They lost their livelihood, their home, the ability to walk or even a son or father. Whatever side they were on, the events that took place in Bangkok between March and May 2010 is forever marked in their minds and flesh. Here, they share memories from these violent, polarizing and unforgettable three months. By Monruedee Jansuttipan, Pinhathai Chunharas, Rattikarn Suwithayaphan, Kanyanun Sunglaw, Nuchanat Prathumswan and Sritala Dhanasarnsombut
Row 1 Picture: from left to right: protester, soldier, counter-protester, protester and French cameraman in Apr 2010
Row 2 Picture: from left to right: policeman, photographer, protesters and counter-protester in Apr 2010
Chaiwat Poompuang, 46, photographer at The Nation
Shot while taking photographs of the protests May 14, 2010.
What was your role in the protests?
I am a head photographer, so it was my job to assign work to other in-house photographers, decide where they should go and when they should be called back. Later, I started to go into the danger zone myself.
In what conditions were you shot?
I went to the Rangnam area on May 14. When I arrived I saw a guy lying on the ground who had been shot dead, and the protestors were trying to carry the body away. In the afternoon, protestors were burning tyres and at one point tried to drive a truck into the line of soldiers. Then the soldiers started firing at the protestors. I was in the line of fire, so I was trying to escape with my finger on the camera shutter the whole time. I got shot in my right thigh. The bone there was shattered. My colleagues begged the CRES to stop shooting, but I lay there for at least half an hour until medical personnel were able to help me.
How did the experience affect you?
The first couple of nights, I would wake up frightened because I was still in shock. I was in the hospital for two and a half months and had to have five separate surgeries to get all the bullet shrapnel out of my leg and repair my broken bones. I’ve been in physical therapy for the past year. I couldn’t do the work that I love. I also dramatically lost weight from 80 kilograms to 69 kilograms for my recovery.
How did you rebuild your life?
I am trying to think positive. Working as a field photographer, you’re sort of prepared for this possibility. I made up my mind on the first day that I got shot that no matter what happened I would accept it. It’s OK to recover 70-80%.
How do you think the country has changed?
It has changed so much, both the economy and society. I don’t know if things are getting better. There are so many color-groups, each working for their own benefit.
Do you think it was worth it?
Not for anyone involved. The economy was destroyed. I don’t see any achievement. It’s all about subverting the other side. Corruption is the issue but that issue should be dealt with through legal proceedings, not protests.
Was there any positive aspects?
It’s a lesson that there’s nothing to be gained from protests.
What is the key to the future?
We need to find an impartial mediator who can bring all parties to talk. But I think it’s quite hard because both side refuse to talk. Everybody always says they love the king, but they would have stopped fighting a long time ago [if that were true].
Will you accept the election results?
Yes I will. Everyone has to accept the election, otherwise the protests will never end.
Khattiya Sawasdipol, 30, daughter of Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol a.k.a Seh Deang.
Her father, the commander of the red shirts’ security forces, was shot dead May 13, 2010
What was your role in the protests?
I didn’t take part. My father let me live a normal life. But we always talked to each other on the phone when he was at the protests. Sometime I came to visit him. I didn’t want to bother him. I let him concentrate on what he was doing. But anyway, he never forbade me to go into the protest.
How did you react to his death?
It was so immediate and so quick. During the four days he was in the hospital, I kept praying for him to wake up. I was ready to take care of him in any condition he might be. And after he passed away, I could only console myself that he was now resting in peace. If he had survived, I don’t know how many difficulties he would have had to face. Some of the red shirt leaders were imprisoned and some fled. Maybe it’s better for us to be separated by death rather than by exile. I think I survived the ordeal because of the incredible support I got from people who loved my father.
How did you rebuild your life?
My father left many things for me to take care of. I learned to manage my time to do his work in addition to my daily work. When compared to my father, I am only a child, though. He had helped a lot of people so they respect and have consideration for him. I struggled and felt discouraged because everything changed so abruptly [in my life]. I had to face everything on my own without any protection from father. I think I’ve grown up a lot. I think things through very thoroughly. It’s different from the past when my father could help me solve problems.
