Bangkok city at twilight. Credit: 123rf
LAST night I was three blocks away from where the tragic bomb blast exploded at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok.
Like so many nights when I am in the capital city, I stay at a nearby hotel and often walk around that same corner to capture the unique flavor of a truly special place. Call it routine or a beckoning call to the heart of Thailand’s great city.
I had opted for an early dinner at Central Embassy’s EatThai. Sitting with a friend and chatting over some wonderful food, messages started coming in on my iPhone about a bombing nearby. Looking around the eatery, dozens of faces were staring into the luminescent glow of smartphones and an eerie silence seemed to grasp the moment.
With more details of the event starting to roll in, my next move had to be contemplated given the nearest path back to the hotel was directly through ground zero. Roadways were being closed and my friend figured a quick trip home was our best move. I saw no other option but a walk up the street and play it by ear on how to best get through the chaotic maze.
The streets were somewhat quiet, yet bizarrely, tourists who were unaware of the nearby incident were wandering about, toting fast food bags and chattering about sights along the avenues. Nearing Amarin Plaza and the Rajprasong intersections, sirens howled, police blew whistles, traffic was redirected and the bright lights of camera phones nearly blinded me.
Getting near to the bomb site out of sheer necessity, the cordoned-off area was crowded and a helpful security officer guided me through a parking lot shortcut which led me safely back to my hotel. The general manager was in the lobby, surrounded by security staff, marshaling instructions and dealing with angst-ridden guests.
Riding up the elevator, as dashes of chill music set the mood, I thought back to the reality that in another thirty minutes, I would most likely have been walking right past the Erawan Shrine, returning back to the hotel after dinner as I so often do, taking in the street flavor. Was it luck, timing or the sheer randomness of life that took me out of harms way?
Travel for me is a true passion. Certainly it’s my work, but in reality, I love the exploration, experiences and diversity of discovery. It’s remained a constant my entire life. I often think that the inability to move about the world to new places and people would be the ultimate prison or confinement of my soul.
It’s far too early to explain or understand what is behind the Bangkok bomb except one clear motive – that killjoy known as terrorism. Terrorists would have us live in fear behind closed doors, hovering about in cramped corners, unwilling to leave the known for the unknown.
As I sit on a plane this morning typing out my feelings in the light of day, after a long dark night, I can only vow that I will continue to visit Bangkok as often as I can. I will still stay in the same hotel which has been my home away from home so many times for the past eight years and that I will still walk past the Erawan Shrine and the Rajprasong intersection as part of my travels.
Travel is by nature a trip into the unknown, where terror attacks, plane crashes, shark bites and bad airplane food are just a few of the many dangers hanging over the heads of those who embark on journeys.
Bangkok remains one of the world’s greatest cities and it joins the ranks of New York and London and so many other places that have felt the blow of terror. Do I avoid those great metropolises of the West? No. So why should I avoid Bangkok?
I have no death wish of course. Syria and Yemen are not high on my travel plans and thrillseekers to war-torn areas are pure and simple idiots in my mind. There is no nicer term. But for me, Thailand does not belong in the same category, nor should it. My heart goes out to the dead and wounded tourists and nearby workers and innocent bystanders.
All I can say to Bangkok in this dark time is that you are not alone. I will be back again, standing next you in admiration and joy just like I always have. See you soon. My passion for travel remains undaunted, unflinching and absolute.
By Bill Barnett