didn't get through. However, some did come through later and we reassured them that we aren't going to go to crowded places or countdown at "high risk" locations like their huge shopping malls.

When we walked around the next few days on 1 and 2 January, sat on the Bangkok Skytrain and visited all the usual shopping hotspots (Chatuchak Market, Suan Lum Night Market, Mah Boon Krong Shopping Centre, etc), it didn't seem to be in a state of emergency. Certainly, the streets were rather quiet for a public holiday, but there were still lots of people around. I spotted a few soldiers here and there on their jeeps, wielding their rifles and machine guns. You can also see every newspaper and television channel talking about this. However, to the ordinary Thais, it seems pretty much business as usual.

So if the bombs weren't an issue then what makes this holiday especially memorable?

Well, it was our first time bringing Ethan along for a holiday trip, and what they tell you about bringing toddlers on holidays are true. Everything will go wrong and then some more. I never imagined that a small, little package like him could kick such a ruckus and cause near damage to our auditory apparatus. He didn't want to eat, didn't want to shop, and didn't want to walk. All he could say (for at least 30 or more times over 5 days) is that he wants to go back to his home at Bukit Purmei and to do it NOW (in ascending volume). My arms are also probably 1 cm longer from carrying 14.5 kg of kicking toddler over extended distances. Thankfully, parts of the trip were still enjoyable (the non-shopping bits) particularly our visit to Bangkok's Safari World.

Bangkok is a shopper's and eater's paradise. However, it can be a toddler (and parent) hell as our recent experience shows. While the rest of the world got all flustered over the Bangkok bombings, we had to deal with our own crisis which was nearer, louder (very much so), and more energy sapping.

Our next family trip? Somewhere rustic, resorty, and rural with no shopping thrown in for good measure.

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