You intend to carry on his work?
Yes, together with people around me. They went out of their way to risk their lives with my father, so I should too, within the scope of what a woman like me can do.
Did he die in vain?
I think my father would think his death is worthy. I am sad that he died but I am proud that he won all the red shirts’ hearts. They see his sacrifice. But I feel that he will have died for nothing if we cannot find and punish the one who killed him. You can’t negotiate about the dead. You can’t give anything to me to make me forget my father’s death. It’s impossible to forget a human life that easily. I believe that my father was a good man. He’d been a soldier all his life. I can’t accept the idea that we should close the case.
Were the protests worth it?
Solving problems with violence isn’t right. If the government or military had negotiated, would it have ended like this? I can say at this point that the protesters got nothing from this event. I don’t know what will happen next.
Any positive aspects?
The “no color” protesters or PAD should understand why the red shirts came to protest. They wanted justice. They came out to show what democracy is.
Jakkraphan Sangchan, 19, brother-in-law of Sgt. Patima Khunpimol
His brother-in-law, a soldier, is severely crippled since he was hit by a grenade on Apr 10, 2010
How did he get injured?
He was injured at Kokwua intersection by a grenade on Apr 10. He got brain damage due to a lack of oxygen. After being bed-ridden for a few months, he has started physical therapy.
What was his original condition?
He was unconscious. He couldn’t speak or move. All he could do was blink and open his eyes. Around December, he started to speak, but he could only mouth some words, without producing a sound. Now he can talk more, but it still hard to understand him. Now he can walk, too, holding himself up on handrails. I am happy to see him getting better. I never thought he would recover this much.
How about your family?
We all feel sad with what happened because he was so fit and healthy before he was wounded. Now he cannot talk that well and his brain hasn’t fully recovered. My sister cried a lot after what happened and she has been at the hospital looking after him ever since. The army gave her a job so sometimes she has to check in with them. I’m only here once in a while when she isn’t free.
How has life changed for you all?
My sister’s changed. She used to run a grocery in Suphanburi but she couldn’t do it anymore. She has to leave her shop and let her mother-in-law take care of it.
What do you think of the politics behind this conflict?
They don’t listen to each other. Nothing is getting better. I think some of the points that both colors made were valid, but some of it is useless. The mob is fine to show their opinions, but it shouldn’t create trouble for others. When people think differently, we just can’t tell them off. It’s their right to express opinions.
Do you think that the country could be united again?
I think it needs time. We don’t live in a dictatorship. I think we should be able to discuss what is best for the future. I want peace as soon as possible.
Weerayut Wiriyasajajitr, reporter at TPBS
Dodged bullets and grenades to report on the protests.
What was it like, doing your job during that period?
I reported on the protests at Panfa Bridge, Sala Daeng and Ratchaprasong. I was right behind the stage where the leaders spoke. I must admit that the red shirts cooperated with the press really well, permitting us to report in the area.
How bad did things gets?
Around mid-May, the protestors were very tense, especially when there was gunfire in the Sala Daeng area in front of Dusit Thani Hotel, with M79s going off almost every minute. I had to hide behind phone booths and mailboxes to get away from the shooting. Very early on May 19, I was in front of Chula Hospital and saw tanks coming in. We weren’t allowed to go inside after that due to the state of emergency.
How do you look back on that period?
I think that this incident has taught us a great lesson. We’re starting to understand that people are used as pawns by groups who try to gain political power and that sometimes protests aren’t justified.
So you think the protests should have been banned?
The act of protesting is a primary political right. Forming a movement to ask for something, like the dissolution, is legitimate. However, the public began to question the legitimacy of the Red Shirt movement because so much violence was involved. Government troops were wounded and died and so did some of the red shirts. Therefore, I think it was definitely not worthwhile.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming election?
I believe that the election will help heal the political conflict. It’s what gives the power back to people. However, the conflict won’t end here. No matter who wins, there is going to be another movement.
