Chiang Mai’s carmob wants prime minister to “Get Out!”

Intrepid photojournalist Will Langston returns from a trip home to the US to resume his Citylife coverage of our uneasy political climes in these dire times

By | Mon 9 Aug 2021

The protests around Thailand are far from over, in fact, they are heating up again. Over a thousand demonstrators clashed with police in Bangkok on Sunday as they, once again, called for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to step down. Rubber bullets and teargas were used by police as crowd control to help maintain order. Protestors say the Thai government is to blame for the massive recent spike in COVID cases as well as the lack of available vaccines. In keeping with what appears to be tradition, Chiang Mai held a sizable protest yesterday in support of Bangkok’s efforts.

Hundreds of cars and motorbikes gathered at the Subaru car dealership off Highway Chiang Mai-Lampang Frontage Road at 4pm. ‘Carmob protests’ have become the go-to method of social distance demonstrating in recent days to aid against the upsurge in COVID cases nationwide. Vehicles filled with families and friends lined the left shoulder of the highway to wave anti-government posters and flags at incoming traffic.

“Today my flag says ‘Freedom for all Thai people’ on it”, said 45 year old protester Mina. Mina has been living and working in the Saraphi District of Chiang Mai for three years, “I heard about the protest from Facebook and friends.” She was wearing a mask and dressed in all black. Along with most of the vehicles in attendance, her license plate was covered with a small handmade sign to further conceal her and her family’s identity. When asked about the organiser of the event Mina as well as other attendees wouldn’t comment. While the majority of protests over the past year have been organised by local activist and student groups such as Wilar Party and Community of MorChor, today’s protest was more enigmatic. Protestors said rising police investigations are the reason for keeping such a low profile.

“We want Prayut out,” said Mina, “He cannot organise and give the people of Thailand what they want. The people in Thailand do not have access to a vaccine and I don’t understand why. We want AstraZeneca and Pfizer now!”

The fleet took off for the old city around 4:30pm led by a group of young musicians situated in the bed of a pickup truck. Their horns and drums thundered down the roads of Chiang Mai as the formation of vehicles increased at every turn. A few activists stood in the back of another pickup truck shouting the mob’s desires on a microphone. As the carmob grew, so did their passions.

As they turned left on Charoen Muang Road and made their way over Nawarat Bridge, the rain began. A light sprinkle turned into a heavy shower; the protestors couldn’t care less. Motorbike drivers pulled over to throw on raincoats. The mob paused on the bridge to make sure everyone attending was protected from the rainfall. The ink on their cardboard signs began to run and yet demonstrators were all smiles. They carried on toward Tha Pae Gate.

At the intersection at Tha Pae Gate, the soaked group veered onto Kotchasarn Road and around the moat they went. Like a merry-go-round, the carmob waved three-finger salutes and posters in the direction of anyone that was walking or driving by. First they demonstrated on the outer moat road, then the inner. Shop owners and restaurant employees cheered and saluted as the cars and motorbikes honked horns in rhythmic patterns. Tuk-tuk and songthaew drivers joined in as they packed their vehicles with drenched activists. The showers continued but did little to thwart the mob’s energy.

The carmob arrived at its last destination around 6:30pm. The Pae Gate, one of Chiang Mai’s most famous landmarks, filled with protesters and their vehicles. The mass was met by over 50 uniformed officers and at least 10 plain clothes officers. Verbal exchanges between protestors and police went on into the evening. The police organised in lines as they watched the protesters’ demonstrations. The rain slowed as night came.

Demonstrations took place around a shrine protestors brought with them. A gold framed image of Prime Minister Prayut was placed In the middle of Tha Pae. The letters ‘R.I.P’ were written over his portrait. Protestors took turns yelling, spitting and dancing in front of the picture. One man took off one of his sandals and began beating the photograph. The portrait eventually shattered and protestors lit the shrine on fire. Loud anti-government chants rang out through the landmark.

Most of the protestors left around 8pm with some staying behind to gather near the Tha Pae intersection to continue waving posters and shouting at cars driving by. The majority of police left in a large grey van as the remaining crowd cheered their departure.

With daily record breaking COVID cases and minimal access to quality vaccines, the people of Thailand have a lot of reasons to protest. At times, a protester’s motivations can be challenging to understand. Some say their reason for joining the carmob is for democracy while others say they attend for vaccine accessibility. While the protestor’s interests in joining the demonstrations differ from person to person, the most common for attending the protests is the removal of Prime Minister Prayut.

When asked to comment on the Thai Prime Minister, Mina said, “If I could change one thing in Thailand I would tell Prayut to get out!”