Overland from Laos to Vienam — By Vespa

Vespa [Not My Image]

Great story — and images — from New Mandala (which, by the way, is an excellent blog about Southeast Asia):

The Vientiane Scooter Club recently conducted its annual rally from Laos to Vietnam, a journey which saw many of its members rediscover their origins. A group of urban middle class Lao nationals of Vietnamese and Chinese descent, the club members are driven by a desire to find their own authentic place in Lao society.

The club is one of a few new social groups to have emerged in recent years along with greater economic and cultural liberalization in Laos. On their rallies through the countryside they spread a road safety message and donate equipment to rural schools on a painstakingly restored fleet of forty-year-old Italian Piaggio Vespa motor scooters.

(Emphasis mine.)

(Related: the Vespa rickshaw.)

Spotted in Bangkok

Spotted in Bangkok: How to Carry a Bucket and Drive a Motorbike at the Same Time

How to carry a bucket and drive a motorbike at the same time. Awesome.

Thailand Has an Interim PM

Surayud Chulanont, Thailand's New Interim PM

Thailand now has an interim Prime Minister. Surayud Chulanont, a retired army general, was appointed yesterday.


Thailand prime minister sworn in

The IHT‘s Seth Mydans and Tom Fuller:

Thailand’s junta said Friday that it would not interfere with the workings of the interim government it has promised to appoint. But it said it reserved the right to fire the government in exceptional circumstances.

Peter Kneisel, writing in the Boston Globe, provides some history on coups in Thailand:

Never leave home in autumn. In Thailand, it is a dangerous time for an embattled leader to travel outside the kingdom and a surprising oversight by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that led to his overthrow. He had used his fortune to consolidate power, but neglected to firm up his popularity as he fiddled with the military promotion lists. The lists are leaked in September and published in October. Generals get restless in October, particularly if their careers are at risk.

Asia Sentinel:

The naming of retired Gen Surayud Chulanont as interim Prime Minister will cement the impression that the coup was a royal affair


Thai taxi rams into tank in apparent coup protest

The Nation:

The persistent myth of the ‘good’ coup

Bangkok Pundit:

COMMENT: No matter how Thailand/coup leaders/Gen Surayud tries to paint this the military are yet to withdraw from politics – the military’s position is further entrenched with the new Constitution also approved today. I also don’t imagine he will impress most businessman with his first statement in his office:

“We will concentrate on the self-sufficiency economy that His Majesty the King advocates,” he told a news conference. “We won’t concentrate so much on the
GDP numbers. We would rather look into the indicators of people’s happiness and prosperity.”

Nevertheless, Gen Surayud was not chosen to pacify businessman or the international community, but for the domestic audience. He is no technocrat with economic and legal experience, but his distinct advantage is his good reputation in Thailand. This will give him a longer honeymoon period than almost any other military appointed civilian PM in Thailand would have, but he has a tough road ahead of him and the best he can do is come out the situation with his reputation intact. The first thing he will have to learn in his short political career is his popularity will partly depend on economic performance, that is simply politics whether he is an elected PM or not.

Thailand Coup: Did Thaksin Know it Was Coming?


Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra may have whisked some of his assets out of the country aboard two aircraft days before a military coup ousted him from power, airline officials said Sunday.

An official from Thai Airways International, who demanded anonymity because company policy did not allow him to speak to the press, said he wanted the new ruling military council to investigate the incidents.

Speculation has been rife in Thailand that Thaksin may have snuck money out of the country in the days leading up to the coup, but there has been no confirmation from the council.

Thaksin departed for Finland to begin a foreign tour on September 9, loading up his government-assigned aircraft with 58 large suitcases and trunks, the official of the national carrier said.

The prime minister’s aircraft, named Thai Koofah, was then inexplicably left parked in Finland for more than a week as Thaksin continued on his trip on other transportation.

A second aircraft carrying 56 suitcases — an Airbus 340-600 — was dispatched from Bangkok to meet up with the prime minister just days before the coup, the Thai Airways official said.

Another official in the airline industry, requesting anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, confirmed the second flight, saying it left on September 17 — two days before the military toppled Thaksin in a bloodless coup.

It was unclear why Thaksin needed a second aircraft when his own plane was already assigned to fly him to Europe and the United States.

Speculation has surfaced about whether Thaksin knew of the coup in advance and moved some of his vast assets out of the country.

(Emphasis mine.)