Sukuman Kumrungroj, 49, bread shop owner in Bonkai
With bullets tearing through her home, she eventually fled Bonkai.
What was it like living inside the occupied zone?
On May 14, the protests got worse. Bullets hit my house and I nearly got shot. The protesters from Silom were forced by soldiers to move to here, with the use of tear gas. I had to cover my nose and mouth but it got even worse when they burned tires, threw grenades and fired weapons right in front of my house. It was a war zone, with shooting, grenades, screams. Even a man who was just standing there got shot dead. At night I could hear, “Bang! Bang!” every five minutes. I couldn’t sleep. My windows were broken. Some bullets went through my bedroom on the second floor. One of them zipped above my bed into the door. If I had sat up in my bed, I would definitely be dead. There are still bullet holes in my home, and when it rains, the water pours down through them. Protesters even threatened to set fire to an oil truck and then our houses. I couldn’t do anything but pray. I wasn’t so much afraid to die as I was to lose the house that I’d save up 20 years for. At last I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I fled to my relatives’ house. The police gave me some tips on leaving the zone: when we came out, we had to walk straight and avoid behaving suspiciously. And we had to smile at everybody even though we were scared to death.
How has your life changed?
My nerves were shot! If you didn’t live through it, you can’t imagine what it was like. I’ve become easily frightened. I jump every time something falls on the floor. Now, this area has become quiet. There are ruins and burned buildings which are not pleasant to look at. People are also afraid to come here.
Do you think the protests were worthwhile?
There’s only loss, especially innocent people. Some died simply for being voices that were opposed to the government. And when both sides attacked each other, it’s possible that a third party interfered, a group that preferred violence.
Did you get any support?
After the protestes, there was a big cleaning day when people came out. That day I sold a lot! Khun Air, the owner of Image Magazine, brought a lot of stars here, like Tono and Rith and also Thakolkeit (Boy), from the show The Star. They gave me B500 and picked up the tab for their people to order as many drinks as they wanted. They said it was a time to help each other. Support and help from family members has also been important for me.
What do you think will happen now?
Abhisit is still not good enough. If you’re going to be corrupt, but also do something for the people, that’s still better than to cheat and do nothing. I’m not sure the election will be clean or whether there will be an agenda behind it, but as long as our country is still like this, good people will not come to power.
Rapeeporn Patcharaperapong, 50, music shop owner in SIAM
Her record store was burned down during the protests.
Where were you during the protests?
I used to run Inter Music, selling CDs in the Siam Theater building. I’ve been selling CDs for 16 years. My shop was burned down in the incidents last year.
What was it like during the protest?
I was at my shop as usual when the protest was taking place around Ratchaprasong. The Rama 1 Road in front of Siam Square was closed, there were piles of tires and lots of amplifiers on the street. I kept my shop open but customers were afraid to come.
What was the scariest day?
When they burned down Siam Theater on May 19. I was at home because the soldiers forbade us to enter the area. The next day, I went to see my shop and took some photos. Everything was destroyed. I couldn’t sleep, so I came to sit in front of the Buddha image in my praying room at home and cried.
How has the incident changed your life?
Obviously, I’ve lost my business. I am a single mom with two kids. One of my children has leukemia another one had just been accepted at a private university. I couldn’t make ends meet. The government offered us a SME loan but I don’t think I can pay them any time soon. Luckily, I’d been saving some money and had insurance. If not, it would be even harder. I prayed and meditated and I’m better.
Do you understand the protesters?
Personally, I don’t like them and think they did it for the money. If there weren’t money, there wouldn’t be any political ideology. They came because somebody agitated them and made them believe in certain ideas. It was definitely not worthwhile. People died and suffered. Oh, except they got bailed out, right?
What kind of support did you get?
Yes, I was very lucky because so many people offered a hand. My child’s university waived the tuition fee for the year. Lots of companies provided vendors places to sell their products for free. Chulalongkorn University, the landowner, also helped a lot. Also, some of the record companies sent me stock on credit or even canceled my debts. A friend of mine who owns a clothes shop elsewhere gave me some shirts for free so I could also sell them in front of my CD booth. I was fortunate to have such good people helping.