Catch Me on KQED’s Pacific Time

KQED's Pacific Time

UPDATE: The show has aired; you can listen to it here (it can be streamed or downloaded as an mp3). I come on after a couple of minutes. The host, Sydnie Kohara, provides some good context regarding the situation.

I was just interviewed by Pacific Time, a radio program that covers “the ideas, trends and cultural patterns that flow back and forth between Asia and America.” It’s produced by KQED in San Francisco. I answered a few questions about the situation here in Thailand. The show is broadcast on public radio stations throughout the US. Here’s when and where it airs.

(Readers in DC: the show will be WETA 90.9 FM tonight at 8 p.m. You can listen live online here.)


Thailand’s Bloodless Coup: Nearing 48 Hours In

Thailand Coup: Soldiers Stand Guard

I spent four hours this afternoon walking around Bangkok and taking photos and talking to people. The image above very clearly illustrates the situation on the ground: Soldiers stand guard, while behind them civilians go about their daily lives. To the right, the two symbols of the nation — the country’s tri-colored flag and a yellow emblem of King Bhumibol Adulyadej — are united.

The city is calm. Traffic was light yesterday but appeared, in central Bangkok, to have nearly returned to its normal volume today.

Thailand Coup: Major Intersection

Thailand Coup: Major Intersection

Traffic has picked up a bit from yesterday, but it appeared to move more fluidly than usual. (Yes, this really is “more fluidly.”)

Thailand Coup: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers Relaxing

And, as ever, motorcycle taxi drivers lounged about and waited for fares.

To the news reports:


• Deposed PM Thaksin says coup was totally unexpected
• Sonthi says “all sectors” cooperating with new ruling council
• Rebel Muslim leader says coup may resolve dispute in south
• King endorses military’s takeover, orders people to follow general


Thai army bans “political activities”


Billionaire PM had no shortage of enemies

The lede of the day goes to DPA‘s Peter Janssen:

Bangkok (dpa) – Thailand has arguably taken coup-making to new heights of non-violence, judging by the peaceful response to Tuesday’s bloodless blitzkrieg that toppled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power and put a junta in command of the kingdom.

Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Sonthi Boonyaratklin brought troops and tanks into Bangkok Tuesday night and took over the country without firing a shot, putting a junta in power that has promised to hand over the reins of government to a cabinet of appointed civilians within two weeks and hold a general election within a year.

“I have seen 15 coups myself in the past 30 years and this was the easiest one yet,” said Luzi Matzig, a long time resident in Thailand who runs Asia Travels, a tour agency. “A smooth-as-silk kind of coup,” quipped Matzig, playing on Thailand’s national airline’s advertising slogan “THAI – Smooth as Silk.”

The Nation:

Figures Behind the Coup (graphic)

Bangkok Post:

Police, bomb plot file vanish


Bangkok Pundit is staying on top of things, as is


“From Ruins to Ruined”

The LAT’s Richard Paddock has published a revealing story about the Myanmar government’s efforts to “rebuild” the country’s ancient temples.


Bikes of Burden

Bikes of Burden is a coffee table book featuring images of Vietnamese motorbike drivers hauling around enormous amounts of various and sundry items. I saw a copy in a bookstore here in Bangkok recently; it’s fantastic. The author is Hans Kemp, a Dutch photographer. Here’s a gallery of some pics from from the book. This one might be my favorite. Bikes of Burden is available from Amazon here.

Bangkok Street Traffic as Seen from My Balcony

I often enjoy sitting on my second-story balcony and watching the ebb and flow of Bangkok street traffic. I don’t live on a major boulevard — my neighborhood is almost entirely residential, and what I typically see is motorcycle taxi drivers ferrying passengers to their houses, people walking out to the main road nearby, folks meandering up to a noodle stand close to my front door, or my neighbors doing nothing more than hanging out and talking. I captured this 45-second video using my digital camera; the quality isn’t great, but it should give you a sense of what I see outside every day.

Some things to note:

— All the people are wearing yellow shirts in honor of the King’s 60th year on the throne.

— You’ll notice a scooter go by carrying three people. This is quite common — you’ll often more than three folks, in fact, on motorbikes here. Motorbikes and scooters are considered family vehicles in Thailand.

— The banging you hear in the background is from construction nearby.

The Coolest T-Shirts in Bangkok

Bangkoker -- the coolest tees in BKK

The coolest T-shirts in Bangkok — if not all of Southeast Asia. That’s the subject of my latest Gridskipper post. Check it out.