Will you accept the election results no matter what?
This election won’t change anything.
Chai Srivikorn, president of Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association (RSTA), director of Gaysorn Group, Co. Ltd
Represents businesses in Ratchaprasong.
How was business affected by the protests?
We closed the shop on the first week the protests began. Some red shirts smashed windows but we had taken out all the products from the displays. The office stayed open until the red shirts completely blocked the streets.
How did you cope with the effects of the protests?
We founded Prachatipathai Mai Lamerd [Democracy without Infringement] with academics, businessmen, street vendors. I pity the people affected by the protests. They don’t know what to do and whom they can go to. We set up this group to help them, to tell the government to listen to them and to realize how bad the damage to us is. For example, we negotiated with the government to give us a delay to pay our taxes 3-4 months.
Twelve months later, how do you see the protests?
Some people do not know what democracy is. They only say that we have rights, but they do not think of their responsibilities to others, to the people around them. Shops were burned. People were hurt. No one has taken responsibility, no one has apologized. I don’t just mean the protesters. The government itself helped very little, which I think is very sad.
What’s changed since the protests?
I feel like there is no one helping or fixing society. It’s not just the protests. Look at things like the internet, we can see that the younger generation is very different from the previous one. Today, people are more materialistic. I think the protests reflected how the country has changed. People think Bangkok is a peaceful city, that Thailand is the land of smiles. It isn’t anymore.
Rainer Stampfer, general manager of Four Seasons Hotels Thailand
His hotel had to shut down, jeopardizing some 600 jobs.
What was it like working so close to the protests?
In many ways, for me, it was the busiest and most involving days of that year. The toughest time was the last few weeks of our closure where the employees were unsure when we could open again. Even though we continued to pay salaries and stayed in close contact, no doubt some were worried they might lose their job not knowing when business could and would return. The moment we knew we could reopen our doors, however, everyone pulled together and, in retrospect, I believe it even strengthened our team.
How long did it take for normalcy to return?
I truly believe that the work atmosphere was back to “normal” almost instantly. To bring business back was a continuous process. We surely recovered quicker than we would have anticipated; and yet, to some extent we are still impacted by all the country has faced over the last three years.
Can you put a figure on the cost of the protests to your business?
Given that they coincided with a major financial crisis, it is almost impossible to precisely state the impact of one over the other. Altogether, however, we were put into a particularly difficult spot and are still working on convincing travellers from abroad that they are safe.
Do you feel that you are still suffering consequences from the protests?
We see regular commemorations of last year’s April-May events; whenever these take place in the Ratchadamri neighborhood, we see an impact on business.
What is the mood of everyone as the one year mark approaches?
In general, everyone seems to just want to go about their business and the one year mark is not a much discussed topic. But, given its impact on business, we can’t ignore [it] either but our team members, it seems, are tired of the continued issues out here.
Phansak Srithep, 44, activist
His son was shot dead during the protests.
How did you join the rally?
First I started out as a PAD protestor against Thaksin in 2008 but, later, I grew apart from them and joined the UDD. Today, I’m against the government but don’t want Thaksin back.
How did the protests affect your life?
Cher, my son, used to be one of the people who advocated for negotiation. Now he’s gone. To be frank, when I am at home, it’s difficult for me because the atmosphere is like the old days. It makes me nostalgic. I have my son’s photos all around me and it makes me grieve. So I try to turn my grief into action. Doing projects with other activists really distracts my mind from the loss of my son, like when we went on a march on the CentralWorld skywalk with placards saying, “People died here.” We want to tell the government that they cannot just ignore what happened. People asked me to protest on my son’s death anniversary. I said no. I want some peace on that day.
Did the protesters achieve their aims?
I think that the protesters did not get anything. We called for democracy but we got bullets. It’s hard to tell whether we won or not because it hasn’t ended yet. It took time for people to see the real significance of the October  incident, too. We have to keep fighting for democracy. Protesting is not the solution, but it’s the starting point of negotiation. It makes the government listen to the people’s voice. I think protesting is a way to lead to democracy.
Will you accept the election results no matter what the result?
Sure, except if there’s evidence that there is cheating. But that should be dealt through a legal process, not by having soldiers use violence to force people to accept the result.
Worawut Harnitthikul, 36, shop owner
His shop was burned down on May 18.
Tell us about your shop?
Our shop, 2 INCH, was in the Siam Theater building and had been open for just 8-9 months when it was burned down.
Where were you when the shop was burned?
On the afternoon of May 18, the soldiers told us to get out of the area. I believe that the army knew what the protestors were going to do but they just didn’t tell us. Otherwise they wouldn’t have told us to go home. On May 19, I found out that the shop was burned down because my friends called me and I saw the theater burning on TV.
How has your life changed in the last 12 months?
I rented a shop at Lido and then finally came here, a semi-permanent shop Chula provided, near the Faculty of Dentistry. This new one is a lot smaller, only 4 square meters. The old one was 16 square meters. I had to order all new t-shirts. I lost a lot, both money and customers. Plus, this area used to be a parking lot, so it takes time for customers to know we are here. But it’s OK because Chula let us rent it for free, although that may change. If I continue to make just this much profit, I won’t really have enough money to afford the rent.
What’s your take on the protests?
Normally, I’m interested in politics. I always follow the news. I also considered myself a Red Shirt because I felt that some of our people were treated unfairly. But as a vendor, I was not happy with the protests because I couldn’t do my job. And I don’t think that the protest was worthwhile because I believe that the people’s duty is to vote. It’s not our duty to go out protesting. Let the MPs do their jobs. Everybody is losing here. The government lost their reputation. The protesters made the economy go down and they also lost their lives.
What should the government do?
The only way out is education. It’s the only thing that makes people know how to think for themselves. Education can make us equal.
What do you think the future holds for the country?
I think in the next 10-20 years, our country will still be a dinosaur, just like we are now.
Will you accept the election results no matter what?
I will. One man, one vote. That is democracy.
Apinya Khuncharoen, 45, street seller
Her home and fruit cart were destroyed.
What was your life like during the protests?
I was renting a room in a shop house and selling fruit on the sidewalk in Bonkai area. When the mob was driven here from Lumpini Park, I was forced to retreat to my room. I left my fruit cart on the sidewalk because I didn’t have any time to put it away and I didn’t think the protesters would do anything to it. From my room, I heard the sound of gunfire and bombs going off all night. The protesters also burned tires. The black smoke made it impossible to breathe and I couldn’t sleep. My face was black with ash. I could see tires piled so high everywhere and couldn’t help thinking. “Where in the world am I?” It looked like a war. I decided to leave the building because the water and power supply were cut off and the smoke was too much to bear. I packed only necessary clothes and things and went to my aunt’s house in Paknam.
When did you return?
I watched the news on the evening of May 16 and saw my room had burned down. I had heard that the red shirts were burning commercial buildings but I didn’t think they would go after houses. I learned that the red shirts were pouring gas over the row of shophouses, claiming that they had to because the men in black were up there. I just stood crying in front of a television. The fire truck couldn’t get through because the road was blocked. I didn’t expect this to happen at all. The protesters acted as though they were not Thai. All of my things were up there, my life, everything I’ve been saving. It’s all gone.
How did you survive?
The government gave me 60,000 baht but that was not enough. My cart was burned. All of the tools I had been using for 20 years were all gone. I had to start all over again. Right now the economy isn’t very good, so it’s hard to sell stuff, even fruit.
Did you get any support?
Yes. A lot people offered a hand. People from Lumpini Tower helped. Some of my regular customers lent me some money without any interest or deadline, saying that I can pay them when I make it back. I don’t know what I would do without their help.
How do you think the country has changed in the last 12 months?
I don’t think the country has changed much. People are still divided.
Do you understand the protesters?
I think most of them did it for money. They could afford to abandon their job for a month but if I didn’t work for a week, I would have nothing to eat
What still needs to change?
I think we need a better government, one that truly cares about people. Our tax money doesn’t seem to be put to good use. Our country is notorious for its corruption. What I’m asking politicians for is to not cheat so much.
Will you accept the election results?
I have to. But I don’t think the election will change anything. Politicians are going to choose their own people first just like it has always been. I want Thai people to love each other. Don’t let money tear us apart.
Suntiwong Inchan, 25, translator
A red shirt protester, he was shot in the face
How did you join the protests?
My parents were interested in this movement and I grew interested too. So my dad asked me to join him. Mostly, I protested at Democracy Monument.
When did you get shot?
On Apr 10, 2010, I went to Kok Wua intersection, near Democracy Monument. There were confrontations between protesters and the military. I thought there would only pushing and shoving as usual. After dark, things got more intense and fighting erupted. The army started firing at the protesters with both tear gas and rubber bullets. At one point, after washing my eyes from the tear gas I looked up and I was shot in my right eye. After the operation, the doctor told me that led to they had to take my eye out, otherwise it would have side-effects with the remaining one.
How did it affect your life?
I used to work as a reporter at Voice TV, translating international news, but I had to quit after working only three weeks. I’m in pain, I can’t look at a screen for more than 3-4 hours. I can’t lift anything heavy either, as high blood pressure would affect my eye. Also, I can’t estimate distances. I’ll grab for something and miss it.
How are you feeling today?
My attitude is better. I try to look to the future. What is lost is lost. You can’t keep these things when you die anyway. Others have even worse lives. I have to live on.
Will you accept the election results?
I will if it’s clear and clean.
In April 2010, we asked protesters and counter-protesters
Why are you protesting?
“I’m here to support my team and go against the other people across the street. I want peace. I want us to be more courteous. Right now, things are just crazy.”
- Apirak K., 23, law student, counter-protestor
“I want a new prime minister. I agree with the idea that Thailand should dissolve the parliament and try arranging a new election. Why don’t we try for a better choice?”
- Thussanee Nhampetch, 47, civil servant, redshirt
“We’re protesting against the violence. We would like to create a negotiation between the two sides.”
- Suchat Saetong, 30, admin system manager, counter-protester
“I wanted to join the red protestors to help dissolve the parliament. Also, the economy is really bad and it’s hard to earn a living. I want a better life for myself.”
- Jumnong Narin, 59, shopkeeper, redshirt
Deaths resulting from the protests, on both sides, from Mar-May 2010.
Wounded, during the same period.
Bullets withdrawn by the army from arsenals, in preparation for the crackdown.
Bullets not returned after the crackdown—either shot, lost or stolen.
Number of protesters on Mar 12, 2010.
Losses to retailers according to Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association.
12 March: Red shirts set up camp on Ratchadamnoen Klang Road
16 March: Protesters splash their own blood at Government House and Democrat Party office
30 March: A round of talks with the government ends in deadlock
3 April: Red shirts occupy Ratchaprasong
7 April: Abhisit orders state of emergency in Bangkok
8 April: Troops suspend the People Channel
10 April: Troops fail to clear protesters out of Phan Fah bridge: 25 people killed and hundreds injured in the Khok Wua intersection shoot-out
22 April: M-79 grenade blasts kill one and injures 85 in Silom
28 April: Soldier shot dead in clashes at National Monument
29 April: Red shirts search Chulalongkorn Hospital claiming soldiers might be hiding in the building
13 May: Seh Deang assassinated while giving an interview to a New York Times reporter
16 May: Arson attacks around Bonkai area
13–17 May: 36 killed in the crackdown around Phan Fah Bridge and Ratchaprasong intersection
19 May, the Thai Army storms the protester’s camp resulting in 6 deaths as arsonists among the protesters set fire to numerous buildings in Bangkok and the Red shirt cadre surrenders.